Follow our progress running the nursery, watching wild bees, keeping honey bees and creating our own bee-haven in south Oxfordshire

Abusing the message about bees to sell plants and other agendas

Apologies in advance for a bit of a rant.

I'm really getting sick of all the garden centres and plant suppliers simply jumping on the band-wagon of the bee's plight to sell their standard plant stock.

Increasingly you see plants being categorized as 'good for pollinators' when either that species is a very poor supplier of nectar and pollen or the specific hybrid is completely untested but might once have had a parent that the RHS mentioned on a list.

This is purely cynical marketing and will serve only to confuse consumers and do nothing to actually help bees.

Take the example of the Garden Centre Group; they now have a page on their website titled bee-friendly plants, where they list rhododendrons, which if you are not careful produce toxic honey and a double flowered aquilegia that will probably be no use to pollinators. None of these plants have been tested or even observed; simply compared with an equally anecdotally based list.

I also need to mention that the lists published by most of the Wildlife trusts are also quite obscure and misleading, even the one currently being promoted by Sussex Wildlife trust. This is a standard list they appear to all have copied which, although they all wax lyrical about a focus on native plants, goes on to list many non-native and some very invasive species such as comfrey that you would not want in any normal garden.

There is some really good work being done to improve our collective understanding of which plants:

  • Sussex University apiculture unit last year published their initial testing on 32 plant types (although 16 where lavenders) where they actually proved which the bees like. More importantly they developed a simple methodology which others can follow to provide scientific assessment of the plants
  • Plymouth University studies both plants and weeds in 2km of front gardens to track which plants appeared to be the most attractive throughout a summer. Although not so empirical it still provided a relative ranking of the plants and the types of bees attracted
  • IBRA published a book titled Plants for Bees which pulled together masses of observations and anecdotal evidence to provide a loose scale of attractiveness to a really extensive range of plants both native and non-native.

At rosybee we are doing our bit by applying the Sussex Uni counting system to all our plants and making sure we never make claims about them that cannot be justified.

Its a shame that not all plant sellers in the industry have the same standards.

by rosi