Having enjoyed the series on wildlife in gardens, ‘Living Gardens’ in The Garden magazine, the monthly magazine sent out to RHS members, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the flowering plants that attract the most bees in my garden. Working in the garden at the weekend, I was struck by the newly opening flowers of a Sedum spectabile which was crawling with honey bees. There are wild honey bees in this area and also people who keep hives nearby, so they may have been wild or kept bees, or both. Sedums are certainly high on the list for late summer and autumn.
Linaria purpurea is another good plant for bees and useful in that it starts flowering early in the year and keeps on going until the frosts arrive. It can be a bit of a nuisance, seeding itself in pathways and amongst other plants, but it’s easy enough to pull out.
Malva species provide a great deal of pollen and are always a magnet for bees. The common hollyhock, Alcea rosea, does get rust in this area but the flowers are still good.
The smaller Malva moschata alba seems more resistant to rust and will
flower from early summer until late in the season. Bees foraging on the
white pollen look dusty and as if they have fallen into a flour tub.
Foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, seem to grow almost anywhere and also provide a fairly long season of bee-attracting flowers.
Possibly the best combination of plants I’ve grown for bees are sweet marjoram, Origanum vulgare, and lavender, Lavandula, which both attract large numbers of bees. Marjoram also attracts moths and one year I saw it swarming with both bees and silver Y moths.
The season of flowering for many plants can be extended by deadheading once the first flush of flowers has faded. Malva moschata alba responds well to this and Linaria purpurea will put out new flowering stems if cut back by about half its height. Most of the plants listed above are very easy to grow and many pretty much grow themselves by self-sowing, leaving you the job of simply removing any that crop up in the wrong place.
Attracting bees to the garden gives the place an added interest; how pleasing it is to sit and watch as they steadily work from flower to flower, gathering pollen and nectar, and to hear the soft buzzing of their wings as they travel. Pleasing also to wonder where they all live, where they go to at night after the day’s work is done.