Bees need our help: they’re critical pollinators — alongside butterflies and hummingbirds — but they’re misunderstood. Many people are afraid of bee stings and think bees are aggressive, but when bees visit a garden, they’re really not interested in people. They come for the buffet of bloom.
“You can stick your nose right up to a bee in a flower and it’s not going to fly up in your face and sting you,” says Stephen Buchmann, a bee expert and coordinator of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign.
Bees pollinate 80 percent of the flowering plants and 75 percent of the fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in the U.S., according to the NAPPC. A good-looking and hard-working insectary garden — designed to attract bees and other pollinators — will increase your harvest of apples, okra, blueberries, and beans, among other crops. Insectary gardens also play an important role in preserving the diversity of ecosystems in modern times. Native plants, which provide food and nectar for many more insects than non-native plants do, are the foundation of a pollinator-friendly garden.
Most gardeners have no intention of giving up beloved non-native flowers like tulips and peonies, but once you start looking around your garden, you’re likely to see that many native daisies, asters, sunflowers, and other flowers that bees and butterflies love are already some of your own favorites, too. The exuberant and colorful cottage-garden style, with lots of different kinds of trees, shrubs, and flowers, and with edible plants and herbs planted right in among them or close by, is just as attractive to pollinators as it is to us.
Pollinators depend on combinations of plants that bloom from spring through summer and fall. You don’t have to have a large garden to help them; a single flower pot or a window box will attract bees and butterflies and help restore a little bit of the habitat that has been lost to development.
Stop imagining bees as dangerous and aggressive, and think of them as watchable wildlife. Showy flowers attract lots of bees, and that’s as it should be: they’re here to help.