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My best plants for bees

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 10 Sep 2012 at 01:11 PM

Having enjoyed the series on wildlife in gardens, ‘Living Gardens’ in The Garden magazine, the monthly magazine sent out to RHS members, I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the flowering plants that attract the most bees in my garden. Working in the garden at the weekend, I was struck by the newly opening flowers of a Sedum spectabile which was crawling with honey bees. There are wild honey bees in this area and also people who keep hives nearby, so they may have been wild or kept bees, or both. Sedums are certainly high on the list for late summer and autumn.

Linaria purpurea is another good plant for bees and useful in that it starts flowering early in the year and keeps on going until the frosts arrive. It can be a bit of a nuisance, seeding itself in pathways and amongst other plants, but it’s easy enough to pull out.



Malva species provide a great deal of pollen and are always a magnet for bees. The common hollyhock, Alcea rosea, does get rust in this area but the flowers are still good.




The smaller Malva moschata alba seems more resistant to rust and will flower from early summer until late in the season. Bees foraging on the white pollen look dusty and as if they have fallen into a flour tub.



Foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, seem to grow almost anywhere and also provide a fairly long season of bee-attracting flowers.





Possibly the best combination of plants I’ve grown for bees are sweet marjoram, Origanum vulgare, and lavender, Lavandula, which both attract large numbers of bees. Marjoram also attracts moths and one year I saw it swarming with both bees and silver Y moths.




The season of flowering for many plants can be extended by deadheading once the first flush of flowers has faded. Malva moschata alba responds well to this and Linaria purpurea will put out new flowering stems if cut back by about half its height. Most of the plants listed above are very easy to grow and many pretty much grow themselves by self-sowing, leaving you the job of simply removing any that crop up in the wrong place.

Attracting bees to the garden gives the place an added interest; how pleasing it is to sit and watch as they steadily work from flower to flower, gathering pollen and nectar, and to hear the soft buzzing of their wings as they travel. Pleasing also to wonder where they all live, where they go to at night after the day’s work is done. 


sue1002 said:

I've got most of those plants in my own garden and the bees are very much enjoying them.  The plants I'm getting most bees on at the moment are the tomatoes inside the greenhouse.

on 10 Sep 2012 at 03:06 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Good to hear that you also have plenty of bees on your plants, Sue. We also have a lot of bees in the greenhouse, but there are more hoverflies in there than bees at the moment.

on 10 Sep 2012 at 05:38 PM

RichardL said:

The much maligned common ivy is phenomenal for attracting bees. Here in Brittany the flowers are not fully out and yet there are masses of bees already working them. I know of a disused concrete electric pole probably 8 metres tall that has been completely covered by ivy (with a little bramble low down). On Saturday there must have been thousands of bees flying around the whole height of the pole, attracted solely by the flowers of the ivy. Why do people hate and persecute this plant so much?  

on 11 Sep 2012 at 08:58 AM

Jan D said:

In support of common ivy! It is a brilliant plant for florists, we use it in many, many ways. I have four or five different varieties clambering about in my garden, under control of course.

on 19 Sep 2012 at 12:24 PM