As spring emerges our thoughts turn to salvaging our gardens from the clutches of winter and returning them back to their former glory. Once you have taken stock of your plant survivors, spare a thought for some of the other creatures in your garden, in particular the bees.
Bees have a really important role to play in nature’s delicate balancing act. You can really help by creating an optimum environment for these creatures to flourish, which will in turn benefit your garden immensely. Bees have been buzzing round this planet for millions of years but with the decline of wildflower meadows and the use of pesticides, they are now struggling. Staggeringly 97% of wildflower meadows have disappeared since World War II so we really do need to turn this around. But how?
Plant bee-friendly flowers
We can all do our bit to support bees by providing a healthy food source all year round. It’s simple to bee a better gardener, just introduce some nectar (for energy) and pollen-rich plants (for protein) into your garden to encourage pollinators. It will help sustain the bee population with a balanced diet.
- Most people would love their garden to be an abundance of colourful flowers. When it comes to choosing suitable plants there is a tremendous array to tantalise the taste buds of all our pollinators and provide a rich and varied diet.
- Plant annuals. Cottage garden classics such as cosmos, sunflowers, sweet peas and zinnias make ideal companions alongside perennials like delphiniums, hardy geraniums, echinacea, sedums (now correctly named hylotelephium) the tall spires of hollyhocks, hellebores, the autumn essential ivy, catmint, rudbeckia, scabious, lamb’s ears and the very in-vogue dahlia.
- Bumblebees, with longer tongues, are drawn to lungwort (pulmonaria) and the large, tubular flower heads of biennial foxgloves.
- Fruit and vegetables can provide food for all. Raspberries, strawberries, squashes and courgettes are a great dual-purpose addition to any kitchen garden, feeding the bees and providing food for the table. Garden herbs are another great choice; borage, chamomile, rosemary and thyme sit solidly among wildflowers such as cornflower, poppy, teasel and honesty.
- Prolific flowering shrubs like dwarf Buddleja davidii ‘Buzz Magenta,’ Berberis darwinnii, hebe, pyracantha and wild shrub roses are beautiful assets in the garden; virburnum, cotoneaster, ceanothus and hypericum (St John’s Wort) are all bee magnets. Many are evergreen for all year round interest.
- Trees are incredibly important nectar and pollen sources and are often overlooked. Amelanchier, holly, rowan (sorbus), sweet and horse chestnut and willow. We need the bees; pollination is vital for our apple, pear, cherry and plum fruit trees.
- Bees also relish flowers with numerous tiny flowers on long stems which sway in the breeze such as Verbena bonariensis, yarrow, fennel, lavender and golden rod.
- Single flower heads are preferable as they offer easier access and more pollen than the congested closed heads of doubles. Bees enjoy grazing the same type of plant so plant in blocks where possible.
Sow a wildflower bed
Now not many of us are likely to be able to plant an entire wildflower meadow at home but we can all make a contribution, however small in our plots.
- Our front lawn hosts a wild patch of uncut grass; while being a decorative feature, it also produces a diverse collection of wildflowers, some of which may be classed as weeds but it keeps the bees happy! Dandelions are a big hit. Snip off the spent flower heads to stop them self-seeding around your treasured borders (and your neighbour’s).
- Relinquish a border to free-flowing wildflowers; the wildlife will love you for it.
- If space is tight or you prefer things a little more formal then sow in containers. You can still achieve a highly attractive pollinator area but in a controlled, more organised fashion.
You can bee a better gardener; it’s a win-win for bees, gardens and gardeners alike.