We love our herb garden when it starts to flower and so do the bees. So I wanted to share with you the top flowering herbs for bees.
For a plant to reproduce it needs bees to carry the pollen, so flowers have adapted to become highly scented and filled with tasty nectar, all to attract bees and other pollinators. Sometimes the flowers are vibrant colours to attract the pollinators too. All of this benefits us as well! Herbs can be exceptional at releasing gorgeous scent.
I promise that these herbs are not hard to grow and if you decide to dedicate a small patch of your garden to herbs you will benefit all year round!
Herbs For Bees
The life cycle of a bee is such that we need a mix of early flowering herbs, plenty of main season flowering herbs and some for later in the year to help aid the stock levels of the hive before a long dormant winter. Worker bees should be able to survive the 4-5 months of winter and when they come out in early Spring they need to build up the hive levels almost immediately as the Queen will start to lay new worker bee eggs.
With over 300 varieties lavender is a versatile choice for your garden or balcony. With colours ranging from white, pink, purple and blue you can match it to any colour scheme you may have. Plant in pots on the patio or balcony or along pathways where it can be brushed against to release its heady aroma.
Lavender can be purchased as seeds and will flower in the second year, alternatively and seriously recommended is to buy mature plants or plugs from reputable nurseries like Sarah Raven where you can buy enough plugs for a pathway or flowerbed.
lavender requires no special soil mix, but only good drainage and plenty of sunlight. Once established keep it pruned and make sure to feed before winter months.
Bees and pollinators will love lavender for it’s rich aroma that is released as the leaves warm in the sun. Essential oils released can help encourage the bees to land and bring with them all sorts of benefits to other plants in the surrounding area.
- Sage will flower in late Spring to early Summer and can still be harvested even after the flowers have been cut back. Sage is incredibly nectar rich and will attract more than just bees to the flowers. Butterflies and hoverflies alike will be drawn to the rich food.
Sage is easy to grow from plugs but a seed grown plant will take around two years to grow to a mature enough stage to flower. Which can be fine, but not ideal for those of us who like an instant display! So make sure to buy plugs and plants from reputable nurseries.
The shrub Rosemary is not fussy and likes good drainage and plenty of sunshine. We have neighbours with a pathway of shrubs and I can almost guarantee that they offer their plants little to no attention. They will grow well before and after flowering, but when they are nearing six feet in height you will still have plenty of leaves!
To harvest you can either pinch out fresh growth and this will encourage bushier foliage or you can cut stalks and dry the pine needle like leaves that way. It is a perennial herb that loves sunshine. Really good as a beginners herb!
- Thyme is an aromatic herb that originates from the Mediterranean. we grow several varieties including common thyme and lemon thyme. The flowers are so delicate and vibrant but really encourage a lot of bees once they all get going. The photo below shows the flowers on our lemon thyme in Mid May, it has been a sunny start to the Summer but we would normally expect the flowering season to last until September.
Thyme will grow happily in free draining soil and is drought tolerant, meaning that you do not have to be the best gardener to keep this perennial herb alive. Over winter move pots to a more sheltered location as cold wet roots will be a problem. We cut it back a fair bit and have even used fleeces in the past to keep it from the harm of severe frosts in the UK.
Thyme will grow well in the dappled sunshine of a trees canopy and can be great ground cover, especially if planted early on in a trees life, with some snowdrop and bluebells planted around it. The bulbs emerge through the foliage of the thyme.
- Lemon Balm is sometimes called bee balm as it attracts so many bees and other pollinators.
From the mint family this is a hardy little herb that will keep spreading and grow to around 80cm in height. We keep ours trim and make sure to pinch out new growth to encourage a bushier shrub. You will see small white flowers that are lemony and sweet to smell. The bees enjoy this as a slightly later in the season feast.
Keep your lemon balm in a warm sunny spot and monitor the water levels as you don’t want it to dry out too much.
Is from the daisy family and as such will grow rampantly around your garden. Therefore we grow it exclusively in pots! Chamomile is an easy plant to grow from seed or seedlings and will reward you for years. Once the blooms have sort of just started to turn you can pick them and put a handful into a teapot with an infuser to create a refreshing apple like cup of tea. The fresher the better, but the flowers also dry very easily. Chamomile has a long flowering period and the bees will be able to feed all summer long.
Fennel is a fantastic herb, not just a vegetable and when grown as a perennial can be maintenance free food for bees and pollinators. The architectural flowers are tall and elegant, providing a perfect backdrop to any flower bed. We eat the leaves throughout the Spring into Autumn and can still harvest when the flowers have died down.
You can eat fennel flowers and they look lovely in salads and offer that fresh aniseed flavour in a very delicate manner. Harvesting the flowers as they are dying back and seeds are developing can mean you can grow on for a new year, but they are alse self seeding – so keep a keen eye on that!
- Borage Is an amazing plant as it has long tap root to pick up nutrients and nitrogen from the very depths of your garden! Meaning that it makes the perfect green manure and can be grown to produce mulch for other plants. Borage is a wonderful ground cover and weed suppressant for any garden. Beware it is a self seeder and will spread to any part of the garden it chooses.
We do love borage and use the leaves and blue starry flowers in cocktails and cordials alike. The taste is somethign like the cool refreshing nature of cucumber and as such the flowers are most welcome in summer salads.
Chives are a tender perennial that love partial sun to shade. This makes the ideal to grow in the UK and in pots especially. Most gardeners frown on letting the chives grow flowers, however they have overlooked how tasty they are in salads. Also how posh you look if you have a chive flower in a cocktail! Think martini but without an olive!
Chives are from the allium family and are relatively easy to grow from seed. We often use them when cooking with the kids as they can chop up chives with a lot less drama than an onion!
Contrary to popular belief dandelions are not natures way of telling you to mow the lawn! Even though we like the idea of taking part in the No Mow May Challenge, dandelions are really a bees first feed of the season. So imagine how much happier bees would be if we all left our lawns for the first few months until all of our other plants are starting to bloom? We have free ranging chickens who would agree with us on this one too! As would their super orange egg yolks. So there is lots of benefits to having a ready food store for those emerging pollinators.
Echinacea is like so many of our herbs in that it will thrive on poor quality soil, as long as it has good drainage and full to partial sun. It will be a clumping plant and benefit from division towards the end of the growing season. Grow from seed or young plants from those reputable nurseries either locally or online.
- Hyssop is a great perennial for any garden and it will feed the bees a lovely nectar for the most of July. A herb that loves well drained soil in full to partial sunlight.
What Else Helps Bees?
Why not make a bee bath? Take a shallow container and add marbles, then pour over some water. Make sure to keep it topped up during dry months as the bees will use it as a watering station.
Keep your garden pesticide free and avoid neonics as they are like a new DDC when it comes to destroying wildlife populations. It can be easier and cheaper to grow an organic garden and the kids will be safe from contact with possible toxic chemicals too!
Why not make a wildlife hotel? Using pine cones and sticks to make it or buy a bee hotel as a gift for friends and family members? That way solitary bees will be able to shelter from the harsh weather and wake up ready to pollinate the next day!
Be sensible and think about your skill level. If you have little time to spare a perennial like Rosemary would be the perfect starting point. If you are looking to go a bit more adventurous think about planting out some chamomile and even growing on a few pots as gifts.
Pots work so well for those of us with smaller patio only gardens or a balcony to call our own. That way you can create a little spot of paradise for the bees in your area.
Leaving the lawn seems like a pretty simple place to start, but you may be worried about what the neighbours think, so a little sign would work explaining your decisions?
Final tips would be to encourage the kids to get into gardening by keeping all of the herbs together in an edible flowering bee friendly garden. That way they can see and taste the benefits straightaway.