Gardens Illustrated
Letters to a beekeeper book cover

Book review - Letters to a Beekeeper

Published: August 30, 2017 at 1:03 pm

Here you can read the book review of Letters to a Beekeeper by gardener Alys Fowler and beekeeping expert Steve Benbow.

Letters to a Beekeeper
by Alys Fowler and Steve Benbow

Cover of the book Letters to a Beekeeper by Alys Fowler and Steve Benbow
A heart-warming tale of perseverance and survival between bees, plants and those who want to lend a helping hand
Reviewer and a staff writer for Gardens Illustrated, Alys Hurn

My dad is a beekeeper and I have grown up knowing the hard work and devotion involved in keeping bees. It’s a full-time job and an emotional one too – losing bees to varroa mite or to a bitter winter is heart breaking but the sound of happy bees, the taste of fresh honey, and the warming scent of cedar and beeswax is magic.


Letters to a Beekeeper documents that hard work, frustration and exhilaration of beekeeping between urban bee expert, Steve Benbow and gardener and beekeeping first-timer Alys Fowler. The deal is this, Benbow helps Fowler to keep bees in a top bar hive and in return, Fowler helps him plant a wild, pollinator-friendly garden at London’s Tate Britain. By reading their emails, texts and letters written on the back of seed packets and post cards, you learn a lot about how plants and bees are intrinsically linked. Fowler goes into amazing detail about why certain plants are better for bees and includes statistics on the amount of pollen a honey bee colony requires every year (15-55kg, if you’re wondering). Benbow’s experience of keeping bees is vast, and he patiently guides Fowler through the challenges of beekeeping, drawing on his extensive network of beekeepers who help him out when Fowler’s more experimental style of beekeeping vexes him.


Benbow and Fowler impress and frustrate each other in equal measure. They’re both anxious about their new ventures and impatient for success, which makes for an entertaining read. For Fowler, honey isn’t her goal – a decision that baffles Benbow – instead she takes comfort from seeing the bees at work and making sure they have the plants they need to survive. Ultimately, this book is an advocate for bees and pollinating plants and it highlights the delicate balance of nature.

Unbound, £20 ISBN 978-1783521159


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