It’s important we encourage bees, because both main types – the honey and the bumble bee – are under threat from different things. The honey bee is affected by disease and parasites such as varroa mites, while the bumble bee is affected by loss of habitat to farming practices. There are fewer flowers and less rough areas for them to thrive in.
Gardens are fantastic for bumble bees and estimates reckon that one in two have a nest. To encourage them any plant that grows single flowers, not double flowers, which don’t have a lot in the way of pollen, and pollen is very important to bees because if it’s rich in protein it’s used by their larvae to grow. Meanwhile, nectar acts as their aviation fuel; the sugar gives them energy.
"If one garden on the street has lots of beautiful bedding plants and dahlias, and another one has lots of scruffy long grass, the bumble bees will nest in the scruffy long grass and feed in the gardens with the lovely flowers"
When planning your garden you might start off in the spring with things like crocuses and daffodils; summer is great for lots of single flower roses and all the many herbaceous plants like sweet peas. By the autumn things are getting a bit tight but there are plenty of plants that are useful, such as daisies family plants such as dahlias, and ivy is in full flower, which is very useful for bees to stock up on nectar and pollen for the winter. That’s when honey bees sort of hibernate. They form a ball around their food supply and they keep themselves warm by shivering as a group. The bumble bees are cleverer – the queen will go out and hide in mouse holes and the such like.
So, if your garden’s big enough you can have plants that will encourage bees all year round. Perhaps start at the beginning of the year with some bulbs and bedding plants like violas. If you have room for it, willows produce lots nectar and pollen at the beginning of the year. At the end of the year, if you can let the ivy grow and flower, then so much the better.
The diversity of environment and plants is just as valuable. If one garden on the street has lots of beautiful bedding plants and dahlias, and another one has lots of scruffy long grass, the bumble bees will nest in the scruffy long grass and feed in the gardens with the lovely flowers. Because gardens are so varied there’s no need for everyone to grow in any particular way.