Bees and other pollinators love wild flowers. But for garden borders, here are some nectar and pollen-rich perennials for spring and summer that will prove just as popular. All are rich in nectar and will attract a range of beautiful insects.
At the garden centre, avoid double-bloomed flowers, which insects find difficult to dig into. Go for single-flowered hollyhocks and open-faced roses, for instance. (And ask for plants grown in peat-free soil!) A mix of tubular and flatter flowers will attract a range of short and long-tongued species. Lastly, favour blue, purple and white flowers, as many bee and moth species prefer them.
Early nectar is important for winter-weakened bees moving back into activity after months in hibernation. Without quickly ‘filling the tank’ with energy, they can easily fall victim to a cold snap. Pulmonaria, or lungwort, comes in many shades of blue and red and is a wonderful long-flowering plant. Don’t bother with winter flowering pansies, they have little to offer bees. Other good sources are crocuses, hellebores, English bluebells, and shrubs Mahonia and flowering currant.
Honeysuckle is a great favourite for long-tongued bees such the Garden Bumblebee (Bombus hortorum) and comes in many varieties - a great clematis for later nectar and pollen is ‘Bill MacKenzie’. But don’t forget winter-flowering varieties, such as Lonicera fragrantissima which gives up nectar at a lean time of year. Evergreen winter clematis (cirrhosa var. balearic) does the same.
Bowles’s Mauve is an especially long-flowering wallflower and smells just as glorious as it looks. Try too the often under-rated bugle, catmint (Nepeta subsessilis), alliums (try the bell-like Allium Siculum), stately foxgloves and spiky chives. Comfrey is a huge draw and rosemary flowers are excellent if you have beehives as they will delicately flavour your honey. Don’t forget flowering shrubs such as ceanothus or pyracantha.
Lavender pleases pollinators and humans alike. Try planting differing varieties to give you continuous months of blue heaven. ‘Cedar Blue’ flowers in early June, ‘Hidcote’ in late; ‘Royal Purple’ comes out in early July, ‘Pale Sussex’ in late; ‘Grosso’ is for early August, ‘Old English’ for late. Find them all at www.downderry-nursery.co.uk. Try co-planting with the copper-red Helenium ‘Moerheim Beauty’.
So much choice! Echinacea, penstemon, scabious, verbena bonariensis and borage all keep pollinators happy this month. Cut flowering plants back this month to encourage a second flush of blooms.
Echinops, the beautiful globe thistle, pleases just about every insect in the garden, as does the similarly spiky, ‘Silver Ghost’ sea holly (eryngium giganteum). Single-flowered hollyhocks, sunflowers, penstemon and flowering sage (Salvia officinalis) are all popular and much-needed as bees start to stock up for winter. But sprawling, low-growing clumps of wild marjoram might just be the most popular for insects.
Michaelmas Daisies will flower for weeks, a valuable source of nectar as other flowers dwindle. But woodland sage (Salvia nemorosa), rudbeckia, heathers, mahonia and sedum also keep giving. Now your insects will appreciate a second flush of flowers from many herbaceous border plants if you pruned them back earlier. Don’t pull out ivy, leave it to flower. And ‘abelia rupestris’ isn’t called the Bee Bush for nothing…