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10 of the Best Garden Plants for Bees

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In conjunction with World Bee Day and Candide's Festival of Flowers, we are encouraging everyone to make small changes to help their pollinator populations throughout the UK!
One of the best ways we as gardeners can help is to increase the range of nectar-producing plants we grow in our gardens.

Native or non-native plants?

The native vs non-native argument is a topical debate which is often spoken of in the horticultural industry. So which plants are truly best for the environment and pollinators?
On one hand, native plants have adapted to our local environment. This means they have adapted in a way which specifically attracts UK pollinators. Native insects are well-adapted pollinating native plants, in turn increasing the chances of plant reproduction.
In other words, native plants have either the brightest flower, most potent scent, and will produce the most substantial amount of nectar or provide the most accessible landing, to our native pollinators.
Here are some of the best plants for pollinators:
A close up of a flower

Plants for Pollinators

What about the plants we grow in our gardens which don't originate in the UK?
UK natives are not always the most attractive plants, and when space is limited, plants have to tick more than one box to be included in our shopping basket!
So are non-native plants bad for pollinators?
Not necessarily. There are many levels to the argument. In some cases, a non-native plant can be both nectar-rich and easily accessible to native insects. However, if this plant is invasive (in other words, a plant which does too well in an introduced habitat and spreads rapidly), this can be a cause for concern.
Things to keep in mind when planting for pollinators:
  • Try to stick to plants native to the UK, EU and northern hemisphere.
  • Stay away from planting non-native species which spread aggressively.
  • If you ever feel unsure about a plant make sure you research it before planting.
  • Don't plant a non-native in the wild.

My favourite pollinator-friendly plants for gardens

1. Hellebores

This late winter to early spring flowering plant will be an attractive addition to the shady conditions underneath deciduous shrubs such as Roses and Cornus.

2. Snowdrops

Any dozy bee awoken by an unusually warm late winter sun will appreciate this vital source of pollen and nectar just as we appreciate the delicate flower display. Once a bee has discovered a large clump, they can pass on the information to others, preventing the loss of winter reserves on exploratory journeys.

3. Crocus

This easy to grow winter-flowering bulb with its full open flower provides an easy to spot lunch station for hungry bees. Planting as many as you can will mean bees have to spend less critical energy time flying between plants.

4. Cosmos

This colourful annual is frequently grown for summer bedding displays, they are popular with both gardeners and bees! With the added advantage of edible flowers. They can be grown in large containers or through borders, to give any space a cottage garden feel.

5. Lavender

A full sun lover, this plant fills the air with its gentle scent, attracting our senses as well as the bees. With annual clipping, it can be grown as a small hedge or it could go at the edge of a border. The flower stems can be cut for floral arrangements and dried to make scented pillows, but leave some stems for the pollinators to enjoy as well!

6. Salvia

With their upright spikes of flowers, these sun-loving plants are a striking addition to any garden and can be grown in containers. They are not a fan of wet feet, so good drainage is essential. Adding horticultural grit or home-made compost into the planting hole will be rewarded with the healthy, vigorous plants and lots of colours.

7. Echinacea

Another sun-loving perennial, this late summer and early autumn flowering plant will provide nectar when a lot of English natives have finished flowering. It will also appreciate good drainage as the UK's wet winters are not its natural environment.

8. Rudbeckia

In early autumn this American member of the daisy family provides a striking mass of bright yellow flowers. It prefers fertile, moist soil and adds height to a mixed border, adding to a cottage feel.

9. Verbena

Preferring free-draining sites, this tall and airy late summer to autumn flower will cope with drier conditions. Plant in amongst grasses to create a prairie feel or at the front of borders to partially hide areas and create interest. The bees will thank you.

10. Garden Sedums

A perennial favourite sometimes known as Sedum, sometimes Ice Plants, they produce clumps of succulent stems and a mound of flattened flower heads. These can last for months from autumn into mid-winter, providing a great source for pollinators with the additional benefit of providing winter protection to other wildlife in the garden.

11. Bonus - Ivy

This is a plant I am frequently asked to cut back or cut out completely, but I wanted to take this opportunity to promote a much-maligned plant, so I've thrown it in as an extra addition!
This plant's most attractive feature is its ability to grow in locations many other plants will not, making it a brilliant surface cover. Its evergreen leaves provide overwintering sites for a vast range of wildlife. Its late autumn flowering time provides an abundant food source to any bee out and about before settling down for their winter snooze. Hearing a whole ivy-covered fence, a buzz with visitors is an amazing and astonishing sound.
Find other plants for pollinators in our collection:
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