Bee and butterfly gardens
All information provided is meant for the Netherlands, northwestern Europe. Habitats in other locations may be very different and the information provided here might not be useful for locations outside of northwestern Europe.
Insects such as bees and butterflies are not only important for the conservation of nature, but also for the agricultural sector. Many plants are dependent on pollination by these animals. They are also a valuable asset in any garden. They always bring the feeling of the summer with their beautiful colours and cheerful buzzing. Unfortunately, the increasing trend of pavements in gardens, and the heave use of monocultures (constant repeated use of only a few species of plants), make it difficult for many bees and butterflies to still survive in many areas. By creating a bee and butterfly garden you will not only have a beautiful summer garden, but you will also help these animals so that we can enjoy them for years to come.
It is preferred that a bee and butterfly garden is facing south, ensuring a large amount of sunlight. Both bees and butterflies need sunlight to warm up. Without this warmth, they have more difficulty flying and can therefore collect less food. Dry ground is best, preferably with a loose, porous soil. This is necessary so solitary bees can nest. Obviously you will need to adapt the plants to the environment you happen to live in, but it is best to make at least a piece of your garden dryer. A rock garden in the sun for example can help.
Pollinator friendly plants
Plants are, without a doubt, the most important factor in every bee and butterfly garden. The plants you choose will help determine which pollinators you help. It determines which pollinators you will attract to your garden and in what numbers. Some pollinators need food throughout the year to grow, to fly or to hibernate. Solitary bees often refuse to fly too far from their nest. When there is no food to be found during certain months of the year near their nest, these bees will die or move out. For this reason, it is important plants with high nutritional values can be found flowering all year round. Plants differ in the amount of food they provide. For more information about plants for a bee and butterfly garden you can go to the menu ''bee & butterfly plants'' at the top of this page. Here you will find information and extensive lists of plants which are suitable for bees and / or butterflies.
Nesting and places for hibernation are also necessary for the survival of pollinators. Without these, pollinators will not be able to settle in an area. There are several methods for providing such areas in a garden, one of the most common methods being bee hotels. For more information on nesting sites in a bee and butterfly garden you can go the menu ’’Bee Hotels’’ at the top of this page.
An open compost pile can certainly help bees and butterflies. Many solitary bees nest in the hollow stems of dead plants. They often hibernate in dead plant material as adults, as a larva or as pupa. Butterflies also commonly hibernate in dead plant material, hidden among leaf litter for example. A compost pile therefore contains many suitable nesting and hibernating sites for these pollinators. The bees and butterflies will then be able to safely fly out in spring. When you’re throwing leaf litter or other garden waste in the trash, you might also accidentally kill many hibernating pollinators. Small pruning waste and leaf litter degrades quickly. After some time, it can be reused as nutrients for your garden plants. It’s best not to place cut grass with the compost. Grass breaks down very slowly. It becomes acidic and forms a thick layer. Big twigs or pieces of wood can best be put aside as a dead hedge. A dead hedge is a partition made out of pruning waste, sometimes placed between poles. It takes longer to break down, but becomes excellent nesting material as the wood rots. Open compost bins and dead hedges are also great places for birds and small mammals to find food and hibernate.
Bee and butterfly garden made by Bloemberg Ecologie.
A simple compost pile. Photo: Matt Montagne
A dead hedge used as a border fence. Photo: Kamel15
A normal lawn has almost nothing to offer for bees or butterflies. There is no food, it’s difficult for them to warm up, and there are no proper nesting areas. For this reason, extensive fields where almost exclusively grass is grown for cattle is also called "deserts for bees’’. Would you still like a lawn, but also want to help the bees and butterflies? Then it might be an idea to seed your lawn with not just grass, but also with white or red clover (Trifolium repens or Trifolium pratense). These are low growing, look nice and green, and can withstand regular mowing. Clovers are nitrogen-fixing plants. Nitrogen is an important food source for plants and largely determines how fast your grass grows. Shamrocks take nitrogen from the air and store it in the ground. The grass can then also use this, this means you do not longer need to fertilize your lawn providing the clover grows well. Covers will bloom in summer and decorate the lawn with cute white or pink flowers. These will provide a large amount of food for bees and butterflies.
You can go one step further and just allow many different herbs to grow in your grass. Dandelion, daisy and clover are all good plant for bees and butterflies. A greater diversity of plants produces more food for a greater diversity of bees and butterflies.
White clover (Trifolium repens) mixed in a field. The leaves of the clover are hardly noticable. Only the flowers stick out, providing some nice color. Photo: NY State IPM Program at Cornell University
Hedges are excellent for bees and butterflies. They offer protection from the rain and places to hibernate. They also slow the wind and form lulls in which bees and butterflies are able to fly and collect food even during days with strong winds. The hedges may also offer food, as long as you choose the right species of plant. Hedges of hawthorn (Crataegus), blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), field maple (Acer campestre), barberry (Berberis thunbergii), Common box (Buxus sempervirens) and yew (Taxus baccata) are all good choices. Many shrubs will not flower however when they are shaved too often. Try to hedge only after it has bloomed. Climbing plants can also be used as a partition. Plants such as ivy (Hedera), wisteria (Wisteria) and clematis (Clematis) are examples of this.
Wisteria used as partition and roof. (Photo: K. M.)
Fruit and herb garden
Many fruit trees and shrubs also provide plenty of food for bees and butterflies. Not only do the flowers provide a lot of nectar and pollen, but many pollinators also drink from the fruit. Rotting fruit attracts animals because the rotting process forms alcohol. Of course there are also many birds and mammals that relish this fruit. Some examples of fruit plants which are excellent for bees and butterflies are the apple (Malus domestica), crab apple (Malus sylvestris), pear (Pyrus communis), currant (Ribes rubrum), Mountain Currant (Ribes alpinum), Yellow ribes (Ribes odoratum), gooseberry (Ribes uva crispa), blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum), blackberry (Rubus laciniatus) dewberry (Rubus caesius), raspberry (Rubus idaeus), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), Apricot ( Prunus armeniaca), lemon (Citrus sinensis), wild plum (Prunus nigra). There are also melon (Cucurbita melo), pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima), radish (Raphanus sativus) and cucumber (Cucumis sativus) that provide a large amount of nectar and pollen.
Many herbs are also excellent food sources for bees and butterflies. Moreover, they often smell wonderful as well. Some examples include chives (Allium schoenoprasum), wild garlic (Allium ursinum), Garlic (Allium sativum), leek (Allium porrum), Onion (Allium Cepa), mint (Mentha), Thyme (Thymus), wild marjoram (Oregano vulgare), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), dill (Anethum graveolens), sage (Salvia officinalis), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), Borage (Borago officinalis), and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis).
Placing a fruit corner or herb garden makes sure you not only have fresh fruits and herbs, but also helps the bees and butterflies.
A herb garden that provides herbs for you, and food for pollinators. Photo: Grow4Fun