Bringing bees to the garden

21:21, Oct 28 2012

Bumblebees are out in force at Wild Estate right now. I love watching them bounce from flower to flower. Honey bees love the lavenders in Shirley's garden, but the back garden is the domain of the bumbles. 

My focus is on growing things to eat, but also on growing things that are useful. And that includes plants that bring bees to the garden. We need bees; when they move from flower to flower looking for nectar and pollen to make their food, they move pollen from flower to flower. For most fruiting plants like tomatoes and courgettes to produce the food we eat, pollen needs to move from the male flower to the female flower. Bees and other insects, like butterflies and flies, are the mode of transport the pollen needs.

Bees seem to be attracted to yellow and blue flowers in particular, so planting lots of those will draw bees closer to your edibles. It helps that tomatoes have yellow flowers, but by planting other bee-friendly plants near them, you up your chances of their being pollinated.

Here are five ornamental plants that are not only good-looking, but useful for drawing pollinators to your garden.

1. Borage (Borago officinalis), left - once you have borage, you always have borage. That's because they self-seed so profusely that you'll possibly never weed them out. And who would want to? The gorgeous star-shaped purply-blue flowers are irresistible to bees. I have never seen my borage without at least one bee visitor enjoying some nectar. Borage is also edible - put flowers in salads, and you can cook the leaves; they apparently taste like cucumber.

2. Calendula or pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) - I am a fan of these orange and gold flowers. And so are bees. 

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3. Phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia) - also known as blue tansy, these are strange, straggly looking plants that flower with globe-like spiky blooms that attract not only bees, but also hoverflies that eat aphids. Win win.

4. Lavender (Lavandula) - honey bees adore lavender, and our two shrubs are rarely without honeybees making a visit. 

5. Scent leaved pelargoniums (right) - on my recent trip to Melbourne, I went to the Royal Botanic Gardens, where the herb garden was all but deserted apart from the scent-leaved pelargoniums, which were awash in bees. 

Here's some more information about what bees like. 

If you're an organic gardener, and only use "natural" sprays, be careful with pyrethrum spray: it's toxic to bees. Spray only after bees have gone back to their hives for the night.

Have you spotted many bees in your garden this spring? Do you plant anything to attract them to your garden?

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