Bee friendly planting
After such a long dreary winter, how nice it is that the sun has finally decided to come out. In the sun and warmth, flowers open, and bees take full advantage, having only a limited period in which they can forage for nectar.
It has been well reported that bees are already facing significant threats from disease and loss of wild flower meadows over the past couple of decades. Honey bee numbers have halved over the past 25 years while numbers of bumblebees have fallen by around 60 per cent since 1970. We need to take the threat seriously and gardeners can do a lot to help, by creating bee-friendly habitats. However, not all flowers are equal in attracting bees; just as we have our favourite foods, scientists working in The Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects (LASI) at the University of Sussex have discovered that there are some significant differences in how attractive ordinary garden flowers are to them. The best plants attract 100 times more bees than the worst.
The best plants are the Mexican giant hyssop (Agastache), which is particularly good for bumblebees, while honey bees like borage and lilac sage (Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain’) best. Wild solitary bees are apparently partial to marjoram and Greek oregano. By contrast, some geranium species and popular cactus and pom-pom type dahlias got very few visitors.
It is common ivy (Hedera helix) that is one of the most important plants for providing food for bees, as well as for birds and shelter for hibernating animals. It takes a while for ivy to produce flowers and they are not easy to see, plus the mature leaves are quite different to the young so people can be forgiven for not thinking of it as a flowering plant at all, or thinking what they see is something else.
Honey bees apparently rely upon ivy for the majority of the pollen and nectar they collect during the autumn months, a crucial time when they are trying to build up stores for the winter and feed their young. There is in fact a specialist 'Ivy Bee' (Colletes hederae), that only feeds on ivy flowers.
Photo by: gailhampshire from Cradley, Malvern, U.K, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Ivy has a bad 'rep' for damaging brickwork and pulling down trees. English Heritage were so worried about potential damage to its builds that it carried out a three-year study with Oxford University to examine what effect ivy had on walls .The findings showed that its unlikely to damage a wall with sound masonry and actually provides insulation against extremes of temperature
As with trees, if there is any existing damage to a structure, ivy will add to the problem as it roots into cracks and crevices. So unless your walls or trees are vulnerable, there’s no need to remove ivy.
Contrary to popular belief, ivy doesn’t strangle or hurt trees either and only needs to be removed if a limb is damaged and in danger of falling, it's taking too much light, or you want the bark to be visible for aesthetic reasons.
So if you’re worried about your walls, let it scramble up a tree instead or use it as ground-cover in a shady hard-to-plant corner. Wherever you let it grow please let it grow somewhere and give bees a friendly helping hand.