Have you ever taken the time to watch a bee going about its business pollinating flower after flower
on a warm summer day? At this time of year we can all enjoy the gentle hum from the bees floating between blossoms, hind legs covered in pollen like leg warmers on an aerobics instructor. This simple pleasure is, however, at risk of being wiped out with honeybee populations, in particular, dwindling as a result of a range of factors including disease, climate change and widespread use of pesticides.
Why does this matter to us? I hear you ask. An awful lot as it happens. Without their tireless work in early spring we would not have the abundance of fruit and vegetables that we all come to enjoy throughout the year. Just to emphasise how important they are for edible crops – bees pollinate 70 of the 100 most widespread food crops consumed by the human population worldwide.
What can we do to help them out? Simple - grow some bee friendly flowers. There are so many to choose from and such a variety to suit all spaces. Some of our favourites include foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) which are cleverly designed with large, tubular flowers to accommodate the array of bee species from chubby little bumble bees to their slimmer cousins the honeybee. Bees are huge fans of native wildflowers like buttercups and bluebells but are equally fond of herbaceous perennials like geraniums, sedum and peonies. If herbs are more your thing, try growing borage, thyme or lavender which the bees go batty for. Climbing plants like sweet pea are firm friends with bees and provide us with beautifully scented blossoms all summer long.
Bees are not alone in their role as pollinators. Many flowers rely on butterflies and moths for pollination including the commonly known butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), a big blousy shrub which is nectar rich and produces large flowers which act as the perfect platform for their fans. Other pollinators of note include hoverflies and flies. Hoverflies are similar in appearance to bees and are often mistaken for them but an easy way to tell the difference is they only have one pair of wings whereas bees have two. They are harmless and are a predator of aphids, a common garden pest. Hoverflies are fond of the poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii), an annual easily grown from seed which can spread very easily if left to its own devices but a great addition to the vegetable plot.
As you can see your efforts do not have to be mammoth, a window box full of herbs or an undisturbed corner of the garden where the wildflowers can emerge at will, promise to breathe life into the most urban of settings. Avoid using pesticides if you can but most of all enjoy watching the life these little creatures can bring to your garden - it's good for the soul!