Secret Gardens: Lush HQ's Haven for Wild Bees

We visited the tranquil roof garden at the top of Lush’s head office on Beak Street on World Bee Day, with Grace Cohen (Lush, pictured right) and gardener Alison Benjamin (Urban Bees, pictured left). It’s the end of May and the plants are teeming with bees, just starting to come alive after spring.

Storm Flowers Garden: Tell us about the rooftop garden here at Lush HQ

Grace Cohen: We've been in Beak Street for about 7 years now. Early on in our time here we knew we wanted a comfortable space for our colleagues to relax in the sunshine outdoors, while looking after our local wildlife population. Alison was brought in to design our garden and the rest is history! In the summer Alison comes in to teach the building about how the garden supports wild bee populations while we all enjoy a vegan ice cream. We also have started to use the mint grown in the garden for drinks in our new Wellness Floor - this consists of a Lush Spa and Hairlab for our staff and PR guests.

SFG: What do the staff think?

“To be able to access nature in this way in Soho feels like a real privilege,” says one employee, who visits the gardens on most occasions when they are in the office. “It’s a chance to disconnect… a quiet space away from many people that London’s public green areas can’t always offer,” says another, who doesn’t have access to outside space at home.



SFG: Alison, can you share with us how you initially became interested in beekeeping and how long you’ve been working with bees for? 

Alison Benjamin: I became a beekeeper almost 20 years ago when I thought I’d save bees by having a beehive in the garden of my West London flat. I’d read back then that bees were in danger and thought I could help by keeping honeybees. Research now suggests there isn’t always enough forage to go around and that honeybees can outcompete wild bees, so now I focus on creating gardens for wild bees and people to enjoy. There are 270 different species of bees in the UK; only 1 is a honey bee that lives in a hive, looked after by a beekeeper, and the other 269 species are wild, don’t have places to nest or often enough to eat, so they need our help more. That’s why there isn’t a hive in this garden.

SFG: What is the significance of supporting solitary bee populations, especially in urban environments like Soho?

AB: The vast majority of bee species are solitary, often nesting in nooks and crannies in urban areas such as cracks in the concrete, holes in wooden benches, or burrowing into the earth. With the construction of more urban developments, habitats for solitary bees are destroyed. We can help by creating safe places for them to nest, and by planting flowers, trees, and shrubs for them to feed on throughout the year.



Creating a buzz: building a bee-friendly garden

The location presented some challenges when it came to designing the garden at Lush HQ. As an exposed space without much shade, plants would be exposed to full sun in the summer. The soil quality is poor, and the relatively high altitude means there can often be high wind. Despite this, Alison has worked hard to ensure there’s something available all year round for local bee populations.



The plants are placed in hexagonal wooden planters at different heights, allowing space for functional seating. Alison has installed a bee observation box for red mason bees, and nesting sites for wild, solitary bees (pictured above), of which she has recorded 7 species that regularly forage in the garden. She only needs to visit the garden once a month for dead-heading and plant replacement. More bulbs are planted in the autumn, and in the spring perennials are cut down and mulched.

The test came during the pandemic when the building was closed and the garden had to look after itself. As some plants died in the scorching summer sun, others grew and self-seeded. Since then, an irrigation system has been installed and now the garden is an extraordinary example of a low maintenance, maximum impact garden which provides support for local wildlife. It’s a successful formula for other companies to take note of.




Many solitary bees are named from their preferred flower or the way they construct their nests. The smallest bee in the UK is the small scissor bee with the Latin name Chelostoma campanularum because it loves campanula flowers. 


SFG: What plants have been selected to support and attract solitary bees?

AB: There are different bees flying at different times of year, and they need food from early February right the way through to October. The trick is to have something in flower each month sequentially.

Alison recommends planting a mix of perennials, shrubs and wallflowers. The early flying bees in the spring enjoy bulbs like grape hyacinths and crocus. For the summer, plant cranesbill, alliums, erigeron and campanula. In the autumn, oregano, salvia, and Michaelmas daisy (on which Alison has just done the Chelsea chop) are great for a variety of bees.



SFG: What do you most want people to take away from a visit to the garden?

AB: Open your eyes and ears, see and hear nature on your doorstep, the bird song above the noise of the traffic, the buzzing on the flowers. There’s a whole invisible world to be discovered. You’ll see the bees, with a little bit of patience. Look, there’s a hairy-footed flower bee over there!

She points at the Bird’s-foot trefoil, a yellow wildflower tumbling out of a low planter. 

AB: I think it’s good for mental wellbeing as well, just being in the moment, sitting and watching, concentrating on a flower, thinking is that a bee or a hoverfly?

SFG: Looking ahead, what are your hopes for the future of the garden and the bee population here at Lush HQ?

AB: For the Lush rooftop to act as a showcase to encourage other companies to follow suit and provide somewhere relaxing and attractive for their staff, that also helps wild bees in an urban environment. I would love to create more rooftop gardens in Soho and introduce people to the wonder of bees all around them.

The most important advice though?

AB: Don’t have a hive!

With thanks to Grace and Alison for showing us around the garden.
Additional images by insect photographer Penny Metal from the Urban Bees “Bees to see in 2024” Calendar. If you would like to find out more about the fascinating world of bees, The Good Bee: A Celebration of Bees & How to Save Them by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum is out now.
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