At the request of a friend I just posted a list of pollinator-friendly plants. It’s in the left column of this site, just beneath the calendar. The list has two parts: the first part contains popular garden plants found in many areas of the United States, and the second part contains plants native to the Pacific Northwest.
Over the last few years I have planted many different species for my honey bees. What I’ve discovered is that, for the most part, the honey bees couldn’t care less. They’ve got an agenda that doesn’t include my garden. Oh sure, there are some exceptions. They love borage, blue agastache, and peppermint. But the thing that amazes me is the number and variety of native bees that have moved in to feast off this assemblage. Some bees are so small I need a magnifying glass to see them. Some, like bumble bees, are big and clunky.
I never knew so many kinds of bees lived here, and I certainly didn’t know so many different bumble bees existed in this area. Bumble bees are identified by the placement of the stripes, the number of stripes, the color of stripes, and other things. I don’t know enough to identify them (even with a book), but I can tell there are many different species visiting my garden.
Honey bees often don’t visit small groups of plants because they like to forage on the same flower type during any given trip. They pretty much ignore anything that’s growing in ones and twos. But most of the wild bees move more freely from species to species and will gladly stop at an eclectic assortment of flowers.
Many types of flowering species work for attracting wild bees, but the type I favor are those the deer and rabbits pass by. Okay, I know that’s a tall order. Generally, however, the mint family does the job. Most deer and rabbits would rather skip the strong-scented, strong-flavored species like mint, agastache, oregano, basil, rosemary, marjoram, savory, lavender, and thyme. But many of these species produce abundant nectar and are often crowded with pollinators while they’re in bloom. Some of the larger ones, like monarda, attract hummingbirds as well.
All over the world, pollinator species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate. By providing some good forage, a place to nest, and a pesticide-free zone we can encourage the ones that are left. Plant a pollinator garden—even if it’s small—and the bees will come. Better yet, get a field guide and learn who they are.