People are more aware than ever before that bees need our help. But which plants provide the most value to bees, when so many flowers at the garden centre are labelled 'bee-friendly'?
One lady in Oxford has set out to test and rate a number of our favourite plants, removing the need for anecdotal proof and providing us with verified evidence of the plants we need to grow in our gardens.
You can read the full research at Rosybee - Plants for Bees
Top Value Bee Friendly Plants
What would your guess be? I went for Nepeta, also known as catmint, a long flowering favourite of mine that always seems to be alive with the sound of buzzing. But it didn't prove to be as valuable as these plants below...
1) Helenium - this beautiful daisy replenishes its nectar source by the afternoon, providing twice the buffet the bees need.
2) Sedum ‘spectabile’ - another fantastic garden plant that soared up the ratings in the second year of research. You can also use the leaves, which taste like cucumber, in salads. A valuable food source for bees and people!
3) Echium vulgare - British native, and nectar provider from dawn until dusk.
An easy way to grow Echium is to scatter these bee-friendly Seedballs then let nature take over - http://modernmint.co.uk/shop/seedballs/bee-mix-seed-balls/
What Other Plants Give Top Value To Bees?
Here are some plants that would provide great foraging and look fantastic growing alongside the most valuable bee friendly plants listed above...
1) Stachys byzantina - makes for a brilliant ground cover.
2) Origanum vulgare - we all know this as a flavouring to Italian food, but let it flower and see how much the bees love it too!
3) Hyssopus - like Nepeta, this is part of the Lamiaceae family and has those wonderful tubular flowers.
4) Borage - the flowers can be used in salads, making this another wonder plant for both bees and humans.
5) Veronica - will make a great impact in your border.
6) Teucrium - replace any box hedging affected by blight with this flowering, evergreen perennial.
Any Bee Valuable Plants For Shade?
The research has been done, the results are in - try Geranium phaeum, which is a great plant for a woodland edge habitat and attracts carder bees (who themselves are tolerant of shade.)
Bee Valuable Plants For Pots And Containers?
Cornflowers and Phacelia would make a pretty display, while being a great alternative to any 'garden centre' annuals. Lavender also offers a lot of flower power through the summer.
Are Native Or Non-Native Plants Better For Bees?
It turns out they are both as attractive as each other. Native perennials are more likely to flower from mid-May for two months, then finish, while non-native can go on into late Autumn - so a mixture of native and non-native plants will help the bees find a food source while active.
Early in the year there are lots of native trees and shrubs that are flowering, so perennials are visited less often by the bees. It may be worth concentrating your flowers for later in the summer when the bees need it then, although if there are few trees in your area then spring flowering perennials like Pulmonaria would be a great idea to add to your garden.
What Action Can We Take Today To Help The Bees?
If you have one square metre of ground that is clear to plant into, get yourself some Helenium, the undisputed bee-friendly perennial...!
By doing so, you will know you are making a difference for the bees.
By Darren Lerigo of Modern Mint. If you want to know more about gardening, bees and wildlife visit Modern Mint - www.modernmint.co.uk