Bee friendly plants

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give bees a variety of plants for pollinationAs you know, we’ve planted a bee garden here at Chez Green. It’s looking a little sparse at the moment, but I’ve already had bees on the chive flowers, which is so exciting.

Someone left a comment on little Green Blog the other week telling me about ‘Alternative plants’; a website selling lesser-known native plants. I had a look around and emailed Rosemary, the owner of the site.

Although Rosemary tells me very modestly she is not an expert; she is certainly passionate and enthusiastic about her subject. Author of the book ‘Liberating lawns‘ I took the opportunity to catch up with Rosemary and ask some questions about bee friendly plants.

Do all bees like the same plants?

There are many different species of bee with different requirements at different times of year. To cater for as many as possible you need to have a good variety of flowers.

Some have short tongues, some have longer tongues (so can reach nectar hidden within deeper flowers) and all need some mixture of pollen and nectar to survive.

Different plants will supply bees with either or both as a reward for pollinating them.

Are there any particular plants that bees love?

Zygomorphic flowers (i.e. those that are symmetrical in one axis, like foxgloves and deadnettles) are particularly good for bees, so you certainly need some of these in the garden.

I’ve chosen glove thistle after reading bees like them for my bee garden; is this is a good idea?

Globe thistle or artichoke is wonderful later in the season, but it is a large, statuesque plant and I think it would be better off given ample space in sun if you can afford it.

You say bees need different plants throughout the seasons, what would you suggest for spring and early summer?

Plants flowering earlier in the year would include: primrose, red campion, dandelion, bugle, ox-eye daisy and white deadnettle.

What about early to mid summer?

Summer flowering choices would include: borage, marjoram, red and white clovers, foxglove, spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum), viper’s bugloss, bird’s foot trefoil, field scabious, devil’s bit scabious and globe thistle.

Perhaps an umbelliferus plant like lovage (which is also handsome and edible), angelica, or even field angelica would be a good idea and it would also serve a lot of other insects, but only if you had the space. You would also have to deadhead them to stop unwanted self-seeding.

Say someone is limited for space; if they had to choose only three or four bee plants what would you suggest?

I think they would be marjoram (decorative, edible, aromatic, long- flowering and attractive to butterflies also), borage, white deadnettle and spotted deadnettle.

The beauty of the last two is that they can be cut right back after their first flush of flowers to produce further crops of flowers later. This also stops them from getting straggly.

I have had forms of spotted deadnettle (e.g. Lamium maculatum ‘Annecy’ and ‘Brightstone Pearl’) flowering almost year-round on this basis.

Any bee friendly plants that aren’t good for a small space?

Buttercups, germander speedwell and thistles are vigorous but if you can keep them in an out-of-the way spot under control, bees and many other insects will appreciate them.

Any final tip for planting a bee garden?

As with pretty much everything in life, variety is the key and remember, that most of the suggestions will need a sunny site.


  1. Neil on July 13, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    Some good tips from Rosemary, and recommend her site for unusual plants.

    A few other plants to consider for small spaces are:- Varied varieties of Heathers. You can have them flowering nearly all of the year. Grow in pots and water with rainwater if you are in a chalky area.

    Antirrhinums or Snapdragons, lots of different varieties in bright cheerful colours.

    Lavenders of all types, and many lend themselves to growing in pots.

    Honeysuckles (Lonicera) let them scramble up walls, fences or trellis they will attract bees as well as yourself with their delicious scent.

    Not forgetting the Buddleia (Buddleja) or Butterfly Bush. If you have room you have to have one as Bees love it as well. The ordinary Buddeleia davidii with it’s mauve flowers is the most attractive to Butterflies, but Bees seem to enjoy most varieties.

  2. Getting Past The Basics, How to Make Compost on July 15, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    […] Little Green Blog » Bee friendly plants […]

  3. Mrs Green on July 26, 2009 at 11:27 am

    @Neil: Hi Neil, good to see you again. Thanks for the ideas of the plants; I bought some heathers to give all year colour – thank you!
    Lavender is one of my favourites too. I have to grow it in pots because of our heavy soil, but I share it with the bees; they are most happy!

    I find most of all the bees love the thyme in our garden 🙂

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