Musings on the importance of bees, and how to have a bee-friendly garden
I love flowers. I love looking at them, and I love photographing them. In my garden, other gardens, in the wild, farmed ones, anywhere. I also like to eat! And both of course, require bees…
There are several hundred different types of bees in the UK, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Honeybees are mostly domesticated, living in large groups in hives, and converting nectar into honey. Bumblebees have an annual life cycle, and they live in smaller groups, with a Queen bee and worker bees. Then there are the Solitary bees, who live alone. Bumblebees are the hairiest, Honeybees the smoothest, and Solitary bees in between. Other insects – hoverflies, hornet moths and clearwing moths – mimic the bee colouring to avoid being eaten!
Bees help pollinate many wildflowers, so that they can reproduce, and keep growing for us to enjoy (and of course contribute to the food chains for various insects, birds and mammals). They also play a major part in the production of the food we eat, with their pollination of commercial crops, and in our allotments and gardens. According to the Bumblebee Trust, through the pollination of many commercial crops such as tomatoes, peas, apples and strawberries, insects are estimated to contribute over £600 million per annum to the UK economy (2015). The numbers of bumblebees however, have been declining over the past century, with two species becoming extinct in that time, and a further eight species are on watch lists (1/3 of the remaining species).
Bumblebees only feed on flowers, so have been affected by the declining numbers of flowering plants grown in this country, due to the mechanisation of agriculture, the increasing demand for cheap food, and uniform fruit and veg; the cutting of roadside verges, along with the reduction of sheltered places for overwintering in. I read that 97% of the UK’s flowering meadows have been lost since World War II, isn’t that a staggering statistic?
Gardens have been acting as a haven for bees for years, and as they cover a million acres of the UK, making them more bee friendly will help reduce or even reverse their decline.
As part of this blog post I am really pleased to share some tips from garden adviser Alison Marsden (www.gardeningbydesign.co.uk) to help you make your garden more bee friendly…
Bumblebees need flowers to supply pollen and nectar from when the Queens come out of hibernation in February, through to late October. Flowers don’t need to be native wildflowers, but they do need to have readily available pollen and/or nectar – watch out for many varieties of annual bedding plants such as Pelargoniums, Begonias and Busy Lizzies) that are sterile or have so many petals that bees cannot reach the centre to feed.
Solitary bees appear in the garden from hibernation in March, and create individual nests in leaves, in sandy ground, or in small gaps and holes in brick walls. You can encourage solitary bees in your garden with nesting tubes of bamboo stems, cardboard tubes, holes drilled into old wood, or with ready-made ‘bee hotels’.
Alison’s list of good plants for bees from Spring to Autumn are: Crocus, Aubrieta, Perennial Wallflower (Erysium), Foxglove, Hardy Geranium, Honeysuckle, Catmint (Nepata), Lavender, Buddleja, and Ivy left to mature and flower.
Moving away from chemicals in the garden will be beneficial to the wildlife and bees too.
More tips on wildlife friendly gardening can be found on Alison’s website, Gardening by Design. Alison can help with advice on all sorts of aspects to help improve your garden, or through online learning, and I highly recommend her useful and interesting newsletter too. You can find her on facebook too.
You can read more about bees and what can be done to help them on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s website.
So how many of those plants do you have in your garden? When we moved in here nearly 8 years ago, the garden was massively overgrown, and I enjoyed spending time both cutting it all back, and learning about and choosing what to plant instead of the brambles, weeds and leylandii trees. I tried to include plants and flowers for the bees, butterflies and other wildlife, and am happy to say that I have 6 of the 10 mentioned above, and others too. There’s always room for more though!
I am also delighted to announce that I am launching a new Card Collection, ‘Save the Bees’, and will donate 10% of each sale of these to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust to help fund their vital work. Click the image of the cards below to see them on my shop page and to purchase, thank you 🙂
My thanks to Alison of Gardening by Design for her help with this blog post.
Save the Bees! Bee friendly gardening…