Visitor reception manager and beekeeper, The Courts Garden, Wiltshire
Diane Sleigh is visitor reception manager and beekeeper at The Courts Garden, Wiltshire.
Meet the Beekeeper - Diane Sleigh
Q: How did The Courts Garden get its beehives?
A: Our head gardener, Paul Alexander, wanted to get some hives and I had two colonies at home, which I donated. We found a spot in the arboretum along the boundary wall which was perfect as the entrance to the hives was parallel to the visitor walkway. In summer people can watch the bees carrying ‘basketfuls’ of pollen on their hind legs.
Q: What makes The Courts Garden so good for honey bees?
A: We have something flowering throughout the year. We have horse chestnut trees, for example – bees adore the huge flowers. In summer, we leave the cow parsley in the arboretum to grow and flower so the bees have somewhere to forage.
Q: Has keeping bees changed the way you garden?
A: Yes, definitely. We leave areas to grow wild and we put far more thought into what plants we use and when we cut them. I think this is true of many of our places now and as a result we’re changing our ideas of how a formal garden should look.
Q: How did you learn the art of beekeeping?
A: I saw a demo at the Royal Show eight or nine years ago and I was riveted. I wanted to know why the bees weren’t flying away, or stinging everyone. I then went on a taster day at a city farm, and that was it.
Q: What do you like best about keeping bees?
A: I love looking into a hive and feeling its warmth and smell, and hearing its gentle buzz. It’s never dull in there. It feels like such a privilege, as if you’re being allowed to look into another, very special, world.
Q: Any downsides of beekeeping?
A: Getting stung. But that happens a lot less often than when I started as I’m more careful. I try not to get stung for my sake but also for the bee’s sake as once a bee has stung you, she dies.
Q: How do you see the future for honey bees?
A: I am optimistic. There’s been a massive rise in interest in bees over the past ten years and lots of people are now keeping bees. I’m pleased that so many of our places now keep honey bees – it fits well with our conservation work.
This article first appeared in the National Trust Magazine spring 2016 issue.
While there's not enough regional honey to supply all of our shops, we do sell our own branded honey sourced from the Oxford Honey Company. Their honey is guaranteed to come from Britain and, unlike most mass-produced honeys, it's raw and contains no additives.