Written by Angus Stewart
In recent years, it has come to light that insect populations (including bees) are declining. Bees play an essential role in the pollination of plants and over a third of the world’s food crops rely on pollinating insects for their production.
This information may sound disheartening, but what if there is a way that we can help on an individual level? The good news is, there is a way you can help! Whether you live in a small apartment block with only a balcony, house with a suburban back yard, or an acreage there are many things you can do to provide for the needs of bees and other pollinating insects.
When we think of a bee, the image that comes to mind is usually of the Western, European honey bee (see picture above). These bees are magnificent pollinators and are a joy to watch as they go about their work. The way they carry collected pollen on their legs is a sight to marvel at! Did you know that Australia is also home to over 1500 species of native bees. A quick search on the internet will tell you which ones of these are local to your area. Some of Australia’s native bees are stingless, so can make a wonderful addition to your garden.
With awareness of the importance of pollinators growing and with their numbers on the decline, many creative and innovative people are coming up with aesthetically pleasing ways to create habitat for Australia’s native species of bees. The native bee ‘hotels’ pictured here (see picture below) were spotted at a native plant nursery on the central Coast NSW. The bee hotels not only provide native bees with a place to live, but being made from natural materials such as banksia cones, gum nuts and drift wood, they make a beautiful looking sculpture in your outdoor environment. They are sure to be a talking point when guests come to visit. The bee hotels come in many shapes and sizes and some are also small enough to hang on a balcony (for those with not much outdoor space). Owning a bee hotel will bring you much joy as you watch the bees pop in and out of the tiny holes, going about their daily work. You can purchase a bee hotel or have a go at making your own.
A much needed element, often overlooked to add to your bee friendly outdoor space is to something for the bees to drink. While bees are busy at work pollinating, they love to stop for fresh water when they are thirsty. Provide a shallow dish of water with stones in the centre, which rise above the level of the water for bees to rest on and drink.
Whether you want bees to live permanently on your premises or whether you simply want to create a place for them to come and visit, having the right plants in your outdoor space is the key. Once you have knowledge of the type of plants bees are attracted to, it’s very easy to get started on your bee friendly space.
A herb garden using plants from the ‘Lamiaceae’ family is a wonderful way to attract bees. Herbs from the Lamiaceae family include:
- native mint
- lemon balm
Planting a herb garden with the above herbs will not only benefit the bees, it can also benefit you in many different ways. Picking fresh herbs straight from the garden brings a wonderful sense of joy and also brings fresh flavours and added health benefits to your cooking. Herbs can also be used to make tea. All the herbs in the Lamiaceae family are aromatic, so even if you do not wish to use them for consumption, they can provide much happiness from their scent. Scientific research is making us aware of the benefits of the oils that give the scent to these sorts of herbs. There is antibacterial, anti fungal pretties in herbs. Smelling rosemary daily can improve memory.
Herbs in your outdoor space can provide a beneficial sensory experience for children too. You can encourage your children or visiting children to pick some herbs, feel them, smell them and taste them. When a child explores all the sensory experiences herbs have to offer, their senses will awaken! once you have an established herb garden from the Lamiaceae family and the pollinators begin to visit, you can sit and observe them with your children. Talk to your children about what the bees are doing and encourage thoughts about how important pollinators are to life on Earth! Children are our future and if we can educate and inspire them from a young age, there will be a bright future ahead for our insects.
If you would also like to incorporate flowering plants into your outdoor space here is a list of ones which both native and non-native pollinators love:
- many varieties of daisies
- lavender (Leptospermum)
- tea tree
- flowering gum
If you live in an apartment, unit block, or any place that has limited space outside, then don't be disheartened. There are many ways you can still have pollinator attracting plants in your outdoor space. Many of the plants listed above (both in the herbs listed and flowering plants) will grow happily in a pot or hanging basket. You might want to try a vertical garden, which not only looks beautiful, but attaches to a wall allowing for ample plants to grow without taking up any floor space. A besser block garden can look really affective on a balcony and can be a cheap and affective ways of introducing plants to your outdoor space. If you are unsure or need further advice, your local nursery would most likely to be happy to help and answer any questions.