Despite the snowy weather (or perhaps because of it) my thoughts have been turning to spring and what to plant in the way of bee friendly flowers. I have written about our plans for planting for bees on previous occasions but I have not yet mentioned a lovely book on bees that I received as a gift. The Bee Book (Fergus Chadwick et al, Dorling Kindersley Ltd, 2016). Verity gave me this as a birthday present in that year and we have turned to it for advice since then. Having said that, the main focus of the book is on keeping bees, the dizzy heights of which hobby we have not yet tackled. Maybe that will be one of our future projects. We might start off gently with making some homes for wild bees as demonstrated in The Bee Book. You can make houses with bamboo or wooden frames containing clay punctured with holes, the book giving excellent illustrated instructions. An example is shown of a really large bee palace but I think a simpler construction is better to begin with. Watch this space!
In the meantime, we have been contenting ourselves with consolidating and improving our bee-related planting. I have posted previously about some foxglove seedlings that I was nursing along and these I then planted in a nice spot by the shed, under the lilac tree. They flowered for the first-time last season and we were delighted to watch bees crawling inside the flowers. I cut the plants down in the autumn so I am hoping that they will put up new growth and flower this year. As we were so pleased with the results of that batch of flowers, I set another tray of seeds from which I had a better crop of thirteen new plants. All thirteen were successfully planted out last September. I have grouped the foxgloves in two locations, in slightly shaded positions; some in a cluster around one of the lilacs and some in our bulb and wildflower patch. At the end of last season, I gathered up nasturtium seeds from the bed where they have established themselves in the last couple of years. I am planning to spread them more widely around the garden as they are another popular bee flower.
The book I mentioned above has a section on what plants are good to grow for bees, considering biennials, annuals, perennials, bulbs and so on. Each flower has a handy key so that you can tell what each one has to offer and to which variety of bee. For example, our foxgloves will appeal to both bumblebees (in particular) and solitary bees and is a source of nectar. I was pleased to note that one of our most prolific garden occupants, chive plants have a wide apian appeal, being a good flower for bumblebees, solitary and honey bees. The flowers have the double benefit of supplying both pollen and nectar. It is useful to have something in the garden early in the season when little food is available. Into this category comes snowdrop and crocus; snowdrops used by honey bees and crocuses by all varieties but again a favourite of honey bees.
Ideally you would aim to cover as much of the season as possible with flowers to appeal to all of your bee visitors. The book also explains about the life cycle of bees, how they forage and the differences between the common garden varieties. Bees are fascinating creatures and I think I have much to learn! I hope to return to bees and The Bee Book further into this season and I will tell what new bee benefits are to be found in our garden.
In the meantime, it’s back to keeping cosy in the snow!