More than 20,000 species of bee exist in the world – and they are dying because of climate change, pesticide poisoning and plant loss. Around 84% of plant species and 76% of food production in Europe depends upon pollination and yet bee numbers have declined by some 50% in recent years. We need to be kind to them; if they die, we die.
So I was particularly pleased this week to be asked for some advice on what to plant in and around a bee farm. A nectar café that would provide the bees not only with a safe habitat but a place where they can always forage and find food.
On a smaller scale it is something we can all plan in our gardens. Every spring morning, when I step out of our front door, it gives me a warm feeling when I see bees busily working through our hardenbergia, followed by spring jasmine, Chinese wisteria and
then roses. It’s delightful, and it’s essential to keep this activity going right through the year.
Here are some of the necessities you need to think about. Firstly make your bee garden as sheltered as you can – even the best nectar plants will struggle against a cold wind and bees don´t like to be out and about in those conditions. Plant in drifts so that colour and scent are easily detected. Simple flowers – as against doubles - are more attractive to bees and these are usually old-fashioned varieties, before the days of fancy hybridisation. Double forms can often be difficult for a bee to access and they are sometimes so highly hybridised that they have no nectar or pollen. Bees are blind to red and orange and are attracted to paler colours – white, soft yellow, pink, blue and lilac. Scent is a great draw too. Veinings on flowers are often there to guide the bees into the pollen, so look out for them in your flowers. Flowers with ‘landing pad’ petals – such as iris and antirrhinum – are great for them to land and take off. Spread the flowering season throughout the year – for your own delight and that of the bees!
Remember that most herbs are very attractive to bees, so use them lavishly in your planting scheme.
So, specifically, here are some plants that will invite our lovely furry visitors into your garden throughout the seasons.
Early Spring: wisteria sinensis, jasminum polyanthum, papaver, clematis armandii, aubretia, alyssum, nasturtium, dorycnium hirsutum, viola, erysimum or wallflower. All our daisy type flowers such as argyranthemum, felicia, gazania, dimorphotheca, arctotis and lampranthus are magnets too. Spring flowering bulbs such as narcissi, crocus and tulips. Also, and vitally important, all our fruit trees, starting with almonds, quince, peach, nectarine, apricot, plum, cherry and advancing into pomegranate, loquat etc. The bees adore our paulownia, or foxglove, tree. Remember too ‘wild’ flowers such as broom, gorze and the delicate-looking rock roses or cistus.
Late Spring into Summer: the mallow family such as hollyhocks, digitalis or foxgloves, lilies, iris, verbena bonariensis, echinacea or coneflower, hemerocalis, penstemon, portulaca, borage and comfrey, cerinthe major, scabious, tulbaghia, echium, acanthus, helianthemum or sunflower, hibiscus and the lovely dusty pink centranthus ruber or valerian. Single roses are loved more than the very fully petalled ones. Think too of climbers such as distictis laxiflora, petrea volubilis, campsis grandiflora (they prefer the softer apricot colouring to the vibrant orange), various jasmine and honeysuckle.
Autumn: Most of our early springtime flowerers awake from summer hibernation and have a second life in autumn. Many of the golden-coloured daisies are at their best – rudbeckia, coreopsis and gaillardia. Sedum spectabile and heliotrope or hot cherry pie are both great autumn favourites as are seeding ornamental grasses.
Winter: aster, chrysanthemum, ceanothus, crocus colchicum, hellebore, aloe arborescens and the prolifically-flowering hardenbergia violacea or Australian wisteria.
Herbs will often flower intermittently year round: lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme and borage are probably their favourites but they are also drawn to mints, chives, nepeta or catmint and oreganum.
These will not only create a bee paradise but a scented and beautiful garden for us too and we have most of them in stock!