Gardeners are planting record numbers of flowers rich in nectar as the public throws itself firmly behind the plight of the endangered bumblebee.
Sales of lavender, sunflowers and dahlias have risen significantly this year following reports of a dramatic decline in the population of honey, bumble and other species of bees, and the damage this poses to food supplies and the environment at large.
Bees and other pollinators fertilise three-quarters of the planet’s food crops and their numbers have been greatly reduced in recent years as disease, pesticides and the loss of flower-rich habitats have taken their toll.
Matthew Oates, the National Trust’s specialist on nature and wildlife, has noticed a rise in gardening for the benefit of bees.
“Bee-friendly gardening is getting big. It’s already helping and I think it will help enormously in the longer term. So much of wildlife lies in people’s minds and the bees’ plight has really captured the public’s imagination.”
Adrian Thomas, a gardening expert from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said he has noticed a significant increase in “gardening for wildlife” in the past five years, a trend which continues to gain momentum.
“Traditionally there has been this idea that a garden has to be wild to do good things for wildlife. But a series of studies have overturned that idea by showing that you can have a beautiful, ordered garden and still help nature,” he said.
The growth in nectar-rich-flower planting is also benefiting other pollinators, such as butterflies, moths and hoverflies, which eat damaging insect pests.
In the past, many gardeners had given up on the idea of trying to do anything useful for nature because they had thought their neat gardens had nothing to offer. However, these gardens can still be extremely beneficial to nature, especially if you add a few features, he said.
Useful features include adding a bird bath or mini pond – which could be an old washing-up bowl stuck in the ground – to support species such as frogs, newts and dragonflies. Others include leaving dead wood for insects such as stag beetles, and laying a “mulch” of dead leaves around vegetable beds or shrubbery or putting a flower border around the lawn, Mr Thomas said.
“Over the past 12 to 18 months, the plight of bees seems to have galvanised folk to think harder about nectar/pollen sources in the garden,” he said.
Matt Shardlow, the head of the Buglife insect charity, said: “This year, butterflies and bumblebees seem to have got off to a good start and if the weather continues to be good it should be a great year for big, colourful insects. So it would be good for people to plant flowers that are helpful for these kind of animals.
“Some plants are in decline because there are not enough pollinators. People need to do all they can to boost the prospects of pollinators to help the beleaguered countryside,” Mr Shardlow added.
Butterflies like buddleia, and moths – which have been in terrible decline in the past four years – do well on a diet of tobacco plants, Mr Shardlow said. Other plants that benefit nature are lungwort, foxglove, roses, clover and knapweed, he said.
“The public is aware of the demise of the bee and gardeners are trying to support them by growing more bee-friendly flowers,” said Joclyn Silezin, B&Q’s trading manager for horticulture.
“This is a fairly recent trend and coreopsis, dahlias and lavender are the most popular,” she added, with sales in its “perfect for pollinators” bee-friendly range running 40 per cent ahead of last year. This also includes sunflowers, hydrangea, jasmine and delphiniums.