Mind the gap
Ever heard of “the June gap”?
Many beekeepers talk about it — it’s a time between spring and summer when bee colonies are at peak numbers, meaning they require more pollen and nectar.
It’s during this time that spring flowers have more or less finished and summer flowers have yet to come into full bloom so there can be a shortage of pollen and nectar for bees.
What can we do help out? Well, we need to grow more bee-friendly plants that flower at this time of year to cover this period. It’s never too late to plant them, even if you only manage to get them in place for the following year. It’s a good idea to get these plants in the ground in July or whenever you can find them.
Here are some excellent garden plants to consider:
Geranium pratense (a native UK wildflower). Many geraniums are in flower right now and offer excellent ground cover as well as being great for pollinators. Geranium “Rozanne” is fabulous.
Centaurea montana (perennial cornflower). This is a lovely blue perennial and excellent garden plant.
Campanula (Bellflowers). There are many varieties of this plant, including tall versions and those suitable for ground cover, all of which flower during the June gap.
Valeriana officinalis (Valerian). This plant is actually a herb and the root is used for sleep disorders. White and pink varieties are available, and it smells quite sweet. If these plants like the conditions in your garden, make sure that you keep an eye on them as they will happily self-seed everywhere.
Helenium “Sahin’s Early Flowerer” (Sneezeweed). This is a lovely border plant with orange daisy-like flowers that will keep going right through to autumn.
Nepeta x faassenii (Cat mint). Yes, cats do like it and will often lie amongst it. The most well-behaved is “Walker’s Low”, which grows to just 15 cm. As its name suggests, “Six Hills Giant” is at the other end of the spectrum, growing to 90 cm tall and offering some great flowers for all sorts of insects.
Borago officinalis (Borage). Great as a natural fertiliser and bees adore it.
Erysimum “Bowles Mauve” (perennial wallflower). I love these plants because they give you so much bang for your buck, flowering right through to the first frosts. My favourite is “Winter Orchid” due to its striking fragrance but there are plenty of others.
Echinops ritro (globe thistle). There are many varieties of this plant, which has spherical white or blue flowers and spiny leaves.
Choisya ternata (Mexican orange blossom). This is a lovely evergreen shrub with scented leaves. The white blossom also has a wonderful fragrance. It grows up to 2 m x 2 m and can be trimmed after flowering to keep it in check. My favourite is “Sundance”, which has golden yellow leaves.
Cotoneaster (Bearberry). A member of the rose family, this plant happily climbs over fences and walls. There are many varieties, some evergreen. It is smothered in small white flowers that then form small berries for birds to eat. It self-seeds readily so take care to keep it in check because it grows vigorously.
Escallonia is a well-behaved evergreen shrub with small glossy green leaves. These plants have small tubular flowers in pink, red and white. There are many varieties but my favourites are “Pride of Donard” and “Donard Seedling”. Escallonia “Iveyi” is scented and can be grown as a hedge. Hebes are excellent evergreen shrubs and range in size from the small “Margret” to the large “Great Orme”. Some varieties have multicoloured leaves like “Silver Queen” or “Rhubarb and Custard”. Check first because some flower later in summer than others, and some flower in autumn.
Pyracantha (Firethorn). This plant is also a member of the rose family. It’s often grown as a boundary hedge or shrub due to its thorns — be careful with these! The flowers are white, and the berries can be yellow, orange or red. The birds will eat the red berries first before moving on to the orange and yellow ones.
Sambucus nigra (common elder). This is a shrub but it grows into a small tree. It has dark, almost black leaves and the small white sprays of flowers can be used to make a summery drink. The black berries form later and are edible when cooked. Sambucus can be cut back hard almost to the ground and will grow back the following year. I like “Black Lace”.
Finally, don’t forget herbs. Leave them to flower and they will attract all types of pollinators. Thyme, sage, rosemary and especially lavender (both English and French) will flower in late June. Also consider growing raspberries — they are flowering right now and are a magnet for bees. The fruit is great in summer too.
Grow these plants now and you’ll be saying “What June gap? I don’t have a gap in my garden!”. Our pollinators, especially honey bees, will thank you.
Paul Lowis – Chair/Green Man Garden on behalf of SLH