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  • Writer's pictureDower House Honey

What is a bee friendly garden?

Updated: May 19, 2021

Our gardens are extremely important for bees and other pollinators for a number of reasons, most notably providing them with access to the nectar and pollen they need to thrive. Nectar gives them a strong energy source, while pollen provides much of the protein they need to be able to feed to their young. By growing a good mix of flowering plants in your garden, you can provide a wealth of nectar and pollen for a wide range of bee species.

Some plants offer better support for pollinators than others. The good news is that a lot of these plants are classic gardeners' choices anyway, so you don't necessarily have to plan a bee-friendly planting scheme in order to have some of them in your garden. Bees are active for a large amount of the year; this means to give them the best possible chance to thrive, it is important to try and grow plants that flower year round from late winter through to autumn. The varieties are also important as different bee species' tongues vary in size, so try to provide different shaped flowers.

A great way to help bees in spring is to plant spring-flowering bulbs in autumn. Bulbs are hardy and reliable plants, so you can guarantee the bees will have a source of pollen and nectar when there’s little else in flower. A few of our favourites are crocuses and alliums, both of which are loved by all types of bees. Snowdrops are also good and often provide a first sign that spring is on its way. They contain abundant yellow pollen, helping to feed bumblebees and honeybees emerging on sunny winter days.

As the year moves on, lavender and chives are good garden plants that are both great for bees in early summer. A classic bee and butterfly favoured shrub is the buddleia, and can be used as an impressive feature plant for beds and borders. The Strawberry is another great summer flower bearing plant which can be grown in beds, pots or a window box.

In Autumn the natural ivy you might already have in your garden produces delicate flowers and pairs nicely with honeysuckle to give some height to your garden. Honeysuckle is a vigorous climber producing long, tubular flowers rich in sweet-scented nectar and are visited by long-tongued bees. Conversely for short tongued bees in Autumn, a sedum is perfect, it's a drought tolerant succulent plant, with nectar-rich flower clusters which are popular with honeybees, furrow bees and the Short-tongued bumblebee.

As the weather gets colder and the days get shorter, the bees activity starts to reduce but they can still be spotted out foraging before hunkering down for winter's coldest months. Plants such as the hellebores are good to help tie pollinators over into spring.

As well as having a diverse range of flora in your garden, there are a few other things that you can do to make your garden attractive and bee friendly.

1. Spend more time admiring and less time pruning

Allowing areas of your garden to grow out can be really beneficial, leaving a few parts untouched can provide shelter for bees and other wildlife. Especially if your garden has a south-facing bank, consider leaving it as a wild corner as this can offer great nest sites for warmth-loving solitary bees.

2. Reduce the use of pesticides

Pesticides are one of the key threats to bees, and so one way to help is to stop using treatments in your own garden. Some "run of the mill" weeds such as dandelions are a real favourite for bees and can provide vital food early in the season. Leaving them to be enjoyed by your little garden vistors is an easy way to help out our furry friends.

3. Provide a water source

Making honey is thirsty work, adding a small water feature such as a birdbath with some sticks in it will not only provide a perfect pitstop for bees to rehydrate; but will also help attract other wildlife into your garden.

4. The more purple the better

Bees see purple better than any other colour, so the more purple flowers you have in your garden, the better. Choices such as alliums, agapanthus, and buddleia are great. Agapanthus is a great place to start as it produces spectacular clusters of purple blooms during the summer months. It is irresistible to honey bees; plus its relatively low-maintenance and does well is any type of soil. Just plant it in a sunny spot and the you'll be able to see the bees enjoying it.

5. Simple and easy for bees

A good tip is to plant flowers which have single petal flowers, these are the easiest for bees to access such as poppies and single dahlias. Honeybees like saucer-shaped flowers as they are easier to get into with their short tongues. Honeybees also like larger groups of one plant, unlike bumblebees, honeybees collect one type of pollen per forage flight which means they don't like to mix pollen types in one trip.

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