‘My Garden of a Thousand Bees’ – The drama, the battles

'Nature' - Bee documentary opens 40th season on PBS

Martin Dohrn

The pandemic forced many of us to adapt and find new ways of doing things while in quarantine, including the maker of a documentary upcoming on PBS’ “Nature.”

In “My Garden of a Thousand Bees,” premiering Wednesday, Oct 20 (check local listings), as the first installment of the series’ 40th season, wildlife photographer Martin Dohrn uses lockdown to his advantage as he turns his camera on the bees in the backyard of his urban Bristol, England, home.

Using lenses he forged on his kitchen table, Dohrn captures the astounding behavior of the more than 60 bee species living lives on his tiny property that are far more complicated than anyone had ever known.

“What Martin had discovered,” explains longtime “Nature” executive producer Fred Kaufman, “was these far more complicated lives than we could think of and sort of the nastiness that takes place in the garden. I mean, some of the stuff is brutal. It’s kill or be killed; it’s eat or be eaten. It’s male searching for and jumping on female bees. It’s everybody trying to steal everybody else’s nest and lay their eggs in it.

“There’s a scene where a bee notices this cutout hole, an idea nest in the wood and tries to go in and all of a sudden this huge spider comes out to grab it. And you know, the spider’s in hiding and waiting to ambush. So it’s this drama that’s extraordinary and nasty.”

To film the bees in action, Dohrn set up cameras in his yard and let them run, and the moments he records are incredible — bees laying tiny eggs, spiders feasting on male flower bees and a female yellow-faced bee attacking a wasp to protect her nest. He realizes that these creatures have their own individual personalities and becomes intrigued by one wood-carving leafcutter bee in particular that he dubs Nicky.

“He actually built a relationship with a bee that he was kind of watching and documenting,” Kaufman says, “and he knew where she would build her nest and he really paid attention to her movements and everything. And in the end, it’s kind of this revelatory ‘Oh my God! I didn’t realize there’s so much drama that happens in the garden.’ … (It) is just extraordinary – the drama, the intricacies, the battles.”

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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