Make your garden buzz, with this handy guide to the best bee-friendly plants for UK gardens.
Have you ever stopped to think just how important your garden is for wildlife? While it’s easy to overlook the importance of your garden, especially if it’s small, consider that private gardens in Britain cover an area bigger than all of the country’s nature reserves combined.
If every person with a garden adopted more wildlife-friendly gardening practices, the benefits would be immense. Particularly to species under threat, such as bees and other pollinators.
If you want to turn your garden into a haven for bees, you’re in the right place. I’ve done all the digging and am ready to dish the dirt on the best bee-friendly plants. These pollinator-friendly plants will not only make your garden look stunning but also support our fuzzy friends. So grab your gardening gloves and let’s get started!
Why Are Bees Important?
Bees are important because they contribute to a healthy functioning ecosystem. What’s more, at least a third of the plants we eat are directly or indirectly dependent on being pollinated by bees. Without bees, our food choices would be severely limited.
Despite their importance, bees and other pollinators are under threat. Between wet summers, a reduction in their natural habitat, disease, and the recent decision to reintroduce the use of pesticides harmful to bees, bee populations are plummeting.
Guide To The Best UK Bee-Friendly Plants
One way to help is to plant pollinator-friendly plants to help support our insect populations.
I’ve listed twelve different plants that flower in different seasons. This is because when planting a bee-friendly garden, you should also aim to plant a diverse mix of nectar and pollen-rich plants, that have a range of different flowering periods throughout the year.
There are 270 different species of bees in the UK alone, all with different needs and ranges. Some bees are active as early as February, and others are on the go right up until November, so you need a range of plants to cater to these different species of bees.
Here are some of the best plants you can add to your garden to help support the bees and other pollinators, categorised by season:
- Rosemary – spring
- Bluebells – spring
- Crocus – spring
- Marigold – spring to early autumn
- Foxglove – early summer
- Hollyhock – early summer
- Thyme – early summer
- Wild Marjoram – mid to late summer
- Lavender – late summer
- Echinacea – late summer
- Sunflower – late summer to early autumn
- Winter Honeysuckle – winter
- Winter Clematis – winter
1. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Spring
This hardy, low-maintenance evergreen plant isn’t just a kitchen staple; it’s an important plant for bees too. Its delicate flowers make for a great source of nectar for bees in Spring.
2. Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) – Spring
As well as looking beautiful, bluebells provide a rich source of nectar and pollen. This makes bluebells a great food source for bees in early spring when food can otherwise be scarce.
3. Crocus (Crocus vernus) – Spring
As one of the earliest spring flowers to emerge, crocuses are vital for bee species that wake from hibernation earlier than their peers. Super easy to grow, easy-to-care-for, and providing a pop of colour in early spring, they are a fantastic bee-friendly choice for UK gardens.
4. Marigold (Calendula officinalis) – Spring to early autumn
The bright orange or yellow flowers of the marigold plant are a magnet for bees and other pollinators. They look so good growing in any garden – providing a vibrant pop of colour. Plus, planting marigolds can help deter pests from your vegetable garden, making them the ultimate multi-tasker.
5. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) – Early summer
Packed full of nectar-rich flowers, these British wildflowers are fantastic for bees. Although If you have small children or curious pets then it is best to plant these in a more inaccessible part of your garden. This is because foxglove flowers can be highly toxic if ingested.
6. Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)- Early summer
These statuesque flowers come in a range of vibrant colours, and add a touch of interest to any garden. As well as looking good, Hollyhocks have a central hub of pollen-rich stamens that bees love.
7. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) – Early summer
Another kitchen staple, thyme is the perfect plant for home cooks looking to add to their bee-friendly garden. This dwarf, aromatic shrub explodes with beautiful white flowers in early summer that are prized by bees.
6. Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) – Mid to late summer
Wild marjoram – also known as oregano – is a tasty addition to your herb garden, not just for you but the bees too. Its pinkish-purplish flowers also attract a host of bees, who prize marjoram for its rich source of nectar.
7. Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Late summer
If you want bees in your garden, plant lavender. This is because this aromatic herb’s vibrant purple blooms are a beacon for bees. Plus lavender is easy to grow, drought-resistant and adds a lovely heady fragrance to your garden in late summer.
8. Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) – Late summer
Echinacea, also known as coneflower, is a stunning drought-resistant perennial with tall daisy-like pink or purple flowers. As well as looking good in your garden, bees love Echinacea for its nectar-rich blooms.
9. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) – Late summer to early autumn
Towering head and shoulders above all the other plants in your garden, plant a few sunflowers and you’ll soon find that bees flock to them for their abundant source of pollen and nectar.
10. Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera fragrantissima) (Winter)
When it comes to the colder months, Winter Honeysuckle is one of the best choices in the UK for bees. As one of the few winter-flowering plants, it bears highly-scented creamy flowers on almost leafless branches from December right through to March.
11. Winter Clematis (Clematis urophylla) – Winter
Flowering from December to the end of February, Winter Clematis is another top choice to add interest to your garden and provide food for the bees in winter. Its deep green foliage and creamy-white flowers look pretty grown up an arch, whilst providing vital sustenance for pollinators.
The Plants To Avoid
When choosing bee-friendly plants it’s important to avoid horticultural plants – those plants that have been specifically bred for ornamental value. These include double begonias, petunias, or pansies. This is because these types of plants often have double or multi-petalled flowers, and pollinators find it difficult to access the nectar part of the flower. In some cases, the nectar part of the flower may not exist, and it may also lack pollen.
Keep It Cost Effective
You can buy already established bee-friendly plants at garden centres. However, it’s really easy to get carried away in the garden centre and spend a ton of money. I’ve been there and done that, and now look for thrifty alternatives!
A much more cost-effective method is to pick up bee-friendly seeds at most garden centres or supermarkets. This allows you to easily sow a little wildflower meadow for a pound or two. Devote a patch of your garden to these seeds, or sow some in planters or tubs, and the bees will be buzzing about in no time.
The single most cost-effective way of bee-friendly gardening, however, is by getting together with your friends, family, or neighbours, and taking cuttings from any plants you have already established in your gardens. Most plants take well to being split at the roots – here’s some advice on how to split perennials. Other plants tolerate having cuttings taken from them – here’s some handy advice on taking cuttings.
With your cuttings, you could have a little free plant swap, and all go home with some new-to-you plants. Alternatively, you could have a mini-fundraiser. You could take a small payment for each plant, and donate the takings to a bee charity, such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust or The Wildlife Trusts.
If you’re looking for more bee-friendly tips, then you’ve come to the right place. As well as the post on attracting bees to your garden that I mentioned, I’ve got a couple of other posts on bees you might like. Dive in!
- How to revive tired bees
- How to make a bee watering station,
- Advice on attracting bees to your garden
- How to help bees if you don’t have a garden.