For this month’s topic on Garden Designers Roundtable, instead of focusing on inviting nature into your garden, I would like to explore accepting the nature that is already there. In this case, I’m talking about bees. Their buzzing should be music to your ears, not a signal to start flailing your arms around and running for cover. It’s time those humble bees got some lovin’. But first, some knowledge, understanding and hopefully acceptance.
Why Can’t We Be Friends?
As a landscape designer, many of my clients request a garden full of color and fragrance, a combination of flowering trees, shrubs and perennials that will bloom all season long. But then something weird happens. In the next breath I hear, ‘And I don’t want any of those plants that attract bees’. Huh!?!
From talking with other landscape designers, I’ve found my clients are not particularly unique and educating clients that bees are in fact beneficial is an ongoing issue for many. Here’s a little secret… you want bees in your garden. Bees are a sign of a healthy garden. But man, do bees have a PR problem. Maybe they need a new agent, perhaps an exciting FB page or a major Twitter campaign. Something, anything, to let gardeners know BEES ARE GOOD.
Like almost everyone else, I have a story of being stung when I was a kid. Mine involves a late night game of hide & seek… someone steps on a nest…lots of shouting …tearing off of clothes…crying for my mom…calamine lotion… Luckily, my friends and I were fine. Like most people, when I get stung by a bee, it’s a minor annoyance. I understand not everyone is so fortunate. For some, bee stings are serious and possibly deadly. But for most people, the benefits of inviting bees into their garden far outweigh the ouch-factor.
So, to do my part to promote the acceptance of bees in home gardens, I decided to talk to an expert, Dr. Gale Ridge, PhD. from the Connecticut Agriculture and Experimental Station in New Haven, CT. Dr. Ridge is an expert on true bugs - including bees. She generously shared lots of information on bees and tips on how to act around bees that I would like to share with you.
- ‘Bees’ is actually a catch-all phrase for wasps and bees. One of the easiest ways to tell the two apart is that bees are hairy and wasps are not.
- Bees are generally not aggressive. And they’re vegetarians. They search out nectar because it is a source of energy. (Wasps are predatory and carnivorous.)
- Bees are usually so busy nectaring, they probably don’t even notice you and will not bother you. Unless you start waving your arms around trying to swat them away!
- Bees are not confrontational. Stinging is a result of the bee defending itself because it thinks it’s in dire peril – from you (see above)!
- Not all bees sting. Only female bees have a stinger.
- Honeybees live for about 3 – 6 weeks. They can fly over 5,000 miles to get enough nectar to produce one pound of honey.
- Honeybees typically don’t venture farther than a 1/4 mile from their hive.
- Here in Connecticut, we typically begin to see bees in May. But we can see them as early as March or April if there’s a nectar source for them.
- Bees don’t see color the same way we do. They ‘see’ a UV light reflection so colors that reflect UV light the best, like yellow, tend to attract bees.
- Honeybee and bumblebee colonies do not die over the winter (wasps do), they just go dormant. That’s why you’ll typically see bees in the spring about 6 weeks before you see wasps.
‘Observe Don’t Interfere’
If you, or a loved one, is afraid of bees, Dr. Ridge urges the best approach to coexisting with bees is to ‘observe not interfere’. Leave the bees alone, don’t mess with them. I can attest to that approach. I have lots of bee-enticing perennials planted right near my terrace and I’ve never been stung. I just sit quietly and watch – and take photos!
I asked Dr. Ridge about the types of flowers that are most likely to attract bees. She told me that while no flowers are really off-limits, bees are most attracted to flowers with lots of available nectar. You’ve seen them, the garden floozies who are just flaunting what they have to offer – agastache, daisies, honeysuckle and monarda to name a few.
Flowers that conceal their nectar a bit better, typically double flowers, are not as enticing. Those straight-laced, buttoned up girls like chrysanthemums, dahlias, marigolds, and peonies are generally not as attractive to bees.
Still not convinced you can accept all that buzzing and nectaring in your garden? Maybe it will help to know that the same flowers that entice bees, also attract these…
To read what my fellow Roundtablers have to say about the topic of Inviting Nature In, simply click on the links below:
Douglas Owens-Pike : Energyscapes : Minneapolis, MN
Genevieve Schmidt : North Coast Gardening : Arcata, CA
Pam Penick : Digging : Austin, TX
Rebecca Sweet : Gossip In the Garden : Los Altos, CA
Scott Hokunson : Blue Heron Landscapes : Granby, CT