Column: The busy life of bees

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Last week’s heavy rain has made everything in the garden bow over. Both the old-fashioned pink rose and the enormous fuschia bush are sagging downwards over the lawn to such an extent that, when the weather allows, I might need to chop them back a bit.

The fuschia has formed an arching umbrella shape and you can now stand under it and watch the many bees visiting the pendant-like flowers, creating a glorious 360° humming surround sound.

I have spent several minutes watching different species of bee clambering up inside the flowers to get at the nectar, just their furry rumps visible as they forage.

Last August, I remember noticing that many of the fuschia flowers had, over the course of the summer, been subject to what is known as ‘nectar robbing.’

This is where the bees in effect ‘cheat’ and instead of making their way up the flower to get to the nectar, some bore holes at the base of the flowers to find the nectar without needing to climb into the flower itself.

This phenomenon, which allows the bees to get nectar from flowers without pollinating them, can happen to similarly shaped flowers such as aquilegias and foxgloves.

The culprits are usually bees with short tongues who would normally not be able to reach the nectar deep inside long flowers.

However, so far this year I have not noticed any holes in the flowers, or any cheating bees – but it is early days and I expect that by the end of this summer many of the flowers will have been ‘robbed’ again. I keep watching, to see if I can catch a bee at it.

Growing behind the fuschia bush is a cotoneaster plant which fans its way over the back wall to mingle with the ivy, and the border next to the wall is planted with several tall, ornamental thistles.

The bees love all these plants and so the back corner of the garden is a happy place for them.

It’s the equivalent of finding your three favourite restaurants next to each other.

I just wish the weather would cheer up a bit so that I could get out more to stand still and watch their busy lives!