Living With Herbs: Befriending Bees

Don't wear perfume in the garden—unless you want to be pollinated by bees. —Anne Raver

Plants can't set seed without pollination, and bees are among the best pollinators. Luckily for us humans, there are over 3,500 native species of bees in the United States, and some of them are bound to live in your neighborhood. They'll drop in for a visit if your garden includes the plants they enjoy. Start planning now for a buzzing garden all year round—and do skip the toxic sprays. The bees will bless you for it.

  • Timing is important. To attract different varieties of bees, plan for succession-blooming in spring, summer, and fall.
  • Bee-utiful. Bees are attracted to yellow, purple, red, and blue blossoms. But unlike hummingbirds and moths, they can't negotiate long-tube flowers. Members of the Compositae family—cosmos, dahlias, zinnias, and sunflowers—are winners, but stay away from hybridized double varieties, which produce almost no pollen.
  • Herbs are heavenly. Hyssop, lavender, rosemary, borage, mint, sage, catnip, butterfly weed, horehound, boneset are especially attractive to bees.
  • Weeds are wildly wonderful. From the bee's point of view, any plant that provides nectar and pollen is a delicious delight—including dandelions and white clover, which we think of as weeds.
  • Native is nicer. Wild bees are already adapted to the native plants of your area, so if you want to attract more bees, plant more natives. In many parts of the U.S., this will include wildflowers like coreopsis, gaillardia, basketflowers, toadflax, sunflowers, red clover, black-eyed Susans, monarda.
The bees have their definite plan for life, perfected through countless ages, and nothing you can do will ever turn them from it. You can delay their work, or you can even thwart it altogether, but no one has ever succeeded in changing a single principle in bee-life. And so the best bee-master is always the one who most exactly obeys the orders from the hive.
—Tickner Edwards, The Bee-master of Warrilow, 1907

Read more about the secret society of bees:

The pedigree of honey
Does not concern the bee;
A clover, any time, to him
Is aristocracy.
—Emily Dickinson