Building up a “Bee Garden”
On this page I’ll be making suggestions for ideas for plants for a bee garden, based on observations in my own garden. Here below are some quick suggestions of plants to get started, and in the following weeks I’ll be adding more detail about individual plants, along with photographs of the bees who frequent them. Here is the first installment, with some suggestions for Spring plants.
The Bee Garden in Springtime:
Above: A selection of suggested plants for a bee garden. Hovering over each thumbnail will give the name of the plant, while clicking on the image will give a larger view.
If you only add one plant for bees to your garden in Spring, I would recommend either the White Dead Nettle, or the Chive. These are both favoured by many types of Bumblebee. But if you are encouraging other, small solitary bees, then London Pride and Forget-me-not are both very good.
The White Dead Nettle:
Lamium album is not actually a nettle, but belongs to the Lamiaceae family which include lavender, sage, rosemary, catmint, and other mints. Unlike the Stinging nettle, it does not sting; hence the ‘dead’ part of its name. It can be recognised by its white flowers (stinging nettles have tiny green flowers), and when not in flower by its characteristically hollow, square stem. It is an incredibly useful plant both medicinally, for those who like to eat ‘wild’ food, and of course for the bees. In fact one of its common names is “bee nettle” for the very reason that Bumblebees find it so attractive. I would put this plant at the top of my list of flowers for a Bee Garden, since it is one of the first to flower, and attracts a number of different Bumblebees which don’t seem to favour any other plant. This flower is not suitable for smaller bees as they cannot reach the nectar – Bumblebees have very long tongues, as you can see from one of the photographs below.
A perennial, the dead nettle tolerates most soils and conditions, although it prefers dappled shade and moist soils. It provides greenery much of the year, and flowers from March to November. It can be propagated by seed, cuttings, or layering, and is extremely easy to grow. It can be invasive, but isn’t terribly so, and can be grown in containers if you are worried about it taking over.
Above left: The White Dead Nettle (foreground) – a very important plant in the “Bee Garden”, it is one of the first flowers to appear in my garden each year, and provides essential food for some of the earliest bumble bees. Above right: this picture of a Garden bumblebee, taken while I was rescuing it with sugar water, shows the length of the tongue, which is essential to gather the nectar on these deep flowers.
Above: Hairy-Footed flower bee with its characteristic hovering flight, investigates the nettle flowers. On the right, a photograph taken on another day, when I had rescued the bee and put it on the flower – the bee survived, but only after I had also given it some sugar water. See the Flower bee page for more pictures and information about this bee. I have not seen this bee on any other flowers in my garden, so I would say if you want to see a Hairy-footed flower bee, the Dead Nettle would be a good plant to grow.
Above: Three more bumble bees enjoying the White Dead Nettle, from left to right, I think these are: Carder Bee, Early Bumblebee, and Garden Bumblebee. The bee on the far right above, and the Hairy Footed Flower bee further up the page are both sitting in slightly unnatural poses as they were exhausted at the time of the photographs, which allowed me more time to shoot them.
As with the Hairy Footed Flower bee above, these bumblebees really do not favour any other flower in the garden, although I have seen some of them very occasionally on the foxglove, and investigating other plants. But it is the White Dead Nettle they come back to time and again. It is quite possible to see two or three different types of bee on this flower in the space of a few minutes. Of course there are exceptions to this, including the Red-tailed bumblebee and the Red-shanked bumblebee, which fed almost exclusively on chives until the Campanula came into bloom in late May, and most recently on the London Pride and Allium Christophii.
Links for White Dead Nettle:
I’ve been using this Bee Identification Guide from the Natural History Museum to try to identify these bees. But I’d still like some help with identifying them, so please leave a comment if you agree with my IDs or can give a better ID, thanks!
All images ©Christine Farmer 2009-2011
Please contact me if you wish to use any of the images.