Give Bees a Chance: 5 Buzz-Friendly Flowers for Your Garden
Brighten your borders and woo the bees with these pretty, nectar-packed plants.
The importance and plight of bumblebees is big news in Cornwall right now, with exhibitions, auctions and community campaigns taking up the cause. For those who’ve missed the amazing bee stats doing the rounds online lately, one in every three mouthfuls of food comes from crops pollinated by bees, which makes pollination in the UK worth a cool £430million pounds.
Sadly, these industrious creatures are under threat from disease, pesticides, climate change and habitat loss, with many species on the brink of extinction. But what you plant in your garden this spring can have a positive impact, providing the nectar and pollen bees need — whilst brightening up yer borders! Beth Roberts, from Exeter Uni’s Environment and Sustainability Institute, suggests these five beautiful and bee-friendly plants and advises buying organic, to avoid harmful chemicals.
A cottage garden classic that is really common in Cornish gardens and hedgerows — bumblebees love foxgloves, crawling right into their bell-shaped flowers to drink the nectar within. They are biennial, only producing flowers in their second year, which means you won’t get instant results but when they do flower, they’ll be buzzing with bumblebees. They do best in areas of dappled shade, so they’re perfect for small gardens with lots of edges and borders.
The ultimate bee magnet, bumblebees love to sit on these spiky-looking perennials, especially male bumblebees later in the season. Globe thistles are long stemmed (so may need supporting if you have a windy garden) with unique, spherical blooms that flower from June to September. They like moist, well-drained soil and are ideal at the back of a larger border or naturalised among grasses and other meadow flowers.
Another pretty border plant the bees go wild for (and butterflies too) is verbena. It’s a tall and leggy, perennial wildflower that hails from South America but is very popular in British gardens. Verbena is most successful when planted in tightly in drifts and will do best, planted in well-drained, moist soil, in a sunny position out of the wind. It flowers from July to October and will need a bit of cutting back in November after flowering.
Planting borage is a win-win, for us and the bees. It’s actually a Mediterranean herb and is a fantastic thing to plant near your vegetable garden if you have one, because bees love it so much they come and forage on it, then go and forage on your vegetables too and increase their yield. It is also not too difficult to grow, just place it in some reasonably well-drained soil in the sunshine (it’s also partial to some shade, so no problem if you don’t get sun all day).
Our last pollinator-friendly suggestion, lavender is guaranteed to get your garden buzzing and smells amazing too. Confusing the issue slightly, some types of lavender are better than others. Research shows bees like Lavandula x intermedia best with the ‘Gros Bleu’ variety being visited by four times more bees than any others studied. Luckily for Cornish gardeners, this type of lavender is very hardy and can cope with whatever the weather has to throw at it! It gives a lovely burst of late colour, flowering from July-August and into the Autumn and provides a really great boost of energy for bumblebees, giving them the food they need to produce queens.
Another thing you can do to help is add a bee hotel to your garden, offering up a safe haven to solitary bees. These bees have the bonus of being non-aggressive, as they have no hive or queen to defend, so are safe to encourage around children and pets. Cornish producers Green&Blue make these cool, industrial-looking planters and bricks that double up as bee hotels and you’ll also find lots of advice online, if you fancy making your own.
& If you’re feeling inspired to help or find out more, don’t miss:
Kurt Jackson Exhibition: Bees (& the odd wasp) in My Bonnet, Jackson Foundation Gallery, St Just, 25 Mar – 19 Aug
A unique presentation of contemporary art and science at the Jackson Foundation Gallery in St Just, a large new environmentally informed art space near St Ives. Acknowledging the dangers faced by British bees, Kurt Jackson has spent the past few years exploring the world of pollinators, producing a collection of pieces that are also informed by his grounding in the sciences and his experience as a beekeeper in Cornwall.
Charity Art Auction: While The Bees Were Sleeping, Union Hotel, Penzance, Sat 15 Apr
Cornwall Bumblebee Group have organised this art auction to raise money for their Pollinator Friendly Towns project, encouraging Cornish towns to plant bee-friendly flowers in their hanging baskets and public spaces, as well as supporting vital research at Sussex University. Viewing starts at 5pm, with the auction kicking off at 6.30pm.