Gardens Illustrated
Salvia 'Amistead'

The best bee friendly plants

Bees and pollinators are vital for our environment and ecosystem. Encourage them in your garden by picking the plants that pollinators love best

It has been said that without bees we would struggle to feed much of the world’s population, so encouraging bees and other pollinators into our the gardens is not just lovely to see, it is important for our wider existence. There are many ways you can do this and featuring plants and flowers that bees, pollinators and wildlife in general love is the perfect place to start.

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For more on how to attract wildlife in your garden, don't miss our piece on a wildlife garden for pollinators. And here's Chris Packham's suggestions for encouraging bugs, butterflies, bees and more into your outdoor patch.

Best flowers for bees and wildlife

Echinacea purpurea ‘Fatal Attraction’

Echinacea purpurea 'Fatal Attraction'
© Jason Ingram

The fabulous daisy-like flowers look beautiful even before they burst into bloom. What’s more, wildlife, including butterflies, bees and birds, is attracted to them. 80cm.

Salvia ‘Amistad’

Salvia 'Amistad'

This is a new cultivar with a long flowering period from May to October. It is drought tolerant and wildlife and bees love it. Plant in drifts alongside bright greens. Also looks good in pots. 1.2m.

Filipendula ulmaria

Filipendula ulmaria
© FlowerPhotos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This native meadowsweet has creamy, fluffy flower heads and is easy to grow. It’s often seen growing on the banks of streams and is ideal for boggy areas of the garden and it's great for wildlife. 90cm. USDA 3a-9b.

Carex pendula

Carex pendula
© Arterra/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A native, evergreen sedge with arching, slender flower spikes that will help give a naturalistic look to the swale and is a strong choice for supporting wildlife. Prefers heavy clay soils and can be a bit thuggish, but great for pollinators. 1.5m. USDA 5a-9b.

Betula nigra

Betula nigra
© Alamy

More commonly known as river birch, this tree is wonderfully suited to a rain garden. Its peeling bark starts reddish-brown then turns increasingly dark. Good for wildlife including beetles. 12m. USDA 4a-9b.

Best climbing plants for bees and wildlife

Clematis ‘Freda’

Clematis montana 'Freda'

Pretty pink flowers in May and June and attractive bronze foliage. Bees and other wildlife love it. 5m. AGM.

Clematis ‘Warszawska Nike’

Rich velvety purple flowers from July to September. If you plant it alongside ‘Freda’ you’ll enjoy a much longer flowering period and should maximise the wildlife attraction. 3m. AGM.

Don't miss more clematis suggestions from our piece on the best clematis montana for pots. 

Best grasses for bees and wildlife

Carex elata ‘Aurea’

Carex elata Aurea
© DeAgostini/Getty Images

A low, mound-forming sedge that’s great for wildlife and happy in moist soil. Semi-evergreen and a real brightener. 70cm. AGM.

Deschampsia cespitosa ‘Goldschleier’

Deschampsia cespitosa
© FlowerPhotos/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A clump-forming wildlife-happy grass with lovely plumes of golden flowers in summer. 45cm.

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’
© Claire Takacs

This stripy grass is a real eye catcher and perfect for natural wildlife habitats. 1.2m. AGM.

And here's our focus on gorgeous grasses to grow.

Best perennials for bees and wildlife

Achillea ‘Summerwine’

Provides wonderful shapes and colour mixed in with grasses. 75cm. AGM.

Allium cernuum ‘Hidcote’

Very pretty, pendulous pink flower heads which is very attractive to bees and other forms of wildlife. Makes a great cut flower too. 50cm. AGM.

Echinops ritro subsp. ruthenicus

Vibrant blue globes, loved by bees and wildlife, look great next to silver-grey plants. 1m. AGM.

Eupatorium cannabinum

One of the best plants to grow for butterflies. 1.2m.

Euphorbia palustris

Euphorbia palustris
© Andrea Innocenti/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Lovely bright-green leaves will tolerate heavier soils more than most other euphorbias. Perfect for wildlife. 90cm. AGM. Shrubs

Cornus mas

Cornus Mas
© Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It flowers yellow in February and its foliage has a lovely purple tint in autumn. 5m. Here's a few more cornus and dogwood suggestions. 

Don't miss our piece on perfect perennials for your garden.

Cotoneaster horizontalis

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Photo: Sharon Pearson

This species – along with all the cotoneasters, but surpassing others in popularity – offers pollen and nectar to wildlife such as insects, as well as berries for birds. It has attractively coloured autumn foliage and an architectural form for either ground cover or as a wall plant. It produces small, white-blushed pink flowers in May, and are inconspicuous until the hum of bees make you stop.
Height 3m. Hardiness rating RHS H4, USDA 5a-7b. Season All year round.

Rosa rugosa

Single rose flowers with petals pink shading to white in center. Leaves very deep green.
Photo: Getty Images

The single, fragrant wildlife-happy flowers offer a mass of easily accessible pollen and nectar for bees. It has huge hips to nourish birds and small mammals. They are among the healthiest and easiest roses to grow. For more roses, head to our piece on Libby Russell's perfect roses.

Prunus padus 'Colorata'

Prunus padus 'colorata'
Photo: Sharon Pearson

A charming medium-sized open textured tree characterised by a distinctly gaunt appearance. Its loose, rounded crown is made up of a criss-cross of long think, dark coloured drooping branches, which in spring are dressed in reddish bronze leaves. These fade to sombre green. The gappy five-petalled flowers are pale pink with creamy green centres. Small, rounded, bitter fruit with glossy skin follow before autumn turns the scene orange red.
Height 12m. Hardiness rating RHS H4, USDA 3a-8b. Season of interest April-May for foliage and flowers. October-November for autumn colour.

Buddleja davidii

Photo showing the large purple flowers of a buddleia tree growing in the wild (Latin name: Buddleja davidii). This is also known as a 'butterfly bush', as the extremely fragrant flowers are often covered in colourful peacock butterflies.
Photo: Getty Images

Buddlejas famously attract wildlife, specifically insects and especially butterflies. This cultivar flowers latest in the season, when the largest numbers of butterflies are on the wing. If you’ve got Buddleja davidii you can delay it by pruning later in spring. Extend the season by deadheading to encourage side flowers. Deadheading also decreases the risk of self-seeding as buddleja is increasingly considered as an invasive plant.

Centaurea nigra

Centaurea nigra (Common Knapweed - Rayed form)
Photo: Jason Ingram

A native plant, common knapweed is easy to grow in borders as well as meadows and is perfect for wildlife. Provides pollen and nectar for a wide range of foraging insects – bees, butterflies and moths. Finches devour the abundant seed. Forms vary considerably and some, such as Centaurea nigra, are particularly garden-worthy.
Height 60cm. Hardiness ratings USDA 7a-10a. Season of interest Summer

Geranium pratense

Geranium pratense 'Wisley Blue'
Geranium pratense 'Wisley Blue'. Photo: Jason Ingram

With the desperate need to stem the declining honeybee population, these pastel-coloured flowers are a perfect food source for bees and other wildlife forms. They will happily naturalise themselves in the garden. Dead-head geraniums in July and they will often flower again. Here's more on perfect geraniums.
Height 90cm. Hardiness ratings USDA 4a-9b. Season of interest Summer

Agastache ‘Blackadder’

Photo: Jason Ingram
Photo: Jason Ingram © 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 and wildlife in general. Aromatic foliage is an extra bonus and it flowers throughout the summer months.
Height 90cm. Hardiness ratings USDA 6a-9b.

Aster ‘Little Carlow’ (cordifolius hybrid)

Photo: Jason Ingram
Photo: Jason Ingram

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. Read our plant profile on asters.
Height 90cm. Hardiness ratings RHS H7, USDA 5a-8b. Season of interest September

Cenolophium denudatum

Cenolophium denudatum

A cow parsley relative flowering in May and June attracting wildlife including 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.
Height 1m. Hardiness rating USDA 6a. Season of interest Early Summer.

Centranthus lecoqii

Centranthus lecoqii
Photo: Jason Ingram © Marina Christopher

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

Eryngium bourgatii

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

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

Ligusticum lucidum

Ligusticum lucidum. Photo: Maayke de Ridder
Photo: Maayke de Ridder

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 wildlife including hoverflies, tolerating sun or dappled shade.
Height 90cm. Hardiness ratings USDA 4a-8b.

Veronicastrum virginicum ‘Lavendelturm’

Veronicastrum virginicum 'Lavendelturm'. Photo: Jason Ingram
Veronicastrum virginicum 'Lavendelturm'. Photo: Jason Ingram
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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, butterflies among other forms of wildlife. Leaves a graceful skeleton through the late summer months. Read our veronicastrum plant profile. 
Height 1.5m. Hardiness ratings USDA 5a-9b. Season of interest Summer

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