Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens is a beautiful botanical garden to visit in Boothbay Harbor, Maine (zone 5b). Because it is lush with bee-friendly plants and they use organic methods, it is a great bee garden too. I spoke with Erin MacGregor-Forbes, who is the gardens’ Chief Financial Officer and beekeeper, about their gardens. She is a Master Beekeeper, and co-owner of Overland Apiaries in Maine.
Since MacGregor-Forbes has brought three of her hives to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, she has had an interesting opportunity to see what flowers the bees prefer. When you give bees nearly every bee-friendly flower for that climate, what do they choose? Says MacGregor-Forbes, “It is really interesting to have this opportunity and to note their preferences.”
I saw the bees’ choices in action during my visit on July 27. So many bee flowers in bloom, and yet the bees are not on the flowers equally. Many bee flowers were not being touched. There was one flower variety that was attracting the largest number of bees by far. Can you guess what it was? Drumroll…….The Drumstick Allium (Allium sphaerocephalon). This is one fun looking flower; see the photo below. And one I will have to add to my own gardens.
Alliums are known for being antibacterial and antiviral. So it is interesting to speculate whether the bees are visiting these flowers for that benefit. But there are, of course, many factors in bees’ preferences. How sweet the nectar is, the timing of the nectar flow, and the ingredients in that nectar are just some of the reasons why a honey bee will visit a particular flower. And favorite flowers change from day to day.
Bee Garden Flowers
Here is a list of flowers that feed the bees at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Could you plant any in your garden?
- Winter aconite, (Eranthis hyemalis)
- Winter hazel (Corylopsis)
- Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
- Foxglove (Digitalis)
- Globe Thistle (Echinops)
- Herbs, including thyme, oregano, and dill. CMGB uses herbs frequently throughout their beds, using them as edging or fillers.
- Hydrangeas. Note that some Hydrangeas are sterile. See my post Do Hydrangeas Feed the Bees? to find out which varieties feed the bees.
- Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata)
- Blazing star or Gayfeather (Liatris)
- Meadow Rue (Thalictrum)
- Milkweed (Asclepias)
- Poppies, Breadseed (Papaver somniferum)
- Queen of the Prairie (Filipendula rubra)
- Sea Holly (Eryngium planum)
- Speedwell (Veronica)
- Goldenrod, CMBG uses dwarf varieties, such as ‘Little Lemon’
Many of these flowers are also loved by butterflies and native bees. So by planting them and using organic methods, you can also help both the butterflies and bees.
The Importance of Trees and Shrubs
But I don’t want to forget about the bee trees and shrubs. MacGregor-Forbes keeps most of her bees in the Portland city area, with three hives on the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens site. She finds that her bees do really well in the Portland area, in part, because there are so many huge Linden (Tilia) trees.
MacGregor-Forbes says “To feed the honey bees well, look to trees and shrubs that feed the bees because they are bigger.”
Her list of favorite bee trees and shrubs include:
- Linden (Tilia)
- Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia)
- Tupelos or Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)
- Witch Hazels (Hamamelis)
- Fruiting trees
- Sweet Pepperbush or Summersweet (Clethera alnifolia)
- Sweetspire (Itea virginiana)
- Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
- Winterberry (Ilex Verticillata)
Linden and Locust trees provide the most important spring nectar for the bees. The Sweet Pepperbush, Sweetspire, and Buttonbush are all late blooming nectar sources (blooming in August in Maine.) Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens has plans to expand their ornamental gardens. They plan to incorporate these important bee forage trees and shrubs to further support their pollinator populations.
I had a great visit. I highly recommend a trip to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. For more information, visit www.mainegardens.org. See too my other post about Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, entitled Organic Gardening Tips from Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.