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Gardening for bees: top tips

Your garden could provide the ideal home for bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

Eden horticulturist Emma Pearce shares her top tips for choosing the right plants and creating the cosiest of winter habitats, which will see it buzzing with wildlife.

How pollinators help us

They may be tiny, but bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies and moths, and a myriad of other invertebrates, are vital to us all. Because they pollinate crops, help plants propagate, and are themselves a food resource for bigger animals such as birds and mammals, they’re essential to both food security and biodiversity. Lose the insects, and things get very tricky indeed. 

It’s a frightening fact that two-thirds of UK pollinator species have seen a decline since the 1970s, mostly due to loss of habitat. But the good news is that you can help Britain gets its buzz back! Gardens have the potential to be excellent habitats for pollinators: even the smallest or most simple of gardens has some sort of invertebrate life, barely discernible to the human eye. Follow our easy low-cost (and low-effort!) tips to encourage even more species to take up residence.

 

Hero image credit: Jonas Von Werne on Unsplash

Eight tips for attracting pollinators to your garden

Top 10 plants for pollinators

Here are 10 plants you could try this year to attract bees and other pollinators to your garden: 

 

A close up of a honey bee on a fennel

1. Bronze fennel

Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’

Hoverflies can’t resist the pollen-rich flowers of this tall, airy perennial, whose leaves and seeds can be used in cooking. Look out for red soldier beetles, which congregate on the flowerheads in summer. Both hoverflies and soldier beetles eat aphids – happy days!

A close up of a honey bee on a yellow sneezeweed

2. Sneezeweed

Helenium sp

Great for a ‘hot’, sunny border, sneezeweeds are in the daisy family and flower well into late summer and beyond. They’re particularly attractive to honeybees, so deadhead them often to keep them flowering for longer to provide nectar. My favourite cultivars are ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’ and ‘Wyndley’ but there’s a huge range – some tall, some short, and everyone’s garden should have one.

 

A honey bee entering a purple foxglove flower

3. Foxglove

Digitalis sp 

We’re all familiar with the sight of a bumblebee disappearing into a foxglove flower – in fact they’re its main pollinator. Foxgloves flower for weeks, and when the main spike is finished, the plant will often throw up a few more. Easy from seed and will self-seed themselves around.

 

A honey bee sitting on a Ivy

4. Ivy

Hedera helix

Flowering in autumn, ivy is a brilliant food source for bees and other insects when everything else is going over. You’ll often see butterflies basking on its leaves if the sun’s out. If you don’t like the standard ivy, there are lots of attractive cultivars available.

 

A honey bee sitting on a lavender rosemary flower

5. Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis

My rosemary flowers from February onwards, and provides nectar to early-flying bumblebees and honeybees as well as fabulous fresh leaves for the kitchen.

 

A close up of the giant purple alliums which are round in shape

6. Ornamental onions

Allium sp

Great for adding pops of bright purple to beds and borders in early summer, ornamental onions are also hotspots for bees and other pollinators. Make a statement with groups of enormous Allium ‘Globemaster’ or dot the firework-like starry flowerheads of A. christophii around.

Blue lithodora diffusa or heavenly blue flowers

7. ‘Heavenly Blue’

Lithodora diffusa

This lovely, low-growing rockery plant is in the same family as borage, which is equally attractive to bees. In early summer it’s covered in bright blue flowers that stand out above the dark green foliage. Give it free-draining soil and plenty of sunshine and it’ll reward you by flowering for weeks. 

 

A close up of the pink flower Monarda

8. Bee balm

Monarda sp

The name says it all – bees love Monarda, as do hoverflies and butterflies and plenty more. These plants need moist, rich soil otherwise they are prone to mildew. Flowers are bright red, purple, pink or white – or for something really unusual, try M. punctata, the spotted bee balm.

 

A close up of the white sorbus flower

9. Sorbus sp

Sorbus are small- to medium-sized trees that flower early on, in April and May, providing loads of nectar and pollen for bees. The flowers are followed by round berries beloved of birds such as blackbirds and redwings, so in planting one of these you’re doing your bit for lots of wild creatures. Favourite species are our native Sorbus aucuparia, which has red berries, and Chinese S. vilmorinii, whose berries are bright pink.

 

A close up of the Nymansay white flower

10. ‘Nymansay’

Eucryphia x nymansensis

This beautiful tree is absolutely covered in bees when it flowers in August and September. Better for a larger garden as it can reach 12 or more metres in height, its glaucous foliage contrasts well with the creamy white flowers, which it produces in abundance. Also good for bees is Hoheria, which flowers slightly earlier in the summer. 

 

Image credits

Image credits: 1. Bronze Fennel by Ingrid Taylar, 2. Sneezeweed by Col Ford and Natasha de Vere, 3. Foxglove by Nikk 4. Ivy by nmahieu 5. Rosemary by Plbmak 6.Ornamental Onions by Tom Griffiths 7. 'Heavenly Blue' by Jamain 8. Bee Balm by yewchan 9. Sorbus by manuel m. v. 10. 'Nymansay' by ashley BALSAM baz

Make your garden pollinator friendly