How to help bees thrive and give your garden real buzz

Want to help bees to thrive? All you need is a space full of year-round colour, says bestselling author and nature enthusiast Sally Coulthard

Start with a cosy home

To attract bees to your garden, create a place for them to live. Honey bees like hives but are also attracted to long grass and piles of leaves for bedding. Solitary bees, which make up 95 per cent of the bee population, live away from hives and require homes to protect them and their young from the weather. These homes can be made by putting holes (no bigger than 10mm) in bamboo canes, with one end of the cane sealed with wax to keep warmth in and pests away. Replace every two years. sells a wide selection of bee homes.

Photograph: Getty Images

A wildflower selection – larkspur, cosmos, poppies, daisies, bluebells – creates a natural and inviting environment for bees to visit. The hive will shelter honey bees and bumblebees in colder months.

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Keep them well fed

Late summer is often a difficult time for bees as food can be in short supply, so try to create a garden with a variety of flowering plants all year round, covering as much of the growing season as possible. A mix of flowers will provide nectar and pollen throughout the seasons for lots of different kinds of bees – long-tongued bumblebees like deep, tubular flowers such as foxgloves and lavender, while short-tongued honey bees prefer shallow, open-centred blooms such as borage and sedums. When buying seeds look for labels such as ‘plants for pollinators’ and ‘bee friendly’.

Laura Stolfi/Stocksy United

Think more is more

Plants are more useful to bumblebees if they are sown in large, same-variety groups or drifts as these bees tend to stick to one type of flower when they’re hunting for food and can waste too much energy flitting between disparate flowers.

Laura Stolfi/Stocksy United

Providing a mix of flower shapes – from tubular to open-centred – will allow a greater variety of bees to feed.

Photograph: Future Publish LTD/

Small gardens can be bee-friendly too, if filled with potted plants, flower boxes and trees such as apple and embrace any weeds, such as dandelions, clover, buttercups, bramble, cow parsley, milkweed and poppies, which bees love. For similar garden chairs, try

Go big for brights

When you see bees buzzing around outside, they’re most likely looking for nectar and pollen. Nectar contains sugar and pollen is packed full of protein, so the bees can use these two foods to feed not only themselves but also their young and other members of the colony if they live in a hive. Bees have poor eyesight, so opt for flowers that are at the vibrant end of the spectrum such as blue, yellow, purple and white.

Photograph: Leigh Clapp


Consider sun-mapping your garden. All plants need sun to thrive, with many requiring six hours or more of sunlight daily to produce flowers and fruit. Set aside one day a week to figure out how the sun moves across your garden. Start in early spring – the beginning of the growing season – then decide where to plant.

And, yes, they love herbs too

These provide nectar-rich flowers that draw in different kinds of bees. Most herbs flower over the summer months, but some provide food from late spring until early autumn. Bee-friendly ones include basil, chives, fennel, mint, lemon balm, lavender, marjoram, oregano, sage and rosemary – which, of course, are great for adding to your cooking, too.

Herbs that spread out such as mint, tarragon and lemon balm work well in containers and can be easily moved to get maximum sunshine during the day. For a similar container try

This is an edited extract from Sally Coulthard’s book The Bee Bible: 50 Ways To Keep Bees Buzzing, published by Head of Zeus, price £10.