10 of the best garden flowers for bees

By Andy McIndoe

Bees and other pollinating insects visit a vast range of flowers in search of nectar and pollen.

Some believe that native wildflowers are the most appealing to bees, however they find many garden flowers more attractive. Our garden beds and borders can become a really important source of nectar and pollen by adding a few of the right plants. Here are ten of the best plants for bees that bloom from late spring through to early autumn.

Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’

The giant hyssop is a North American perennial with strong upright stems clothed in aromatic foliage that smells of liquorice. The stems are topped with spikes of fluffy blue flowers for a long period from mid to late summer. These are highly attractive to bees and butterflies. Agastache is a great planting partner for coneflowers: echinacea and rudbeckia.

Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’

Allium ‘Globemaster’

Alliums are great bulbs to grow for their exciting flower forms made up of numerous tiny flowers loaded with nectar and pollen. ‘Globemaster’ is one of the best for bees. The large flowerheads are often alive with foraging insects when the blooms are fully open in early summer.Plant them to rise up amongst other plants in the border. As the foliage starts to wither as the flowers open, planting amongst other plants hides the foliage.

Allium ‘Globemaster’

Borago officinalis

Borage is an annual herb that seeds freely and is at home in the dry meadow, vegetable garden, gravel garden or flower border. The sapphire starry blooms are much loved by bees and a few can certainly be spared to garnish strawberries or add to Pimms. Borage was an important herb to the ancient Greeks and Romans: it was taken to ensure courage in battle.

Borago officinalis

Echinops ritro

The globe thistle is a statuesque perennial blooming in mid to late summer. The steely blue flower heads are architectural and highly attractive to bees and other pollinators. Wild birds will seek out the seeds after the flowers fade. If cut back after flowering further blooms are often produced on shorter stems.

Echinops ritro

Lavandula angustifolia ‘Grosso’

All the lavenders are excellent bee plants and are often the preferred nectar source for honey. ‘Grosso’ is the biggest of the English lavenders with slender spikes of flowers on tall stems.It blooms for longer than many lavenders and is one of the most fragrant and aromatic varieties. Bees love it! On heavy soils spread grit or gravel over the soil surface under lavender plants. This helps to keep wet off the foliage which can cause damage to the plants.

Lavandula angustifolia ‘Grosso’

Nectaroscordum siculum

The honey garlic is perhaps the most bee attractive flower you can grow. It blooms in early summer and, although the flowering period is not long, you will find it dripping with hungry bees from the moment those flowers open. A member of the allium family the chandelier-like flower heads are carried on tall, straight stems. It grows in sun or semi-shade.

Nectaroscordum siculum

Nepeta faasenii ‘Six Hills Giant’

The catmints are some of the longest blooming perennials; in flower from early summer to autumn.They can be rejuvenated by cutting back half way through the season if the plants become untidy. ‘Six Hills Giant’ is one of the tallest and is best grown between roses, shrubs and taller perennials further back in the border. The soft blue flowers are highly attractive to bees and butterflies.

Nepeta faasenii ‘Six Hills Giant’

Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ (Herbstfreude)

Commonly known as ice Plant, and recently renamed Hylotelephium, this solid perennial is a mainstay of the border. The thick stems carry pale green succulent leaves and are attractive before the flowers open in late summer. The flattened heads of deep pink flowers make the perfect nectar rich landing platform for bees and butterflies. They remain attractive after the flowers fade and can be a feature in the garden through winter.

Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy’ (Herbstfreude)

Trifolium ochraleuca

The clovers are some of the best flowers for bees whether growing in the lawn, a meadow or in this case a border. Trifolium ochraleuca is a most attractive giant clover with large cream flowerheads produced on tall stems over a long period. It is easy to grow on any soil and suits naturalistic planting. The soft, creamy blooms are particularly appealing with blue nepeta or geraniums making an especially bee-friendly combination.

Trifolium ochraleuca

Verbena bonariensis

A favourite with designers and gardeners, Verbena bonariensis, with its slender stems and vibrant purple blooms is also a favourite with wildlife. Butterflies and bees are drawn to its heads of tiny blooms.If left to go to seed finches love to balance on the stems to extract the oil rich seeds. Verbena bonariensis is a great choice to drift through a bed or border; it combines well with roses and shrubs as well as other perennials. Mix it with pastels or hot autumn shades.

Verbena bonariensis

Andy McIndoe

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