That all changed when my husband got two hives of honey bees three years ago. I wanted to help them thrive in my garden so I started researching plants for honey bees. Most of what I found was for commercial beekeepers but still useful to a home gardener like me. I found I had some plants already and added more based on what I learned from books and internet sites that I checked.
Along the way I learned that honey bees don't read books or surf the internet. The books said they don't visit roses unless they are the single flowered type. I thought that was true since all my roses are semi-double or double flowered and I had never seen a bee on them. During a phone converation with my brother who lives 15 miles away, he told me honey bees were visiting his roses and like me, he has the semi-double and double types. Recently Sue in California sent me a picture of a honey bee on her 'Wini Edmunds' rose. Lo and behold, it wasn't a single flowered type either.
Now why do honey bees like their roses but not mine? Was it the color, fragrance or what? The answer is the location of our gardens. You see, honey bees visit the flowers that will give them the most for their efforts. My brother and Sue live in areas that have farms and only a few areas that grow wild. I live in a rural area where most of the land is left to grow wild. So in their areas roses are a good source of forage for honey bees but in my area all the wildflowers and trees blooming at the same time as the roses are more tempting.
I also learned that if they ignore a plant one year, it doesn't mean they won't visit it another year. Last year the honey bees ignored my butterfly bush but this year they are really busy gathering the nectar from it. That could be because it's much bigger than it was last year. Honey bees don't like to spend their energy gathering just a bit of nectar or pollen. They like big clumps of flowers that provide a bountiful supply. A single plant with just a few blossoms probably won't attract honey bees to it but a nice sized clump of that plant might.
I even planted some plants I'm not really fond of just for the honey bees; like these petunias which are pretty flowers and smell good but after a childhood of deadheading petunias for my Mom I'm not too fond of them. You know you are hooked on honey bees when you plant things you aren't crazy about just for them.
There are some plants in my garden that the honey bees visit year after year; 'Munstead' lavender is an example. I only have one plant but every year there are honey bees visiting it. They also love my blue hyacinths and the sunflowers I grow just for pleasure. Of course, I added more of these to my garden this year just for them.
I'm really enjoying gardening for honey bees. They like such a variety of plants I can always find something new to add to my garden. As for the butterflies and birds, well, they benefit from the plants I grow for honey bees, too. Butterflies like some of the same plants they do and the birds get seeds and berries from most of the plants the honey bees visit. So really, I'm gardening for all of them.