Illustration by Stuart Jackson Carter
Did you know that there are more than 200 species of bee in the UK? Only one of them is the honeybee, and just over 20 are bumblebees. The rest are solitary bees.
Gardens offer some of the most important habitats for the wide variety of bees found in the UK.
“There are certain species of wild bee that are now more commonly found in back yards,” says Anthony McCluskey from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. “A well-thought-out garden can provide nest sites and food for bees during their active period from March until October.”
Here’s what you can do to help these important pollinators.
1 Make a wild corner
If your garden has a south-facing bank, consider leaving it as a wild corner – it could offer great nest sites for warmth-loving solitary bees.
Remove any tussocks of grass to allow them to bury into well-drained soil, then leave this area undisturbed through the year.
2 Provide shelter
Sheltered, shady corners that are out of the way are much more attractive to bumblebees.
Include a few upturned/broken plant pots with some points of entry for added shelter.
3 Plant for the seasons
Make sure you have plenty of bee-friendly blooms, with at least two in flower at any given time from spring to autumn.
Use the Bee Kind tool at www.bumblebeeconservation.org to find out how bee-friendly your garden is.
4 Find the right flowers
Next time you visit a garden centre, think like a bee.
Many plants have been bred to have lots of petals, but these make it hard to access the nectar.
So go for more ‘open’ plants. The RHS ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ tags are helpful; also look out for those that are already attracting bees.
5 Get potting
If you have a small garden, consider planting seasonal containers with bee-friendly plants.
To create nesting sites for solitary bees, you can simply push a few bamboo canes into the soil.
6 Avoid pesticides
Pesticides will almost certainly harm your bumblebees. To keep pests at bay, try planting key plants in combination.
Marigolds and tomatoes will repel greenfly and blackfly; garlic among roses will deter aphids.
Visit www.gardenersworld.com for more information.
7 Create a bee hotel
Tie together a bunch of bamboo canes or drill 5–10mm holes into a block of wood.
Hang it around head height in a sunny, south-facing spot to provide a home for solitary bees.
Old stone walls also offer potential nest sites.
8 Which flowers are best for bees?
Spring: bluebell, dicentra, crocus, viburnum, lungwort, pussy willow, crocus
Early summer: Campanula, allium, borage, catmint, globe thistle, poppy, sweet pea, thyme
Late summer: Buddleia, cornflower, echinacea, foxglove, honeysuckle, lavender, nasturtium