I blame the chickens for my obsession with attracting bees into the garden. After all, before they came along, I had no interest in the outdoors whatsoever. No interest in nature, in flowers, in trees. As for gardening. That was for old people, right?
But, something weird happened when we moved to the countryside and started our chicken and duck-keeping adventures. I became aware of seasons, of the life cycle of trees, of bird song and insects. And I became aware of the plight of bees. The decline in bee numbers has been known about for some time, certainly longer than the four years we’ve lived in the countryside. I remember the Doctor Who episode, The Stolen Earth, when Donna tells the Doctor that the bees were disappearing. This was the first time I’d heard mention of it, in 2008, and to be completely honest I didn’t give it any further thought until 2012 when our life change began.
After we’d cleared our land of thistles, nettles and docks, I wanted to put something back. These three plants may be weeds to us; ugly, unsightly and painful to touch, but they’re vital for insects.
So I began planting trees. We stuck in about fifteen goat willow setts which produce flowers in early spring. An early source of pollen and nectar for bees. Then I added fruit trees. An orchard consisting of plum, damson, pear and apple trees. All showing off beautiful blossom in the spring for the bees.
The more time I spent outside planting trees and tending to my chickens, the more inspired I became. My imagination started to kick in. I voluntarily(!) watched gardening programmes, sent off for brochures and books and made more and more tree orders. With buzzards and red kites regularly flying into and around the garden, you can’t help but be more fascinated by nature.
So in went a windbreak of trees and a hedgerow with hawthorn, wild rose, blackthorn and crab apple. Good for insects and good for birds. I’m well aware that we’re fortunate to have a lovely piece of land and I wanted to make sure it was working hard for nature.
But I hadn’t finished. I wanted to create a wildflower meadow, too. And a bank of snowdrops and bluebells. There were highs and lows. I’ve learnt that, in gardening, there are some you win and some you lose.
Then it was time to tackle the garden closer to the house. Wheelbarrows of clay were extracted. Wheelbarrows of topsoil and manure were imported. Gradually we started to add plants. Colour, scent, vibrancy. And this year has been our best year yet. Helped by my inability to resist buying plants that state ‘bee friendly’ on the label.
I’m delighted that brands are now getting on board and highlighting the plight of bees. After all, there’d be no apple crumble, damson jam or cups of tea without the bee’s hard work. And that would be a very bland world to live in indeed. Taylors of Harrogate have teamed up with Kew Gardens to create a bee hotel. Why? Because they firmly believe that bees need to be protected and are therefore encouraging people like you and me to make our gardens more bee friendly.
I know that not everyone has the space to plant an orchard or hedgerow. But there are things you can do in the smallest of gardens. I’ve put a small bee house up near the clematis, alliums and verbena (you can see it on the mini-film I’ve made below). You can either buy one of these houses for a few pounds or make one yourself. You could scatter wildflower seed and, even on a small balcony, can have a planter with some bee attracting flowers (my summer alliums are covered in bees at the moment).
This year, for the first time, I allowed part of our lawn to grow (a bee friendly alternative that actually saves you work!) I was utterly delighted when, amongst the grasses, buttercups, selfheal and clover, a number of bee orchids appeared. An unexpected delight.
My daughter is becoming as obsessed as I am. She volunteered to dress up in her bee costume for my mini-film and has made two posters for her bedroom wall to save the bees and the butterflies. We both keep looking at the bee house to see if anyone has decided to make it their home.
If you are inspired to help the bees do have a look at Taylors of Harrogate’s gorgeous bee website (you could win a trip to Kew Gardens), as well as Kew Garden’s Grow Wild website and the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
This blog post is part of the Taylors of Harrogate bee campaign but the words, as always, are completely my own. (And my favourite flavour, if you haven’t already guessed, is the rose lemonade.)