Simply put, bees need flowers and flowers need bees. Flowers provide bees with nectar to produce honey and pollen to feed their young on. Flowers, in turn for this are pollinated and are able to produce seeds and carry on their line.
Bee numbers have steadily been in decline over the past several years but now gardeners are doing their best to grow flowers that will help out our little buzzing friends. If we all do this together then hopefully numbers will start to increase again.
As a rule of thumb, the best plants for bees have large, single open blooms or tubular flowers that they can crawl inside. Bees are particularly attracted to the colour purple but will of course happily fly to any suitable flower in your garden.
Here are our top 10 recommendations for bee friendly plants for UK gardens:
A column of flowers that can reach up to 2m tall, Hollyhocks are a great addition to a bee friendly garden. Almost like waving a flag to attract attention, these tall perennials grow stronger and produce more flower stems each year. Some of our popular varieties, such as Hollyhock 'Creme De Cassis' are a wonder to behold for us humans too!
Digitalis is another tall and slender multi-flowering bloom that always seems to be much loved by bumble bees. The tubular shape of each flower allows the bees to crawl inside each individual flower and get to the nectar, at the same time collecting pollen which is used to feed their young. Our own breeding came up with Foxglove 'Illumination Flame' for a shorter, more unusual variety, or Foxglove 'Dalmation Mix' for taller and striking display.
Cosmos are one of the best annual bedding plants for bees. They have a fabulous, simple, open flower that provides easy access to its nectar for all flying insects. A cottage garden favourite, the unassuming blooms sit gently atop the plant and with deadheading, will continue to provide a source of food all the year round, Varieties such as Cosmos 'Cupcakes' or Cosmos bipinnatus 'Apricot Lemonade' can also add new shapes and colour varieties to this excellent plant that can be planted in beds, borders and containers alike.
Free-flowering Geums are a tough and reliable addition to perennial borders where they will bloom non-stop from early summer right through until early autumn. The large, bright flowers cheer up borders and because of their large, open blooms, they make an easy meal for bees and other pollinating insects. The warm orange blooms of Geum 'Totally Tangerine'
One of the best winter flowering plants for bees, the Hellebore is vital flower for providing early season nectar for any bees that may wake up and venture out on a warm winter day! The unusual colours, patterns, flecks and ruffles of hellebores are a perfect addition to a winter and very early spring garden, adding much needed colour in an otherwise dreary winter garden!
An iconic haven for bees! You can often find a lavender plant in summer from the sound of buzzing bees as they flit from scented flower to scented flower. These extremely tough and drought resistant small shrubs come in a variety of shades, from white to a very deep purple. French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) is just as popular with bees and is distinctive blooms with their 'tufts' adding interest to any area.
Often thought of as the 'Butterfly Bush', Buddleja are one of the best summer flowering plants for bees. The large masses of conical blooms are always covered with all sorts of pollinating insects! If you haven't got room in your garden for a larger variety of Buddleja, such as Buddleja davidii 'Black Knight', then our own bred Buddleja 'Buzz™ ' varieties have been specially bred to remain compact, growing to just 4ft tall, and can also be kept in pots!
Another variety which provides early season interest in the garden and also provides bees with an early source of nectar. Crab apples are covered with masses of flowers in March and April and are often admired as being one of the first trees to bloom in the spring; this makes them a perfect ornamental tree for any size garden.
Wallflowers are known to flower virtually all year round. Small compact plants are high in nectar content and are perfect for growing in smaller gardens. Usually grown in mixed colours for a cheerful looking display, especially in the early months of spring, these tough plants are also perfect for a beginner gardener.
Many dahlias that have been bred to have large double flowers which effectively 'shut out' bees as there are far too many petals in the way for them to get to the pollen and nectar. The single flowered varieties, such as Dahlia 'Mystic Illusion' have the open flowers that bees simply love and can fly to and from as they collect their food! These cheery blooms are among the best autumn flowers for bees.
While there are plenty of other plants that bees will love coming to collect their nectar from in your garden, the above is a guide to get you started in wildlife gardening and, of course, helping the bees too!