Bees have been in the news a lot recently, unfortunately because their populations have been struggling. Problems such as sudden colony collapse, where worker bees abruptly disappear, and parasitic mites such as varroa, have all contributed towards their dwindling numbers, which could become a huge problem for everyone because of the crucial role bees play in the pollination of so many of our food crops.
As gardeners, we can easily do our bit for bees and in fact, probably already do without even thinking about it. Now there are fewer flowers in the countryside, our gardens are nectar-rich havens for bees, and if you fill yours with the kind of plants bees especially love, it will be even better.
It’s easy to spot the plants they like in summer, when they’ll be alive with the buzzing of busy bees. In my garden, they make a beeline (sorry) for alliums, lavender, catmint (nepeta), foxgloves, sea holly (eryngium), oregano and Verbena bonariensis. But the trick is to make sure there are flowers and nectar available for them all year round, not just the summer. Early opening bulbs such as snowdrops, crocus and winter aconites are handy for when bees first emerge from hibernation and spring flowers such as heather, crab apple and cherry blossom, pulmonaria and flowering currant will all fuel bees until summer flowers start to open.
The other thing you can do to help bees is make sure your garden includes plenty of plants with single flowers, and fewer ones with complex double blooms. Bees can’t get to the nectar through the profusion of petals in a double flower (and that’s if they’ve got any nectar at all – often it has disappeared through the breeding work that made the flower so blowsy).
And if you use pesticides in your garden, do only spray early in the morning or in the evening when bees are less likely to be around, and avoid spraying plants that are in flower and receiving regular visits from bees.
MUST-HAVE PLANT… Aquilegia
EVERYDAY: Aquilegia vulgaris
Granny’s bonnets are champion self-sowers, each plant producing flowers in shades of pink and purple above a clump of fresh green leaves.
EXTRA SPECIAL: Aquilegia ‘Nora Barlow’
This special variety has double flowers with white-tipped pink petals, making for a much more eye-catching bonnet than the others!
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