Ode to the Bumblebee

bumblebees on echinops ritro

Of all the summertime insects, none are more joyful to see visiting your garden than the fat and fuzzy bumblebee.  Honeybees are obviously great visitors too, but there's something about the bumblebee's rotund furry shape that really makes me happy.

The bumblebee's size and less-than-aerodynamic shape also means that it can't visit all of the flowers thay the smaller and lighter honeybee and frequent, so make sure that you include a few plants in your garden that provides a stable landing-platform for the bumblebee.  Different species of bumblebee (there are more than six in the UK) prefer different plants, according to their size, weight and feeding technique.

The globe-thistle, echinops ritro - pictured here - might look spiky and univiting, but are actually a great flower for bombus lucorum and bombus terrestris bees.  As large and heavy bees who use a technique of biting holes to 'rob' nectar, these guys cannot easily land on more delicate flowers, and lack a long tongue to sip nectar from tube-shaped blooms.  I counted sixteen bumblebees all feeding from one echinops plant together.

Bombus hortorum and bombus pascorum have long tongues, so can visit tube-shaped flowers including honeysuckle, delphiniums and catmint. 

Bombus lapidaries are very large bees, and look for stable platforms for helicopter-style landings in large daisy-type flowers such as heleniums and echinacea.

Bombus pratorum are smaller and agile with medium-length tongues so can visit a wider range of flowers.

Bumblebees like to nest in the shade, so shady plant options can be useful for pollinators too - try white deadnettles, foxgloves and aconites.