Here at Gardens by Anna Butterfield we always design our gardens with wildlife in mind. This isn’t to say that they are all “wildlife gardens” as such, because that often conjures up images of messy, wild looking landscapes with a jumble of materials and plants – this is not what we do! Instead, we try to include habitats whenever possible (more on that in a later blog). And we ensure that many of the plants chosen will provide beauty and interest for our clients as well as food or shelter for wildlife. There’s no reason why the garden can’t be beneficial for both us and wildlife… What’s lovelier than enjoying the beauty of a plant that you know is doing something good for our struggling pollinators too?  

We are all too aware that pollinators are in decline, and that they are absolutely essential for the production of many of the crops we rely on for food as well as the plants and flowers we enjoy seeing in our gardens. We can do a lot to help stem their decline and to support pollinators in all of our gardens, no matter how big or small.  

A recent RHS study showed that 35.5% of nectar sugar in a garden is supplied by herbaceous plants (and 60% from trees and shrubs – which we’ll cover in a further blog). So, you can see the importance of including nectar-rich plants in the garden, and adding some small ones is an easy way to do this! 

Did you know that purple flowers are the easiest for bees to see?

When thinking about planting for pollinating insects such as bees, hoverfly, butterflies, moths and beetles, it’s important to include variety. This is because different insects feed on different plants and because different plants will flower at different times: including a mix ensures food sources, as well as colour and interest in your garden, for a longer period of time.  

With this in mind, now we are at the start of Spring, it’s a great time to plant new additions in your garden that will flower this summer. Added colour and beauty as well as food for the insects – win win win! We’ve compiled a list of ten of our favourite small plants for pollinators. They’re all beautiful but importantly they are all excellent food sources for pollinators too.  

1 ) Nepeta

Nepeta (commonly known as catmint) is one of the very best perennials for pollinators. There are numerous species to choose from varying from the larger “Six Hills Giant” which can reach nearly a metre in height, to the 30cm “Kit Kat”. There’s one for every garden and we often use them in varying sizes for different positions within one border or garden.  

Purple/lavender blue flowers that bloom from around May to September sit atop a fragrant grey/green foliage. The flowers are absolutely loved by bees, especially honeybees and short-tongued bumble bees. As an added bonus, you can make calming teas from the flowers and foliage (fresh or dried) of some species. Do be sure to check before trying! 

 

2 ) Verbena bonariensis 

This is a real favourite here at Gardens By Anna Butterfield and with many other gardeners and designers – with good reason! Verbena bonariensis has tall, slim, relatively bare upright stems with clusters of purple flowers at the top. It has a lovely, airy feel and looks wonderful planted on mass or dotted throughout the garden in clusters. It reaches heights of around 1.8m and often flowers from June-November.  

After flowering, the seed heads should be left to self-seed and over winter they also provide food for small birds such as finches. It’s a delight to watch them balancing precariously on the long, bendy stems – sometimes I am sure they use them as a playground! As with most other perennials, this should be cut back to the ground in spring as new growth emerges – see more advice here. It’s a wonderful addition to any garden! 

3 ) Cirsium 

 

This ornamental thistle flowers from June to August. It has a beautiful deep purple thistle flower and some varieties can grow up to 1.5m tall. It works well amongst grasses and other naturalistic looking perennials, and will attract bees, butterflies, moths, other beneficial insects and birds to your garden. The flower heads can be left over winter to provide some structural interest in the garden as well as food for birds. 

 

 

4 ) Allium

All alliums are loved by pollinators and they make striking additions to your borders. Tall leafless stems with a sphere of tiny flowers at the top that look wonderful planted as a group or woven through perennials. Most commonly they are shades of purple, but there are also white and blue varieties, as well as some small yellow, white and pale pink ones that work beautifully at the front of a border. They are usually, and most cost effectively, planted as bulbs between September and November but you might be able to get hold of some potted bulbs now. Each species has a slightly different flowering time but two of our favourites are Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ which flowers in June, and Allium Sphaerocephalon which flowers in July. With many of the species, the flower heads can be left after flowering for winter interest in the garden or they look lovely when cut and popped in a vase indoors.

 

5 ) Chicory

 

Chicory is part of the daisy family and has beautiful, delicate blue flowers that grow close to the stems. It looks gorgeous planted in borders amongst other grasses and perennials but can hold its own in a gravel garden too. It can reach up to 1.5m in height and the flowers open in sunlight and close when it’s wet. It is pollinated by several bee species so is a great addition to attract different bees to your garden.  

 

 

6 ) Centaurea scabiosa 

 

Otherwise known as Greater Knapweed, this native perennial wildflower reaches 75cm in height on a long, leafless stem. It has wonderful purple flowers which are loved by many bees and butterflies. It will readily self-seed so is ideal for meadow or wildlife areas and flowers from July to September. It’s often available to buy as plug plants from wildflower meadow suppliers.  

 

 

 

7 ) Lavender

Our classic English Lavender is beloved by bees and will be covered in them during the flowering season. With different species growing to different heights and having different sprawling habits, if you have a sunny garden, chances are there’s one for you! Lavender needs a sunny spot and free-draining soil is essential. It will do well in poor, low nutrient and stony soil too. If you are on heavy clay, try it in a raised bed or container with a mix of soil, peat-free compost and horticultural grit.  

The varieties we are all most familiar with have purple/blue flowers, but there are pale pink and white choices too, although they are sometimes harder to get hold of. It’s important to keep lavender pruned so that it doesn’t become too leggy and woody, but this is a very sweet-smelling job! Lavender should be pruned every year after flowering around October time, or in early Spring. Be sure not to cut too far into the woody stems. The cuttings can be enjoyed as dried flowers in the house, or used for soaps, baking or lavender bags. Its scent is said to aid sleep and even help with pain relief after childbirth.  

8 ) Hebe

If you’re looking for a small evergreen shrub that not only adds structure and year-round greenery to your garden but gorgeous pollinator-friendly flowers too, a hebe is a fantastic choice. There are about 90 species to choose from that range in size and flower colour (whites, pinks and purples). Bees and butterflies will be attracted to the flowers which have a long season with many species flowering through summer and autumn.  

Some favourites of ours are Mette which has a compact (around 50cm) and relatively round form and bright pink flowers; Rakaiensis (a little larger to around 90-120cm) with beautiful white flowers; Blue Gem which can grow to around 1.3m with purple flowers; Margret, another small rounded variety (also growing to about 50cm) with lilac flowers; and Hebe Parviflora which has slightly limey-green leaves, white flowers and can be shaped/clipped to very architectural forms.  

Hebes can suffer from frost damage in extended periods of frost and snow (mine really did last year) but they respond very well to hard pruning so this shouldn’t put you off.  

9 ) Achillea millefolium

A British native wildflower, commonly known as Yarrow, this is just as at home in an area of long grass or meadow as in a mixed border. If you leave areas of your lawn unmown, you may well spot it popping up there! The native form is usually white/pale pink, but cultivated forms of Achillea are also available in a wide range of colours including pinks, purples, yellows and oranges. Most reach around 75cm so suit the middle of a border very well. You can usually get hold of the native Achillea Millefolium as plug plants from wildflower meadow suppliers.  

They have flat flowerheads made up from lots and lots of tiny flowers, which are perfect for butterflies, hoverflies, bees, other beneficial insects as the open flat shape of the flower head make it very easy for them to access the nectar. They also produce seeds which attract birds, and they make a lovely cut flower to dry in the vase and enjoy all year round. 

10 ) Sunflowers

Last but not least on our list are sunflowers. They are easy to grow from seed, and add a happy splash of colour and often height to the garden from around July/August to October, depending on the species. Once they have finished flowering, the flower heads can be left for the birds to eat the seeds from. Bees especially adore sunflowers. What’s more, you don’t only have the big bright yellow faces to choose from. You can find burnt oranges, pale yellows, browns, dusky pinks and two-toned varieties as well. Seeds are available from garden centres as well as online and should be sown in early Spring undercover or directly in April/early May. We recommend choosing organic seeds whenever possible and always using peat free compost. Sowing seeds is a lovely activity to do with children and sunflowers are a great choice as they grow to be such a striking flower.  

 

So, there you have it! Ten fantastic choices for your garden that are beautiful as well as great for pollinators. By planting some (or all!) of these you will be sure to welcome more bees, butterflies, hoverflies and many more beneficial insects to your garden. 

Always check what conditions plants need before buying for your garden, and try to buy from a peat-free supplier if possible – this can be hard as many growers still use peat, but several of the wildflower meadow suppliers grow peat-free and some ship without plastic packaging too – search for peat-free growers and ask questions about packaging before you buy. 

Happy planting!