Bee Friendly Garden

 In Gardening for Wildlife, Wildlife

Bees and other pollinating insects have been on the decline for several years. We need to do all we can to help them recover by creating a bee friendly garden.

Disease, some pesticides, loss of suitable habitat, urban sprawl and more intensive food production are all implicated in their decline.

Bumblebee on a Sedum flower

Bumblebee and hive bees on Sedum flowers

However we as gardeners can really make a difference and bring about a genuine recovery!

How many bees are there?

With over 250 species of bees in the UK it is surprising that so much focus has been on the hive or honeybee.

There are apparently 24 species of bumblebee and another 225 solitary bee species included in this total of 250!

These lesser known and wild bees are extremely important to producing many of our crops and bumblebees especially so.

There’s lots of information about bumblebees on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website here.

You’ll notice that the bumblebee will be out working earlier and later than the hive bee and on days when the temperature is too low to tempt the honeybee out of its hive.

There’s little doubt that for weight of sheer numbers, the hive bee has the advantage. It can ‘work’ a crop to pollinate it more effectively. Not forgetting that delicious end result of honey to savour!

So what can be done?

To help bees and create a bee friendly garden I have a few suggestions.

Here’s a few of my tips

  • Plant varieties with single flowers because double flowered varieties are far less attractive to insects.


  • Plant a wide range of plants to provide nectar-rich flowers for every month of the year. Don’t forget that in particular, bumblebees forage on mild days in mid-winter. So a Mahonia shrub, Christmas rose plant or group of snowdrop bulbs can provide the nectar that they need.


  • Limit the use of pesticides and, if you do use them, apply them carefully as directed on the pack and at the beginning or end of the day when bees are less likely to be foraging. Avoid spraying plants when they are in flower.


  • Wildflower lawns can be real magnets for insects. For instance dandelions, clover, yarrow, birds-foot-trefoil, daisies and others will be a-buzz with insects when in flower. They may be weeds to some gardeners but they could be a lifeline to bees.


  • Plant for maximum time of flowering. Varieties that quickly fade are just as disappointing to bees as they are to us!

About the Plants

honey bee and bluebells

Honey bees and native bluebells

  • Early bloomers are especially important.  So plant primroses, crocus, snowdrops honesty, wallflowers, Aubrieta, Arabis, etc.


  • Late flowering plants help build up insect’s reserves to survive hibernation and to overwinter.  Have plenty of Sedum, Michaelmas daisies, Echinacea, Helenium, sea holly and Rudbeckia in your plot. Flowering ivy is a favourite with lots of insects.





  • Flowering herbs are especially valuable. Marjoram, mint and chives are extremely popular with bees and very easy to grow. These and alpine plants can even be grown on balconies or flat windowsills!
    chive flowers, allium, bee friendly garden

    Chive blooms are good for bees


  • Ground cover plants provide low maintenance garden and nectar too. Easy ones to grow include Helianthemum [rock rose], Alyssum, heathers, Cotoneaster and hardy Geranium.


  • Shade tolerant plants can attract insects too. Our native red campion, bluebells and anemone like these conditions and are very pretty too. Hellebores are good in shade.


  • Climbers and scramblers can be used to provide vertical nectar stations. Plant honeysuckle, Nasturtiums, Cotoneaster and Pyracantha.



  • Bulbs and corms are low maintenance nectar sources. Think crocus, snowdrops, hyacinth, bluebells and even single bloomed Dahlias for late summer colour.



  • Some vegetables will attract bees. Runner beans, French beans, courgette, marrows, squash and pumpkins all need bees to produce a crop. Some old un-harvested vegetables are very attractive to insects with flowering onions, parsnips and carrots being hot favourites.


  • Some trees are good for bees. Cotoneaster, Eucryphia, some limes [beware some are narcotic to bees], hawthorns, crab apples and rowan are all good.
    Eucryphia with bee and fly

    Eucryphia ‘Nymansay’ with honey bee and fly

A summary of planting

I’d recommend that you plant a wide range of varieties so that you have a good spread of flowering times throughout the whole year.

These need not all be in the flower border as climbers, herbs and even trees will provide nectar for them!

bee friendly garden plants

Origanum laevigatum Herrenhausen & Sedum Matrona

A good mix will make for a bee friendly garden!

More reading

The Royal Horticultural Society has a wealth of information on how to make a bee friendly garden. Check out this link here.

Devon Wildlife Trust has some great info on creating a bee friendly garden here.

The British Beekeepers Association has a short list of just 10 plants they recommend that you plant in a bee friendly garden here. You’ll find practical directions on how to provide a solitary bee nest.





On a late summer weekend there is generally a Bee and Pollination Festival at Bristol University Botanic Gardens . It’s just off the Clifton Downs in Stoke Park Road, Bristol, BS9 1JG. Why not pop along between 10 and 5 pm to this fascinating event and enjoy the spectacle of the garden there too?

Pickup for pollinators, chelsea fringe bristol

The Pickup truck for Chelsea Fringe Bristol planted with bee friendly plants and parked outside @Bristol

planted pickup truck for bees, nicki chapman

The author with Nicki Chapman [BBC One Operation People Power]








Did you see the bee friendly planted pickup truck for Chelsea Fringe 2015? I hope so but perhaps later you saw it in my Cleeve garden centre car park? It was stuffed full of bee friendly plants!

If you enjoyed this you might like reading my blog on Building a Bug Hotel in your garden

I’ve also written on Gardening for Butterflies and Moths here.

Finally, I’ve some tips on feeding birds in your garden right here.

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