Create a Cluster
I can probably give you scores of gardens doing cluster theory design…
but the idea of grouping plants in clusters is based on how pollinators utilize a garden. To build a garden for bees for instance, one must think like a bee. And bees like flowers, lots of them. Bees like herbs too.
Bees come in different sizes, from very small to the size of big bumblebees, different also is their feeding behaviors. Their flight ranges vary too. Some bees can fly almost a mile from their nest, while tiny ground-nesting bees may travel only a few hundred feet. Bees may visit hundreds of individual flowers each forage, so clustering nectar and pollen producers saves them time and energy. Pollen and nectar provide the complete diet for both the adult bees and their larvae.
My own garden has many flowers but not huge drifts. Size matters in whether a garden can have variety and large drifts of bloom. Gardens like mine with variety of bloom do have an advantage though, they have the widest range of plants with the most diversity of bees visiting. I can attest to that.
In the case of honeybees, the garden will be more attractive to them if you plant clusters of the same type of flowers instead of a wide variety of flowers spread all over. Bees just favor large patches rather than single flowers here and there. I like to attract many different pollinators so I have many different flowers, but not one here and there. Small flower patches and duplicated patches are in my garden, so I do get honeybees.
Plants of the composite family like asters are bee favorites and provide both nectar and pollen. They have a large landing platform making it easy to collect pollen while sipping nectar. A garden should have plants in the Asteraceae (Compositae) and Lamiaceae (Mint) family to make foraging for bees as easy as possible. I don’t mulch my garden except with compost, therefore encouraging ground-nesting bees.
Annuals and non-native plants are players in the garden for when the perennials rest. My favorites are cosmos, zinnia, Caryopteris, Perovskia, and verbena.
Another aspect of cluster theory utilizes containers, where a single container incorporates a variety of plants, both perennial and annual. While a container of a single plant works just fine, a mix of plants brings in a variety of pollinators, just like it does in the garden, only on a small-scale. I mix both perennials and annuals to keep the bloom throughout the season and shown in the gallery above. More of my containers in the post Container Gardening up soon.
Below is an example of cluster theory using herbs. A herb garden is an excellent choice for helping bees to save energy by having many of their favorites in one place.