Albert Einstein supposedly declared that, “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.” There is much debate over whether the great man actually did make such an assertion as he was a physicist after all, not an entomologist, but whether he did or not, it’s a scary thought.
There’s no doubt about it, honey bees and bumble bees are of enormous agricultural importance. It is estimated that more than a third of the world’s crop production relies on these bees. Without them we’re in trouble and they are in decline. Pesticides, loss of habitat and disease are all thought to be playing a part.
Bees are fascinating and beautiful creatures and as gardeners we can play our part in their continued survival. It’s simple: bees need flowers for sustenance, flowers need bees for survival and gardeners need flowers to garden!
First it’s important to think ahead and provide flowers for bees throughout their lifecycle, which runs from March to September. Here are some suggestions.
Spring – Bluebells, bugle, flowering cherry, forget-me-not (Myosotis), hellebore and rosemary are all good spring plants.
Summer – Aquilegia, sweet peas, fennel, foxgloves, potentilla, roses, stachys, teasel, thyme and verbascum
Late summer / early autumn – Aster, buddleia, dahlia, eryngium, fuchsia, heather, lavender and sedum.
Second, unfortunately not all flowers are created equal. Frilly double flowers, for example, are too elaborate. They have so many petals that the bees struggle to get to the nectar and pollen. This is the reason that single dahlias attract lots of bees, whilst double varieties are generally ignored. Single flowered rose varieties are also good, such as the rambler Seagull, with its flat open white blooms, large yellow stamens and heady scent. Any similar rambler grown over a fence or wall will do. Some, like the pale pink Little Rambler, will even repeat flower. Ramblers are terrific roses. They are vigorous, disease resistant and great for covering bare fences, unsightly sheds and walls. Best of all they need next to no pruning!
The main thing is to keep it simple: a few flowers for each part of the bee life cycle and no overly fancy varieties. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t grow double flowered dahlias if that’s what floats your boat, it’s just that Mr Bee would appreciate a few single flowered varieties thrown into the mix. Let’s make this the year we all be nice to bees: our future may depend on it!
By Rachael Leverton