Spring arrives heralding the promise of long, sunny days and warm weather. This provides perfect conditions in which to enjoy your garden and sit out relaxing with a cup of tea or something stronger, to survey the fruits of your labour.
Warm sunshine conjures up in the minds of gardeners the gentle hum of a busy bee as it flies from flower to flower and blossom to blossom to pollinate the fruits, vegetables and flowers we grow. However what’s worrying many gardeners – and commercial growers – today is the declining numbers of bees available to carry out this all-important task.
So while it’s important to style your garden with beautiful outdoor furniture like a teak garden dining set to add to your enjoyment of your garden, it’s also vital to understand the dilemma facing our native pollinators.
According to the latest figures published by Friends of the Earth nearly 1 in 10 of Europe’s bee species is facing extinction from many different threats. These include climate change, pesticides, intensive farming, disease, the threat from non-native invasive species and habitat loss. While there is little urban gardeners can do about climate change there is much you can do to help attract bees into the garden and encourage them to stay there.
Bees of all species need the nectar and pollen that flowers and plants provide plus they need safe places to nest and hibernate through the winter months. And because we have lost most of our natural wildflower meadows in the UK and farmers have eradicated much of the natural vegetation and hedgerows which pollinating insects fed on and lived in, it’s essential that gardeners do their bit for the bees.
Whether your garden is large or small, as large as a field or tiny as a window-box, you can still devise a planting scheme which can help bees to thrive. In gardens, you can leave some vegetation undisturbed on the ground in a sheltered corner where bees can nest and burrow underground. Leave a patch of long grass or nettles to provide shelter. Or build a ‘bee hotel’ using hollow sticks, reeds or bamboo. The Friends of the Earth have produced a simple guide to creating your own easy bee hotel.
You don’t need a massive plot of land, but you do ideally need to plant a good variety of flowers, herbs and even trees in order to attract as many different pollinators as possible. Even small gardens can support small trees and shrubs such as Lilac, Hawthorn, Honeysuckle and Hydrangea. Viburnum, Crab Apple and Rhododendron are good spring choices. All of these flower at different times of the year to provide a continuing supply of food for the bees and other insects. Plant a dwarf apple, plum or pear tree in a container or train them against a wall or fence and not only will the bees appreciate the blossom but you’ll hopefully reap the rewards too with your own, tasty home-grown fruit.
Many of the flowers you buy from garden centres are hybrids which means that some are sterile and do not produce enough pollen or nectar, so native wildflowers are undoubtedly the best way to go. Scatter a variety of wildflower seeds on well-prepared soil for a carpet of pollen-rich colour. If you prefer to plant ready grown flowers choose single rather than double-flowered varieties; bees find it easier to access the food they need from single-flowered plants. Choose dahlias, lavender, zinnias, everlasting sweet peas and hardy geraniums for summer blossoms. Sources of food during the spring months include bluebells, daffodils and pulmonarias. Some insects prefer tubular shaped flowers such as foxgloves, snapdragons and penstemons. Try to plant flowers and shrubs which will produce flowers at different times of the year to maximise nectar and pollen availability and ensure the pollinating insects keep returning to your garden.
Never forget the critical role played by herbs in providing food for bees. Things like thyme, chives, sage, lavender and rosemary are very easy to grow from seed or from ready grown seedlings. Fennel is pollen-rich and a good source of food for different bee species including miner bees, bumblebees and honey bees.
Planting for bees is a relatively simple process, yet it brings so many rewards for gardeners. Not least of which is the chance to relax with your lovely teak garden dining set, sit back and enjoy the welcome buzz of busy bees.
Anna is the marketing and office manager for Garden Benches – a premium supplier of high-quality wooden benches and other outdoor furniture.