For the Bees

Helping bees is the annual focus of ‘Bees’ Needs Week’ again, starting tomorrow. By helping bees to survive and thrive, we’re really helping ourselves. A large part of agriculture relies on bees (and other pollinators) to pollinate the crops that provide our own food.

It seems deeply ironic to me that while agriculture relies on wild pollinators to pollinate an estimated 85-95% of the UK crops that require it, that agriculture is also a main reason for their decline. The destruction of wild habitats by intensive farming and the use of pesticides and weedkillers is making the survival of insects more difficult. But we can all help to fight the decline in wild bees and other insects in our own gardens, on balconies, allotments, and on any patch of spare ground.

Bumblebee on Eryngium
Bumblebee on Eryngium

Plants with plenty of pollen and nectar are the most obvious thing we can provide. A wide variety of garden plants are attractive to bees, so there’s lots to choose from for the gardener. There is a list of some of the best plants for bumblebees here. And here is an excellent (and longer) list of good pollinator plants from bee expert Dave Goulson. (Scroll down his page for it.)

If you garden, you’ll soon notice which of your plants the bees prefer. I try to be aware of the most popular flowers in my own garden and grow a few more of them if I can squeeze them in. I keep an eye open for the plants that are being visited by bees in other people’s gardens too.

I was very pleased to see the bees on the alstroemeria in the photograph below because it’s one that I’d like to plant here. It looks to me as if the honeybee is impatiently waiting for the bumblebee to get out of that flower! (I wonder why that one – there were plenty of others to choose from.)

Bees on Alstroemeria
Honeybee and Bumblebee on Alstroemeria: ‘Hey wake up in there, it’s my turn!’

Water, obviously, is another essential to life for the bees and you can make their search for it easier and safer by providing some. (It’s easy for bees to drown in deep water.) The recommended method is simply to fill a shallow bowl with pebbles and top it up with water. Then the bees can land on a pebble and stand there safely while drinking. But do remember to change the water occasionally so that you don’t get any mosquitos breeding in there!

Planting for bees brings a lot of satisfaction to my own garden. In late spring the distinct buzzing of bees from our ceanothus bush makes me grin…they sound so busy there! And the catmint attracts not only our cats but lots of bees too. They also love our apple trees, the lavender, thyme, alliums, hardy geraniums, and daisies of all kinds. Best of all here are the different varieties of scabious (top photo), which flower for a long time and always seem to have a bee or other pollinator somewhere. (OK, that is an exaggeration, but they are very popular.)

I hope that this will give you some ideas about a plant or two to add to your own space for the bees. Happy (buzzing) Bees Needs Week!

Honeybee on Astrantia
Honeybee on Astrantia