Gardening For Bees In Small Spaces
I have a fairly small garden at home. However, you don’t need to have acres of space covered in flowers in
order to help the bees. The trick is to
make the best of what you have got. If
all you have is a balcony, use hanging baskets and pots.
I once saw a wall covered in hanging baskets
filled with flowers. Even a vertical
wall can be turned into a feeding station for bees!
So yes, it’s not always the amount of space you have, but
what you do with it that counts. Small spaces can provide habitat and food for
bees if that is what you set out to do, and they can play their part in helping to link habitats together, providing 'bee feeding stations' for hungry bees.
However, I also recommend that if you only have a small
garden or yard, create something you too will enjoy! It's perfectly possible to achieve both - they are not mutually exclusive!
The image at the top of this page is of a small informal flower patch I created by
deliberately planting some flowers and bulbs, but also throwing a mixture of
seeds onto the ground. I really like
this informal look, but actually, a formal garden, if planted with good nectar
and pollen plants, can also be effective as long as you leave out the chemicals.
I have a curving border as well, planted with hardy geraniums,
cornflower, daisies, lavender and more, but also miniature fruit trees (plumb, pear, apple) - not visible in the image below.
We have a patch of raspberries too (below) - summer and autumn varieties mixed together. They get covered in bees (the wasps help out too) and we get lots of fruit!
If you have a small space, my tips are:
- Create areas or small zones within the garden if you can, because this will add interest. Small zones could include perhaps an informal flower patch, a fruit/vegetable
area, a border. Ours contains a rockery too. All of these, including the fruit and veg patch, can be helpful to pollinators - or you could carefully plant fruit and veg crops into your border.
It can be tempting to
created narrow borders at either side of a small space and assume you have no
room for anything else, except a path running up the middle. But on paper, why not plan a few features
into your garden instead, imagining how it will look if you weave borders in and out, with miniature wildlife and bee and pollinator friendly zones.
- Grow up as well as down to maximise space. Climbers can grow up arch ways, through
trees, and up drain pipes. Choose an
appropriate climber for your circumstances, and ensure the supporting structure
is strong enough. Bees love honey suckle, jasmine, passion flower, old fashioned climbing roses, wisteria. Fruit trees can be
trained to grow against a wall. We have climbing beans growing from a pot and against an arch some years.
- Try to ensure long flowering seasons, and
remember that some spring flowers and bulbs will die back. Their space can then
be taken or covered by a spreading plant such as geranium, which will flower
later. I have sprawling geraniums. In early spring, the crocus, muscari, daffodils and snow drops flower, then die back, but are eventually covered by the geranium leaves and flowers.
- Shrubs can again grow upwards and create
efficient foraging, as can miniature trees as stated. You could also experiment with 'standard specimens'.
- Consider using hanging baskets, pots and
window baskets. Hanging basket can even
be hung from trees if they are not too heavy and there is sufficient light.
- Include a solitary bee houses in your
garden. A bird box may provide a home
for some bumblebee species.
- Remember, even a small lawn patch can help bees! Allow clover to flourish in a small patch of lawn.
- A small wildlife pond is also useful. A muddy bank can provide much needed nest building materials for mason bees, and the pond can be filled again with plants bees like, such as iris and mimulus guttatus.
- If you have a small front garden, use that
too! Beach aster, sedum, various creeping, flowering sempervivums, and flowering shrubs are enjoyed by bees in our small front patch.
- For interest, you could keep an area where
you can sow with interesting annual flowers that bees like, perhaps on an
- Include wildflowers loved by bees in your
border or flower patch. We have
dandelions here and there, hedge woundwort (though I must warn you - it spread quickly!), purple loosestrife (invasive in some countries if it gets into the waterways, but not here), poppy, fox
glove, forget-me-not, cornflower, selfheal, bird’s foot trefoil, clover and ox-eye daisy.
- If you are wanting to grow food, consider
beans, corgettes, peas and also fruits (rasoberries, blackberries, blueberries are some of the best in my view), and allow some of your vegetable plants to flower, such as
onions. Kale is superb when it flowers,
and attracts many bees - I LOVE it! It grows quite
tall, and carries fragrant yellow flowers.
Below is a picture of the kale growing in our allotment. We harvested from it from last year until early spring, and then allowed it to flower. It's possible to harvest a few leaves even whilst flowering. Bees enjoy foraging on the mass of flowers!
As I said before....
make sure you also love your
For several years, I experimented by leaving our garden
to ‘go wild’. I allowed wildflowers to
pop up, and wild grasses, and attempted to establish a few plugs and seeds. I used to mow a ‘path’
through my ‘meadow’ every so often.
However, whilst it can work very well in some circumstances, what was the result for us?
- A small space we ourselves could hardly use and enjoy.
- Mostly low-value grasses, not many wildflowers became
- Very few bees – in fact, hardly any!
Since I turned our garden into a space we could enjoy,
including lots of plants loved by bees, we enjoy our garden far more, have fresh
produce, AND we have more bees and other wildlife visitors in the garden!
We are also organic, of course.
Squeezed into a small space, there is:
- Greenhouse (for starting my vegetables and growing tomatoes)
I wrote more about my personal experience on my page which features a downloadable, free PDF about planning a bee-friendly garden.
So the lesson is, make the best of what you have. You don’t need to have a messy garden, or
lots of space in order to help the bees.
It’s what you do with the space that matters, and a small space can provide food, nectar, and even a place to nest for bees.
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