Bees, Butterflies, & Being British


The other day, my friend Carl called Joe and me, and we made plans to see each other. We’re all vaccinated now, and it’s been a very long time. Besides, Carl was very excited to share with us the little hobby he picked up while isolating over the past year.

Carl is now a beekeeper.

Early in the pandemic, wild bees had established a hive under Carl’s shed. He called some professionals and watched, from inside his house, the removal of the hive and the queen — all of which was transferred to an available hive at the pro’s location.

Carl was fascinated and literally became as busy as a bee. He researched, read books, asked questions, and ordered supplies. He now has two hives in his backyard and spent his COVID year sitting near the hives and watching the bees — oblivious of him — do their bee things.

For Carl, it was meditative — and I completely understand. In slow motion, it’s a bit like a sloppy dance, but every bee knows the work that has to be done. Still, I couldn’t help consider the question: What did I do during my year off?

Many people, just like Carl, pursued new hobbies or learned new skills, from painting to learning another language to perfecting the art of sourdough.

What, though, did I do? I collected cuttings from my plants and harvested seeds and made do with whatever I was able to grow on my own. I made a lot of lists of what I wanted to do once I was vaccinated and felt comfortable enough to visit nurseries. I also did a lot of weeding and reading, and I recently had a record number of Atala butterflies, a Florida native, emerge — but that last one really had more to do with the butterflies than with me.

Was there something new I could bring to the table, something I could share with friends when we all got together? When I think about it, I can honestly say that I watched a lot of television during COVID — and that’s when it hit me.

Over the past year, I became British.

Epidendrum radicans orchid.

The transformation began early on with “Escape to the Country,” a British show that’s a lot like HGTV’s “House Hunters” — only better. The premise has urban Londoners looking for a more peaceful, greener life in rural England. They’re given two houses to explore and a mystery house (usually my favorite), and in-between the buyers and hosts take some educational, local flavor excursions. Unlike the American show, there’s no guarantee the buyers will make a decision at the end of the hour. In fact, they very often walk away from all three houses — but despite the disappointment, everyone remains civil and well-mannered.

It’s those last two items that have really struck a chord with me. If you’ve watched the news over the last few years, it’s been a stressful, rude, tense, far-from-civil time in the States. In my opinion, COVID succeeded in shining a bright spotlight on the worst of America — from low wages to healthcare to divisiveness.

When I found a station that aired four consecutive episodes of “Escape to the Country,” Monday thru Friday, I was overjoyed. The show, along with Jules, Alistair, Jonnie, Nicki, and others (yes, I’m on a first name basis with them), provided an escape from my country. It got to the point where I could identify each host just by hearing his or her voice — and I would quiz Joe to do the same. He improved as the year went on.

A cluster of Agapanthus flowers ready to burst open.

We even found ourselves learning new words. A home that’s “homely,” for example, is a good thing in England — not so much in the US. Similarly, a British yard — even one devoid of flowers and landscaping — is a garden, but in America, a garden is in a yard, while a yard without a garden is simply a yard.

Joe and I also wondered if we could live in the English countryside — and would we want a barn conversion or an edge of village location? Personally, I don’t think I would want too much land, but I would like a manageable garden and to be in walking distance to village amenities and the pub. I would also need a “snug.” I’m not exactly sure what that is — I think it’s essentially an American den, but snug sounds so much cozier, like a room built for reading whilst (see how I dropped that Britishism in there?) wrapped in a warm blanket. I think every house should have a snug.

Let the Agapanthus show begin.

Although I was in steaming hot Florida, for the hours I watched television, I was in seasonably cool England. I wanted Doc Martin as my GP. I wanted to be friends with Nessa on “Gavin & Stacey” and to say things like “crackin’” and “what’s occurrin’?” I wanted to live in England in another time thanks to “All Creatures Great & Small.” I wanted to have a conversation with the two lead actors on “Ballykissangel” (technically, I know this took place in Ireland) and beg them — spoiler alert — not to leave the show. I still haven’t recovered from that shock.

Not even crime shows, like “Broadchurch” and “Endeavour,” could dissuade my wanting to uproot and transplant myself in England. I’ll take my chances with a serial killer, thank you very much, as long as I can have bluebells. I must have bluebells — and a snug, of course.

“The Jewel Garden” in front of a pot of jewel-toned curcuma.

Speaking of bluebells, I haven’t forgotten that this is a gardening blog and I must give a special acknowledgement to Monty Don, aka My Favorite Gardener. One of the books I read last year (I found a used copy on Amazon) was The Jewel Garden: A Story of Despair and Redemption. Co-written with his wife, Sarah Don, the book looks back at their pre-gardening life, a successful jewelry design business, his mental health issues and financial difficulties, and their escape to the country. The book is named for one of their garden rooms — a collection of jewel-toned flowers, a nod to their earlier life. The book inspired me to fill my own garden with jewel tones, some of which I’ve used to illustrate this post.

Portulaca.

Because I’m obsessed with all things Monty, it’s really no surprise that he’s responsible for completing my British transformation. While bingeing my way through more than 20 seasons of “Gardener’s World,” I said to Joe, who was in the kitchen, “Look. Monty is moving his banana trees into his garden.”

Only, it came out as “ba-nah-na.” As soon as my voice left my mouth, I knew Joe was going to hear my very British pronunciation. Could I be a victim of my very own Peppa Pig effect, the one American parents say happened to their toddlers after watching the animated English children’s show?

Evolvulus.

“What . . . did you . . . say?” a perplexed Joe asked, looking up from the dinner prep.

“I just said, “Look. Monty is moving his banana (American pronunciation) trees into his garden.” As much as I hoped I had recovered from my foible . . .

“No, you didn’t,” Joe said before I could finish my thought. “You said . . .”

“I know,” I caved in a split second. “I said ‘ba-nah-na,’ okay?”

Joe looked at me, we both laughed, and he said, “You’re watching way too much British TV.”

Bougainvillea.

I’m sure British shows sell a version of England as much as American entertainment sells an image of the USA to the rest of the world. Still, could Joe be correct? Was I watching too much British television — to which I also ask, can one ever really watch too much British television?

I think not. In fact, I think it’s brilliant and so instead I have chosen to:

35 thoughts on “Bees, Butterflies, & Being British

  1. Love this blog !! I’m right there with you, except I’ve had 50 years of gardening only here in the Pacific Northwest (I drooled a little when I saw the bougainvillea). My dream is to “somehow” inherit a cottage in Cornwall complete with some established trees and a large garden patch…..also walking distance to the pub. Keep on writing as well gardening – you’re well suited to both it seems. Cheers,
    Judy in Oregon

    • Hi Judy. Thank you for your kind words. Someday, perhaps, we’ll run into each other at the pub. 🙂 By the way, I hope things cool off for you in your part of the country.

    • Hey there! At the end of the day, I lean toward BritBox. I found it had more choices. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, but I do wish I had dropped in the word “cuppa.” That would have been proper. 🙂

    • Hi Dianne. You’re very welcome! I’m happy to do it — I just wish I was a little more diligent about keeping up with it. I think the older I get, the more ADD I become.

  2. Kevin, I too became one with the Brits! Reading your post truly made me laugh because Escape to the Country was our escape as well….. all year! I wanted nothing more than to find a characterful, thatched property. I felt so worldly reading a book titled A Brace of Pheasants. It was about a couple who renovated properties in England, this one being a barn conversion. I knew all the terms and places from my Brit binge of Escape. What they don’t tell you on that show is that not unlike the good old USA, the countryside can be home to some strange sorts…..full of character in those characterful homes! Buyer beware. To top off our Escape binge we also binged on Jamie Oliver every Sat and Sun. We made some crackin dishes in 30 minutes or less. I think we all learned some new things through our Covid isolation. Not quite as exciting as bee keeping though. That video is just amazing.

    • Hi Michele… I am now going to look for A Brace of Pheasants. I want simple. I want to walk or bike to a market. I want to chat with the local grocer. I want to have a pint at the pub with the locals. I want to snuggle in a snug. As for the characters. . . maybe we’re all a bit characterful.

  3. LOL, Kevin, I think I went a long way toward becoming British during my year of isolation, too. I haven’t seen “Escape to the Country” yet, but I’m going to look for it. Sometime during the winter, I added Britbox to my TV streaming lineup (which mostly consists of Acorn and PBS) and snuggled in to watch old favorites like “Downton Abbey” and “Hetty Wainthrop.” And I became obsessed with the new remake of “All Creatures Great and Small.” I think you’re right about the gentle civility of many of these British programs adding to their appeal as our own country seemed to be unraveling before our eyes.

    • Hi Jean. I switch my streaming channels on and off. When I feel I’ve exhausted them, off they go and I try another one. Based on your suggestion, I’m resuming BritBox so I can try “Hetty Wainthrop.” Meanwhile, I’m eagerly waiting — and hoping — there will be a second season of “All Creatures.” I fell in love with that show. I’m also waiting and hoping for a return to civility. There’s a huge part of me that we must walk away from Covid with lessons learned on so many levels. We must be better than we were.

      • A few suggestions along the gentle/civility line, from my BBC series library: ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’, ‘Hamish MacBeth’ and ‘Monarch of the Glen’ (both set in Scotland, but don’t let that deter you), and a charming modern-day series from Down Under which I think is still running on PBS or recently finished, ‘800 Words’ about a writer to moves his family to New Zealand.

      • Hello again, M’Lady. I LOVED “Monarch of the Glen.” It’s the perfect show for me — quirky and interesting characters, great location, wonderful writing. I often dreamed of inserting myself into the cast as an American who refuses to leave Scotland. I also thoroughly enjoyed “800 Words.” There were so many other shows I could have included in this post — “Last Tango In Halifax,” “Us,” “Flesh and Blood,” and “A Place to Call Home” to name a few. That last one is in Australia. I will definitely investigate “Lark Rise” and “Hamish MacBeth.” Thanks!

  4. Everything you wrote made me homesick for England! I’ll have to watch all those shows you mentioned on telly. One more thing – you forgot Call the Midwife!

    • Hi Beth. I didn’t mean to leave out “Call the Midwife.” I could have gone on and on about the British shows we’ve watched over the past year — comedies and dramas and mysteries. I think I have a soft spot for that quaint village life, to have distance between hamlets rather than never-ending pavement where all of the towns just seem to flow into one another. I think I’m homesick for England, too. 🙂

  5. Great post, Kevin! It was so much fun watching the bees. I can relate to all things British, but I do have a path that leads to being a Francophile, as well.

    I’ll be looking for Escape to the Country (even though I really am a city girl!) Here’s a recommendation for you: “Escape to the Chateau” — a couple and their children who are renovating a Chateau. It’s different, that’s for sure.

    Thanks for this blog, Kevin. You never disappoint! (Not a surprise to me!) Hope you and Joe are well and happy.

    XO 💚 —Kathy

    • Hi Kathy. Thanks — I’ve seen bits and pieces of “Escape to the Chateau.” I think renovation shows get me a bit stressed — and there was enough stress this past year. By the way, if you want to give Italy a shot, I can recommend Nicki Positano on YouTube. She and her family live in Positano, and the YouTube channel looks at their everyday lives. It was a great way to travel from home. Stay safe! xoxo

  6. I laughed all the way through reading about your British transformation, Kevin. I don’t think I’ve adopted a British accent, but during the 2020 siege we completely indulged in our love of British television. We’ve loved what we could find on our PBS station for years, but I thought we deserved more. We now subscribe to both Acorn and BritBox, and frankly, it’s about all we watch any more. I love Monty Don, too, and watch every epsiode with sheer delight, even though almost nothing of what I learn transfers to a Southern California climate. I just like the calm of his lovely voice and the beauty shared. I would very much like to source that book, as I know nothing of his personal life.

    I did “perfect” my sourdough bread technique and it was great to bake for others when supply was so slight. I have had to order my bread flour in 50 pound bags, delivered, because I couldn’t find it in small supply. It is amazing that your friend was able to transition to beekeeper with all that it likely took to even source his supplies, but I’m impressed. I loved hearing something of your 2020, and I am sure you have story after story. Keep sharing!

    • Hi Debra. It’s always nice to hear from you. Like you, Monty’s gardening has nothing to do with my zone — although one of the correspondents will sometimes visit a tropical garden in England. I will watch anything with Monty. It’s the voice. It’s the words of encouragement. It’s the poetry of his words. It’s like meditation — and I didn’t have to lift a trowel. By the way, knowing what I do about you, it really isn’t surprising that you would bake, perfect your sourdough, and share. That’s so you. 🙂

  7. Kevin, this was thoroughly enjoyable! I think I stumbled on this not knowing you had a blog. I loved the butterfly and the bee feature. However, I was enthralled with the banana segment. I’ve secretly wanted to speak like a Brit for years! Thank you for such a fabulous read!

    • Hi Lisa. Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m glad you stumbled upon me. Yesterday, Joe asked what I wrote about and I said, “Carl’s bees, my butterflies, and — you may not remember this — but my becoming British, when I said. . .”

      Joe finished the sentence, “When you said, ‘ba-nah-na.'”

      Some things just can’t be unheard. LOL.

    • Hi Jason. I’m glad you enjoyed the video. I really can’t say enough about Monty Don. If you have Prime Video, I would also recommend his “Big Dreams, Small Spaces.” It’s a garden makeover show, only the homeowners do the work while Monty does the guidance. It’s very inspirational. Cheers!

  8. Kevin, you are totally preaching to the choir here – I’m an Anglophile from decades back (I blame it on my dad’s British ancestors who decided to take a boat ride westward in 1630.) My DVD library (yes, I actually have one) shelves are stocked with BBC, and so my only question is: Why have you not yet watched ‘Rosemary & Thyme’, the series about a duo of garden designers who solve murder mysteries? True, the photography is circa 1990s and so not up to today’s HD, but still… 😀 If you have Amazon Prime, all three seasons are currently streaming there. 😉

    • M’Lady — My ancestors also arrived here, long before the Revolution. I’m not sure if they were English or Scottish, but they left out of Glasgow… and thank you for the “Rosemary & Thyme” recommendation. I will definitely check that out.

      • You will ADORE Rosemary and Thyme. Too bad I have watched them all numerous Thymes. 😉
        Midsomer Mysteries and Father Brown are both fun series, and if you have not watched “Reckless” do. Francesca Annis, Michael Kitchen, and Robson Green are the bomb. I could go on…

      • Hi Diane. I am enjoying “Rosemary & Thyme,” and I can also strongly recommend “The Village” on Britbox. It was so well done, but disappointing that it only lasted for two seasons. Right now, we’re in the middle of bingeing through “Benidorm.” It’s not exactly high-brow, but it’s amusing. I’ve watched some of Midsomer, but I’ll also check out Father Brown and Reckless. Be well!

  9. Enjoyed reading your post, Kevin. We see many British TV shows here too, in fact, Antiques Roadshow is playing in the background as I type.
    I’m in admiration of your friend’s beekeeping adventures. I had a beehive a few years ago, but discovered I wasn’t as brave as I thought I would be when opening the hive. Also, it turned out that Mr MG is allergic to be stings. He found out the hard way. So the beehive had to go.
    I liked watching your videos. Is that something you learnt to do whilst in lockdown?

  10. I loved this post. I married YouTube last year and spent half my time watching all things British. I traveled to all the points north and west in Britain and the Hebrides, a place I will never visit is person, but envy those who live there. And the whiskey and gin made there with berries and herbs picked by hand there… at least I can buy the whiskey and gin here in the US. Next best thing I surmise. 😉
    British Crime Dramas are the best, and with high resolution, true entertainment. I binge watched many a day.
    I said recently, that I am surprised that I do not speak with a Modern RP accent now, with all the YT influence. Music to my ears, except for the Welsh and Scots. Any accent south of London, yes.

    Kevin, are you really thinking of leaving the States? I looked into the English countryside and found taxes, and leaseholds too complicated to consider. Perhaps if I had a partner and was 20 years younger. Perhaps I could marry a really old Earl. That would be the way…alas.
    So I suffer another Virginia summer, with whatever Mother Nature deals out. So far we have a 6″ rain deficit, and weeks in the 90’s. Unrelenting.

    Bottom line, thank you for this lovely post. If you move, send word.
    Cheers, Diane

    • Hi Diane… YouTube was a huge treat through the lockdown. Several channels I can recommend are Foxes Afloat, Nicki Positano, and Leave Everything And Wander. I’ve also had fun with many of the music reaction channels — especially when someone young listens to Luciano Pavarotti sing “Nessun Dorma.” In all honesty, leaving the US was something we started considering in 2016 — but, as you said, it’s not so easy. There are many things to consider, especially because of age and health issues… so for now, it’s a lovely fantasy (and I have been known to insert myself into the the plot of many shows. I loved when I was in “Monarch of the Glen.” LOL.) We are, though, toying with the idea of selling everything and living and traveling in a camper.

      I hope you get some rain. Just think, it’s August and you’re weather should start cooling soon. Stay safe.

      • Also check out “Amazing Places on Our Planet” channel on YT. Go anywhere from your comfortable chair! Ultra HD and truly amazing. I would never be happy in a camper van. Too small and so many others are out there, almost scary. I tend to be claustrophobic too, and a camper would get oh, so old fast. You would miss a plot of earth too. 😉

      • I’ll definitely check out “Amazing Places.” I agree, vans are a little — and when I say “a little,” I mean a lot — too tight. We have looked at, courtesy of YouTube, class B+ campers — slightly larger than a B, but smaller than a C. As for that plot of land… I’d like the chance to visit other gardens and meet gardeners across the country, to see and learn what’s happening on their plots. Cheers!

      • As an RV short term, perhaps. But never own one! The masses are on the roads now, so places to park are very difficult. I read a few nightmare blogs on the subject. I still click my heels and say “there is no place like home.” Keep us posted on your journey. Now if you would please send Virginia some of your FLA rain. We are desperately dry and more temps in the 90’s this week…again.
        Ta ta.

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