several years ago a friend announced she has taken up bee keeping as a hobby.  This was apparently something she had always been keen upon and at the time she received an opportunity to purchase a bee hive.  After attending some courses she approached the National Trust and has positioned her hive at Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire.  He her bees pollinate the flowers and surrounding crops but also generate a supply of honey for her too.

Honey bee feeding upon Aster

With Spring upon us and the warm weather stirring the new arrival  of insect life I considered it would be a useful reminder to express the connection between our food and bees.  By bees I refer to honey-bees, bumble bees, solitary bees and other bees. By a simple process of pollinating plants, bees are responsible for one third of our basic food staples.  Ever since there have been flowers bees have been present pollinating the plants providing fruit and vegetable harvests as well as honey.  However honey bee and bumble bee colonies have been on the decline with population levels falling as a result of mite, reduced habitats and other external influences.  As gardeners we can not necessary stop the decline globally but we can help by designing and implementing gardens that offer favourable habitats for the bees.  An easy first step to this implementation would be to plant our gardens with flowers that have simple uncomplicated flowers.  These flowers provide easy access to the nectar that the bees are seeking compared to the more sophisticated hybridised blooms.

Some  of the most useful plants in the garden for attracting bees are herbs.  These can be introduced amongst other garden species or in a designated area. As a designer of gardens I will often introduce low growing herbs such as thyme and marjoram to my schemes.  A particular favourite of mine is Thymus ‘Silver Posie’ which has a white variation to the leaf and small pink flowers.  The use of herbs next to a path provide opportunities for the plant to be crushed releasing scent to the air and making the visit into the garden far more than a visual experience.

Purple fennel with its soft fronds adds height to a border with umbreferal yellow green flowers that attract a great deal of interest.  I will often use this plant next to Russian sage (Pervoskia Blue Spire’). In August this plant is quite literally a buzz with honey bees seeking nectar from its pale blue flowers.

To maximise the benefits to bees plant in bolder groups, not only will this improve the ability of the bees to both find and thus conserve their energy the plants in a bolder group will make for a visually more impressive garden.

Plan to provide plants that flower through the season.  doronicums are some of the earliest plants to flower and will provide a source or energy to emerging bees.

Creating habitats for bees could ing include making a bee hotel.  These are formed from hollow sticks or canes that can be hung in a sunny dry location from a tree.  These form a perfect location for the solitary bee.  Other options are to create a space in the garden with twigs and broken terracotta shards.  These provide cover for bees and will often attract bumble bees who often live in burrows.

Some useful plants to use for attracting bees into the garden are available from the Royal Horticultural Society.  This provides a useful guide indicating when the plants flower and will provide the food source for the bees.


Other plants such as the following herbs will be of great value to the bees visiting the garden.


anise hyssop (Agastanche foeniculum)

bergamot or bee balm (Monarda fistulosa)

Borage (Borago officinalis)

Chicory (Choricum intybus)

Chives (Allium schoenoprasusum)

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgaris)

Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Lavender  varieties (Lavandula)

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

Sweet marjoram (Origanum Majorana)

Mint (Mentha)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Thyme (Thymus)


Further reading available from:

The British Beekeepers Association

bumblebee Conservation Trust


friends of the earth Bee Cause campaign

Often overlooked but of great importance to bees, provide shallow dishes with stones placed in the bowls to form watering holes for the bees.  The bowls only need to be shallow but if topped up regularly you will provide a useful point where the bees can hydrate themselves during the summer months.

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