Making your garden the bees knees

We’re all aware that bees and other endangered insects are on the decline in the UK. Encouragingly, managed hive numbers are steady, but still susceptible to changes in climate, pesticides, and a lack of foraging opportunities. Making your garden bee heaven is easier than you think…

Bees face threats from many sources, but one of the biggest is loss of habitat and land use change. Farming practices have changed drastically over recent years, resulting in the loss of flower-rich meadows – once a common sight. Bees such as the bumble bee and solitary bee are specialists, collecting nectar and pollen from a smaller range of plants. When these types of plants become less available it spells trouble for these bees. Climate change is dramatically impacting bee numbers as more geographical areas become less suitable for them and, combined with habitat loss, is proving deadly for our beloved bees. A lack of bee nesting sites has an obvious impact on numbers, with many types of bees requiring specific conditions to nest. Of huge impact is the wide use of pesticides. What may be good for your borders is not good for our buzzing beasties. Pesticides decimate food in the form of plants and prey species, and systemic pesticides used by farmers are responsible for the introduction of chemicals into sap, nectar, and pollen.

What can we do to help the bees and ensure they are able to visit our garden to feed and to bring joy to our lives? Bees are like teenagers – they need food, water and shelter, so consider these three things before you create a bee-friendly patch in your garden and you won’t go wrong.


Bees make, well, a bee-line for flowers rich in nectar and pollen, which will give them the sugar they need for energy and protein and oils from the pollen.

Different bees are active at different times of the year, so consider plants that will flower from spring to winter. They also have different sized tongues, so planting differently sized flowers will help you to attract as many species as possible.

Spring plants to help establish new bee colonies include pussy willow – a great source of pollen and nectar; apple or crab apple trees which feed the bees and provide tasty food for us, rosemary, which flowers from February onwards and provides food for early-flying bumblebees and a heavenly scent by your back door. Foxgloves are a firm favourite and bees are their main pollinator.

Summer plants to entice bees and pollinators include hawthorn, with its bunches of flowers that also provides food for birds. A favourite for many reasons, the purple flowers of a lavender plant are popular with many species of bees and there’s nothing like pulling your hand across a branch for an olfactory delight. The aptly named bee bush produces delicate, scented flowers loved by bumblebees and honeybees.

As we move into autumn, often signified by the sweet scent of a honeysuckle, these tremendous climbers provide nectar for bees and attract moths at night.

When it appears that your garden can’t provide anything for bees in winter, a vigorous ivy plant produces baubles of flowers – an important source of nectar for honeybees and for queen bumblebees fattening up for hibernation, and the hardy evergreen Mahonia helps to sustain bees over winter. Contrary to popular belief, bees don’t hibernate!

Other plants to consider include: Bee balm (Abelia) Apiaceae (carrot family) Asteraceae (daisy family) Dipsacaceae (teasel family) Lamiaceae (mint) And my all-time favourite California lilac. There is a large tree in my garden, and it is a real treat to sit underneath and listen to the bees going about their busy day – joy!

It’s good to know that when choosing plants, always look for plants that produce single flowers. While bees love most flowers, this type – with a single layer of petals – makes their job a little easier.


A water fountain, small pond or just a bowl with stones placed for bees to rest on – any size of water source will do just fine. As well as drinking water, honeybees use water for cooling their hive in warm weather and to control the humidity and temperature in their hive, and nursing bees need water to produce the jelly with which they feed the larvae.


Overwintering and hiding from predators will ensure bees and other insects are able to survive. Trees offer fantastic protection, with bark gaps a favoured hideout. No room for trees? Climbers offer a good alternative.

Get the children or grandchildren involved and plan and build a bug hotel. You can buy them or have fun making one. You can even opt for a pile of leaves and branches in an undisturbed part of the garden – an ideal spot for a weary insect traveller.

Fed up with weeding? Dandelions are a great source of nectar and pollen and nettles are a fantastic food source for butterflies and moths, so you have a good excuse not to weed!

Now you have the basics to attract bees to your garden or balcony…enjoy a year of hard work (for the bees) and delight in the sight and sound of busy bees!