Contrary to common misconception, honey bees will forage in cold weather, as long as there are suitable flowering plants, shrubs and trees available and the cool temperature is not accompanied by rain, snow, hail or similarly inclement weather. They might be joined by newly emerging bumble bee queens.
Bees love Sweet Box - Sarcococca confusa and Sarcococca hookeriana. These beautifully fragrant, winter flowering shrubs provide food for bees during the chilly months of January and February. If you are a beekeeper, this is a good choice for the garden. Plant it along with Daphne, winter flowering heathers (Ericas), Mahonia, and of course other important early-flowering bulbs and corms, to help the colony top up with food.
Like Daphne - another of my favourite winter flowering bushes for bees, Sweet Box is the kind of shrub that gives off a perfume that is enticing to humans and bees alike, and as with Daphne, you can often catch the fragrance before you locate the shrub. Despite its fragrance, the flowers are relatively inconspicuous, but the bees know when they are onto a good thing, and on a cold but sunny winter day you may hear these shrubs buzzing with lots of busy bees.
In appearance, the flowers of Sarcococca are a delicate, creamy white. The pollen is a similar shade of white, as you may see from the loaded pollen baskets on the hind legs of visiting honey bees. Some varieties have anthers that are tinged with crimson pink.
The creamy white flowers are followed by berries of a dark reddish to purple-black. It's an evergreen shrub, and the leaves are glossy with a leathery texture, a bit like those on a small Camellia bush.
Sweet Box (sometimes called 'Christmas Box') is one of those shrubs that is not only a blessing to the bees, but also to those with a gap in a moderately shady border, where it should thrive quite nicely. Ideally, you'll plant it in a spot where you too can benefit from the lovely sweet fragrance.
Height wise, this shrub will grow to about 1 metre. It is slow growing, but ultimately will spread out to between 1 or 2 metres. It's low maintenance too, being relatively free both from disease and from attack by plant-eating invertebrates. It only requires light pruning in spring to maintain shape.
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