As spring became summer and the longest day of the year slipped by, my meadow lawn reached its peak and although now losing its early freshness, the flowers in their season continue to be a pleasure. I am thrilled by the number of bee species attracted to them and by far the most noticeable now are the bumble bees in all their fantastic furry variety. Buff, white and red tailed, common carder and tree bumble bees all with their different coloured bottoms, some quite tiny, others so fat and heavy looking I wonder how their small wings keep them airborne. I wish I could identify more but they just won’t stay still long enough!
Some plants in my garden are remarkable in their ability to attract them, Centranthus ruber, the red valerian and its white relative 'Albus' are firm favourites, enthusiastic bush vetch is too, it scrambles through the borders as well as over the lawn, its beautiful long lasting purple flowers combine so well with blue, purple and cerise hardy geraniums. The shape of the flowers show their relationship to other members of the pea and bean family like lupins, birds foot trefoil and that most beautiful of climbers, Wisteria. They are beneficial to the soil too, fixing nitrogen and increasing its fertility.
Catmint, is another firm favourite, soft blue hooded flowers similar in appearance and related to lavender, rosemary and sage. Luckily for the bees we seem to like these aromatic herbs in our gardens as much as they do. Comfrey seems to be irresistible, it flowers all summer and they love it and from the many uses it’s had throughout our history we humans do too. The leaves are particularly rich in potassium so I grow it to make a liquid feed for my vegetables.
In recent years much of the common knowledge about plants that our ancestors took for granted and made use of daily has been lost along with our appreciation of the intimate connection between our gardens, nature and our own well being. But one thing we do know now is that bees are in decline and it’s in our own interest to help. Just one pot of lavender in the sun, some catmint in a border or a patch of clover left in the lawn is a small but positive way to make a difference and enrich our own lives knowing that bumble bees are busily foraging on their favourite flowers.