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Bee Friendly Borders

Bee Friendly Borders

Bee friendly borders

There are a myriad of plants and flowers to choose from, but if you want a garden teeming with life and buzzing with activity, you won’t BEE disappointed if you have some of these. 

And it’s not just bees you’ll attract either – lots of other insects will love coming to visit too.

We love bees too, so have designed some borders all ready for you to download, you will love them and most importantly so will the Bees! If you don’t want to scroll through and try and sort out which plants you want to have; visit the shop. We have lots of predesigned border planting ideas and we use lots of bee friendly flowers in our designs.

If you fancy choosing some plants yourself though, or you just want to know which ones are great for insects, there are a few simple rules to follow though to ensure all the insects love your garden.

  • Choose open flowers – so avoid doubles and overly cultivated blooms
  • Avoid using Bedding plants
  • Choose more natural looking flowers and flower sizes
  • Buy plants that flower in every season
  • Use some native wildflowers in the borders too.

 

Flowers are for us to admire – right?

Well absolutely yes they are, but flowers aren’t just for us, many of today’s modern blooms however are created primarily to please the human eye – but are we forgetting who flowers are really for?

 


Let’s take you back a few hundreds of millions of years to when flowers began. The plants that survived and thrived were those that evolved the best strategy to reproduce effectively. The emergence of flowers and nectar allowed plants to attract insects and this improved the efficiency of the pollination process and allowed plants to proliferate.

Flowers evolved over millions of years to attract the best pollinating insects or they formed a symbiotic relationship with certain types of insect to develop a really efficient reproductive cycle. It created a win-win situation whereby flowers provided the insect with much needed food and the insects took the pollen and redistributed it.

But horticulture has thrown a ‘spanner in the works’

For millions of years this system has worked well and then humans discovered how we could ‘breed’ bigger and better flowers. Careful selection and cross pollinating meant we could create more colourful blooms. We could develop flowers with modified and elaborate petals and stamens and produce blooms in all the colours of the rainbow. Horticulture also developed the ability to create more bountiful crops and fruits.  We also managed to increase the range and variety of many hundreds of species of plants and thereby widen the available larder for many pollinating insects.

However, a whole industry has evolved to create flowering plants whose appeal and use to insects is pretty limited but to us humans they look spectacular!

These plants produce many flowers over long periods of time, often the flowers are bred to be larger and more elaborate and the colour combinations created are really quite astonishing.

Are these really flowers though?

1390282_29761392 overly bred rose
If a bee cannot recognise this as a flower….aren’t we missing the point?

These plants have been cross bred over time to create blooms that could never be created in nature. The stamens and petals are so modified, insects can’t access the nectar or transfer the pollen. The plant cannot reproduce itself. In fact many of these plants are sterile and so cannot reproduce without human interference.

Thus if the flower produced is incapable of performing the function for which it originally evolved – is it really a flower?

Now you may argue that it doesn’t really matter. These plants can’t cross pollinate with other plants and what’s the harm in planting them in the garden.  Flip that thought process round and ask what’s the good of planting them in the garden either.

The problem arises if too many highly developed flowers appear in domestic gardens – bees and butterflies would expend so much energy trying to find food.  They will have less food to store and this reduces their ability to survive the winters.


If we all try to do just a little bit…

Domestic gardens are becoming far more important to native wildlife than ever before. Do you really want to fill your gardens with plants that cannot provide any food for butterflies or bees?

All that is required is a little more thought before you buy any plants. If you go to a garden centre to buy your plants, have a look at the displays.  Do you see any insects flying around (now the Garden Centre could have sprayed the plants), but with that concentration of plants in flower, you would surely expect to see some bees buzzing around.

Flowers image B Roslett
image B Roslett

Bees see in Ultraviolet, so what we admire in a flower is not actually what attracts the bees to it. It is unlikely that commercial plant breeders check the UV look of the flowers in development to see how and whether a bee is attracted to it and it wouldn’t be commercially viable to do so.

It is quite possible therefore, what you see as a spectacular flower is totally unrecognisable to a bee or butterfly.

A simple check on the plant label will normally tell you whether a plant is good for bees.

We all love to fill our houses with beautiful things. However, you wouldn’t buy a kettle that didn’t boil water just because it looked nice. Good design is about form AND function.

So before you buy plants for the garden, think what benefits the plant will bring.

Bee Friendly Flowers for Winter & Early Spring 

  • Aconites
  • Ajuga
  • Berberis
  • Calluna (heather)
  • Crocus
  • Dicentra
  • English Bluebells
  • Erica
  • Galanthus (snowdrops)
  • Genista
  • Hellebores
  • Ivy
  • Lamium
  • Lonicera Fragitissima (winter honeysuckle)
  • Mahonia
  • Muscari
  • Primula vulgaris
  • Pulmonaria
  • Rosemary
  • Viburnum

Bee and Butterfly Flowers for Spring:

  • Allium
  • Borage
  • Campanula
  • Celandine
  • Chive
  • Eryngium
  • Foxglove
  • Geranium
  • Geum
  • Hebe
  • Honeysuckle
  • Myosotis (Forget me not)
  • Papaver
  • Penstemon
  • Salvia
  • Thyme

Bee Friendly Flowers for Late Summer:

  • Bergenia
  • Cornflower
  • Helianthemum (sunflowers)
  • Kniphophia
  • Lavender
  • Loosestrife
  • Nasturtium
  • Raspberries (autumn cropping)
  • Scabious
  • Sedum
  • Solidago
  • Verbascum
  • Verbena
  • Veronica

What if butterflies could vote, would your garden win?

Who would benefit from the beautiful summer spectacle of fluttering butterflies more, you or your neighbours? One of life’s greatest pleasures is sitting in the garden on a warm summer day watching the daily hum of life. Bees buzzing in and out of flowers, ladybirds clambering up plant stems, butterflies and moths daintily balancing on petals to drink the nectar; our gardens are alive with life.

 

The biodiversity that inhabit these spaces is wonderful and should be enjoyed for the spectacle it is. So how would your garden fare? Will the butterflies vote with their feet and choose your patch and if not why not?

image via Pixnio.com/free images

Did you know butterflies taste with their feet

OK, it’s an interesting nugget of information, (butterflies taste flowers and leaves via sensors in their feet), and is a fact that may win you a point and team quodos in a pub quiz; but this is actually a really important piece of information that should govern HOW you garden.

Consider this; if you spray chemicals on the leaves and petals in your garden – what will they taste like then?

One would presume it’s pretty noxious, after all it is meant to kill. The consequence though is that long after the pests have been destroyed, the flower is still useless. It still doesn’t smell or taste like a flower!

 

The butterfly can’t recognise the plant and so can’t feed, it’s possible the chemical residue could kill the butterfly too! That fabulous ‘kills all aphids in one easy application’ spray has the unintended consequence of rendering your garden a lifeless desert; full of just perfectly formed leaves and petals.

image via findaphoto.com

Desiring a ‘perfect garden’ is a false aspiration. It is impossible, plants will always be eaten by something, but plants are used to being eaten. If the munching of bugs was such a problem then our world would look more like this:

Image by Tom Morel via Unsplash.com

I mention this, not because I want most gardeners to feel a sense of guilt about trying to keep the garden looking nice. I just don’t think many gardeners have ever really thought about the long term consequences killing pests has. Most would be horrified to think of their gardens as toxic places for the very creatures they do love watching.

So, what is the solution if you want perfect looking plants, lots of bees and butterflies but no pests!

Unfortunately, if perfection is your goal as a gardener, you are going to be disappointed, there are no smart sprays that only kill the unwanted pests. Chemical sprays simply kill all (or almost all) the insects.

There is a solution however, and it is one I have been writing about for some time now, which is to change what we think a perfect garden is.

 

You cannot have butterflies without caterpillars, so to view caterpillars as pests but butterflies as acceptable is daft. The problem however is not that caterpillars eat garden plants, it’s that we don’t think they should! Gardeners want plants to look perfect, but this aspiration is neither natural nor is it truly achievable. It is an idea that has evolved from decades of images in books and magazines and TV programs showing how to grow and cultivate perfect plants.

Our understanding of what nature is has been warped by unrealistic imagery!

Nature doesn’t do ‘perfect’. Nature is a balancing act

Albeit lovely, these plants could not look like this if left to grow by themselves. The role of Nature is a balancing act, hunters verses prey, the quantity of life verses the volume of food resource, is all balanced and juggled to ensure all life has a fair crack at the whip. The trouble is we mess it up, because we interfere. We disrupt this balance.

Getting butterflies to vote for your garden is actually quite easy, and involves some very simple steps, what is more of an obstacle though is changing what you think your garden is for.

The simplest step to enjoying a butterfly filled garden is to not spray anything at all.

Let Nature sort itself out. In the short term you will find bugs becoming a problem but that is not because the bugs are the problem, it is because the garden is off balance.

This is the hard bit, though, some of your plants may succumb but this is Darwinism at work; the survival of the fittest. Some of your plants may look a bit bedraggled, but they will grow back. Over a couple of seasons the lack of bug munching predators will resolve itself. If the garden is overrun with bugs, more predators are attracted in and the balance restored. All the gardener needs to do is be patient.

How can you attract more butterflies into the garden though?

Butterflies (and don’t forget moths) drink nectar, as such the simplest way to attract butterflies to your garden is to have lots of nectar rich plants. There are loads to choose from and there are a few simple rules to follow when choosing:

These types of flowers will attract more bees, butterflies, moths and other beneficial insects, they may not look as showy or specatacular as some of the more modern hybrid plants many garden centres sell nowadays, but they are far better for your garden.

 

Gardens aren’t just for us and the show a garden puts on is more than just pretty eye-candy for humans. The garden show is it’s biodiversity, it is what gardens are all about.

Think of your garden as the place where you can immerse yourself in the beauty of the world with a cup of tea in hand and worry less about being perfect.

That’s how you get butterflies to vote and that’s how your garden can win!

Find out more about british butterflies

Find out more about british moths