With the global decline of bees, it has never been more important to support the pollinator population in your garden. Make sure you fill your garden with as many pollen-rich plants as you can to give our bees a fighting chance, as they are vital components of our biodiversity. The Royal Horticultural Society reports Britain as having 25 species of bumblebees, of which about 11 commonly visit garden flowers. They also state that there are about 260 species of solitary bee in Britain, all of which have been in decline in the last 50 years for a variety of reasons.
Nectar and Pollen
Flowers attract insects by providing them with two rich sources of food: nectar and pollen. Nectar provides insects with an energy source as it contains sugar, while pollen grains contain proteins and oils. It’s also a good idea to have at least two nectar or pollen-rich plants in flower at any one time during this period. The nectar feeds the adult bee, while the pollen is collected to feed their larvae. It is vital that gardeners provide flowers throughout the bees life-cycle, from March to September.
Different bumblebee species have tongues of differing lengths and so prefer different flowers. The longest-tongued species, Bombus hortorum, prefer deep flowers such as honeysuckle, foxgloves and aquilegia. There are six plant families bumblebees are particularly attracted to, but they will also appeal to other pollinators such as honeybees and butterflies. These include Boraginaceae (the wildflower comfrey, which makes a potassium-rich compost), and Fabaceae (peas),
Viper’s bugloss ( Echium vulgare ) is perhaps the best single plant to attract bumblebees to a garden, and attracts both short and long-tongued varieties. Planting just one or two of these will attract many bees. It has beautiful blue flowers two feet tall, and blooms from June to August, making a good herbaceous border.
The rose family, especially hawthorn and potentilla, seems to be irresistible to bees, as are fennel, angelica, cow parsley and sedum flowers. Tubular-shaped flowers, such as snapdragons and heathers, are also all favourite feeding grounds for bees. Spring flowers attracting bees include bluebell, bugle, crab apple, daffodil, flowering cherry and currant, forget-me-not, hellebore, pulmonaria, pussy willow, rhododendron, rosemary, viburnum and thrift.
To tempt the bees in early summer plant aquilegia, astilbe, campanula, everlasting sweet pea, fennel, geranium, potentilla, stachys, teasel, thyme and verbascum. Late summer flowers attracting bees include angelica, aster, buddleia, cardoon, cornflower, dahlia (single-flowered), delphinium, eryngium, fuchsia, globe thistle, ivy, lavender, penstemon, scabious and sedum.
Make Your Garden a Home for Bees
One of the best ways to encourage bees in your garden is to keep your own bees with a hive, or allow a beekeeper to place hives in your garden. You could also add a bumblebee box to your garden. Nest boxes containing cardboard tubes or hollow plant stems, or holes drilled in blocks of wood, ranging from two to eight millimetres wide, will provide nest sites for some species of solitary bees.
The more flowers you plant, the more varieties of bees you will attract into your garden, and the more flowers and vegetables will be pollinated. This is particularly important for fruit and vegetable growers as apples, plums, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, red currants, gooseberries and strawberries, broad beans, runner beans and some members of the marrow-pumpkin family all rely on insects to bring about pollination. Be conscious that you should never use pesticides on plants while they are in flower, as this will harm bees.