6 ways to help bees when you don't have a garden
We spoke to some of the people who are turning grey to green and helping bees and wildlife in our cities.
If you want to brighten up a public space for bees check with your local council - or if it’s privately owned, the landowners - first. As these projects show, it could be easier than you think to get a buzz going in your neighbourhood. Involving the local council also means you can ask them not to spray pesticides in the area.
1. Transform a scruffy patch in your neighbourhood
Worried about bee decline and eager to tidy up a scruffy patch of the high street by the bus garage in West Norwood, Wayne Trevor and Justina Adomavičiūtė hatched a plan to green up their neighbourhood.
Permission from the bus garage management was obtained. Tools and plants were sourced. And 2 weeks later they had their first planting session, along with twenty eager locals. The West Norwood Bzz Garage was born.
Since then they’ve held gardening sessions about every 2 weeks. A wildflower meadow was sown in autumn 2014 and again in spring 2015 - by summer there was a sea of poppies, borage, cornflower, yarrow and a host of other species all native and perfect for pollinators. It was literally buzzing with activity.
We’ve had bulbs donated by the Metropolitan Parks and Gardens Association, a Fatsia that had outgrown someone’s front garden. We added lavender, sarcococca, geraniums. People stop and chat, and drop by with something from their garden.
Wayne Trevor, West Norwood Bzz Garage
The group got permission to extend its work to the back of the garage, on a quieter street. With a grant from Incredible Edible Lambeth, a fruit garden was planted - 20 fruit bushes went in alongside raspberry canes and rhubarb. Corn, beans, squash and 5 varieties of heritage seed potatoes were planted. All flowering and all beneficial to pollinators.
It’s been a journey of community building as much as community growing. The Bzz Garage has a regular group of 10 who show up and a wider group of 20 or so that come to help when they can.
2. Start your own community orchard
The Urban Orchard Project is a charity that works with communities to plant, manage, restore and harvest orchards in urban areas.
The project has already helped communities plant more than 100 orchards in schools, housing estates, parks and commons across London. That’s over 1,000 new fruit trees blossoming with an important source of food for bees and other pollinators. Through its Helping Britain Blossom project the charity is planting and restoring many more orchards across the UK - in Birmingham, Hereford, Greater Manchester, Leeds and central Scotland. These orchards are giving people the chance to discover the pleasure of eating home-grown fruit - while creating havens for wildlife including bees at the same time.
Orchards have played an important role in communities for centuries, providing a focal point, a gathering space, and a place where people and the rest of nature successfully work together to create abundant harvests. They also make cities nicer places to live, which makes people happy.
Rebecca Head, Urban Orchard Project
3. Green up your workplace
In 2014 artist and Womens' Institute member Sarah Manton, together with horticulturist Helen Taylor - who both run businesses in Nottingham city centre - started an urban greening scheme in Nottingham’s Creative Quarter.
Articulture draws together local retailers, artists and horticulturists to work together to improve so-called grot spots and commission horticulturally-inspired artworks.
The emphasis has been on creating quirky planters, such as a cello case outside the music shop and ‘To Health in a Handcart’, a mini allotment housed in a vintage market cart, offering free surplus produce to passers-by.
The areas around street trees (tree pits) have been planted with layers of spring bulbs, sunflowers and other plants attractive to bees. At the same time they trap and disguise any cigarette ends. Local retailers have started watering the individual tree pit outside their premises and clearing any litter.
Articulture is now in its third year and has proved the theory that creating an attractive and interesting streetscape encourages customers to visit, stay and spend - and improves the way local residents and businesses feel about where they live and work.
Sarah Manton, Articulture
4. Plant around your street trees
Seeds for Snaresbrook started in 2013, when Wanstead and Woodford Friends of the Earth was invited by residents to help in planting up the ground around the base of street trees (known as tree pits) in Gordon Road, Wanstead. Using bee-friendly seeds as part of The Bee Cause, the display that summer was so impressive the group decided to extend the scheme to the whole of Snaresbrook ward in 2014. An Olympic Legacy grant was obtained from London Borough of Redbridge. The council co-operated by registering all the tree-pits sown, to avoid them being sprayed with herbicide.
With tremendous support from residents, spring sowing produced a wonderful display of nectar and pollen rich flowers in the streets throughout summer and autumn. More seeds were sown in 2015.
The great thing about planting perennial wildflowers in the first year we did the scheme, is that they are still producing nectar and pollen for pollinators now.
Diana Korchien, Wanstead and Woodford Friends of the Earth
5. Pimp your pavement
Pimp Your Pavement is a campaign to encourage people to plant life in their street launched by guerrilla gardener Richard Reynolds. The aim is to get people thinking about the incredible potential for making more of their street.
Typically planting in the space around a tree pit (at the base of street trees), the results don’t just enhance the appearance of the street but provide ‘buzz stops’ for pollinators along the way - and are good for people too.
There’s no better way to find out what’s buzzing in your community than striking up conversation while gardening in the street – being on your hands and knees on the pavement with a trowel in hand is a great conversation starter.
Richard Reynolds, Pimp Your Pavement
Hundreds of people are "pavement pimpers" - some with short-lived seasonal displays of annuals such as sunflowers, field marigolds, cornflowers, others with mature perennials that get better each year such as hollyhocks, shasta daisies and cranesbill.
Crocus bulbs are very easy to plant in autumn and provide valuable food to pollinators in winter when there’s little around. While many like Richard enhance pavements as guerrilla gardeners there are a few supportive local authorities such as Lambeth and Camden where you can tend these spaces with official support and guidance.
6. Grow veg in front of your house
Neighbours Naomi Schillinger and Nicolette Jones started up a community growing project in North London after being inspired by a free wildflower seed giveaway from Islington Council. Since 2009 over 100 households have joined them in greening up streets and growing vegetables and flowers in front gardens and window boxes.
When in flower, many fruit and vegetables are fantastic plants for pollinators – squashes, raspberries, strawberries, runner beans and many more are great for bees.
By spending time in front gardens and organising Cake Sunday get-togethers, neighbours got to know each other.
The group has had phenomenal results growing corn, beans and squashes all in one grow-bag – the ‘3 sisters’ method which creates a symbiotic relationship between the three different plants.
It’s fantastic to be able to pop out into the front garden to pick dinner from your doorstep - with zero food miles and no supermarket sprays. Front gardens may be small, but it’s amazing how much you can grow in those few precious square metres.
Naomi Schillinger, Blackstock Triangle Gardeners
More ways to help bees where you live
- Got a grotty patch near you that could do with a makeover? Get together with your neighbours, colleagues or school and get the place buzzing
- You can do a lot for bees in small spaces. Fill a window box or doorstep pot with nectar-rich plants using our guide: 28 Great Plants for Bees