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Follow our progress as beekeepers, running the nursery, creating our own bee-haven and conducting research into the best plants for bees

Plant trials: garden centre annuals

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It is well known that most commercially sold annuals are not very good for bees but I wanted to see just how true this was so this year we decided to plants them and observe how the bees reacted. We created two beds each 2x3 meters and planted one with a selection of standard garden centre annuals and the other with an annual seed mix supplied by Flowerscapes, a company that know their stuff about pollinating insects.

The 'six pack' annuals we tested were lobelia, stocks, pelargoniums, petunias, verbena and salvia.

We then observed the beds about once a week, on a dry bright day, and simply counted the number of bees, an other pollinating insects we saw. The results were dramatic.

The only plants from the six pack annuals that we ever saw any bees on where the stocks and the lobelia but out of those the lobelia was the clear winner. Typically we say one bee, usually a bumblebee, somewhere within the 12 plants we grew.

The seed mix did better, the average sighting was 2.3 pollinators in the 6 square meter area; often these were butterflies and hoverflies with some bumblebees.

From a gardening perspective, both beds provided a good continuous splash of colour but the annual seed mix established and flourished with only some initial watering where the garden centre annuals needed regular (once a week) watering or they stopped flowering.

Personally I greatly preferred the visual effect of the seed mix with its mixed pallet of very pretty little jewels and think this is a really beautiful way to fill any temporary spare spaces in a garden, perhaps between newly planted perennials while they grow. I should be noted that neither area in this trial attracted as many bees as either a range of our perennial plugs or a solid patch of phacelia grown from seed, either of which recorded been numbers 5 to 10 times greater.