Bee-ing Friendly

Bee on a mauve salvia with its proboscis out

Bee with her tongue out

A hundred small gardens are as good as a nature reserve, and you can make your garden a richer habitat for all our bee species  with little effort, just a few tweaks to your gardening practices.

One easy way to provide food for bees all year is to visit your local garden centre every month, see what plants the bees are on, and buy some.  If space and money are limited concentrate on adding early and late flowers as pollen and nectar are more abundant in the spring and summer.

A sunny day in Janurary can bring out hibernating bumblebees and pulmonaria, heathers and primroses are all beautiful ways of giving them a meal. Viburnum and Mahonias are great if you have room for shrubs. At the other end of the year flowers that will continue till the frost include Echinacea, Sedum spectabile, Helenium, Cosmos and achileas. Longer lists are below.

Black bowl full of marbles for bees to land on and drink

Bee drinking station

Bees can drown in open water, so make a bee drinking station with a bowl piled full of marbles. Water will move up by capillary action to where insects can reach it, allowing them to drink and fly away again safely. Top up with water in dry weather. Alchemila mollis is also a good plant to have as it hold pretty beads of water on its leaves which insects can drink.

Ready-made bee hotels have become a familiar sight, but you can make the most basic version by saving any hollow stems or old bamboo canes as you tidy your garden. Cut these to 12cm lengths, tie them into bundles and tuck into secluded corners. Clean cut ends seem to be preferred – possibly they are easier for the bees to cap.

And finally – avoid pesticides.  There may be times when you really feel you have to use them on aphids etc, and if so ways of avoiding killing ‘good’ insects are:

Spray in the evening, so residues will be reduced overnight before bees come back out,

Cover the sprayed plants with fleece for a few days,

Don’t spray onto flowering plants, and/or shield the flowers from the spray.

This is damage limitation, if you can use barriers to keep ‘bad’ insects off, encourage or buy biological pest control or put on your gloves and just squish the greenfly and other nasties it is better for the eco-system and your world.

Flowers for early pollen and nectar

  • Angelica (Angelica spp)
  • Aubretia (Aubretia)
  • English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
  • Ericas – heathers
  • Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
  • Grape hyacinth (Muscari botryoides)
  • Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp)
  • Mahonia japonica
  • Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
  • Sweet violet (Viola odorata)
  • Viburnum tinus
  • Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)
  • Wood anemone (Anemone nemorosa)
  • Yellow alyssum (Alyssum saxitile)

Flowers for mid-season pollen and nectar

  • Borage (Borago officinalis)
  • Buddleia (Buddleja davidii)
  • Catmint (Nepeta spp)
  • Chives (Allium shoenoprasam)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Heather (Calluna vulgaris)
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
  • Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum)
  • Lavender (Lavendula spp)
  • Mallow (Lavatera spp)
  • Marjoram (Origanum vulgare
  • Mint (Mentha spp)
  • Purple toadflax (Linaria purpurea)
  • Rock cress (Arabis caucasica)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarimus officinalis)
  • Sea holly (Eryngium maritimum)
  • Thyme (Thymus spp)
  • Verbena (Verbena bonariensis)
  • Perennial wallflower (Erysimum cheiri)

Flowers for late-season pollen and nectar

  • Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
  • French marigold (Tagetes spp)
  • Golden rod (Solidago candensis)
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp)
  • Ice plant (Sedum spectabile)
  • Ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Meadow saffron (Colchicum autumnale)
  • Michaelmas daisies (Aster novi-belgii)
  • Perennial sunflower (Helianthus spp)
  • Red valerian (Centranthus rubra)