The bees are enjoying the current revival of our traditional cottage garden plants. It’s extremely beneficial and couldn’t come at a better time for their survival. Elaborate bedding displays and low maintenance shrub borders have their place but some of the best sustenance in the form of nectar and pollen is in our herbaceous plants.
Late summer gardens are a buzz with bumble bees and we hear many folk exclaiming there is no problem with extinction in their garden. Alas, they are wrong. Whilst we may have an abundance of activity on our Lavenders, Penstemons, Verbenas and Anemones now, have we provided nourishment for Queen bees in early spring and the growing colony in late spring and early summer? The answer is usually no.
It is now time to plant ahead. Plan your garden for next year. Bumble bees have a life cycle, where only the queen survives the winter. They are often confused with domestic Honey bees, where theoretically the whole hive consisting of thousands survive the winter. Both are having problems. Both require pollen and nectar (sugar) rich plants.
When a queen Bumble Bee wakes up, often when there is still snow on the ground, its our job as gardeners to feed her and feed her well. Naturally she will be very hungry after her long hibernation.
The autumn and early sping are ia great time to plant because it allows strong roots to establish while the plant is dormant and not straining to grow leaf. The simple way to support bees is to plant plenty of nectar and pollen rich herbaceous plants and shrubs in your garden, flowering from early spring right through to late summer.
We may have to think a little harden when it comes to selecting early flowering plants but there are plenty available. Helebores are adored by bees along with Primula denticulata, Primula vulgaris (Primrose) and Primula veris (Cowslip) all early primula varieties. Avoid over ornate double flowers and stick with the more traditional varieties. Bees have a physical problem accessing fussy double flowers.
Bergenia, Pulmonaria,Arabis, Aubrietia, Aquilegia, Dicentra, Alliums, Papaver ( Poppies ) and Erysimum all flower early and would be helpful to plant.
Many varieties of alpine Sedums, out in early spring are a fantastic source of nectar. They can be grown on matting and used as an environmental roof covering, great for covering ugly shed roofs. Catkins generally provide great nectar or pollen, that includes shrubs such as Salix, Garrya elliptica and Corylus.
Flowering currents are good because the flowers dangle a little and catch the attention of the bees well, as do other plants that stick up and waft in the breeze, like Bluebells.
Scent is another beacon that will, catch a bees attention. This is why may pale plants are highly scented as they are difficult to see. Cherry blossom and apple blossom are good examples.
So if you want your garden to support the bees effectively, plant for the spring when food sources are not so freely available. There are an abundance of early flowering plants that will help sustain bees. When deciding what to plant think about the colour, as bees will pick up on the deep colours, think about the shape of the flower as double flowers are difficult to get into. Bees also like plenty to hold on to. Also consider plants that are scented. It is difficult for us to miss the wonderful fragrance of a winter Jasmine or the pungent aroma of rosemary, therefore a little bee will probably find it without much bother.