Encouraging Bees into the garden
An article by our feature writer Christine Walkden
Love them or hate them...
Love them or hate them, the truth of the matter is, that we just cannot grow many crops and flowers successfully without bees.
Those people who are scared of bees and their stings, fortunately are in the minority, as we need bees for our crops and flowers.
That ‘Buzz’, is a very important sound, as without it many of our crops such as apples, pears, cherries, nuts, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, peas and beans plus many other garden and wild flowers would not be pollinated.
Without pollination - which is nothing more than the movement of pollen from one flower to another, brought about when bees visit each flower and get pollen on their bodies and legs - fertilization would not take place and no seed would be set, resulting in less wildflowers, loss of colour and variety and no seed, for the coming season.
Without seed some plants would be very expensive to produce or even may become in short supply because of the difficulty of propagating them, so pollination is very important to the survival of many food and ornamental plants which we often take for granted.
The bee population has been decreasing significantly over the past few years and this decline as been attributed to many factors such as the loss of wild habitats, intensive farming, incorrect use of pesticides, the changing nature of our climate and problems such as Varroa mite which is a parasite that kills bees.
Gardens are getting smaller so that the range of flowers grown in our gardens have declined and all these factors do not help the most useful of insects to the gardener – The Bee.
So what can gardeners do to encourage bees into their gardens?
Firstly, remember that bees need both pollen and nectar to feed their colonies and this food source must be available from the moment they start to look for food to the end of the year when they stop feeding.
Your own garden should supply plants that will produce a useful food source from the spring with such plants as crocus, daffodils, and lilacs. In the summer consider growing the Agastaches – the giant hyssops - for their spikes of tiny dense flowers, produced during the summer, with foliage that looks similar to mint. Monardas, salvias, and poppies will add colour and interest as well as food for the insects. For the autumn consider asters, coneflowers, and the sedums.
Think about height as well and provide different layers of flowers from those low-growing plants such as geraniums, Californian poppies and smaller herbs, to the smaller shrubs such as rosemary, lavenders, oregano and thyme and then the larger shrubs such as honeysuckle and the famous butterfly bush (Buddleia) that not only will attract bees but also birds, butterflies and moths.
Attract insects into the vegetable garden by growing sweet peas up trellis attached to fences or walls or grow them up through the tripods which support your runner beans – the bees will love these as much as you will enjoying the heavy bean crops produced because the flowers were pollinated by the bees.
Sweet peas can also be grown up a support against a wall as can the passionflower and plants such as Cotoneaster can be trained against a wall. The bees love this sheltered habitat.
Avoid double flowers as these are often sterile and will not be of benefit to the insects in your garden.
The popular perennials that we sell offer further plants that will attract bees into the garden. The old favourite Aquilegia, stately foxgloves, and delphiniums while our shrub collections contain potentillas, hydrangeas, Lavatera and Weigelia will have bees homing in and enjoying the colour and interest that you have created in your own garden.