Ten of the Best by Declan Magee

I’m a gardener who keeps bees – or vice versa. When I’m asked to name the plants my bees love best, it’s a pleasurable challenge.

My garden is in an exposed seaside site in southwest Kerry, with howling gales, drenching rain and a soil short on nutrients, heavy in acid and water. All the plants have to live with this and are therefore hardy.

So, my Top Ten then:

  1. CEANOTHUS. Evergreen with waxy leaves, with diverse types flowering from late spring to mid-summer. Laden with purple-blue flowers, black with bees and other pollinators. Up to 2m high.
  2. BUDDLEJA. Varieties flower from early to late summer, they can grow to 10m tall, so pruning is the order of the day to keep them in check. Look for the dwarf varieties, happy to grow in a pot on the terrace, bringing black bees and butterflies in profusion to your door.
  3. WILLOW or Sally. Don’t ignore this unloved tree, providing much-needed early pollen and nectar and coppicing for your peas and beans.
  4. ECHIUM. This architectural plant is one of my favourites. It is a biennial and produces a huge pyramid of purple flowers covered in bees. It self-seeds easily, particularly in a pebble driveway. 2m high.
  5. COTONEASTER. Upright or ground cover. Easy to grow, and so crammed with bees in early summer that they rise in a hum as you pass. Delightful.
  6. NEW ZEALAND FLAX. Large architectural shrubs, 2m x 2m. Produce spectacular flowers 3m high in late summer/early autumn. Bees love the flowers.
  7. GREVILLEA ROSEMARINIFOLIA. Delightful compact evergreen bushes 1m x 1.5m. They produce lovely red flowers in late winter – an occasional bee on a warm sunny day – right through to late summer.
  8. BROOM. Golden yellow flowers in mid to late spring, another very welcome early feeding station.
  9. SEDUM. This pretty perennial produces large heads of tiny pink flowers, attractive to our bees and turning a reddish colour in winter. They make a great show in a border.75 x 45cm.
  10. MYRTLE. An evergreen tree with small white flowers in summer. Slow growing, 1.5m x 2m.

And as with any garden list, I could go on and on, the bee-friendly wonders I have left out, the fruit trees, roses, heathers, shrubs etc. But so much pleasure in gardening results in stronger hives and the taste of honey to come.