Gardens Illustrated
Agastache 'Black Adder'. Photo: Jason Ingram
© Jason Ingram

12 best plant for bees and other insects

Published: February 20, 2020 at 11:10 am

Plantswoman Marina Christopher of Phoenix Perennial Plants recommends 12 plants that will help bring bees, butterflies and other insects to your garden

It all started with a visit to Box Hill one hot June afternoon. After a vigorous climb, I threw myself on the ground, closed my eyes and became aware of much noise and activity around me. I opened my eyes and stared. A few inches from my face were bees, covered with pollen supping nectar, butterflies flitting from one flower to another, ants and beetles lugging food to their nests, and a multitude of other beasties I didn’t recognise.

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Galvanised water tank filled with wildlife-friendly plants poppies, dianthus and Orlaya Grandiflora

This image never left me and after a degree in ecology and three years postgraduate research I started my first nursery growing plants for bees and other beneficial wildlife, primarily insects. That was 30 years ago and I still grow plants to attract bees and insects, although my plant palette has widened considerably and hopefully my knowledge of my insect allies has also increased...

Here's 12 of the best plants for bees and other pollinators in your garden:

Agastache ‘Blackadder’

Agastache ‘Blackadder’ © Jason Ingram

Also known as giant hyssops, these spires tend to be short-lived, requiring excellent drainage and sun. ‘Blackadder’ is an outstanding cultivar with a dark calyx and bluish-purple flowers beloved by bees. Aromatic foliage is an extra bonus and it flowers throughout the summer months. 90cm. USDA 6a-9b†.

‘Little Carlow’ (cordifolius hybrid)

A superb, easily grown, mildew-resistant, small-flowered aster for September providing myriad blue daisies with yellow centres. Once fertilised the boss turns red, a colour bees cannot see, so they save energy by visiting only unfertilised flowers. It is also popular with butterflies. 90cm. AGM*. RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b.

Cenolophium denudatum

Cenolophium denudatum

A cow parsley relative flowering in May and June attracting hoverflies to its creamy white umbels over mounds of dark green dissected foliage. Easy in dappled shade or sun, perhaps best suited to the wild garden where it can seed around. 1m. USDA 6a.

Centaurea ‘Phoenix Bronze’

A lucky marriage between two species, Centaurea atropurpurea (dark red) and Centaurea orientalis, (yellow) produced a beautiful bronze hybrid with larger flowers, a magnet for beneficial insects from June to the first significant frosts. Birds enjoy the nutritious seeds. USDA 6a-9b.

Centranthus lecoqii

Centranthus lecoqii
Centranthus lecoqii © Marina Christopher

An endemic from the South of France and Spain, C. lecoqii is a variation on the theme
of our native red valerian with lilac-coloured flowers. It is attractive to bees, hoverflies, butterflies and hummingbird hawk moths, growing vigorously in sun and poor soils. 50cm. USDA 5a-6a.

Echium vulgare

Also known as viper’s bugloss, this British native biennial with tubular blue flowers, is ideal for a sunny, well-drained site. One of the best bee attracting plants, it flowers for several months. Echium vulgare ‘Blue Bedder’ is an annual cultivar, useful for topping up nectar sources in the garden. 90cm. USDA 3a-11.

Eryngium bourgatii

Eryngium bourgatii 'Picos Blue'.
Eryngium bourgatii 'Picos Blue'. ©:Jason Ingram

This prickly character is a member of the cow parsley tribe. It grows best in full sun with good drainage. Beloved by beneficial insects especially bumblebees. It flowers in summer then leaves an elegant skeleton and plenty of seeds for hungry birds. 50cm. USDA 7b-8a

Ligusticum lucidum

Another cow parsley relative with fresh-looking shiny green leaves and an upright habit, topped with umbels of white flowers in June and July. It is often biennial, although it can be a short-lived perennial. Attracts hoverflies, tolerating sun or dappled shade. 90cm. USDA 4a-8b.

Linaria purpurea

A British native with spires of purple flowers for many months. It seeds freely in disturbed or stony soils and is a cafeteria for bees and hoverflies. Try L. purpurea ‘Canon Went’ (soft pink) and L. purpurea ‘Springside White’ (pristine white). 1m. USDA 5a-8b.

Monarda ‘Cambridge Scarlet’

Phacelia tanacetifolia

This unusual annual is used extensively on organic farms for attracting the attentions of hoverflies. Hoverflies and their larvae are voracious predators of aphids and will devour up to 200 during their life-cycle. It is also used as a green manure. 1.2m. USDA 7a-10b.

Trifolium rubens ‘Peach Pink’

This pale-pink clover will flower for several weeks, longer if deadheaded regularly, providing honey bees with abundant nectar to take back to their hives. Easy to grow in most soils and the nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their root nodules will increase fertility. 50cm. USDA 3a-8b.

Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavendelturm’

Long spires of lavender flowers appear in June and July on this tall perennial. Useful for vertical accents in a border, it is beloved by bees, hoverflies, moths and butterflies. Leaves a graceful skeleton through the late summer months. 1.5m. USDA 5a-9b.

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Marina Christopher runs Phoenix Perennials Plants
Paice Lane, Medstead, Alton, Hampshire, England, GU34 5PR
Opening times Late March to late October.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Open 10am to 6pm.
Telephone 01420 560695
Email marina@phoenixperennialplants.co.uk

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