The hum of bees buzzing about the garden is one of the delightful pleasures of summer and creating a bee-friendly garden is such a fun and easy thing to do.
Follow my top tips for bee-friendly gardening and you’ll be supporting these marvellous creatures for generations to come.
Bees have been making headlines recently because their numbers are in serious decline.
This is a problem because bees are important pollinators of flowers and crops that support not only us humans but UK wildlife as well.
The main cause of this decline is habitat loss, which is depriving bees of the food sources and nesting sites that they need to thrive.
These are areas in which gardeners can make a big difference!
Planting bee-friendly flowers in your garden creates new nectar and pollen sources for bees, helping to feed them and their young. So, which flowers should you choose?
First up, bees love purple.
Purple is the colour that they see best, and purple flowers are usually chock-full of nectar and pollen, making them great food sources for bees.
A favourite of mine is Echinops (Globe thistle).
This plant has striking orbs of bristly purple flowers that bees just can’t seem to get enough of.
Another old favourite is the fantastically scented Lavendula angustifolia (English lavender).
Lavender grows excellently in UK gardens and seems rarely to be without the company of bees in summer.
Buddleias, too, are another perennial purple flower favourite, not only with the bees but also with the butterflies.
Since they are so unfussy, Buddleias will grow well in almost any garden, making them a great choice for budding bee-friendly gardeners.
Bees don’t just like purple flowers, of course.
They find nectar sources not only by looking for coloured petals, but also by sniffing them out with their feet! This means that bees can be found buzzing around anything that is rich in nectar.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that anything you plant will be good for bees, though. Some of the beautiful blooms that are on sale have been bred for their looks rather than their pollen and nectar production.
This means that while they may look incredible, these are not great food sources for bees.
Plants that are both stunning and bee-friendly are easy to find, though.
The tall stems of Digitalis (aka Foxglove), attractive flower clusters of Lonicera (aka Honeysuckle), and dainty blooms of Fuschia are all fantastic for bees.
Their trumpet-shaped flowers also make it easy for bees to land.
The delicate stems of Erysium (Wallflower) look great, are a big hit with bees and come in a variety of colours.
Look for the daring pink petals of the ‘Bowles’ Mauve’ variety or the vibrant orange flowers of ‘Apricot Twist,’ to add oomph to sunny borders and feed the bees simultaneously!
Another option is to grow herbs in your garden and let some of the stems flower.
Herbs that are fantastic for bees include:
Salvia officianlis (Sage), Allium schoenoprasum (Chives), Thymus vulgaris (Thyme) and Origanum vulgare (Oregano).
This is a great option if you’re short on space, since herbs needn’t take up much room. Plant them in a window box or in a trough on a balcony and watch as the local bees seek them out.
Grow herbs to feed
the bees and
A bonus of herbs, of course, is that you can use them in your cooking or to flavour a cocktail after a day’s hard graft in the garden—what more could you ask for?
When you’re planting for bees, be aware that some flowers are toxic to bees.
In particular, research by Kew Gardens shows that Rhododendron nectar poisons honeybees, but that honeybees will still continue to visit these plants.
Don’t panic if you already have Rhododendron bushes in your garden.
However, if your aim is to create a bee haven, then it is a good idea to avoid planting your bee-friendly area next to your Rhododendron bushes!
If you’d like more ideas for bee-friendly plants, see my bee-friendly plants blog.
Alternatively, see the RHS’s list of ‘Plants for Pollinators’ or look for their ‘Plants for Pollinators’ logo on plant labels.
Planting a mixture of early, mid-season and late flowering plants is ideal as it ensures that bees have a food supply throughout the season.
Bee-friendly pest control
Another reason for the decline in the bee population is the use of bee-toxic pesticides. So, as a gardener, another great thing you can do is use bee-safe pest control measures.
If you can, avoid pesticides labelled ‘systemic’ or ‘translocated’ since these are toxic to bees.
If you must use them, not spraying them on open blooms where bees land is a small measure that will make a big difference.
There are also lots of natural pest control measures that are very bee-friendly.
A solution of garlic and white wine vinegar sprayed onto to plants is a great way to protect them from aphids, whitefly and leaf-chewing beetles.
Alternatively, plant Calendulas (Marigolds) or Nasturtium around your plants. Aphids hate the smell of Marigolds and will stay away…
…while aphids and caterpillars both love chomping on Nasturtium so much that they will eat them over other nearby flowers!
Biological controls (that is, the introduction of predatory creatures that prey upon pests) are another option that can be effective, especially in a greenhouse where the creatures can be contained.
You can use them to control everything from whitefly to red spider mite, slugs to scale insects.
Since none of these creatures also preys on bees they are a perfectly bee-safe method.
These days, you can order biological controls online and get them delivered straight to your door.
Bee hotels and nesting sites
There are over 270 species of bee in Britain, and over 200 of these are solitary bees which nest on their own and support their larvae single-handedly. Habitat destruction is wreaking havoc for these bees by depriving them of nesting sites.
As a gardener, it’s easy to support solitary bees by providing them with new nesting sites in your garden.
Wool carder bees, Leafcutter bees and Red mason bees are all common types of bee that will make use of bee hotels.
These are easy and fun to make using hollow bamboo canes, which is a great activity for involving the kids.
Alternatively, you can buy bee hotels from the garden centre.
Another thing you can do is leave a patch of your grass to go wild.
This provides nesting sites for solitary bees that nest in tussocks.
Red-tailed black bumblebees, Brown carder bees and Shrill carder bees will all nest in grass, given the chance.
In case you’re worried, solitary bees like these are extremely docile and rarely sting, so they are very child and pet safe creatures to have in your garden.
So, there’s absolutely buckets you can do to help our bees to recover and thrive. And, since bees are responsible for producing 1 in every 3 bites of the food we eat, helping the bees is also helping ourselves!