School is out and there is plenty of time for children to get involved in gardening. However, most of us assume that end of winter/early spring is the best time to start planning and working on a bee-friendly garden so we don’t take full advantage of all the great things that can be achieved in the garden during the summer holidays. August is actually a great time for kids to start creating or continue working on their bee-friendly garden.
So what plants can children grow from seed or plant now (August and to the end of summer) that will help bees thrive through this coming winter and next spring and summer?
We have a small border at the back of the garden and it has shown its full beauty during these summer months. Red clover, poppies, lacy phacelia, sainfoin, calendulas and Queen Anne's lace make the space a haven for bees, butterflies and many other minibeasts.
The girls and I have really enjoyed this little magical part of the garden (according to my youngest it is populated by fairies too!) and we are lucky that these plants will all self seed to produce another amazing bloom next year. August and September are 'seed head' months when nature finds super ingenious ways for plants to spread their seeds. Some of the seeds make great food for birds and small animals but most of them will be scattered and will grow into new plants next year.
If you don't already have self-seeding pollinator-friendly plants in your garden this is a great time for children to mimick nature’s ‘sowing’ and get bee-friendly annuals seeds in the soil. You can get a wildflower mixture or individual seeds like conflower, borage, calendula, Californian poppies and forget-me-nots.
These seeds can be sown outdoors and left to grow until next spring so no need for indoor space to keep them protected from frost over the winter months.
Sow and plant for winter
We should always aim to create a garden with year-round pollen and nectar for bees as in winter and early spring honeybees occasionally come out on sunny days and bumblebee queens could be persuaded to emerge from hibernation if the weather turns mild. Without winter/early spring flowering plants these bees might die from starvation and Summer/beginning of Autumn is a great time to sow and plant winter flowering plants.
Pansies are really good sources of pollen during the winter months as well as giving us a bit of colour in the garden. Kids can easily grow them from seed at this time of the year and once they have grown to a few cms they can be re-potted into larger pots with spring flowering bulbs like tulips to make a fabulous and bee-friendly display of blooms. Although the flowers are meant to support the bee population, given that they are edible, a few can also be removed as used to decorate winter bakes!
September marks the start of the spring-flowering bulb planting season so deciding which ones to purchase and where to plant them can be a fun and creative activity during a school holiday rainy day.
Create a bee-loving perennial pot
It is too late to start sowing perennials now but as a lovely summer holiday project your mini gardener (with some help if young) can create a colourful medley of fully grown bee-friendly perennials in one large pot.
Going together to your local nursery or garden centre can be a great opportunity to pick out their favourite plants and discuss with them how various plants require different growing conditions. For example, some plants like to grow in full sun and some in partial or full shade so when choosing to plant things together they need to share the same growing preferences.
Echinacea, rudbeckia, salvia and achillea are just a few of the many perennials still on sale in garden centres and they will still flower for a while, giving bees further nectar and pollen during the end of the summer. They are also stunning plants and like dry conditions so they do not require constant watering. Just make sure that the once planted the pot receives a good watering and it is fed regularly.
The perennials can then be cut down in late autumn or winter, depending on the plant, and will come back in the pot next spring.
For those short of time
If you don’t have time to plan a garden for year round bee-friendly flowering, the perennial wallflower flowers most days of the year making it a simple and beautiful addition to any low maintenance garden or balcony. Creating a wildflower meadow (or even just a wildflower pot!) also does not require much work or maintenance and specific wildflower mixes are easily available to buy and sow at this time of the year.
Things to consider
When deciding what to sow and plant it is great for kids to explore what type of flower will attract different types of bee. For example, flowers like snapdragons with elongated flowers are favourites of long-tongued bees such as the garden bumblebee. Pussy willow’s early spring flowers help feed queen bumblebees as they start new colonies and also provides food for a number of mining bees.
Did you know that bees prefer flowers in the violet-blue range and are completely blind to red so make sure your mini gardener adds some ‘cold-coloured’ flowers to your garden or outdoor space.
Also, when planting, don’t forget about shrubs and trees as many of them have great flowers for pollinators such as hawthorn, viburnum, abelia and apples. This is not necessarily the time of the year to plant them (better wait for autumn when it is less hot) but it is worth thinking about incorporating them if you are planning a bee garden with your child.
Finally, don’t’ forget that creating a garden or balcony that is bee-friendly means focusing on more than just flowers. Bees require shelter and water too and both of these needs offer great opportunities for kids educational activities. And if you want to get to know your garden bees a little better, our Little Robin Education Bee Fact Cards can give your little gardener some very useful information about them.
I hope that the above suggestions are useful for creating a bee-friendly garden but please feel free to share your experience of creating a bee-friendly garden with your children this summer.
What plants did you choose and why?