How gardeners can help bees

Bees are in trouble. Echinacea flower with beeTheir plight is the subject of an EU vote today, when environment ministers gather to decide whether to vote against the use of certain neonicotinoids – the pesticides that scientists believe are the cause of colony collapse disorder. While most countries are voting for a ban, our environment minister, Owen Paterson is set to vote against. If you haven’t yet signed the petition to press him to change his mind, there’s still time.

While politicians and vested interests argue the toss, gardeners and garden designers can dig in and do their bit to help bees to thrive.

It’s all in the planting. Purists argue that planting native species is best for biodiversity and wildlife. But many of our native species don’t flower much beyond July. Which is bad news for hungry bees and not great if you want a garden that looks good all year round. Anyway, who wants nettles colonising their precious outdoor space? When I’m designing a garden I always think about extending the season at both ends with plants that flower long and reliably, or come into their own in late summer and autumn and provide valuable nectar for bees.

The long, cold winter hasn’t helped. Spring flowers that bees love — hellebores, pansies, muscaris – have been held back this year. I revisited a garden I designed last week, and the bees were gorging on the pulmonaria, which would normally have gone over by now.

At the tail end of summer, sedums, salvias (rigourously deadheaded), echinacea, nepeta are some of the perennials that have both a distinctive form, which we designers covet, and will get your garden buzzing. And when you choose plants, stick to single flowers, not blowsy doubles. Get the right things in and the bees will follow.

But not if you let them be killed off first, Mr Paterson.

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