It’s hard to overstate the importance of bees to our wildlife, our lifestyles and our planet. Bumbling from one flower to another, they provide one of the most simple yet essential services to the world’s ecosystems: pollination. Alongside other insects, bees pollinate up to 80% of the world’s flowering plants, and contribute to growing a third of the food we eat. The role they play in our lives, and the life of our planet, is crucial.
Concerningly, bee populations seem to be declining. Faced with habitat loss, agricultural pesticides and climate change, their future - and ours - is in danger. But there are a few practical ways you can make life easier for our six-legged friends, and help to preserve their role in the ecosystem. Here are five steps you can take to make your garden bee-friendly.
1. Grow bee-friendly flowers
Although all flowers are beneficial to pollinators, some are better than others. Flowers with a simple structure are easier for insects to get to. It’s also best to go for perennials with a long blooming period, so that pollinators can enjoy them from early spring until autumn.
Experts suggest creating a ‘nectar cafe’, a sheltered, sunny spot filled with simple, nectar-rich flowers. Scroll to the bottom of this article for a full list of bee-friendly plants, all of which can be purchased at the Walled Garden.
2. Avoid pesticides
Excessive pesticide use is one of the biggest threats to our bee population. As well as killing pollinators through direct contact, toxic chemicals can be transported back to the hive, where they cause even more damage. Wherever possible, it’s best to steer clear. When it is necessary to give your garden a spray, doing so in the evening can help to reduce the harmful effects. Avoid spraying directly onto open flowers at all costs. In the Walled Garden we don’t use any pesticides and live with the odd non-troublesome ‘weeds’ that pop up, they become part of the fabric of our garden. On the paths we sometimes use a flame torch to keep them at bay.
3. Build bee hotels
When most people imagine bees, they think of social creatures who live in hives (like bumblebees or honeybees). Surprisingly, out of the 270 bee species we have in the UK, around 90% of them are solitary bees. These bees have no hive, no queen and make no honey. In order to make our gardens hospitable, and protect our diverse pollinator population, it’s important to think of solitary bees as well as their more social cousins.
One fun, easy way to do this is by creating bee hotels, which provide long-term shelter for bees with no hive to go home to. By building horizontal bundles of hollow canes, we can give solitary bees a space to rest and lay eggs.
4. Provide a water source
Like us, bees need a lot of water to survive. As well as drinking it, bees use water to cool their hives in summer, and to control humidity levels. We can help them out by leaving out a plastic container with clean water, and filling it with pebbles and twigs for insects to stand on. We have two ponds and a water tank set up in the garden for wildlife.
5. Embrace the wild
Just like hedgehogs and other animals, bees thrive in wilder environments. If your garden has a sunny, south-facing bank that you’re not using, consider letting it grow free. Experts suggest that ‘wild corners’ like this can provide more shelter and food for insect populations. Additionally, having a little bit of tolerance towards weeds - and giving them the space to flower - can go a long way towards making your garden attractive for pollinators.
Plants for pollinators
Have a look at our list of plants that bees and other pollinators love. All of these are available to purchase at the Walled Garden at Mells (while stocks last!).
Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
Greater masterwort (Astrantia maj. ')
Camas (Camassia leichtlinii Alba)
Plume thistle (Cirsium 'Trevor’s blue wonder')
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus)
Wallflower (Erysium ‘Bowles Mauve’)
Wood spurge (Euphorbia mygdaloides 'Robbiae')
Common fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
Dusky cranesbill (Geranium phaeum Raven)
Cranesbill (Geranium Rozanne)
Avens (Geum 'Mai Tai, Mrs Bradshaw)
Widow flower (Knautia macedonica)
Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum)
Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)
Sicilian Honey Garlic (Nectaroscordum siculum)
Giant Catmint (Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant')
Catmint (Nepeta 'Walker's Low')
Ornamental Oregano (Origanum herrenhausen)
Garden Sage (Salvia nem' Caradonna)
Wild Thyme (Thymus serpyllum)
Common Valerian (Valeriana