The Best Garden Plants for Bees

Published on May 20th 2020
A close up of a bee feeding on a purple blue flower of a hardy geranium.
In conjunction with World Bee Day, 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.
A close up of a bee feeding on a tree flower

Native is best

Native plants have adapted to our local environment, ensuring they attract the best pollinators to improve their chances of reproduction.
As a result, native plants have either the brightest flower, most potent scent, produce the most substantial amount of nectar or provide the most accessible landing.
All of this is to attract bees and other pollinators to help spread their pollen from one flower to another, guaranteeing the next generation of plants.
The most successful plants have thrived in our hedgerows and scrub areas, and if you have space, including any of these in your garden would make a huge difference.
But they are not always the most attractive ones, and when space is limited, plants have to tick more than one box to be included in our shopping basket!

Plants for Gardens

Luckily some stunning garden plants will not only give us beautiful colour and shape but will also provide bees with rich sources of pollen and nectar throughout the year. Here are ten of my favourite:

1. Hellebores

A close up of a white, speckled red Hellebore flower back lit with weak late afternoon sun.
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

A close up of a bee feeding on a snowdrop flower.
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

A close up of a bee feeding on a purple crocus flowe.
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

A close up of a pink cosmos flower with a bee feeding on it.
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 close up of a bee about to land on a lavender flower spike.
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

A close up of three bees feeding from three red Salvia flowers
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

A close up of a the red-pink flowers of a clump of 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

A close up of the star yellow flowers of Rudbeckia laciniata on a green background.
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

A close up of the emerging pink flower heads of a Verbena plant with a bee feeding.
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 close up of a bee feeding on the pink and yellow emerging flowers of a Stonecrop
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.

Bonus - Ivy

A close up of the flowers of 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.
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