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Bee Garden 101: How to Plant a Beautiful Bee-friendly Garden

Bee Friendly Garden

It’s easy to be enchanted by the joyful sight of bees travelling from flower to flower under the hot summer sun. But aside from their magical presence in the garden, these tiny, fuzzy, buzzy, creatures are probably the single most important members of the animal kingdom.

The tireless work they do to pollinate our plants is crucial to sustaining all sorts of life on earth. Quite simply, busy bees create booming ecosystems. But for the last hundred years, bee populations have been in steady decline, and if it continues, the effects on our planet will be catastrophic. 

The good news is, there’s plenty we can do to help protect our bees and the ecosystems which rely on them for generations to come. By making a few small changes in our outside spaces, we can create safe, secure, and sustainable bee-friendly gardens to help them thrive once more.

If you’d like to do your bit for the bees, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to designing, planting, and caring for your very own bee-friendly garden! 

Why Are Bees So Important?

Why are bees so important

Bees help to maintain the stability of vital ecosystems by pollinating our plants. Around 66 per cent of our food crops rely on bees for pollination, and a further 80 to 90 per cent of all flowering plants are pollinated by bees.

As they move from plant to plant to feast on nectar and pollen, the tiny hairs which cover their bodies pick up small amounts of pollen, which is then transferred to the next plant that they visit.

This pollen transfer allows plants to reproduce, which in turn provides a stable food supply for birds, insects, mammals, and humans. Without the work of bees, many of our delicate ecosystems would simply collapse. 

Bees are an ancient species, having buzzed around the Earth for many millions of years. Fossil evidence dates the earliest bee ancestors to sometime during the Late Cretaceous period, about 100 million years ago. They evolved in tandem with some of the earliest flowering plants, creating symbiotic relationships that have endured for aeons.

And from a single ancestor all those years ago, it’s now estimated that we have anywhere between 16 to 25 thousand individual bee species buzzing around, making them one of the most diverse animal groups on earth. 

Some species of bee have evolved specifically to pollinate just one particular species of plant, whilst others can pollinate hundreds of different plants. Some species live in large groups, or hives, whilst other species are solitary and live and work alone.

Bees are perhaps unfortunately best known for their stings, but in fact, only a few species possess a stinger, and even then, it’s only the females who can sting. And despite their fearsome reputation, bees are very docile creatures who prefer to stay away from humans and are very hesitant to sting, so the chances of you being stung by a bee in your garden are incredibly low! 

What Is a Bee-Friendly Garden?

What is a bee-friendly garden

Over the past hundred years, our bee populations have been in steady decline. This is terrible news not just for the bees, but for all of life on Earth, including us humans!

Factors such as habitat destruction, climate change, unsustainable and intensive farming practices, and the increased use of chemical pesticides all pose serious threats to bees. So it’s really important that we as gardeners do everything we can to support their survival and encourage healthy, thriving, and diverse ecosystems. 

Creating a bee-friendly garden is one of the best ways that we can protect our bees. It involves growing a diverse mix of fragrant, colourful, native plants that bees enjoy feeding from, and creating a safe habitat for them to shelter, breed, and work in your garden. And you don’t need acres of rambling garden space to create a bee-friendly garden.

Even in cities where space is at a premium and concrete is king, you can still make a difference. Balconies, window boxes, and container gardens laden with bee-friendly plants will soon transform even the tightest of spaces into a thriving bee haven. As more and more bees visit your outside space, so too will other pollinators and wildlife.

Your plants will be happier and healthier, your garden will become brighter and more beautiful, and your local ecosystem will become more diverse. And of course, you’ll get to enjoy every second of this vibrant, buzzing habitat from the comfort of your own home! 

How to Design Your Bee Garden

How to design your bee garden
  • Choose Native Plants– Our native plants have evolved with our native bees for millions of years, so planting a varied mix of native and wildflower plants is the best way to attract local bees to your outdoor space. You can still intersperse more exotic, non-native plants by all means, but there should always be a higher ratio of native plants. 
  • Choose Brightly Coloured Flowers – Like humans, bees are attracted to brightly coloured flowers, so the more different colours you can incorporate, the more bees you will attract! Blue and purple flowers in particular are favoured by bees since they can perceive these colours most clearly, but bright pinks, reds, oranges, and yellows all work well too.  
  • Grow a Diverse Mix of Flowers – Be creative with your planting! Using a variety of flowers with different shapes, sizes, and heights will attract plenty of different bee species, as well as other pollinators to your outside space. The more variation you can include, the richer and more diverse your little ecosystem will become.
  • Use Heritage and Single-Flowered Plants – Whilst it may be true that elaborate cultivars and hybrids are usually more visually impressive than heritage or wildflowers, they are often sterile or contain negligible amounts of pollen. Instead, opt for heritage and single-flowered varieties, since their simpler blooms are more nutritious, accessible, and attractive to bees.
  • Choose Year-Round Bloomers – Although most flowers bloom in spring and summer, bees require nectar all year round. By growing plants which bloom at different times of the year, you’ll create a stable and secure food supply for every season. It’s especially important to grow some autumn and winter blooming plants to provide bees with plenty of energy for winter when food is scarce.
  • Incorporate Water – Creating a bee-friendly garden isn’t all about the flowers. Bees also need a regular and reliable water source all year round. Something as simple as a saucer or shallow tray filled with fresh water will work perfectly. If you have the space you could create a small pond which in turn will encourage even more wildlife to visit your garden, just be sure to place some rocks or logs in the water so any visiting creatures can access the water safely.  
  • Incorporate Nesting Materials – Your bees will need somewhere to shelter, especially through the winter. Trees and evergreen climbers like Ivy are great places for bees to build their nests, but you can also purchase specially made bee boxes for them to nest in that can be hung from structures in your garden. Old flowerpots, piles of logs, twigs, and old leaves are also great nesting materials for bees. 
  • Avoid Using Chemicals – One of the biggest problems that bees face is the increased use of chemicals. Things like fertilisers, weedkillers, pesticides, and fungicides can wreak havoc on our ecosystems. Indiscriminate pesticides can be fatal for bees who come into contact with them, whilst chemical weedkillers kill vital plants that bees rely on for food and shelter. And it’s not only bees who are harmed by these chemicals, nearby plants and other animals also suffer the consequences, so it’s best to opt for sustainable alternatives in your garden wherever possible! 

Thirteen of the Best Bee-Friendly Plants for Every Season

Thirteen of the Best Bee-Friendly Plants for Every Season


Bluebells are fantastic native wildflowers which provide lots of early-season nectar for bees. Their bell-shaped blooms offer easy access to nectar for long-tongued bees, and their bright blue hue is simply irresistible to many pollinators. 

Crabapple trees produce dense sprays of pretty white and pink blossoms in spring which your bees will soon come to feast on! Even better, the foliage, twigs, and trunk of a Crabapple tree will provide welcome shelter for hibernating bees over the colder months. 

Bees will find the bright violet hue of Crocuses simply irresistible! They are often the first flowers to open in late winter and early spring, with their cup-shaped blooms providing plenty of much-needed food and energy after a long, harsh winter.  

Snakes Head Fritillaries are true show-stoppers in any spring garden. Famed for their unique snakeskin-like petal patterns in rich purple tones, their delicate bell-shaped flowers provide easy access to essential springtime sustenance for bees. 


Flowering from mid to late summer, Foxgloves are the perfect wildflowers for bee gardens. Their brightly coloured, bell-shaped flowers feature a very clever trick which makes them irresistible to bees! Check the bottom lip of a foxglove flower and you’ll see a series of dark-coloured spotted markings. These markings are the product of millions of years of symbiotic evolution between bees and foxgloves, and they work by luring the bee in towards the centre of the flower where the nectar awaits! 

Lavender is the quintessential bee-friendly plant for summer! Bees will travel far and wide to visit your lavender, not only for their vivid violet flowers but also for the unmistakable fragrance that lavender emits, which captivates a whole host of pollinating insects! 

The vivid purple flowers produced by Salvia will keep bees returning to your garden again and again throughout mid to late summer, and even into early autumn. Nectar-rich Salvia plants are also a firm favourite amongst butterflies and moths, so prepare to see a flurry of activity around these bee-friendly beauties.  

Sunflowers are a true summer garden classic! Famed for their huge and happy flowers, they produce plenty of easily accessible nectar for bees to feast on. They’ll also attract a spectacular show of local birds, who will come devour their nutritious seeds once the flowers fade. Despite their huge stature, sunflowers are quite happy to be grown in pots, so you don’t need a huge garden to grow them.


Honeysuckles are sure to attract plenty of bees to your garden throughout their blooming period in autumn. Their trumpet-shaped flowers are easy for bees to access, and their bright colours will cheer up any dark autumn days. Honeysuckles also release an intensely sweet fragrance which is strongest at dusk, encouraging butterflies, moths, and even bats to visit your garden too! 

Not only do Japanese Anemones produce plenty of autumn nectar for bees, but they also create a truly striking ornamental display for your garden with their fabulous, orchid-like blooms and statuesque height. Their open, flat flowers provide the perfect feeding platform for autumn bees aplenty. 

Producing dense sprays of pretty pink flowers in late summer and enduring all throughout autumn and into early winter, Sedum is a bee-friendly-gardeners dream! This nectar-rich perennial is drought and heat tolerant, will grow effortlessly in almost every soil type, and is so pretty that we’re sure you’ll love it as much as your bees do!


Hellebores are stunning, nectar-rich flowers which can bloom as early as December and remain in bloom right through to spring. They offer vital sustenance to tired and hungry bees through the winter months. Not to mention, they make for quite the spectacle with their rich purple and pink coloured petals. 

Ivy is the perfect low-maintenance, multifunctional plant for a bee-friendly garden. During autumn, when most other flowers are fading, Ivy produces loads of nectar-rich flowers to fatten up your bees ready for winter, whilst its foliage creates a safe nesting area for them to hibernate in throughout the coldest months.

How to Care For Your Bee Garden

How to care for your bee garden
  • Keep Your Plants Happy – As with any style of garden, take note of the individual needs of each plant you intend to grow before you put them in the ground. Choose an area of your garden which provides the correct light levels, exposure, and soil type for each of your plants and make sure all their needs are met as they grow. Happy, healthy plants will support happy, healthy bee populations! 
  • Grow Wild – Lots of gardeners take great pride in nurturing weed-free, perfectly manicured gardens. But religiously pulling up weeds can actually be harmful to our bees. Many plants which are commonly considered ‘weeds’, such as dandelions, clover, and even nettles, are actually hugely beneficial to bees and lots of other wildlife. These ‘weeds’ can actually really enrich your little garden ecosystem if left unbothered. So put down the shears and the hoe, and allow your garden to grow a little wilder! 
  • The More, The Merrier – When it comes to bee gardens, more is more. Try to pack your borders, boxes and pots as densely as possible, without harming the plants. The more colours, textures, growth habits, and heights you can incorporate in a small space, the better! Bees will favour densely planted areas over sparser ones because they know they’ll find more food in areas with the most abundant flowers. 

Inspirational Bee Garden Ideas 

Inspirational Bee Garden Ideas

Bee-friendly Vegetables – It’s not just flowers that are good for bees, plenty of vegetable crops provide nectar and pollen too! Beans, Tomatoes, and members of the Allium family like Onions, Garlic, and Leeks all produce nectar-rich blooms, and fruits like Strawberries and Raspberries will also be beneficial to your bees. In turn, your bees will help to pollinate your food crops, increase their yield, and even improve their taste, creating a truly symbiotic relationship which benefits everyone. What’s not to love?!

  • Bee-Friendly Herb Garden  –Not only are herbs full of great flavours for cooking, but they’re also chock full of delicious aromas which entice all manner of beneficial pollinators, bees included. Creating a herb garden with a variety of flowering herbs like Chives, Thyme, Rosemary, and Oregano will provide plenty of tasty summertime sustenance for both you and your bees!
  • Window-box Bee Garden –If you’re short on outside space but big on bee-friendly gardening, why not try creating a Window-box bee garden. Planting just a small selection of bee-friendly plants will still have a huge impact. Opt for plants like Lavender or small herbs which have compact growth habits and shallow roots but are big on colour and fragrance. 
  • Balcony Bee Garden – Balconies are the perfect places for creating bee gardens! Especially for those of us who live in big cities or heavily built-up areas without many green spaces, it’s even more important to create little havens for our pollinator friends. There are hundreds of bee-friendly plants that grow well in containers, and you can really get creative cramming in as many species, colours, and scents into your balcony as possible. 
  • Bee-friendly Tapestry Lawn – A great way of incorporating even more bee-friendly plants into your garden is by transforming your plain old grass into a vibrant and thriving tapestry lawn. Ditch the mower and the weedkiller, and instead spread some Clover, Creeping Thyme, Dandelion, and Bugleweed seeds across the grass in spring or autumn and water well. Soon you’ll have all manner of colourful, nectar-rich flowers adorning your lawn, creating not only a beautiful and low-maintenance feature in the garden, but also a fantastic breeding, feeding, and nesting habitat for all manner of pollinators and wildlife. 



Are bee gardens difficult to maintain?

The level of care your bee garden needs will depend on the plants and flowers you choose to grow. Laid-back gardeners should opt for perennial wildflowers and forgo the weeding, whilst master gardeners can incorporate more demanding plants into their bee garden.

How long before bees start to visit my garden?

As the saying goes: “if you build it, they will come”, so you should see an increase in bee activity as soon as your bee garden starts bursting into bloom. If you’re still not seeing many bees, make sure that you’re growing native, nectar-rich plants, and avoid using any form of chemical fertiliser or pesticides. 

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

Bees are vital to the survival of almost all life on Earth, so helping to protect their populations by creating a bee-friendly garden is an incredible way to make a lasting, positive impact with whatever outside space you have.

By rejuvenating lost habitats we can give their dwindling populations a much-needed boost, safeguarding bees and the ecosystems which rely on them for generations to come! 

And of course, you’ll have plenty of fun designing your garden, nurturing your plants, and experiencing all of the buzzing beauty that bees have to offer! 

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Emily Grice

Emily Grice

Em Grice is a content writer specialising in horticulture and botany who combines her respect for the natural world with her love for the written word. A regular contributor to a range of international publications and organisations, she is most at peace when pottering in her own little garden in the north of England

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