Keeping the bees happy

Although I am not a militant environmentalist and often throw up my hands in disbelief when people prattle on about long grass being good for bees* I do always think about the wildlife in the garden and although I do plant some things for me and not for bees, I think there is plenty of variety for them.

This year I have properly planted the two raised beds, that are primarily there to grow bulbs over winter. They cannot be planted till May (when bulbs are lifted) and they will have to be cleared by October, so annuals fit the bill. A few were sown in situ but others were grown in cell trays and planted out. It all happened over several weeks. It was often dry and I was not sure quite how it would work out. I decided not to get too worried about it all – there were bigger garden issues to worry about – and I am not too upset about the results.

The last seedlings to be popped in were Papaver somniferum ‘Lauren’s Grape’ which were tiny and looked so sad for a while but have suddenly erupted into growth. I actually don’t like P. somniferum (opium poppy) very much. It doesn’t flower for long and I think the plant is a bit brutish. It is ugly enough when in growth but when the huge leaves turn brown as it dies it is a liability. But I know I am in the minority and it is very popular. My flowers seem a bit dark for ‘Lauren’s Grape’ to me but that is not bothering the bees which are fighting for a space in the flowers so they can bask in the pollen. It is amusing to watch them scramble for space. Honey bees seem to like them just as much as bumble bees. This is only the second day of flowering – the flowers fall apart after a day – and there are lots of buds ready to open.

I knew that the poppies would dominate the bed for a short time and I envisaged a blue and purple scheme with a range that should attract butterflies as well. For this reason I grew some sweet sultan (Centaurea moschata), an annual that I haven’t grown for ages. These have a wide colour range of white, pinks and mauve, and also yellow, much broader than their allied cornflowers. So far only yellow flowers have appeared. They seem to appeal to hoverflies more than bees but I hope that the pink flowers – if I get some – will attract butterflies.

Annual chrsyanthemums are producing their zoned, pink ‘daisies’ and cynoglossum ‘Chill Out’ is covered in starry, blue flowers. It is a mix of blue and white but, so far, only one plant is producing white flowers – no great loss! This is a great half hardy annual for filling space and my plants are a fairly representative 45cm high. Honey bees are especially fond of these, at the moment, and flit from bloom to bloom very quickly, probing and extracting nectar in a second.

There is a lot more to come. My perennial ageratum is yet to get going, cerinthe seedlings are just getting into their stride and some Californian poppies (which will spoil the colour theme) are starting to open. I will let you know how it gets on later in the month. But tomorrow another bed planted for bees and butterflies.

*Long grass may allow other flowers to grow among it but grass is pollinated by wind (ask anyone with hayfever) and not by bees. Short grass is also often full of flowers. I do not use weedkillers on my ‘lawn’ which is covered in clover flowers 5 days after mowing. Mowing itself takes ages because I have to ‘shoo’ off bees. So my compromise allows me a green ‘lawn’ but also feeds bees. I admit that the bees don’t have flowers for a few days after mowing but the garden is still full of flowers and I am sure they are not short of food.

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6 Comments on “Keeping the bees happy”

  1. Dee
    July 7, 2022 at 12:53 pm #

    Very wise, thoughtful and giving good consideration to wildlife but not going OTT altogether like some ‘environmentalistically minded’ individuals who think that any cutting of anything living in their favourite places (like public greenways, parks etc) is an outrage (but probably not in their own gardens). The real horrors in all this are the mindless individuals who lay artificial grass in their outside gardens and think that it’s acceptable. It isn’t!

    • thebikinggardener
      July 7, 2022 at 1:11 pm #

      A good point about artificial grass. It is true that it doesn’t need to be watered and there is no fertiliser involved but it is plastic! And sterile. It is a bit like ‘Angel Delight’ – which is possibly the safest and most environmentally friendly thing to eat – because it can’t have any pesticide residue, and can’t be unkind to animals, and can’t have any waste products involved in its manufacture because it is ALL ARTIFICIAL. Thank you for commenting – and I admit that, very very occasionally I do eat Angel Delight for nostalgic reasons!

  2. Paddy Tobin
    July 7, 2022 at 2:13 pm #

    I am having an issue with bees at the moment. For some reason they have become very attracted to our central heating boiler which is outside against the wall of the house in a fibre-glass housing. There is no swarm of bees but there are dozens flying around the boiler. I really don’t wish to settle as I have made an arrangement to have the boiler serviced. I will shoooo them away…to the flowers in the garden.

    • thebikinggardener
      July 7, 2022 at 3:34 pm #

      That is very strange! I wonder what they are after in there? I am sure you have lots of flowers that would be much more useful to them! Just as an aside, I finally visited Coolaught last week, on a rather drizzly day, after seeing your post. Even though it was not a great day the garden was very lovely and distinctive, and I bought a few plants too. I will definitely be going back!

      • Paddy Tobin
        July 7, 2022 at 5:52 pm #

        I think the bees had intentions of setting up home at the back of the boiler but I’ll do my best to persuade them to go elsewhere. Coolaught always has some very choice plants.

        • thebikinggardener
          July 8, 2022 at 9:08 am #

          I hope you succeed. This hot weather will make them ‘swarmy’.

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