Bee on Echinops
Julie Parker
My interest in gardening & wildlife stemmed from childhood days spent working in the garden with my parents & reading books on anything from robins to giraffes. As time has moved on these influences have stayed with me inspiring the creation my own garden & leading to interests in fish keeping & the natural world around me. I still love to read & hope that the knowledge I gain will make topical reading through these articles.

How To Garden For The Bees

Attract these superstars to your garden with some bee-friendly plants

There has been a lot of concern in recent years about falling bee numbers & rightly so. Not only do they buzz around our gardens but they buzz around the crops we eat too. Whilst they are collecting nectar & pollen for their hives they are also pollinating & cross pollinating the plants, trees & shrubs they visit. Without pollination the plant will not produce its fruit whether this is an apple or a head of corn & only 10% of flowering plants are pollinated without ‘animal’ assistance. If you look at some of our bee facts below you will realise that the reduction in bee numbers may have dire consequences to our future crop production.

Honey bees are suffering the most with a number of possible problems facing them including the Varroa parasitic mite, disease, pesticides & poor beehive management overwinter. The honey bees stay active in the hive all winter keeping the temperature adjusted & the hive safe, totally reliant on the stores of honey they have built up over the year. Bumblebees & solitary bees are not affected by the Varroa mite but are suffering from a combination of a lack of suitable flowers & loss of habitat in which to nest & overwinter. They are choosier about the flowers they will visit, often preferring wild flowers to garden plants & they need overwintering & nesting sites in suitable locations. Of the Bumblebees it is only the queen that overwinters & after mating in the autumn she hibernates until spring. Then she needs to find a suitable nesting site, collect enough pollen & make enough honey to lay her eggs & feed herself until they hatch. Then she spends the year laying eggs, producing workers then finally drones & queens to carry on the cycle through to the following year.

How to Help With the Bee Population

  • Join your local beekeeping association & support local beekeepers by buying their honey & offering them somewhere to site their hive if you have a local wildflower meadow. Even start beekeeping yourself!
  • Grow native wild flowers and other bee friendly plants in the garden (See our planting plan below). Try to use pesticides sparingly & if you use them spray in the evening when the temperatures are lower & the bees less active.
  • Provide suitable nesting sites in the garden. Bumblebees & some solitary bees will nest down mouse holes or dig their own tunnels in soil or short grass so leave a quiet area of the garden untouched. Other solitary bees will nest in hollow stems & holes - you can make your own nest box for them from canes & drilled pieces of wood with holes up to 8mm (0.3”) wide positioned in a sheltered, sunny spot.

Some Interesting Bee Facts

  • Bees are responsible for pollinating 33% of the crops we eat.
  • The annual economic contribution that bee pollination makes to agriculture in this country is £165 million.
  • A bee will visit between 50-100 flowers during one trip.
  • Bees fly at an average speed of 20mph, in flight a bee beats its wings around a 180 times per minute.
  • Honey bees sleep and can be found catching a snooze on a flower.
  • A colony consists of 20,000-60,000 honey bees and one queen bee.
  • A queen bee can lay up to 2,000 eggs a day.
  • A queen honey bee can control the colony by producing a unique odour or pheromone. This unique smell helps to identify colony members and stops female works becoming fertile and breeding.
  • Worker honey bees are female. They live for 6-8weeks and do all the work.
  • The male honey bees are called drones. They don’t do any work as such; their male role is to reproduce. They have no stinger.
  • Honey bees communicate with one another by dancing. This special waggle dance tells other worker bees the location of resources such as water or good forage.
  • Bees can detect and use gravity to navigate while in complete darkness within the hive.
  • Bees can see ultraviolet light. Many flowers have patterns that are invisible to humans unless illuminated by UV.
  • To collect a pound of honey a bee might have to fly a distance equivalent to twice around the world. This is likely to involve more than 10,000 flower visits on maybe 500 foraging trips.
  • Bees are the only insect that produces food eaten by man.
  • We produce only 20% of the honey we consume, the rest is imported.

Plants to Attract Bees into the Garden

This isn’t a complete list of plants that will attract bees but provides a choice depending on the space available in your garden or patio & the type of plants you like! Honey bees are active from late winter through to autumn so try to select a range of plants that flower at different times of year to provide a constant supply of nectar.
Annual Plants
Alcea rosea (single flowered hollyhock), Cornflour, Cosmos bipinnatus, Forget Me Not, Helianthus annuus, Nigella
Herbaceous Perennials
Allium, Anemone hybrida, Arabis, Armeris maritima, Aster, Campanula, Doronicum, Echinops, Liatrus spicata, Nepeta, Papaver orientale, Rudbeckia, Solidago, Scabious, Verbena bonariensis, Veronica longifolia
Trees & Shrubs
Acer, Aesculus, Arbutus unedo, Box (Buxus sempervirens), Buddleia globosa, Calluna vulgaris, Caryopteris, Catalpa bignonioides, Ceanothus, Cercis siliquastrum, Chaenomeles speciosa, Clematis cirrhosa, Cornus alba, Corylus avellana, Crataegus, Cytisus, Daphne mezereum, Enkianthus campanulatus, Erica, Fuchsia, Gooseberry, Hebe, Hedera helix, Helianthemum, Holly, Hypericum, Laurus nobilus, Lavender, Lime, Loganberry, Lonicera purpusii, Malus, Mahonia aquifolium, Olearia, Parthenocissus tricuspidata, Pear & Ornamental Pears, Perovskia, Plum, Potentilla fruticosa, Prunus (single flowering), Raspberry, Ribes, Salix caprea, Sorbus aucuparia, Weigela florida & Hybrids, Wild Flowers

Our Bee Garden

At Hayes, we have a bee friendly garden that Yvonne designed & planted up earlier this year. It not only looks great but is filled with fun, bright colours & a range of flowering plants to feed the bees all summer. If you want to recreate something similar in your garden here is her plan. It is based on a plot approximately 3 x 2m using a log roll to edge the beds which are filled with general purpose compost. This plot is on hard standing & is built up to contain the compost but this would not be needed if you were re-creating it in your own garden. There is a pink gravel path with sun style stepping stones leading to a painted wooden Play House (all products are available in our garden centre).

Planting Plan

The key to the abbreviated plant names is below, each shape represents one plant.

The garden is planted so that it can be enjoyed from all angles with the airy stems of Lavender angustifolia (Lav) edging the path to release their scent as you brush past.

On the right hand side the planting starts with a small creeping Thyme ‘Doone Valley’ (T) followed by Scabious ‘Blue Butterfly’ (Sca), Papaver ‘Pattys Plum’ (Pap), Leucanthemum ‘Broadway Lights’ (Le), Solidago ‘Cloth of Gold’ (Sol), Doronicum (D), Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ (Ery), Digitalis ‘Illumination’ (Dig), Lupin ‘Majestic Red’ (Lup) & Potentilla ‘Red Robin’ (Pot). The planting on this side is finished off in pots of Hebe ‘Rhubarb & Custard’ (H) & Fuchsia genii (F) to soften the edge of the play house & Prunus ‘Kojo-no-mai’ (Pru) to give some added height.

On the left hand side the planting starts with a spreading carpet of Sedum ‘Rose carpet’ (Sed), followed by a delicate Geranium ‘Roxanne’ (GER), Coreopsis ‘Flying Saucer’ (Cor), Weigela ‘Monet’ (Weig), Veronica ‘Inspires’ – blue (Ver), Verbascum ‘Pink Petticoat’ (Verb), Ribes ‘King Edward’ (Ribes), Achillea ‘Summer Pastels’ (Ach), Geum ‘Cookie’ (Geu) & Verbena bonariensis (V) for height.

Even if you don’t have the room to create this design you can take ideas from it, for example grouping three of the plants in a bed or in pots for the patio to provide a treat for the bees & a colourful display to enjoy all summer!