Finding out which plants bees really like
Its not that easy to find any scientific evidence about the amount of pollen or nectar that various bee-friendly plants might provide.
For a gardener, that's probably not very important; the plants need to perform well as garden assets and if they help the bees too, that's great. As a beekeeper, I really worry about whether my bees are getting the right amount and mix of nutrition.
There are some good lists such as the RHS 'perfect for pollinators' and also the WI, however all the plants on the list are given equal 'bee-value' so we wanted to go further to be able to identify the best of the best.
Our first trail bed for bee-plants were started in 2010 and each year we add more plants or more trial beds. But we also take notes from plants we see in every other garden I visit or even when out on walks. There really is no substitute for patiently watching and counting. I have been quite alarmed at how few bees there are in my main garden which was planted over 10 years ago with only visual aesthetics in mind. I would urge you to check your own gardens on a sunny day; stand still and listen first, then follow any buzzing. If you dont find bees on at least half of the plants in flower, this will tell you something.
In our 6 acre site we are conducting the following research:
- testing a variety of commercially available seed mixes sold for bees and see how many bees each attracts and how they perform over years
- counting bees that visit plant different species and cultivars of perennial plants know to attract bees to establish which bees prefer
- experiment with 'succession planting' to find planting schemes to help gardeners get as much flower out of any garden space as possible.
For more details and our research results see our plant trials section