By Paris Wolfe, Blogmaster, The Herb Society of America
Several blog posts have covered the importance of bee-friendly gardens, but what does that mean? In the lavishly illustrated The Bee-Friendly Garden, By Kate Frye & Gretchen LeBuhn (Ten Speed Press, 2016, $19.99) offer guidance. For example, did you know bees visit only one type of flower per foraging trip? That mean you’ll need large enough patch of, say thyme, to make a visit worth their while.
The authors note that Mediterranean herbs – rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme, oregano and marjoram – are among bee favorites. Others include angelica, chives, comfrey, fennel, hyssop, lovage, savory.
Here Kate Frye, an international garden consultant, educator, designer and writer, talks to the Blogmaster.
Why bee gardens?
The day they came alive for me was when I met Dr. Gordon Frankie, a professor from UC Berkeley, in one of the gardens I designed to mimic an English perennial border. One of his main focuses at UC Berkeley is promoting native bees in urban environments. He was excited and said mine was the best bee garden he had ever seen. It had been inadvertent to create a bee garden- but I had always been interested in habitat gardens so a lot of the plants had been selected to cater to beneficial insects, butterflies and hummingbirds- I just hadn’t focused on bees until then. Now, wherever I go in the world I look for bees; observe their behaviors and what flowers I see them on.
What turned that experience into a book?
The editors at Ten Speed Press in Berkeley realized that bees are an important interest right now. They approached Gretchen LeBuhn and me to see if we wanted to write a book on the subject. We did a search and found many books on beekeeping, but none on pollinator gardens. So we spent a year working on the project.
How do you want to make a difference?
We want to educate people on bee-friendly gardens. Dr. Frankie’s research shows that home gardens can make a difference. Bee-friendly gardens must be pesticide-free. They must be flower-filled. The same flowers that attract bees also attract many beneficial insects and often butterflies. More than 90 percent of birds feed insects to their young. Where there are flowers, there are insects and food for baby birds.
How do different plants change the nature of honey?
Each plant’s pollen and nectar are unique. Pollen is basically a protein source and is composed mostly of amino acids and fats. Nectars are composed of a variety of sugars. Depending on the floral resources available, each honey will taste differently and may or may not crystalize. Bees need a variety of pollen and nectar from different plants for health. Single source honeys are not desirable.
Should U.S. gardeners return to natives?
Native plants are best adapted to each region’s soil types, climate and disease and insect pressures- though there is great variation in small areas. It is best to assess what your area’s physical parameters are before choosing plants. Nonnative plants are also good garden subjects if they are well-adapted and cater to bees and other wildlife.
Tell me about your personal garden?
I have a one-acre garden that is composed of 95 percent bee-friendly plants. It is flower-filled from February until December and filled with life of many kinds– birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, beneficial insects and many bees. In some areas of the garden you can hear the bees before you see them.
The garden is very naturalistic in design and the plants are densely planted to get the most bloom area as possible. I used to judge a garden simply by its design, now I judge them by the life that is visiting.
What are the most important tips for creating a bee garden?
- Choose a variety of flowers so you have blooms from the beginning to end of season.
- Use plants adapted to local conditions
- Select bee-friendly flowers. Some have inaccessible pollen and nectar. For example, double dahlias and roses.
- Plant at least a three-foot by three-foot area of each plant variety. Plants can be next to each other or repeated in the garden.
- Avoid pesticides
- Allow some bare soil for native bees to nest in and add drilled wood blocks for crevice dwellers.
Have you started a bee garden? What plants are you using?