Look at this little beauty:
I photographed her last week at Hidcote, the wonderful National Trust gardens in Gloucestershire, feeding on a Euphorbia.
She is Andrena cineraria, and she is common in gardens across much of Britain.
She sort of has a colloquial English name - the Ashy Mining Bee. And she's one of over 250 species of bee in Britain, of which maybe 10-20 species are in each of our back gardens.
Many species are really quite difficult to identify, so what you might think is a bumblebee might actually be a flowerbee, and what you think is a Honeybee might be any manner of solitary bees.
But don’t worry about it (I don’t!). The important thing is that all bees are nectar eaters and pollen drinkers, and that means they’re wonderful pollinators, helping turn many of our flowers into fruit and seeds.
Each species of bee has slightly different Home Needs to the next – for example, different species have different tongue lengths, making them suited to certain types of flower. Nevertheless, it is still possible to give good generic advice, so here is my 6-point plan to help all sorts of bees:
And so which plants to choose? I've been researching this in gardens for several years, and here are some of the top groups of plants to try (in no particular order), giving you loads to choose from.
...and for Trees for Bees, try
If I had to pick my top five plants? I think I'd go for Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant', Cephalaria gigantea. Globe Thistle, Pulmonaria and Goat Willow (the latter two for early nectar).
But I want to know what your top bee plants are, if you would - go on, share your recommendations!
I'm loving the sound of your garden, Carole. Any idea which of your Euphorbias work the best? I find them very variable in their attractiveness to pollinators
Really interesting about the 'Joseph Rock Rowan, Peter, thanks. Stachys byzantina - I bet some of those bees are Wool Carders - they love it!
Hi J Boardman
You're quite right to pull me up about just saying 'Forget bumblebee boxes'! I should have said 'Feel free to try them, but just be aware the success rate is very low, and you'll probably find them nesting under your shed - or in your sparrow boxes! - instead'
Good call on the Black Widow Geranium. For anyone that wants to try it, you'll probably find it listed under Geranium phaeum, and the common one with attractive splodges on the leaves is 'Samobor'
In spite of the inclement weather this year, (drought, frost, flood et al), the bees do seem to be hanging on! My borders are full of them every year feasting on plants such as Rosemary, Chives, various Euphorbia shrubs, Buttercups, Poppies, Foxgloves, Thymes, Mints, Salvias, Cotoneaster, Lavender, Monarda, Coltsfoot, Michaelmas Daisies and Vetch. In the veg patch I inter-plant Runner Beans and Peas with Sweet Peas and pots of herbs. Colours are amazing as well as scent.
The most attractive to all bees seem to be the Rosemary, the Chives and the Cotoneaster which can be covered by several species from dawn 'til dusk.
I try to cover the whole year with something suitable and options for both long and short 'tongued' species.
This year the tree attracting the most bees, both in number and species, is the rowan Sorbus 'Joseph Rock' which has just finished flowering in my garden - it just buzzed. As well as being a great looking tree the yellow berries ripen late and, here in County Durham, are usually eaten by waxwings. It is easily raised from seed but takes a long time to reach flowering size - just how long (and how true to type) I will find out with the sapling that we have planted in the Wildlife Garden at RSPB Saltholme.
The herbaceous plant with the most bees this week is Stachys byzantina, even in the rain.
Hello everyone, interesting reading about the bees, but don't discount boxes for bees too quickly. My husband made a 'sparrow terrace' which they have never used of course. What did use it was a big nest of bumble bees, I wondered what had happed when I thought I might as well remove it from the fence under the tree where we had sited it! I was surrounded by annoyed bumble bees and soon beat a hasty retreat. After the winter I dismantled it and found just a few dead bumbles and a cosy nest inside.
We also find bees love Pyracanthas. While geraniums are great, 'Black Widow' (small purple flower and dark splodges on leaves) is like a bee magnet!