Episode 68 - Show Notes & Advice

Grow, cook, eat, arrange podcast 68
Grow, cook, eat, arrange podcast - 68

episode 68 | show notes & advice

Today is World Bee Day and Sarah and Arthur are calling on all of us, as gardeners, to join together and help support our bees. The good news is there are lots of simple measures we can take in our gardens now that will make a huge difference to these vital pollinators. And bee-friendly gardens definitely tick the box for beauty, so they are a total win win – good for us to look at and good for the bees. 

In this episode discover

  • The best bee-friendly plants for your garden, such as Cosmos ‘Rubenza’ and the Sarah Raven family of dahlias
  • Which supermarket staples are pollinated by bees
  • Why we should all let our lawns grow long
  • Pollinator plants for each season, from early crocus and Iris reticulata to late hellebores, ivy, and hebes.
  • The other essentials, like water and shelter, that bees need in the garden 

Episode 68 advice sheet

Sarah has always been passionate about bees. 10 years ago, she made a 3-part miniseries for the BBC - Bees, Butterflies and Blooms - documenting her mission to halt the decline in honeybees and insect pollinators with insect friendly flower power.

For Sarah, it is great that World Bee Day is happening this May 20th, as the hard news is that, 10 years on, our bees and insects remain in total crisis, with more species lost or in critical decline. What is positive is that the younger generation are really passionate about environmental issues, so it is important to raise awareness and make them aware of what’s going on.

Bees pollinate many of our favourite foods

One of the standout moments of Bees, Butterflies and Blooms for Sarah was going to the supermarket with a bee expert. He asked her to fill her trolley with her usual family breakfast and other staples. He then took out all the items that were insect pollinated, including orange juice, fruit, strawberries, jam, coffee. A few items like bread remained (wheat is wind pollinated) but the message really struck home that almost all of our fruit and veg is insect pollinated. Without insects, many of our favourite foods will either vanish or become extraordinarily expensive. And this loss is just one of the many serious consequences we face as a people and as a planet if our bees continue to decline.

What can gardeners do to help our bees

The best, most positive outcome from all the research Sarah did for her programme and subsequently is that gardeners can really help the plight of our bees and insects. Even planting some bee-friendly flowers in a pot or window box can help to make a difference.

1.     Leave grass to grow long

Take part in No Mow May and leave your lawn to grow long. Even mowing less regularly or allowing small patches of grass to grow long, by a tree or your compost, will help provide important food and shelter for bees.

2.     Praise proactive local councils

If you spot wildflower meadow projects or grass left long on council land like roundabouts and verges, let the council know how great this is. A great way to do this is to post a photo and @ them on their social media. These spaces can make an important difference.

3.     Don’t dig up your dandelions

Dandelions provide vital pollen and nectar early in the season. They are edible too, with bitter leaves, like chicory, that are delicious in salad. Their bright yellow colour isn’t for everyone but dandelion clocks – their seedpods – are a thing of beauty. Arthur recently ran a line of dandelion clocks down a table in little vases which looked beautiful, delicate and lasted 2 days! (Indoors and not windy!)

4.     Consider cosmos

Cosmos is the perfect example of a ‘single’ flower (as opposed to a ‘double’ flower, characterised by having extra petals). Single flowers are fantastic for pollinators. The pollen is clearly visible in the egg yolk flower centres and the flat, wide petals make a great landing pad for visiting bees. Sarah recommends planting Cosmos ‘Antiquity’ and, as it’s a shorter variety, it would be fantastic for pots if you don’t have a garden. Sarah got Birmingham Town Council to plant it in their council bedding for her programme.

Plant bee-friendly flowers all year round

Hebes is another great plant for pollinators. When Sarah got the sugar content of plants measured, hebes had a higher sugar content than a pot of raspberry jam. And it is exceptionally long-flowering from May until November. Which is important as this provides vital forage for bees later in the season.

Sarah recommends when you do your planting plan, try to include 1 or 2 pollinator friendly plants for each month. Crocus, Iris reticulata and Polyanthus ‘Stella Champagne’ are fantastic for early nectar-rich flowers in February followed by narcissi – the wilder, more scented varieties are good for bees.

Then at the end of the year, the plant that comes out top with the bee scientists is ivy, which flowers from September right into winter, providing forage for the bees. Remember trees too. Sarah recorded this episode from her house on the west coast of Scotland, where the sycamore tree outside her door hums with the drone of bees as soon as the sun comes out. Crap apple trees are fantastic too. Arthur also recommends pots of hellebores by your door – he saw bumblebees feeding from his Hellebore ‘Merlin’ early in the year.

Bees need a diversity of pollen

Just like us, bees need their 5 a day. If they only feed from one type of plant they don’t get the diversity of pollen and nectar they need to thrive. Which is why the diversity you get in a wildflower meadow is ideal for bees. Or having a really varied flowery garden with an old fashioned mixed border filled with a mix of trees, shrubs, bulbs, perennials and annuals.

Bee-friendly plants are the most beautiful

What is so fantastic is the plants Sarah and Arthur most love and grow are loved by bees too. In particular the dahlias bred for our range, including ‘Sarah Raven’, ‘Abigail’, ‘Lou Farman’, ‘Josie’ – all single or anemone type dahlias. Other highlights for the bees and for us at Perch Hill include myrtle in the herb garden, all the poppies - Papaver somniferums especially - and towering plants with spires like foxgloves, gladioli and lupins. These plants are especially brilliant because they open their flowers in succession – Sarah describes foxgloves as being a tower of bee cafes, one on top of another, and when the cafes on the lower floors close, the high rise ones on level 6 are just opening up. Salvias are also loved by bees, especially bumblebees and some species actually bite into the flowers, using mandibles, to rob the nectar!

What else do bees need?

1)    Water

It is important to provide bees with something to drink. Ponds are ideal but bird baths, water troughs or shallow edged containers are great too. For deeper containers, put a rock inside so insects have something to perch on.

2)    Shelter

Don’t be overly tidy. If you can, do your garden clear up in April, not October and leave things like seedheads and piles of leaves because they provide such key habitats for insects. Leaving a pile of logs in the garden is excellent for insect life and Arthur mentions that at Chatsworth, in their exotic borders, they mound up bracken and encircle it with chicken wire – like an old fashioned beehive – a sort of ornamental sanctuary for insects.

3)    Don’t use pesticides

All chemicals are lethal for pollinators – Sarah and Arthur don’t use them. sarahraven.com has a commitment to using methods of production that do not negatively affect all wildlife populations, including pollinators and bees. There are plenty of effective eco products and methods to use instead.

Arthur’s number 1 plant for bumblebees

Echium vulgare (Viper’s Bugloss) – a biennial with brilliant blue flowers, almost like a delphinium, with electric red anthers. A tower of nectar and will self sow.  

Sarah’s number 1 plant for bumblebees

Cosmos ‘Rubenza’ – brilliant for bees and also as a cut flower for vases.

Rosemary – Sarah would recommend planting 3 rooted cuttings of rosemary against a sunny wall, and putting in a slatted bench so you can sit and watch the bees feast from the rosemary flowers in early spring.

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