Reasons to help Bees

Tree Bumble bees on a Brook thistle

Tree Bumble bees on a Brook thistle

As farming practices change and urban areas increase, the natural habitat of bees is in decline.  But gardens can play a very important role in supporting bees by providing places for them to shelter, breed and hibernate as well feed.

We rely on bees to pollinate our food crops and flowers so we should to return the favour by providing them with nectar and pollen in our gardens.  There are many perennial (long-lived) plants that support bees, but here I’m suggesting some plant you can grow from seed now (in the spring) that will flower this summer and provide bee food this year.

These plants will also cheer up your garden and can be grown in pots and on window ledges as well as directly in flower beds.


Honey bees on a Globe Thistle

Honey bees on a Globe Thistle

Easy-to-grow Annuals for Bees

In the spring there are lots of different annual flowers you can sow which will flower in the summer and up to the autumn frosts.  These plants will give a burst of colour in your garden or pots as well as being wildlife friendly.

Bees Friendly Cornflowers, Marigolds and Californian Poppies

Bees Friendly Cornflowers, Marigolds and Californian Poppies

Seeds for bee-friendly plants you can sow outside in the ground or pots of compost

Cornflower – Centaurea cyanus

Purple tansy – Phacelia tanacetifolia

Nasturtium – Tropaeolum majus

Pot/French Marigold – Calendula officinalis

African Marigold – Tagetes

Borage – Borago officinalis

French Marigolds – Calendula

Choose a spot that gets sun for at least half of the day.  Prepare the ground/pot by weeding it then make the soil level with a rake or hand fork and water well.  Now you’re ready for the seeds.

Small seeds, such as Purple Tansy and Cornflower, should be sprinkled onto the soil and raked in lightly so they disappear just under the surface.  For large seeds like Nasturtiums, Borage and French Marigolds make a hole about 1.5cm deep and drop in a seed.  Leave about 10cm between each seed to allow the plant space to grow.  Remember to put a label in the ground to remind you what you’ve sown!

When the seedlings start to grow you may need to thin them out – remove every other seedling to give the remaining plants space.

Seedlings ready for thinning out

Seedlings ready for thinning out

Seeds you should start off inside in a greenhouse or windowsill

Honeywort – Cerinthe major

Cosmos – a range of varieties are available

Sunflower – Helianthus annuus

Follow the instructions on the packet and sow these indoors in pots (larger seeds) or trays (small seeds).  They need heat to kick start the germination process – but make sure they have plenty of light as well or they will get ‘leggy’ and kneel over!  A cool light room or greenhouse are best.  For more information look at my blog on Growing Annual Flowers.  These plants are ‘tender’ and can be killed by frosts, so don’t put them outside until the end of May or when the frosts have finished.

In September you can collect seeds from all these flowers to save and re-sow next year.

Honey Bee on Purple Tansy

Honey Bee on Purple Tansy

Seed Suppliers

The mail order suppliers below provide a wide range of seeds for bee-friendly plants

Higgledy Garden

Chiltern Seeds

Sarah Raven 

Improve your Seed Sowing Skills

I run practical, hands on workshop where you can learn and practice a range of seed sowing techniques and learn about caring for seedlings and collecting seeds.  Click here for information on the next workshop I’ll be delivering.