Making a bee-friendly garden

5th September 2022

I HAVE ALWAYS had a love of bees.
My dear old dad used to call me “Bees Knees”, I assume because I had skinny legs and knobbly knees – but maybe because he thought I was.
Bee emblems, embossing, and art are scattered around my home.
My absolute favourite bee is the good old English Bumble Bee.
I have beautiful memories of them in the gardens of Giverny and Versailles on trips.
Giant, slow-moving bumble bees that bounce off you if they run into you. Home in Warrandyte, we have our beautiful Blue-banded Bee.
I had always wanted to learn beekeeping and wear the groovy gear, but of course, time was always short, and it always seemed such a huge endeavour.
I contacted the Victorian Apiarist Society and tracked down a local beekeeper who would come and set up his hives on my acreage and maintain them for me.
I get the gorgeous bee chit-chat from my “Dietmar” and jars of honey from my bees.
I thought that when Dietmar came to assess my property, I would be able to prettily point over there to a pretty spot in the garden for the hives to look pretty, but no.
The hive position decision on the property was a long and complicated process based on wind, flowering gums and shrubs, and access to water.
So, the hives are in a position that is not “pretty” and not somewhere I would have chosen at all, but the bees are happy and content and very industrious and produce beautiful Yellow Box honey.
Now I try to fill my garden with as many varied flowering shrubs as possible, so I always have something flowering at all times of the year.
Water is always a concern for them, especially over the summer months, and I often sit for an hour just watching the coming and going of the bees from flower to flower and from water bowl to water bowl.
Four hives in winter, two in summer. If you don’t have time or room or are wary of bees in general, you can get some great bee hotels that will encourage native bees into the garden.
Kids will love being involved in setting your hotel in position.
Not only do the bees love all the shrubs I am planting (currently, they love the salvias, camellias and the Erysimum or native wallflowers), but they also love herbs.
Herbs are a great addition to the garden, intermingled with other trees and shrubs, in the vegetable garden, in pots or even in cane baskets (which you should never throw away).
They will eventually rot down, but they look beautiful, planted with herbs or bulbs.
I currently have big cane washing baskets full of daffodils, and I will soon plant the bearded irises.
No rest for the wicked.
Most herbs need a good supply of sunshine, and often in the right area in the garden, they will tend to grow like weeds.
If you don’t cut off the seed heads, you will find new ones popping up to replace the old ones.
And the bees won’t want you to deadhead them either.
If you feel the need to deadhead, only deadhead half of them. I have borage popping up everywhere at the moment.
Beautiful pale blue flowers will soon appear, though I just have the serrated fuzzy borage leaves at the moment.
Bees love borage, and so do I.
I have pink borage seeds to sow soon – something new I picked up somewhere, or did someone gift them to me?
Basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley, lavender, coriander, chives, lemon balm, and mint. Bees love them all; so plant them all.
They even love onion weed, dandelions, thistles and nettles, so there is always a reason for you to have a couple of weedy plants somewhere in the garden.
“Oh, they are for the bees”, not “I can’t keep on top of the weeding”.
Most plants that flower are brilliant for pollinators.
Grasses, flaxes, and foliage plants are brilliant in the garden but make sure that you add plenty of flowering shrubs for the bees.
My grevilleas at the moment are a smorgasbord for bees and birds.
They are alive with activity.
Also, if you have bees or are trying to attract them to your garden, try only using natural methods for pest eradication.
There are plenty of natural products and recipes online to get rid of caterpillars and aphids from the garden, but sometimes you just need to pop on some gardening gloves and pluck them off.
It is quite therapeutic.
If you do this and you have chickens, you will be the most popular person in the hen house, as the chooks will love their little insect treats.
My go-to cheap aphid spray is a squirt bottle with a teaspoon full of crushed garlic (I buy the cheap no-name jar of it), a squirt of dishwashing detergent and fill to the top with water.
Give it a good shake, strain and then pop it back into the bottle.
Spray on the roses in particular.
It seems to work for me.
It is meant to deter possums too.
Also, I was looking online and found that you can buy boxes of ladybirds to combat the aphid problems in your garden.
What a gorgeous gift for someone.
There are four common garden species of ladybird in Australia.
The common spotted ladybird is bright orange with black dots on its back.
They are a predator of aphids, scale insects and mites.
An adult ladybird can eat up to 2,500 aphids during their lifetime.
The fungus-eating ladybird has very bold black and yellow colouration.
Both adults and larvae feed on mildew fungus, a common problem in gardens in September.
Have a gorgeous September in the garden. Plant up herbs, and throw around seeds with gay abandon.
Enjoy the first days of spring.
Bee Happy.