Even in our sophisticated technological age, we rely on the help of honeybees to keep our planet healthy and productive.
Bees are vital to the food chain and for the future of our environment. They ensure the continuity of many plants that in turn provide food and habitats for other plants and animals. The honeybee, in particular, is responsible for about 80pc of all insect pollination. Without them we would see massive decreases in the yields of fruits and vegetable fields.
The decline in numbers of our bee population has been evident for over a decade and must be regarded with huge concern. There are a number of reasons for this decline, including the destructive Varroa mite, but extensive urbanisation has also contributed with the destruction of gardens, parks, wild-flower meadows and native hedgerows. Intensive farming hasn't helped as the pesticides and parasitic fungi used to ensure high yields have worsened the decline of the honeybee.
Bees need a good diversity of flora that will supply them with a rich mixture of nectar and pollen. If we all pay a bit of attention to what types of plant we are growing in our gardens, we can all help enormously. Every flower counts - even the smallest garden, patio or window box has room for a few.
Gardeners should be encouraged to plant native species and wild flower varieties where they can. Purple loosestrife, valerian and teasels are great wild-flower choices and ensure that you include a good mixture of herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees in order to create diversity, and also to help spread the food supplies over the whole year. Knowing when plants will come into flower is a good idea and there are particular plant species that honeybees love.
Plants that thrive in sunny, sheltered places are more likely to be visited by bees than those in more shady or windswept places. Annuals and herbaceous plants are low-growing and easy to get to, being even more attractive to bees when grown in large clumps.
Annuals that bees will love include cosmos, nigella and cornflowers with verbena and scabious being very attractive herbaceous perennials. Think about planting species that will cover all the seasons; chionodoxa and colchicums for spring; alliums, lavender and rosemary for good summer flowers; sedum and rudbeckia for late summer and autumn nectar; and hellebores and winter aconites for the coldest months. Beautiful flowering trees that are appropriate for most garden sizes include the Judas tree and the flowering cherry blossoms.
Apart from introducing certain plant species, you could make a bee home in your garden quite easily and without the need for any space at all. The 'bee hotels' are about the size of small bird boxes, the only difference is the interiors have two sections - one for the queen bee and another where the workers and drones live. Site the boxes in sheltered, warm spots, but not in direct sunlight. Choose places that you think the bees would naturally forage - in a border, under a tree canopy or within a hedge, and position it tilting slightly downwards to avoid water building up inside.
The drastic drop in bee numbers is worrying, but small and simple flowering plantations can help turn the tide.
Cut back lavender
Take cuttings of tender plants such as osteospermum to grow in the glasshouse this winter
Keep pond water levels topped up and remove blanket weed