blog

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

Salvias - plants for bees

Salvia nemerosa

Salvia nemerosa

clary sage

clary sage

Salvia is a large family of plants and includes both annuals and perennials, native and exotic, many of them herbal. Most of them are good for bees but this does not include the brightly coloured bedding plants that are sold in most garden centres as, even if it produces some nectar, the flower tubes are too long for the tongues of most British bee species.

At rosybee we stock

  • salvia nemerosa which is a very hardy and reliable small perennial; good at the front of a sunny border and holds purple bracts even after the blue flowers are finished. It attracts a mix of carder bumblebees, honey bees and some solitary bees and even wasps
  • clary sage - native dramatic hedgerow plant with multiple pale pink spires reaching 120cm in mid-summer. This one attracts less bees but plenty of butterflies and moths.

 

 

Oriental Poppy flowers - black pollen for bees

300_2433.jpg

The bees seem to really love these. They love all poppies, but these blooms each stay open for about a week providing huge loads of black or dark purple pollen. We have observed both honey and bumble bees coming out with large bulges on their back legs; so heavy they look like they are having trouble flying.

The oriental variety doesnt exactly look natural in a meadow, because the flowers are much larger than the native poppy, but does have the advantage of being perennial so that you can guarantee it will flower every year without fail and is fully hardy. This makes it an ideal garden poppy and has the added advantage that it lends itself to 'succession planting'; after it finished flowering at the end of May you can plan to have another plant grow into its space.  This works well with a later flowering perennial like rudbeckia or helenium.

We sell oriental poppies.

Plants for bees; Doronicum - a march-flowering yellow daisy for b

300_1639.jpg
300_1637-1-300x223.jpg
300_1643-2.jpg

At this time of year the bees are just beginning to emerge more regularly and very soon they will find much of their food from trees and shrubs. Most perennials and particularly most of the daisy family tend to flower later. Doronicum is a significant exception flowering as soon as the temperatures begin to head above 10 degrees. My plants are just showing buds now. Honeybees love all types of daisy-shaped flowers as they are very open and accessible. They also tend to flower for weeks opening up new nectaries on a daily basis until the centre of the flower has a fuzzy appearance.

Dornonicums are  meant to like damp conditions but I have found they also cope well in quite light soils.

They clump up relaibly but are not invasive; all in all a very well behaved but tough garden plant.

Winter heather - long flowering nectar source

Winter flowering heather (erica carnea) provides an unexpected splash of pink in March when everything around it is still rather brown and drab. It can grow, when well established, to about 4 feet across. Mine started flowering at the end of January and the bees have been visiting every sunny day since. Im not really a big heather fan and find the pink a harsh colour in the garden but as a bee-plant its top value!

Unlike summer heathers these ones dont need an acid soil to thrive and will tolerate a wide range of conditions. So if you have a scrubby patch were you want some low growing, low maintenance flowering plant that will also support the bees this might be a good option.

Bee plants for containers

I have had a lot of requests for bee-friendly plants that will work well in pots, window boxes and hanging baskets.  Most of my plant original plant range was selected to be tough and survive in wildlife gardens amongst grass, so containers are at completely the other end of the plant-care spectrum. Never the less, the bees will appreciate plants producing pollen and nectar wherever they can find them and therefore I am now testing some plants that I think will work well. One thing I will continue to encourage is that even in containers, its important to have a reasonable size block of the same plants to make it worth the bee to visit and so I recommend keeping the range simple.

I also realise that even if the bees dont care what the plants look like, people growing in pots do and so I have chosen a simple colour pallet of blue, mauve and pale pinks.

- dwarf scabious columbardia  - dusky pink pin-cushion flowers

- trailing lobelia - one of the few trailing plants that still retains nectar

- dwarf campanula carpatica - deep blue bell-flowers

- dwarf lavender

- echium blue bedder - this one is annual and all the rest are perennial - true blue spires.

Salvia nemerosa will make a good substitute for the echium as it will keep quite small if grown in pots but provide the same height with spires of blue/purple.

I will be selling these separately or as a package which is better value. Advance order can be taken now for delivery end of July and they should still flower this year.

In spring we sell a Collection: plants for pots and containers

 

Plants for bees - phacelia with blue pollen

This plant is a great one for bees and so easy to grow in really rough ground.

I am generally all about planting perennials for bees so that you have a guaranteed sources of nectar and pollen every year but there are a few annual crops which cannot be ignored for their bee-value.  Phacelia is one of them.  It provides masses of blue pollen for honey bees and nectar for lots of other types of bee (see http://www.rosybee.com/?p=345  for our observations on types of bee).

In several countries (US, Germany) it is grown as a green manure to enrich arable land. In the UK is is sometimes included in the mix for game cover but I have not seen it sold for crop rotations although I have seen it sold as a green manure in small packets in garden centers - presumably aimed at allotment holders. It doesnt seem to have any product other than its humus benefits..........and its masses of pale purple flowers.

My sister gave me a 100g packet she picked up in Germany and we had a patch of field going spare not far from our bees.  So, having rotivated to break it up a bit I liberally chucked the seed around, raked it over roughly and then ignored.  In spite of it being the driest spring on record and having to compete with well established weeds, it has come up thickly and now (first week June) is just beginning to flower.

As part of the plant trials I will be observing how it performs for the following questions:

1,  how attracted the bees are to a clump 3mx8m?

2,  the flowering timing - will it fill the 'June gap'?

3, after flowering will it self seed and continue to compete against the couch grass and thistles?

My observations are that the bees of all types love it and this is a fabulous 'June gap' filler. However, being an annual, you do need to sow it in freshly prepared ground every year.  For a selection of perennial plants that will reliably flower every year and support bees, go to the rosybee plant range.

Hedges; bee heaven in Springtime

A traditional English 'country hedge' is made up of mainly hawthorn or blackthorn but also with a selection of elder, dog-rose, maple and hazel. This mix has been forming our hedgerows for centuries and is still the hedging that Natural England recommends as part of their stewardship schemes today. Not only does this country hedge form a tough, spiky barrier which keeps animals in and trespassers out, but it is easy to maintain with an annual trim. In addition, for those of us who want to support bees, it provides a great source of flower from the end of March through to May.

The blackthorn flowers first (pictured), flowed by the hawthorn and then any of the other elements mainly come along in May. In our area, (South Oxfordshire) some of the hedges have such a high proportion of blackthorn that sections of them turn a surprising white for a time as the flowers come before the leaves.

Our bees have easy access to a lot of hedging as it lines all the lanes near their field. Right now they are coming back loaded up with the dark rusty red pollen from the blackthorn.

But these hedging shrubs should not be considered only suitable for leafy roadsides out in 'the sticks'; they can be used anywhere that a hedge or flowering shrub would normally be considered, providing flower when not much else does.