Weirdly in very hot weather the vital fuel for life, the nectar these creatures sup from our flowers, can dry up a little and become scarce. Even more weirdly, it is more often our gardens that provide a better variety of nectar rich plants than the countryside itself. We have a role to play by planting flowering plants that offer a food source for the whole year, but summer forage is just as important, when these colonies are at their peaks, as early spring nectar sources, as they start out. Here are five plants that are good for attracting the bees. Do note that they all have open, accessible flowers that allow these delicate insects to get to their food quickly and easily.
Top of the summer bee plant list has to be the fabulous blue eryngium. There are dozens of honeybees on every flower collecting precious nectar for their winter food. It’s a great garden border plant, a perennial that will get bigger and better every year and attracts a range of pollinators including butterflies and bumblebees too. Eryngium ‘Big Blue’ is just that.
Sunflowers are fantastic bee plants offering a rich supply of nectar and pollen to our pollinators. The huge yellow petals act as flags to passing insects, shouting ‘hey over here, free food and sustenance’, it’s no wonder the flowers are often a landing pad for pollinator parties. Grow the yellow ones; experts think they are more attractive to bees. The flower’s centre is packed full of smaller tubular flowers that are rich in nectar and pollen and as the bees move around the flower collecting these vital foods they deposit pollen grains onto the flower stigmas, facilitating pollination. Leave the seed heads to ripen in the sun, they attract a range of seed eating birds including gold finches.
Only dahlias with the central, pollen and nectar rich flower disk exposed will attract bees. Only a few types of dahlias have this sort of flower structure, where the flower disk is packed tightly with tiny florets each filled with nectar and bearing pollen. These include the single flowered dahlias, the collerette dahlias and the peony flowered dahlias. The others have dense double flowers where all the florets are ray florets that are bigger and actually sterile without normal stamens and pistils (ie. the reproductive parts of the flower). So these double, flouncy flowers are pretty useless to our pollinators and devoid of pollen and nectar.
Veronicastrum ‘Fascination’ is a fantastic summer bee plant, flowering right into autumn with dancing mauve spires of multiple flowers. Planted with the soft and see through Deschampsia grass it adds a really romantic feel to the border and would also work well in a large patio planter.
Herbs are often great bee plants and African blue basil or camphor basil (Ocimum kilimandscharium) is no exception. It’s a very strongly scented form of basil that is more often used as an insect repellent rather than for edible purposes. Ironically the flowers attract bees that visit for its nectar. But weirdly the plants are a hybrid perennial and the flowers are actually sterile and never set seed and yet the purple flower spikes are popular with pollinators seeking a fast food fix.