Try to build up a garden that offers pollen and nectar to hungry foragers throughout the growing year. Honey bees are inactive at temperatures below 10 degrees Celsius whilst other bees are found foraging in very early spring. Holly, ivy and nettles for example are particularly beneficial as late winter and early spring flowering crops. A wild area of wood lilies, snowdrops, bluebells and snowdrops can also be easy to establish and gratefully received by early spring bees, as well as looking pretty. For spring, you could try to get an early start for your kitchen garden, as well as providing early feed for pollinators, by growing a number of annuals under glass in late autumn.
Select plants with flowers that can offer nectar and pollen to a range of foragers and tongues. Bumble bees for example have a very long tongue and have a preference for flowers with trumpets like foxgloves. Hummingbird hawkmoths also have a long probosces and honeysuckle seems to measure up to their long-tongued dining habits. Honey bees and many solitary bees have shorter tongues and tend to favour more accessible flowers like daisies.
It is also perhaps worth ruminating over what plants you and your fellow two-legged companions find particularly tasty as there may be some synchronicity. The flowers of many fruits and vegetables are attractive to foraging insects as well as humans. This includes brassicas, carrots, asparagus, marrows, courgettes, squash, pumpkins, beans, onions, leeks and chives as well as any fruiting plants. As well as vegetables, we can also learn from our pollinating friends. The flowers of borage, nasturtium, marigold, mallow, violet and viola are tasty additions to any dish. And nutritious too.
Avoid using insecticides, herbicides and pesticides which can be harmful to foragers, the wider garden ecosystem and beyond.
Plants that are considered ‘weeds’ can be amongst bees favourite grub – including dandelion, blackberry and nettles.
If you want to build up a pollinating rich environment it is also beneficial to select plants that attract pest predators such as ladybirds, centipedes, millipedes, lacewings and hoverflies as well as toads, frogs, newts and lizards.
Try to avoid double flower heads and F1 hybrid plants since they offer very little nectar or pollen. It is also wise to select enduring plants, whether perennial or self-seeding, both as a time and money saver for you as a gardener and for the ecosystem of the garden.
Most perennials are hardy once their roots are established and provide a constant supply of pollen and nectar year in, year out. Classics include borage, catmint, clematis, chives, daisies, geraminum, heather, hollyhock, honeysuckle, lavender, mallow, marjoram, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, veronica and ivy.
Self-seeding stars include radish, rocket, purple sprouting broccoli, red mustard, garlic mustard and parsnips.
The blossom of fruit trees, shrubs and bushes are also adored by a range of pollinators so plant apples and pears for flowers as well as fruits! Other recommended blossoming fruits include almond, apricot, peach, hazel, mulberry, quince, medlar and cherry. Hawthorn and blackthorn also provide great foraging matter and offer good coverage for the garden edges.
The essentials seem to simmer down to notions of perpetuity, diversity and compassion!