Common Carder Bee on Scabious flower

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

24 thoughts on “For the Bees

  1. That first photo is divine! (and BTW you wrote Astrantia in the text when you meant Alstroemeria – the photo is correct). Do you grow the giant scabious / Cephalaria gigantea which always seems to be smothered in bees when I see it.

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    1. Thanks Jude! (And thank you for the heads-up about the mistake, hehe. I re-read it several times before scheduling the post but didn’t notice.) We do have a few Cephalaria gigantea which have seeded themselves around and hoverflies really love those too. All the members of the scabious family seem popular with pollinators, so that’s a pretty good excuse for growing more. 🙂

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    1. Great that you’re seeing lots of bees. We may have fewer butterflies this year – I hope that it’s only that I haven’t noticed them while I’ve been focused on the pond.

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  2. Well, since money is king, big agriculture is more interested in their profit margins than the health of their product suppliers. Someday if we lose the bees food will be a lot more expensive with all the laborers hand pollinating crops.

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      1. Then the link is more plausible over there than I realized. Over here I don’t think many people know that “the bee’s knees” was once a popular expression, so long ago did it fade from use.

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  3. I see Steve and I thought of the same saying about the ‘bees’ knees.’ That had mostly faded by the time I came along, but I do remember my mother using the expression from time to time.

    I smiled to see your Alstromeria. I’ve only ever seen those in the grocery store, and it amazed me the first time I realized there were people who included them in their gardens. Is your Eryngium a native species? Our natives finally are putting on color; they’re one of my favorite plants.

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    1. Alstoemerias are so pretty that I’d like to have them growing here – must try to find some space for one! The eryngium was photographed in someone else’s garden but we do have some here. Ours are Eryngium planum ‘Blue Cap’. There is a native eryngium in the UK. It’s Eryngium maritimum (sea holly), which is a very attractive silvery blue and grows along the sand dunes here in the east of England (and elsewhere too I expect).

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  4. Your flowers are beautiful, Ann, and it must be so satisfying to see them receive many visits by pollinators. We, too, try to attract insects with flowers native to this area and it makes me happy to see them teeming with little critters.

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    1. Thank you Tanja! it makes me very happy to see bees and other wildlife in my garden. Not all the flowers were photographed here though. The alstroemeria and the eryngium were both in another garden. (But I do have a different eryngium here.) Sadly, we don’t seem to have so many butterflies here so far this year – I’m still hoping for those!

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      1. Sorry if I missed that detail about the flowers’ location, Ann. Whenever there is a dearth of a certain animal, I never know if it’s because of a natural fluctuation or for some human-made reason.
        Wishing you that more butterflies will show themselves in your garden. 🦋🦋🦋

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  5. Great blog Ann! I have never thought that much about where the bees are lurking in my little garden and what plants they are frequenting – must look more carefully. There seem to be not as many bees this year along with butterflies. I did see a Hummingbird in my bottle brush this morning, but that was about it. Very dry here and even the plants look tired. Sigh!

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    1. I’ve been thinking the same, Syd. There seem to be fewer bees and butterflies around. I keep hoping that there will be more but it is very worrying. (It’s very dry here too – no rain and very high temperatures. There’s even a red alert for extreme temperatures for Monday and Tuesday – yikes!)

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