Best flowers for bees
Which flowers are most attractive to bees? There is no simple answer. Many of the flowers said to be attractive in one account or another will prove to have little value if you plant them in the garden. This is because most list compilers just trawl the web for what other people say and this leads to many dubious entries.
Even when people are more careful, what attracts bees in one area may not attract them in other areas. For example some flowers only secrete nectar within certain temperature ranges so they are not going to perform the same in Scotland as they do in Dorset.
When you are choosing species to plant you also need to know how long the flowers are attractive for. Single peonies are attractive to bees but they last for barely two weeks. Erica carnea attracts bees for months.
We made observations on bees and multiplied their attractiveness (on an arbitrary scale) by the number of days their flowers attracted the bees. Based on this method our top ten flowers for honey bees were:
Heather (Erica carnea)
Blackberry (Rubus spp.)
Heuchera 'Pinot Noir'
Creeping Thyme (Thymus serpillum)
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Oregano (Oreganum vulgare)
Mahonia (large winter-flowering varieties)
Echium 'Blue Bedder'
Rock Rose (Helianthemum nummularium)
White Clover (Trifolium repens)
Honey bee on Sarcococca
Planting for climate change
People often say it's not worth planting special plants for honey bees as, when they do, they are ignored. This is because honey bees forage over a very large area with, scout bees locating the best source and communicating its location to the hive through a special dance. Consequently, the bees may set off for a really large patch of something rich in nectar miles away, rather than visiting a choice plant or two in your own garden.
Bumble bees are more local in their foraging and are more likely to patronise the goodies you plant for them.
Everything changes in the winter months. There are far fewer nectar sources available and bees favour nearby sources more strongly. Plant suitable flowers that bloom over the winter e.g. heather and Mahonia and the bees will be all over them on warm days. As the climate becomes milder, bees are foraging more and more in the winter months so you are providing life-saving flowers in a time of rapid change.
Solitary bee on Tulipa turkestanica
Bumble bee on Centaurea
Solitary bee on Japanese greens