A playground for honey bees has been planted in the Sustainable Living Centre's food forest. The creation of a bee garden caused quite a buzz, writes Meg Liptrot.

A new bee garden has become the sunny focal point of the food forest in our environment centre and community gardens for bee awareness month. Fruit trees need bees for pollination and the setting of fruit, so it was a natural fit. Our bee garden plans came to fruition in the first week of spring - the sun shone and the volunteers turned out to help turn our plan into a reality.

The design

We didn't have a huge area to play with, so we made use of an existing structure to hang a potted green wall. Terracotta pots were sealed to reduce water loss in summer, and planted with a selection of carpet thymes, with yellow primroses for added colour. The thyme will eventually drape over the sides of the pots, and bees love their dainty purple flowers. Along this border garden we planted climbers to scramble up the shed plus a selection of bee-friendly plants from the list below. The materials we used in the garden had to fit our sustainability criteria. We used recovered untreated totara for the bench seat and sign. Totara is super durable and was once used as farm fence posts. To dress up our shed, Bambusero were commissioned to create a custom bamboo screen. For stepping stones set into the lawn we reused broken concrete. We planted plugs of lawn chamomile between the stepping stones. A scoria boulder became a centrepiece to the circular garden - just the right shape to hold shallow pools of water on its surface like a bird bath. Bees, not just birds, need water in the garden on hot days.

We already had damp-loving taro growing in this spot, and planted purple and white cineraria, blue salvia and clumping chives as colourful companions. A hebe was planted on the drier side, and water cress was planted at the point where water from the stone occasionally overflows into the garden - it is part of a food forest after all. We chose to extend the bee garden into a 'bee garden walk' to make best use of the site. On the border of the food forest near the plum and apple trees we planted a couple of roses (one spring flowering, the other summer/autumn flowering), lavender, rosemary and a boysenberry. The roses coincidentally were bred in 1949 and 1950, the same years as our environment centre was built.


Planting day

We started early to make the most of the day, and arrived just after sunrise. The hard landscaping had been built a few days earlier. First we had a lesson on planting for the benefit of the children helping on the day. Tips on removing the plant from the pot without damage, and how to break up the lumpy clay loam soil were essential to get the plants off to a good start.

We chose to use a simple cocktail of organic nutrients to feed the soil - sheep pellets, a rock dust combo mixed with vermicast and seaweed, plus a little dolomite. Everyone was responsible for watering their own plants, filling watering cans from the rainbarrels. Then we mulched to keep any weeds at bay. To reward their efforts, the volunteers were treated to a delicious breakfast spread from de Winkel during speeches from Daniel Paul of the National Beekeepers Association, and Maureen Conquer of Apimondia.

Why care about bees?

As Maureen said, bees need our help as, incredibly, it is no longer possible for colonies of honey bees to survive in the wild. They depend entirely on humans for their survival. Beekeepers should receive medals for the work they do, keeping our bees alive and healthy ensuring they do the essential pollinating work we need for our food crops. Our bee-friendly garden has been in for a week and the only bees I've seen so far are bumble bees. Not a single honey bee. Whether it's too cold yet for them to be out in force, I don't know. I suspect New Lynn has very few hives, if any. This may be something we need to do in future, embrace bees entirely and get a hive so honey bees will enjoy the spread we've put out for them.

Thumbs up!

A big thank you to de Winkel for donating the bee garden. For more info on their partnership with the National Beekeepers Association, go to nba.org.nz - the garden concept and construction was developed in collaboration with Tony Murrell, Adam Shuter and team.


The Sustainable Living Centre and community gardens are open to visit weekdays and Saturdays until 1pm - Olympic Place, New Lynn.

Our planting list
Annuals: snapdragon; alyssum (I); nemesia; cosmos; snow daisy (annual chrysanthemum) (I); mignonette; phacelia (I)

Seeds sown: sunflowers; beneficial insect blend (I)

To sow next year: Bee-friendly seed mix; clover

Herbs: thyme; salvia; rosemary; chamomile; clumping chives

Perennials: heliotrope (BU); scabiosa (BU); ageratum (BU); nepeta (catmint); cineraria; penstemon; lavender stoechas and angustifolia ; primrose; boysenberry

Shrubs: roses (doubles but not too heavily petaled) 'Fruhlingsduft' (spring-flowering) and 'Souvenir de St Annes' (summer/autumn-flowering); hebes (BU)

Climbers: Hardenbergia violaceae; star jasmine; sweet pea

Bee-friendly plants already in wider garden: fruit trees with spring blossom; citrus trees; bananas (bees love banana flowers); artichoke and cardoon; Tagasaste/tree lucerne; Manuka and kanuka; flaxes; coprosma; herb garden with bee favourites perennial bush basil and borage

I = Great for beneficial insects too
BU = Great for butterflies too