This page describes the forage bees in the Meridian area are likely to be working each month of the beekeeping season. It’s by no means an exhaustive list but is designed to help if you’re swatting for the basic assessment. You’ll be asked to name what forage is available in the months around the time you take your assessment.
Many of the flowers described are an important food source over several months but are usually only listed here in the first month they are likely to appear.
The block of colour next to some of the more important plants shows the colour of pollen produced by that flower to help you identify what your bees are bringing in.
The most important times of the year for gardeners to provide forage for pollinators is early spring and late autumn, therefore garden plants flowering at these times have been included to help you plan your garden. Click here for a wonderful article by Celia Davis on spring planting for bees. Spring planting for bees.
January and February
Cherry (cornus mas) the Cornelian cherry, European cornel or Cornelian cherry dogwood, is a species of flowering plant in the dogwood family Cornaceae, native to Southern Europe and Southwestern Asia.
Willow, also called sallows and osiers, from the genus Salix comprise around 400 species of deciduous trees and shrubs found primarily on moist soils in cold and temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Willows produce a modest amount of nectar but are especially valued as a source of early pollen for bees.
Hazel (Corylus avellana) – Hazel leaves provide food for caterpillars including the large emerald, barred umber and nut-tree tussock. It also supports species of butterfly, particularly fritillaries. Coppiced hazel provides shelter for ground-nesting birds such as the nightingale, yellowhammer and willow warbler and has long been associated with the dormouse (aka the hazel dormouse) because they eat the nuts to prepare for hibernation. Hazelnuts are also eaten by woodpeckers, nuthatches, tits, wood pigeons, jays and small mammals. The catkins provide pollen for bees as early as January but it’s difficult for them to collect and can only be gathered in small loads. This is because the pollen of wind-pollinated hazel is not sticky and each grain actually repels each other.
Winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is a slender, deciduous shrub native to China. The flower’s blossoming peaks immediately after winter, which is why it is also named Yingchun in Chinese, which means “the flower that welcomes Spring”.
Winter Honeysuckle (Lonicera Purpusii and L. Fragrantissima) A strong-growing, rounded, medium-sized deciduous shrub with small, sweetly-scented cream flowers on bare branches in winter and early spring, occasionally followed by red berries.
When selecting plants for your garden camellias are great for providing early high-quality, protein rich pollen for bees. They also flower during important seasons in the life cycle of bees when there are few other food options available. Camellias are valuable in autumn, when bees are storing pollen for winter use and also during early spring when bees are building their populations.
But be careful, not all camellias will be the factory of pollen production you are looking for. Many highly cultivated varieties such as the formal doubles have no stamens therefore cannot offer pollen and are of no use to bees.
Camellia Sasanqua is a winter flowering camellia. Camellia japonica– an early variety; can be out as early as January.
Mahonia – Some varieties flower as early as January and others
continue to flower until March. Mahonia aquifolium, the Oregon grape or holly-leaved barberry is from the family Berberidaceae and is native to western North America.
Witch hazel (Hamamelis) is a spicily fragrant shrub with spidery flowers in shades of yellow, orange and red. Hamamelis brings colour and scent to your garden in winter and although slow growing, can eventually become large a spreading shrub or small tree. They look good as specimen plants, particularly under-planted with early bulbs such as snowdrops, winter aconites and crocuses. Witch hazel has long been used in traditional medicine to treat anything from damaged skin and bruises to insect bites; I remember it being our school secretary’s ‘go to’ cure for almost everything! The freshly cut stems were also used for water divining.
Perennials and bulbs
Heather (Erica carnea and Erica darleyensis) are winter flowering varieties. Erica carnea, the winter heath, winter-flowering heather, spring heath or alpine heath, is a species of flowering plant in the family Ericaceae, native to mountainous areas of central, eastern and southern Europe, where it grows in coniferous woodlands or on stony slopes.
Periwinkle (Vinca difformis); flowers all winter. The herbaceous Vinca plants have slender trailing stems 1–2 m (3.3–6.6 ft) long but not growing more than 20–70 cm (8–27.5 in) above ground; the stems frequently take root where they touch the ground, enabling the plant to spread widely.
Snowdrop (galanthus) Galanthus is a small genus of approximately 20 species of bulbous perennial herbaceous plants in the family Amaryllidaceae. The plants have two linear leaves and a single small white drooping bell-shaped flower with six petal-like tepals arranged in two circles (whorls). The smaller inner petals have green markings. Snowdrops are out as early as January.
Winter Iris (Iris unguicularis) also known as the Algerian Winter Iris is a vigorous evergreen perennial which grows to 30cm high. It has copious dark green leaves and very fragrant, deep violet flowers 5-8cm in width, the falls marked with white and deep yellow at the base, in late winter. An excellent early source of pollen.
Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) is a small evergreen plant of the mint family (Lamiaceae), the leaves of which are used to flavour foods. Native to the Mediterranean region, rosemary has naturalized throughout much of Europe and is widely grown in gardens in warmer climates. The leaves have a pungent, slightly bitter taste and, dried or fresh, are generally used to season foods, particularly lamb. Rosemary can flower as early as January and is a favourite of bees.
The Wood Anemone (Anemone blanda) is a winter wildflower which bears large, daisy like flowers in a range of colours including blue, purple, pink and white. It’s perfect for naturalising under trees and shrubs, where its early spring blooms attracts bees and other pollinators. For best results, grow in well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Plant the rhizomes (the underground stems which send out lateral shoots at intervals) in autumn to form naturalistic drifts. Anemone blanda looks magnificent when planted with English bluebells.
Everyone’s favourite (including the bees), the Crocus (botanical name Crocus) flowers in late winter through early spring. They offer us cheer in borders, containers or planted in lawns and create colour carpets in our gardens. Crocuses are among the best early flowering food for bees especially when planted in sunlight where bees prefer to forage.
Daffodils are one of the most popular flowers; their cheery faces heralding the arrival of spring but daffodils tend to be avoided by bees unless there’s nothing else on offer. That’s because most varieties are cultivated so far beyond the original flower that they’re not much use to pollinators. The exception to this is the wild daffodil (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) which is a favourite of bumblebees. The bulbs are best planted under trees or in grass so they can naturalise. Wild daffodils like moist ground with rich soil.
Primrose (Primula vulgaris) or English Primrose is native to western and southern Europe, northwest Africa, and parts of southwest Asia. It’s a useful source of nectar for some types of bumblebee especially the Garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum). You can watch them crawling from flower to flower, tongue extended. And what a tongue! The Garden Bumblebee has a longer, thinner face than other bumblebees. Her face-shape helps her delve deeper into longer corollas.
Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) is a species of flowering plant in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). Native to the woodlands of France, Italy and the Balkans, it’s now widely naturalized elsewhere in Europe. The aconite is cherished by pollinators because it is one of the first flowers of spring, often popping out before the crocus.
Cherry plum (prunus cerasifera) is a street tree and one of the first to blossom in the UK. The cherry plum is the ancestor of the domestic plum and is often grown as an ornamental tree for its early display of flowers or as a fruiting hedge. Young trees are regularly used as understocks (a root which another plant is grafted on to) for domestic plums and its fruit can be eaten or used to make jams and wines. The Cherry plum is recommended by the RHS as an excellent attractant and nectar source for bees and other beneficial insects.
English Yew (taxus baccata). Ancient, morbid and toxic. The yew is one of the longest-lived native species in Europe; the Fortingall Yew in Scotland is believed to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old, making it one of the oldest living organisms in Europe. This longevity has made the yew a symbol of death and doom but it provides excellent food and shelter for woodland animals. Yew trees are associated with churchyards and there are at least 500 churchyards in England with yew trees older than the buildings themselves. It’s not clear why, but it’s thought that yew trees were planted on the graves of plague victims to protect and purify the dead and also in churchyards to stop commoners from grazing cattle on church property; yew is extremely poisonous to livestock. Despite all this doom and gloom, the yew is good news for pollinators. Male yew trees produce visible clouds of yellow pollen in spring which bees can collect.
Blackthorn or sloe (prunus spinosa) is a species of flowering plant in the rose family Rosaceae. It’s native to Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa and is locally naturalized in New Zealand, Tasmania and eastern North America. In Hampshire, it’s a very common shrub in hedgerows and along roads and railway lines.
For bees, (if it warm enough for them to venture out) blackthorn is a great source of early pollen and nectar; where blackthorn is planted as a main element of hedges it can be available in considerable quantities but each small tree will be covered in flowers so even a single bush in a garden will be great source of food.
Box or Common Box (buxus sempervirens) is a native evergreen that’s also at home in your garden. Box is so special it’s got a hill named after it. Box Hill in Surrey takes its name from the ancient box woodland on its steep chalk slopes.
Buxus flowers are not showy but are quite fragrant. The female (pistillate) flower is small, star shaped and yellowish green. The star points are actually sepals – boxwood flowers have no petals.
(ribes sanguinum) is a flowering currant with a very strong scent. It is an excellent bee plant. Take a close look at each cluster of a dozen or more small, nectar-rich flowers which hang like bunches of grapes from the stems. Now visit again when the spring sun is shining and listen to the buzz! This amazing plant is in flower just when that precious pollinator the bumblebees starts to emerge. To find such a rich supply of nectar in one place is exactly what early bees need. It is sometimes said that when this flowering currant appears the beekeeping season begins!
Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’ – (not the more common double K. jap. pleniflora) – only the single variety is useful to bees. ‘Pleniflora’ is a medium-sized, vigorous, deciduous shrub with prominently veined, light green leaves and solitary bright yellow flowers from mid-spring.
Osmanthus Burkwoodii is a sweetly scented handsome evergreen which flowers in spring. It bears small, oval, dark green leaves which make a striking backdrop to its clusters of tubular white, fragrant flowers. Osmanthus burkwoodii is slow growing and usually taking a year or two to establish but given time, it makes an excellent feature plant for borders, hedging, or a woodland garden. The white clusters of blooms on this extremely fragrant, almost jasmine-like shrub are very attractive to bees and other pollinators and provide an early source of nectar.
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is a fantastic winter-flowering shrub, bearing densely packed clusters of rose, pink or white, sweetly scented blooms on bare stems. It’s perfect for growing in the front garden or near an entrance or walkway where its fragrant, pretty blooms can be best appreciated. The Royal Horticultural Society gave it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit. Even if the rest of the garden is still in hibernation, Viburnum x bodnantense puts on a delightful display of full, pink blossoms. As it is one of the few plants that flowers in early spring, it’s very attractive to bees and other pollinators.
Annuals and Biennials
Wall flowers (erysimums) can be good for bees and nice for people too. They grow from nooks and crannies in old walls and along pavement verges and in county gardens. Wall flowers have a lovely scent although some of the highly cultivated varieties less so and are no good for pollinators. If you want to ensure you have fragrance and that bees will visit your wallflowers too, it’s quite simple really; go for Erysimum cheiri – the Common Wallflower and here is a list of other bee-friendly varieties:
For yellows and oranges:
- Erysimum cheiri
- Erysimum cheiri ‘Sunset Primrose’
- Erysimum ‘Bredon’
- Erysimum ‘Golden Jubilee’
- Erysimum ‘Apricot Twist’
- Erysimum ‘Walberton’s Fragrant Star’
- Erysimum cheiri ‘Sunset Apricot’
- Erysimum × marshallii‘Orange Monarch’
- Erysimum ‘Bowles’s Mauve’
- Erysimum ‘Red Jep’
Hellebores (Helleborus) are easy to grow and are undemanding. They look good from January to May and even when their seed has set, their sepals are persistently handsome, eventually becoming green. Their foliage is bold and evergreen. Hellebores are a good source of early nectar for bees.
Tulips bloom from early to late spring depending on the variety. If you look into the centre of a tulip you will see the black anthers laden with pollen. Often the pollen is in such great quantities that it’s dust covers the inner petals as well. The best types of tulips for attracting bees are found in varying shades of violet as bees are able to see the ultraviolet rays these petals produce when reflected in the sun. But don’t forget Tulipa turkestanica, the Turkestan tulip, a species of tulip native to central Asia. It is a wild variety and especially attractive to pollinators.
Spring snowflake (leucojum vernum) is a species of flowering plant native to central and southern Europe from Belgium to Ukraine. It’s considered naturalized in north-western Europe, including Great Britain, parts of Scandinavia and in the US states of Georgia and Florida. This spring flowering bulb is cultivated as an ornamental plant for a sunny position. The plant multiplies in favourable conditions to form clumps. Each plant bears a single white flower with greenish markings near the tip of the tepal on a stem about 10–20 cm (3.9–7.9 in) tall. It likes damp woods, thickets, hedge banks and meadows; usually in hilly areas and on calcareous soils and provides an excellent source of nectar and pollen.
Annuals and Biennials
Lesser celandine or Pilewort (Ficaria verna) is a low-growing, hairless perennial flowering plant in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. It’s native to Europe and has fleshy dark green, heart-shaped leaves and distinctive flowers with bright yellow, glossy petals. The plant is poisonous if ingested raw and potentially fatal to grazing animals and livestock. It prefers bare, damp ground and is considered by many as a harbinger of spring.
Gorse (ulex) can be found on open moors, heaths and windy coastal grasslands. Bright yellow, spiky common gorse and purple heathers are synonymous with our wilder landscapes but Gorse can be seen in many habitats including towns and cities. It usually flowers between January and June, although it may flower sporadically throughout the year. Common gorse is a member of the pea family and provides shelter and food for many insects and birds, such as Dartford warblers, stonechats and yellowhammers. Gorse’s bright yellow, coconut-perfumed flowers produce little nectar but its early spring blooms can be a life saver to bumblebee queens and honey bees on warmer early spring days.
Birch (betula) is a fantastic tree, grown for its silver-white bark, spring catkins and pretty yellow autumn foliage. It’s medium-sized and deciduous and is a British native. It is a good choice for wildlife, supporting over 300 species of insect and attracting birds such as greenfinches and siskins, which eat the seeds. It’s a good source of pollen for bees but does not produce nectar.
Fruit trees (apple, pear, cherry and plum) If you look are carefully at a fruit tree on a warm spring day, when it’s in full blossom, you’ll see hoards of honey bees working the flowers. They’re collecting nectar and pollen in what is an extraordinary act of co-operation between plant and bee. Fruit trees require insects to pollinate them and the honey bee is rewarded with both nectar and pollen as she flies between the blossoms transferring pollen from one flower to the next.
Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) is a species of flowering plant in the soapberry and lychee family Sapindaceae. It is a large deciduous, synoecious (hermaphroditic-flowered) tree and also goes by the names European horse chestnut, buckeye, and conker tree and is sometimes called the Spanish chestnut. Each tree produces a large display of white flowers in the spring which are a great source of pollen for honey bees.
Berberis darwinii an evergreen, is a favourite flowering shrubs of bees, hoverflies and other pollinators especially in early spring. The shrub offers nectar and pollen from its mass of orange flowers.
Laurel (prunus laurocerasus)is a vigorous, large, spreading evergreen shrub with handsome, glossy dark leaves to 15cm in length. Small white flowers in erect racemes grow to 12cm in length and are followed by cherry-like glossy red fruits soon turning black. The laurel produces nectar for Honeybees, Bumblebees and Butterflies. The leaves of this species have extrafloral nectaries on their undersides which Honeybees are particularly attracted to. As these are mainly found on the younger leaves, try to preserve these leaves when pruning; it’s best to take out older wood branches as opposed to a topiary/overall trim which removes the younger growth.
Rhododendron (Rhododendron) is a very large genus of about a thousand species of woody plants in the heath family (Ericaceae). They can be either evergreen or deciduous and most species are native to eastern Asia and the Himalayan region but some varieties occur elsewhere in Asia and in North America, Europe and Australia. The rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal as well as the state or provincial flower of many other regions or territories around the world. Most species have brightly colored flowers which bloom from late winter through to early summer. Rhododendron are insect pollinated and produce large amounts of sugar-rich nectar to reward visiting pollinators. A number of species of bees are known to pollinate rhododendron, including honey bees.
Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus); Familiar, romantic, sticky. The sycamore might have been introduced by the Romans or in the 1500s. Since then, it’s colonised woodland all over the country becoming a source of food and shelter for wildlife including aphids that leave behind their tacky honeydew. The sycamore is a valuable tree for both bees and beekeepers. Flowering quite early in the season, (early May), it provides copious quantities of nectar and pollen whenever the weather is good enough to allow the bees to fly. The flowers hang downwards beneath the canopy where they are protected from the rain. Sycamore honey is pale gold with a greenish tinge and pollen loads are a greenish grey.
Crab apple (Malus sylvestris) is one of the ancestors of the cultivated apple (of which there are more than 6,000 varieties), it can live to up to 100 years. Mature trees grow to around 10m in height. They have an irregular, rounded shape and a wide, spreading canopy. With greyish brown, flecked bark, trees can become quite gnarled and twisted, especially when exposed, and the twigs often develop spines. This ‘crabbed’ appearance may have influenced its common name. The crab apple is one of the few host trees to the parasitic mistletoe and trees are often covered in lichens. The leaves are food for the caterpillars of many moths, including the eyed hawk-moth and pale tussock. The flowers provide an important source of early pollen and nectar for insects, particularly bees, and the fruit is eaten by birds, including blackbirds, thrushes and crows. Mammals, such as mice, voles, foxes and badgers, also eat crab apple fruit.
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). The appearance of Hawthorn is said to be a sign that spring is turning to summer. The pale green leaves of this hedgerow staple are often the first to appear in spring, with an explosion of pretty pale-pink blossom in May. It simply teems with wildlife from bees to birds.
Holly (ilex aquifolium). Festive, neat and prickly. Holly is a well-loved shrub that shelters birds and gives hedgehogs a cosy place to hibernate but in spring is also a source of nectar for our bees. The male trees produce pollen and the female trees have the nectar.
Currant fruit bushes (black, red and white) (ribes nigrum, ribes rubrum). Bursting with vitamin C, blackcurrants are an easily grown soft fruit. They make a great jam, health-promoting drinks and are a vital ingredient of summer pudding. Redcurrants are tart, but make great jams and jellies, while whitecurrants are sweet enough to be eaten fresh from the plant.plant. All three provide excellent forage for bees.
Raspberries (rubus idaea) is a vigorous, deciduous shrub producing erect, biennial stems to 2.5m tall with or without prickles. Leaves are divided into 3-5 or 7 leaflets, each of which is coarsely-toothed and covered with a white felt on the underside. Clusters of white flowers borne on year-old stems in summer are followed by red, edible fruits. The raspberry provides abundant pollen and nectar.
Quince (cydonia oblonga). The quince is the sole member of the genus Cydonia in the family Rosaceae. It is a deciduous tree that bears hard, aromatic bright golden-yellow pome fruit, similar in appearance to a pear. Ripe quince fruits are hard and tart and seldom eaten raw, but are processed into marmalade, jam, paste or alcoholic beverages.
Elder (sambucus nigra); feared by the devil but favoured by foragers, the Elder (or Elderberry) is the very essence of summer with its fragrant flowers and soot-dark fruits. It’s said that an elder planted by your house will keep the devil away. The flowers provide nectar for a variety of insects including honeybees and the berries are eaten by birds and small mammals such as dormice and bank voles. Many moth caterpillars feed on elder foliage, including the white-spotted pug, swallowtail, dot moth and buff ermine.
Lime (tikia). If you’ve walked under a large tree in June or July and noticed a heady fragrance, chances are, that tree was a lime (or ‘linden’) tree. The source of the scent is its abundant sprays of dainty pale yellow-green flowers. Often planted as park or street trees due to their size, the commonly found lime trees in the UK are small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) and large leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos), both are native to the UK. Some Meridian beekeepers are fortunate to have hives near lime groves and often remark on how much bees like the limes and on what nice honey they produce.
Lime trees have a reputation as being a sort-of bee narcotic and in some languages their common name is ‘bee tree’. In June and July, bees flock to limes for their abundant pollen but the observation of numerous dead bees, especially bumble bees, under lime trees has led to the idea that lime nectar is toxic for them. Specifically, the presence of nicotine and a sugar called mannose in the nectar have been incriminated. However, recent research has debunked these ideas and concluded that the presence of higher numbers of dead bees is because populations are at a peak at this time of year.
Annuals and Biennials
Abelia is a shrub in the honeysuckle family that flowers over a long period from summer to autumn, is usually evergreen, happy in most soils (although it doesn’t like standing in constantly wet conditions), and offers colour even after flowering, abelia has all of these qualities and to top it all, the blooms are scented.
Buddleia is an easy and fast-growing shrub, that will suit any garden where there is sun and well-drained soil. It was brought to England from China in the 1890s and is now widely naturalised on wasteground and along railway lines. Commonly known as the butterfly bush, the flower heads are full of nectar and are a magnet for many insects. Flowers come in a wide range of colours including purple, blue, pink and white and even yellow. Flowers appear continuously for around four to six weeks in late summer.
Lavender (lavundula) is a flowering plant in the mint family, easily identified by its sweet floral scent. It’s believed to be native to the Mediterranean, the Middle East and India with a history dating back 2,500 years. In ancient times, lavender was used as a holy herb and is prized for its richly fragrant flowers and aromatic foliage. This easy-to-grow shrub thrives in a sunny spot, in free-draining soil or a container. It’s ideal used as a boarder, hedge or along a path. Lavender is a firm favourite with all kinds of bee and you can never plant enough of it!
Rose. Bees do like roses but prefer the more traditional single-flowered varieties to the highly cultivated ones. Rosa rugosa often grows in the sandy dunes near the coast and prefers thin dry soil. Bees are very active on this and other wild roses because they have open flowers and fewer petals than some of the heavily cultivated varieties. As a general rule, if you want a rose to attract bees, it’s best to go for the older, traditional types, with more open flowers and fewer petals. They will usually have a better perfume too! Roses don’t produce nectar but bees visit them especially to collect pollen. The buzzing of bumble bees can be quite loud as they typically grab hold and vibrate their thorax against the anthers to release the pollen. A few of the bees’ favourite British roses are Rosa canina(dog rose), Rosa rubiginosa (sweet briar) and Rosa spinosissima (burnet or Scottish rose) as well asRosa roxburghii, Rosa setipoda, and Rosa sweginzowii.
Viburnums are versatile, easy-to-grow shrubs that thrive in a wide range of situations. There are many to choose from, large or small, evergreen or deciduous, with winter, spring or summer flowers. These shrubs produce rounded or flat clusters of white or pink flowers, often highly fragrant, in winter, spring or summer. These may be followed by ornamental berries in a range of colours. Some keep their leaves all year (evergreen), others lose them over winter (deciduous).
Viburnums will grow well in any reasonably fertile soil in sun or light shade. Many are also tolerant of chalky soils.
Blackberries (rubus fruticosa) are very vigorous, thorny scramblers with pink or white flowers in summer followed by black berries. The dark green leaves with three leaflets can provide good autumn tints. It is a valuable plant for wildlife, providing food and shelter and excellent forage for bees.
The 2021 results from the National Honey Monitoring Scheme showed that 60% of the honey for two Meridian members in Botley and Shedfield was derived from the nectar of the blackberry bush demonstrating the importance of this food source to honeybees.
Oilseed rape (Brassica napus subsp. napus) is a bright-yellow flowering member of the family Brassicaceae (mustard and cabbage family), cultivated mainly for its oil-rich seeds. Oilseed is loved by honey bees for its rich nectar but receives mixed reviews from beekeepers! The honey produced from rape can be bland and must be harvested immediately to prevent it setting hard in the comb thereby being of little use to bees in winter. I like to think of it as junk food for bees! I guess it can be useful for colonies building wax! Once ubiquitous in Hampshire, this love-it-or-hate crop has dwindled in popularity in recent years due to the ban on the bee harming Neonicotinoid pesticides which were previously applied to this crop. Oilseed and neonics
Broad beans (Vicia faba) is an annual plant producing two to four, square-sectioned, upright stems, 0.4 to 1.2m tall, clothed with oblong, blue-green leaves. Clusters of scented, tubular, black and white or dark red flowers are produced all the way up the stem, followed by pods 15 to 30cm long, usually picked when green but turning black when fully mature. As well as being a popular garden crop, broad beans (and field beans which are the same species) are grown commercially. Both provide excellent forage for bees.
Strawberries. Bees visit strawberry flowers to collect pollen and or nectar. Between six and 15 bee visits are reported to be needed to pollinate a strawberry fruit fully.Researchers at the University of Göttingen found that honey bees prefer strawberry fields even if flowering next to oilseed rape. Only when oilseed rape was in full bloom were fewer honey bees in the strawberries. Wild bees, on the other hand, consistently chose the strawberry field.
Annuals and biannuals
Poppies are flowering plants in the subfamily Papaveroideae of the family Papaveraceae. Despite the fact that they lack inflorescences (meaning they don’t produce nectar), bees love poppies because they provide lots of pollen. Bumble bees, honey bees and a range of solitary bees will visit poppy flowers in shades of red (perhaps surprising as they can’t see red) pink, yellow and orange. The delicate petals of the Common Poppy are harvested by the Poppy Mason Bee, and used to line their nest burrows. Poppy (meconopsis) and opium poppy (papaver somniferum) are very attractive to bees.
Thistles (onopordum acanthium) also known as Cotton thistle or Scotch thistle is a vigorous biennial plant with coarse, spiny leaves and conspicuous spiny-winged stems. The leaves of cotton thistle provide food for the caterpillars of some Lepidoptera. As a wildflower, there are few that can surpass thistles in their value for bees and other pollinators. If you want to photograph bees and other pollinators on a sunny day, find a patch of thistles growing on a grassy verge and you will have plenty of opportunities.
Allium is a genus of flowering plants that includes hundreds of species, including the cultivated onion, garlic, scallion, shallot, leek, and chives. The generic name Allium is the Latin word for garlic and the type species for the genus is Allium sativum which means “cultivated garlic”. All Alliums attract pollinators and are a favourite with bumblebees, honeybees and butterflies. Allium ‘Globemaster’ is an excellent example, blooming in early summer with giant flowerheads formed of masses of nectar-rich purple flowers.
Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is a bushy, spreading evergreen sub-shrub to 75cm tall, with very aromatic, finely veined, grey-green leaves and short spikes of pale blue flowers in early summer. Like most herbs, salvia is very popular with pollinators.
Buttercups (ranunculus acris) or Meadow buttercup bears pretty, yellow flowers from April to October. Our tallest common buttercup, it can reach a height of 90cm. The petals have mirror flat cells that bounce back light. These reflect UV light which helps to attract bees and looks vibrantly yellow from any angle. Buttercups are nectar-producing and are visited by a vast array of different insect species, predominantly bees, flies, wasps and beetles, but many others as well.
Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea) are a common wild plant growing in woods and hedgerows. It is easy to spot in summer with its large, purple-pink spikes of trumpet flowers. It also makes an excellent garden plant, especially for shady positions. But Digitalis purpurea isn’t the only foxglove. There are lots of other species growing to a range of heights and with flowers in a wide range of colours, many beautifully spotted and speckled in contrasting colours. The flowers are very nectar-rich and are like magnets to bees and butterflies. Most foxgloves are beiennials, flowering in their second year from seed, or short lived perennials. Most are more or less evergreen so their rosettes of green leaves remain throughout the winter.
Oxeye daisies (leucanthemum vulgare) are cheerful, prophetic and mystical, there’s more than meets the eye to the humble oxeye daisy. Look out for them on roadsides and woodland edges. The oxeye daisy is linked to divination, particularly in France, where it would be used in romantic predictions. These links have filtered down to the modern game of ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ where petals are picked to determine luck in love. The plant was used in traditional medicines to treat various health problems including coughs and asthma. The flower heads have also been used to make tea. The yellow centre of the oxeye daisy is made up of many small flowers which hold nectar and are exploited by various pollinating insects, including butterflies, bees and hoverflies.
White clover (trifolium repens) is a very common plant of all kinds of grassy areas in the UK, from lawns to pastures, roadsides to meadows, as both a wild and sown flower. The famous trefoil leaves are collected by Wood Mice and are one of the foodplants of the common blue butterfly; the flowers appear from May to October and are sought after by all kinds of bees. Clover (white and red) grows widely in lawns ; a vital resource for wildlife. Our gardens provide corridors of green between open countryside allowing species to move about. In fact, UK gardens provide more space for nature than all the National Nature Reserves put together. Leaving wilder areas in your garden, such as patches of buttercups in your lawn or nettles near your compost heap is of real value to nature.
Clover was the third most important forage for some bees in the Meridian area according to the 2021 National Honey Monitoring Scheme so clearly a very important source of food in our area. Why not consider laying off the lawn mower in the summer months? You’ll be doing pollinators a big favour, especially during the June gap.
Broom (cytisus scoparius) produces a profusion of musky-scented, rich butter-yellow flowers with the pollen that’s a brownish-orange. Succeeds in most soils but preferring a poor, well-drained slightly acid or neutral soil in a sunny position. Bloom can tolerate some shade but remember, it’s found naturally in sandy or heath habitats. It’s drought tolerant once established, growing well on dry banks, in coastal and even polluted areas. In late summer, its seed pods mature black. Broom produces nectar and pollen in profusion for Long and Short-tongued Bumblebees and Honeybees (who favour its orange pollen. Opinion is divided as to whether they also collect its nectar.
Cowslips (primula veris) produce a beautiful deep yellow, drooping flower with an orange tinged base and really add vibrancy and colour to a wildflower meadow. It’s related to the primrose and is found largely in woodlands and hedgerows. It was once as common as the buttercup but is now less frequently seen due to loss of meadow habitats. Shakespeare was an admirer of the humble Cowslip; it’s mention eight times in his plays. Cowslips are on the RHS ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ list and will certainly help to provide forage for our bees.
Daisies (bellis perennis) Bells perennis are a European species of the familyAsteraceae, often considered the archetypal daisy. To distinguish this species from other plants known as daisies, it is sometimes qualified as common daisy, lawn daisy or English daisy. Daisies are great at attracting bees into your garden as they offer lots of pollen. Pollen is a vital source of protein and fat which is needed to feed developing larvae. Early blooming daisies offer a source of pollen to bumble bee queens following their emergence in spring and prior to hibernation in the autumn.
Dandelions (Taraxacum) are beneficial to a wide range of pollinators and invertebrates. As a long-flowering perennial in bloom from early spring (sometimes when little else is in flower) they are a great help to early emerging bees, butterflies and various other little pollinating species. However, dandelions can self-pollinate if absolutely required, without the assistance of bees or other pollinators. You can really help pollinators and other wildlife by leaving dandelions and daisies in your lawn.
English Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta); enchanting and cheerful, bluebells are a favourite with the fairies and a sure sign spring is in full swing. The violet glow of a bluebell wood is an incredible wildflower spectacle. There are countless folklore tales surrounding bluebells, many of which involve dark fairy magic. Bluebell woods are believed to be intricately woven with fairy enchantments, used by these mischievous beings to trap humans. It is also said that if you hear a bluebell ring, you will be visited by a bad fairy, and will die not long after. If you are to pick a bluebell, many believe you will be led astray by fairies, wandering lost forevermore. bluebells which flower earlier than many other plants. Woodland butterflies, bees and hoverflies all feed on their nectar. Bees can ‘steal’ the nectar from bluebells by biting a hole in the bottom of the flower (where it attaches to the stem) reaching the nectar without the need to pollinate the flower.
Forget-me-nots (Myosotis); these little flowers are huge favourites with bees thanks to the attractively-coloured petals and easy-to-access nectar. Most species of bees will appreciate the inclusion of forget-me-bits in the garden – a plant easily grown.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) also known as Hedge Garlic or Jack-by-the-Hedge, this wild flower appears in hedgerows and open woodland in early Spring. Sometimes growing to over a metre tall, hedge garlic has leaves that are broadly heart shaped, stalked, with numerous broad teeth, and clusters of small white cross-shaped flowers.
Thyme Thyme is an aromatic, evergreen herb that provides nectar and pollen for bees during the summer, when populations of bees are at their peak, and there are more adult bees as well as their young to feed. Thyme is an easy to grow, is fairly free of pests, and will attract bees and butterflies. Bees seem to like all kinds of Thyme including the carpet-forming Elfin thyme. And they love fluffier wooly thyme as well. They’re also drawn to delicious culinary forms like Mother-of-Thyme and they like citrusy thymes too.
Sweet chestnut (castanea sativa). Brought here by the Romans and now a roasted winter treat. These long-lived giants, with their prickly husks and deeply grooved bark give us our classic winter nut. The ancient Greeks dedicated the sweet chestnut to Zeus and its botanical name Castanea comes from Castonis, a Town in Thessaly, Greece where the tree was grown for its nuts. The world’s oldest known chestnut tree grows on Mount Etna in Sicily and has a circumference of 190 feet. It is said to be between 2,000 and 4,000 years old. The flowers of the chestnut tree provide an important source of nectar and pollen for bees and other insects, while red squirrels eat the nuts. A large number of micro-moths feed on the leaves and nuts.
Shrubs & Climbers
Perennial pea (lathyrus latifolia) or everlasting peas lack the fragrance of the annual varieties but share the same colourful flowers and returns each year, dying back below ground in winter. Use climbing types on fences, through shrubs or hedges or on a bank. Short-growing types blend with other perennials in the borders. The perennial pea is native to southern Europe and has ‘escaped’ from gardens and is sometimes seen with its mass of vivid flowers in hedgerows and on patches of waste ground and on cliffs around the UK.
Jerusalem sage (phlomis fruticosa) is an attractive Mediterranean perennial shrub. Small, spreading and evergreen, it bears pretty grey-green sage-like leaves. In summer hooded, deep yellow flowers appear on tall stems. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its Award of Garden Merit (AGM). The plant is loved by everyone including birds, bees and beneficial insects.
Raspberries (rubus idaeus) are very easy to grow. From just a few plants you’ll be able to harvest bowlfuls of fruit from midsummer until mid-autumn. They can be eaten straight from the plant, used in jams, summer puddings, coulis and wine, and they also freeze well. And of course. our bees love the flowers.
Summer jasmine (jasminum officinale) are very popular deciduous, semi-evergreen or evergreen climbing plants. Most are summer flowering, producing white, cream or pink, scented flowers. Jasminum nudiflorum (winter jasmine) is a wall shrub that, as its name suggests, produces its delightful yellow flowers in winter.
Several summer-flowering species are commonly grown and some are hardier than others. Jasminum officinale (common summer jasmine), J. beesianum, J. humile and J. x stephanense are generally frost hardy and can be grown outside against a warm, sunny wall. In colder places, it’s better to grow them in a a conservatory or greenhouse.
Annuals and biennials
Borage (Borago officinalis), an edible and ornamental plant with loose drooping clusters of starlike bright blue flowers, in the family Boraginaceae. Borage is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and is cultivated in various parts of Europe, Great Britain, and North America. The leaves and flowers are used in salads, and in Europe the leaves are cooked as a vegetarian. Dried or fresh leaves are used to season stews and soups and to flavour wine cups and other drinks. Bees love borage!
The 2021 Honey Monitoring Scheme analysis showed that honey produced by some Meridian bees working in the Botley and Shedfield areas was 20% comprised of nectar from Borage. It is therefore a very significant food source for bees in our area.
Lobelia. Some Lobelia species are suited to water gardens; they bring colour to the pond and their surroundings and attract bees and other pollinating insects. Lobelia Cardinalis also known as ‘Lobelia Queen Victoria’ is a popular plant and often appears in books on water gardening. With its summer burgundy red leaves it puts on a show of crimson flowers that will grow to a height of 90cm attracting many species of bees. Lobelia Cardinalis grows best in very shallow margins (0-2cm in depth) and will grow happily in bog-gardens and or moist perennial borders.
Sunflowers (helianthus) is a large flower of the genus Helianthus. It’s grown as a crop for its edible oil and fruits. This sunflower species is also used as wild bird food, as livestock forage (as a meal or silage), in some industrial applications and as an ornamental in domestic gardens. The plant was first domesticated in the Americas. Wild Helianthus annuus is a widely branched annual plant with many flower heads. The domestic sunflower, however, often possesses only a single large flower head atop an unbranched stem.
Tomatoes. Despite the popularity of tomatoes, it was only 200 years ago that they were thought to be poisonous. This is likely to be because the plant belongs to the toxic nightshade family. Tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and other antioxidants and the flowers are good for pollinators too!
Catmint (nepeta species); Nepeta is a genus of flowering perennials in the mint family, including popular herbs such as catnip and Faassen’s catmint. Many feature attractive aromatic foliage and long blooming flowers that pollinators love.
Cone flower (echinacea); Echinaceas have grown in popularity in recent years, thanks to the new trend for prairie-style planting. Known for their use in herbal medicine, these herbaceous perennials have pretty, daisy-like flowers with a central cone, hence their common name, coneflower. They’re easy to grow as they tolerate most soils (except very dry ones), and their sturdy stems mean that staking is unnecessary.
Geraniums – The image shows Blue Geranium ibericum which is often covered with bees. Most Geraniums are popular with bees and those with violet and blue flowers are favoured the most. Geraniums are easy to grow and generally unfussy about soil conditions. Geraniums can be planted with Chives making a bee friendly combination.
Rock roses (helianthemum) also known as the Sun Rose or Rush Rose. Dainty little flowers in a wide range of colours from pastels to vivids appear in late spring atop wiry foliage. Utterly drought tolerant.
Spiked speedwell (veronica spicata)
is a deep violet-blue perennial whose flowers form a pyramid shape. The deep-blue spikes of this rock plant are one of the celebrated rarities of Craig Breidden in Montgomery where it is the county flower. It can be found scattered in various unconnected sites south of the Scottish border in England and Wales and it prefers limestone or chalk soils. Spiked speedwell flowers from July to September.
Ragged Robin (lychnis flos-cuculi) has pink, frayed flowers which are an increasingly rare sight as our wetland habitats disappear. You can help by growing native plants in your garden and enjoying the hum of visiting insects. The delicate, pink flowers of Ragged-robin are a joy to behold in any wildflower meadow, damp pasture or in woodlands. But it’s not just passing humans that benefit from its star-shaped blooms; bumblebees, butterflies and honey bees all enjoy the nectar it provides. A favourite among gardeners who plant Ragged-Robin in boggy areas or flower borders.
Ragwort (Senecio) is a tall field plant which grows to 90cm high and bears large, flat-topped clusters of yellow daisy-like flowers from June to October. There are nineteen species of Ragwort found in the wild in the British Isles but most of these are garden escapes or other introductions.
Ragwort is one of the most divisive plants in the countryside. It contains chemicals that are toxic to livestock and it has been blamed for many deaths of horses and other animals. Yet, conservationists say it’s a native wildflower vital for pollinating insects. The most common variety is Senecio jacobaea or Common Ragwort or Stagger Weed. It is a native species that thrives on bare ground where thin vegetation allows the development of seedlings.
Experts suggest that once ragwort is established on suitable land, it can be difficult to manage. A single plant contains thousands of seeds and these can disperse into fields. Many farmers take preventative measures to reduce the risk of Ragwort spreading because the plant contains toxins called pyrrolizidine alkaloids. These, in sufficient quantities, can cause liver poisoning in horses and other livestock. It is a cumulative poison which means it builds-up in the animal’s body over time eventually leading to the rapid onset of symptoms before death. However, the symptoms are variable and resemble those of a number of other diseases. The lethal volume of Ragwort for horses is around 7% of body weight. Cattle are also prone to poisoning but sheep are thought to be less susceptible.
However, there’ another side to the story. The charity Buglife says that ragwort is a long-standing and important part of our native flora in Britain. Over thirty species of bee, beetle, other insects and fungi are supported by Ragwort including the Daisy Carpenter Bee, the Cinnabar Moth and our own dear Honey Bee. Just look at this clip from a spring apiary meeting; Denise had just successfully completed two Bailey Comb changes and the bees had built new comb using the plentiful local supply of Ragwort; even the wax is Ragwort yellow!
Ragwort therefore has significant benefits to the environment and whilst farmers understand that Ragwort can be dangerous to their livestock, many recognise its importance to biodiversity and don’t advocate blanket removal.
These days, farmers usually apply the herbicide glyphosate to Ragwort. However, the use of glyphosate is controversial; the World Health Organisation (WHO) has concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic” to humans and the herbicide has been the subject of several court cases around the world relating to cancer. Non-chemical options for preventing the spread of the plant are limited, though Countryfile editor Fergus Collins remembers being paid to pull ragwort from farmland in Somerset as a teenager. Conservation organisations such as Friends of the Earth, would prefer the affected area to be fenced off and the plants allowed to go to seed.
While there is consensus that ragwort poses some threat to domestic animals, it is difficult to assess the actual level of danger and impossible to say how many horses and other animals have been affected in the UK without more detailed research. Therefore, conservationists argue that removing a native wildflower impoverishes our natural world and should not be done. To find out more about ragwort, The British Horse Society provides an advisory ragwort toolkit online.
Travel West from Oxford on the Great Western Railway and you’ll see distinctive yellow flowers on the edges of tracks and verges. Although at first glance it looks like the Common Ragwort that causes such anxiety for equine owners, it is in fact Oxford ragwort (Senecio squalidus) a species introduced from the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily in the late 17th century. After escaping from Oxford Botanic Garden, it has spread to most parts of the UK, where it favours disturbed habitats, such as building sites, roadsides and beside railway lines.
Yellow rattle (rhinanthus minor). Brush through a wildflower meadow at the height of summer and you’ll hear the tiny seeds of yellow-rattle clattering in their brown pods, hence its name. Yellow-rattle is an annual that thrives in grasslands, living a semi-parasitic life by feeding off the nutrients in the roots of nearby grasses. For this reason, it was once seen as an indicator of poor grassland by farmers, but is now often used to turn improved grassland back to meadow; by feeding off the vigorous grasses, it eventually allows more delicate, traditional species to push their way through.
Himalayan Balsam (impatiens glandulifera). As its name suggests, Himalayan balsam is from the Himalayas and was introduced to the UK in 1839. It now an invasive weed of riverbanks and ditches, where it prevents native species from growing. It is fast-growing and spreads quickly, invading wet habitat at the expense of other, native flowers. Its explosive seed pods aid its spread by sending the seeds into the river, causing further dispersal downstream. Our largest annual plant, it flowers from July to October. Environmental organisations are working had to control Himalayan balsam but in the meantime, our bees love it.
Eucryphia (nymansensis ‘Nymansay’) is a non-native tree which can make an excellent late-flowering addition to your garden. As well as providing beautiful flowers, it’s an excellent late source of nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators. The tree is a previous winner of the RHS Award of Garden Merit which helps gardeners choose the best plants for their garden.
‘Nymansay’ is a hybrid but unlike many other hybrids, it’s of great value to beneficial insects. This vigorous, evergreen tree with glossy, dark green leaves, both simple and trifoliate, produces white flowers, 6cm in width, with prominent stamens in late summer and autumn
The Golden rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata) flowers at the end of July and will continue into August if not too hot.
Another RHS Award of Garden Merit winner it is also beloved by pollinators and carries the RHS pollinator badge.
Also known as Pride of India, K. paniculata is an elegant small deciduous tree. Leaves are pinkish in spring, turning yellow in autumn and it offers small yellow flowers in conspicuous large panicles, followed by ornamental bronze fruits.
Californian lilac (Ceanothus) A mature Ceanothus in full flower is an impressive sight, whether clothed in characteristic blue, or the more unusual pink or white. There is over fifty varieties, Some are deciduous, others evergreen. These shrubs look particularly good when grown or trained against a sunny, sheltered wall but they can also be used as border plants, informal hedges and as ground cover.
Hebes are neat and colourful evergreen shrubs which are ideal for a sunny border, providing summer flowers and year-round foliage. Compact types work well in containers or as border edgings while larger varieties can be grown as hedges. The flowers are very attractive to bees.
Hebes are bushy evergreen shrubs with purple, pink or white flowers in summer, and sometimes in spring or autumn. The leaves can be ornamental too, often tinged with pink or variegated. Plants range from 30cm (1ft) up to 1.2m (4ft) tall.
Hebes thrive in sunshine and need soil that drains freely. They also enjoy seaside conditions, coping well with salty breezes. Large-varieties are vulnerable to cold, and frost or chilly winds can damage the foliage. Hebei don’t respond well to hard pruning.
Hydrangea are good for late summer colour. They produce long-lasting flowers from mid to late summer. The flowers can be used for drying and flower arranging.
Hydrangeas can be planted in spring or autumn in moist, well-draining soil. Best in light shade but tolerate sun if the soil is not too dry. Hydrangeas are well-suited to clay soils.
Blue or white flowers only develop if planted in acid soil but the regular addition of tea leaves, tea bags or coffee grounds can have a similar effect.
Prune Hydrangea macrophylla and Hydrangea serrata in mid-spring, others in early spring. Also, Mulch in spring to improve soil moisture retention. Propagate can be achieved from softwood, semi-ripe or hardwood cuttings. Contact with foliage may aggravate skin allergies in some people so wear gloves. All parts may cause mild stomach upset if ingested, so no eating hydrangeas!
The tree mallow (Malva arborea) is lovely, fast-growing shrub with evergreen foliage. It’s fantastic for providing a long season of flowers, which usually appear in spring and last into autumn. The tree mallow can be cultivated in garden beds but also grows wild near shorelines.
Another variety Lavatera maritima has white flowers with a gorgeous flush of purple veining in the centre. It can be grown in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. Both varieties can take a light frost, but are sensitive to temperatures below -5°C, so benefits from a sheltered spot out of any cold, drying winds. Deadhead spent blooms to prolong flowering. Mulch annually with well-rotted manure or compost.
Anise Hyssop enjoys a well-drained soil. It’s repugnant to deer, worth knowing, if deer are a problem in your garden. It’s a perennial plant, native to north-central and northern North America, including the Great Plains and parts of Canada. Wild anise hyssop is most-often found in openings in dry upland forests and the upland areas of prairies.
Garden varieties are often planted around the edges, both as a way of attempting to repel deer, for the plant’s various herbal uses, and for its beautiful purple flowers.
Anise hyssop is also pollinator-friendly, attracting bees and butterflies to the garden for most of the year.
Dahlias. With their showy blooms in a range of colours, sizes and shapes, Dahlias are not my favourite flowers but are greatly appreciated by our bees as a late source of pollen and nectar. They can be seen in most types of garden, from tropical to cottage borders and smaller types can be grown in containers. As dahlia aren’t hardy, they need protection over winter. Dahlias like well-drained soil in full sun. Deadhead regularly to boost flowering. In the UK, store tubers indoors over winter and new plants from cuttings, division or seed.
Golden Rod (Solidago ‘Goldenmosa’) This plant is an excellent source of nectar and pollen for bees and the many other types of pollinating insects. Goldenmosa’ is a compact herbaceous perennial which grows to 75cm with narrow mid-green leaves and conical of small bright yellow flowers with yellow stalks.
This woody shrub grows well in shade and it’s late flowers makes it valuable to pollinators. The woody stalks can be broken off easily when the plant stops flowering leaving nothing visible above the surface. New growth will appear the following year.
Heleniums bring warmth and colour to borders from mid-summer into autumn. These sun-loving perennials are tough, hardy and easy to grow. They combine particularly well with grasses and other late-flowering perennials in prairie-style plantings. Ideal with Anise (see above).
Heleniums come in a choice of rich, fiery hues – yellows, deep oranges and reddish-coppers – opening from mid-summer. The centres become more prominent as the flowers age and the petals curve backwards. The upright, leafy, branching stems emerge from sturdy clumps.
Heleniums thrive in most soil types, and prefer full sun. It is best to support them by staking around the clump in spring. They dislike heavy, wet soil, and won’t flower in shade. Avoid planting in a windy position as taller flower stems may blow over.
Heleniums generally need staking to keep them upright, but to avoid this you can give them the ‘Chelsea chop’, in May, or cut them back to 30cm (12in) in mid-July. This delays flowering slightly but keeps plants more compact so you can enjoy the flowers on neat, unstaked plants.
Michaelmas daisies – (formerly Asters are invaluable for late summer colour in the garden. They are a stalwart of late-summer and autumn borders, flowering from August through to October. There’s a Michaelmas daisy to suit every garden – they come in shades of white, blue and purple. Michaelmas daisies look great in cottage gardens but also work in more contemporary schemes – they associate well with ornamental grasses. They’re extremely popular with bees and butterflies, too. Michaelmas daisies are best grown in moist but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Cut back after flowering.
Myrtle (Myrtus Communis). A native of dry Mediterranean scrub, common myrtle, Myrtus communis, is an aromatic evergreen shrub with pointed, glossy leaves. Its sweet-scented flowers, white with a hint of pink, have very long stamens which create a fluffy appearance. These are followed by small purple-black berries. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its prestigious Award of Garden Merit (AGM).
Grow Myrtus communis in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. In mild regions it can be grown in an open south-facing garden, but elsewhere it benefits from the shelter of a warm wall. Alternatively, grow it in a container for moving indoors over winter, otherwise it is unlikely to reach its full potential size. 3metres high with a spread of 3 metres. Myrtle prefers well-drained, light, sandy or chalky soils.
Sea Holly (Eryngium). These architectural, spiny, almost sculptural perennials, some looking superficially like thistles, can make a dramatic statement in a summer border. Let them rise above low-growing plants, or mingle them among roses and taller perennials to provide a contrast in form and texture.
Upright, branching stems bear greenish-white or blue flowers gathered into a cone surrounded by a ruff of spiny bracts. In some, the upper part of the plant is suffused with metallic blue.
Most like very free-draining soil, some even thriving in poor, dry soil, in sun. Sea Holly doesn’t like fertile, overly rich soils or a shady position. The flowers are long-lasting and can be cut and dried for use in winter arrangements.
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (recently renamed Hylotelephium ‘Autum Joy’) is late summer-autumn flowering. It’s pink heads turn coppery-red. A good plant for attracting bees and butterflies. Hylotelephium is an excellent drought tolerant plant. It likes Sun or semi-shade and grows to a height of 60cm. It spreads to 90cm and prefers full sun or partial shade. Place in a well drained soil.
Salvias (Ornamental Sage) look good in almost all planting schemes. They’re great in a mixed or herbaceous border and for underplanting rosthey begin flowering just as the roses are going over and are said to keep mildew and black spot at bay. They also look great in a tropical or exotic planting scheme, alongside dahlias. Salvias are ideal for a coastal garden or a dry garden. They also grow well in pots, making long-lasting displays on the patio.
Salvias are a must in the summer garden. They come in a vast range of forms and colours and their nectar-rich flowers are a magnet for bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects. They flower for months on end, often from midsummer until the first frosts, and many have aromatic foliage, too. The name ‘salvia’ derives from the Latin salveo, meaning ‘I heal’ or ‘I save’. The culinary herb, Salvia officinalis, was used as a healing plant by Greeks and Romans and is part of part of the huge Salvia genus.
The spikes of tubular, lipped flowers come in almost every colour imaginable, from white and pastel pink to deep purples, magenta, scarlet and electric blue. The size and appearance of salvias can vary greatly, and they can be divided into four main types. Annual salvias such as Salvia farinacea, S. horminum and S. splendens are grown as vibrant summer bedding before being discarded at the end of the season.
Tender perennial salvias such as Salvia greggii can come back year after year but are not completely hardy and may need protection over winter.
All salvias grow best in full sun, in well-drained soil. Deadhead to prolong flowering. Salvias may be lost over the winter if the soil is very cold and wet, so take cuttings at the end of the summer to insure against winter losses. Alternatively, grow tender varieties in pots and keep in a frost-free spot over winter. Wait until late spring to cut old growth back.
Veronicas, also known as speedwells, are hardy long-lived garden plants that bloom in late spring or summer with pretty flowers that are mostly shades of blue, with some whites and reds. Veronica flowers are mostly individually tiny, with many clustered together to form upright spikes, spires, or clusters. Low maintenance, free from most pests and diseases and attractive to pollinators, they deserve to be more widely grown. Plant height varies from 10cm to 60cm, and plant spread from 20cm to 60cm. Veronicas are divided into three groups:
• Herbaceous perennials: These are long-lived, dying back to the ground in autumn and regrowing in spring
• Dwarf veronicas: These have low, spreading growth on slender woody stems and are often referred to as alpines, as they are suitable for rock gardens
• Moisture-loving veronicas: This type needs to grow in shallow water or boggy soil
Veronicas can be grown in a range of places such as borders, rockeries and raised beds or pond edges, depending on the variety. Veronicas are easy to grow and need little care apart from cutting back herbaceous varieties at the end of the season.
Ceanothus. A garden favourite, is known for it’s impressive flowering display. It can be grown as a free-standing or a wall-trained shrub, a deciduous or as an evergreen. It is much appreciated by bumblebees in autumn.
Ceanothus flowers in late spring to early summer or late summer to autumn depending on the species/cultivar. Plant in spring or autumn on free-draining soil. Easy to grow in the right spot, it likes a sunny, sheltered, well-drained position. It’s mostly hardy in the UK but avoid frost pockets and windy sites. Prune annually; wall-trained plants need most attention and take cuttings to produce new plants.
Marjoram (and oregano) is a versatile and essential herbs that good cooks will always have to hand. They are perennial herbs and a plant of each will provide lots of tasty leaves – and even their colourful flowers – for cooking.
Marjoram and oregano are very attractive garden plants, especially when flowering, there are also varieties with golden coloured leaves.
The commonly grown marjorams are sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) and pot marjoram (Origanum onites); oregano is Origanum vulgare. Both are popular in Italian, Greek and Mexican dishes, soups, stuffings, pasta and tomato sauces and as flavours for oils and vinegars.
As for tastes, most marjorams have a more delicate, sweeter flavour than the stronger tasting and pungent leaves of oregano, which have a definite spicy taste. Oregano is typically used to flavour foods that already have strong flavours. Marjorams provide background flavours rather than dominant ones, and most people say that sweet marjoram is the best marjoram for cooking purposes. Because of its strong taste, many dried oreganos bought in shops also contains some marjoram.
As marjoram and oregano are natives of the Mediterranean, they need a warm, sunny position. They are fairly drought tolerant and need a well-drained, humus-rich, preferably alkaline or neutral, soil. Plants can be killed by overly wet soils.
Birdsfoot trefoil (lotus corniculatus). Common bird’s-foot-trefoil has a variety of names that conjure up some interesting images: ‘Eggs and Bacon’, for instance! Its small, yellow, slipper-like flowers can be seen in all kinds of grassy places. It grows to 35cm and is Common throughout the UK between May and September.
One of the more evocative names for common bird’s-foot-trefoil is ‘Granny’s toenails’, which gives an instant and perhaps not-so-pleasant, impression of the claw-like seed pods of this abundant and sprawling species. Other common names include ‘butter and eggs’, eggs and bacon’, and ‘hen and chickens’, all these names refer to the egg-yolk yellow flowers and reddish buds. Bird’s foot trefoil is found in all kinds of grassy places from lawns to downlands, roadside verges to heathlands.
Devil’s-bit scabious (succisa pratensis). The pincushion-like, lilac-blue flower heads of Devil’s-bit scabious attract a wide variety of butterflies and bees. Look for this pretty plant in damp meadows and marshes, and on riverbanks. It can grow up to up to 75cm and is common throughout the UK between July to October.
Devil’s-bit scabious has flattened, rounded flower heads that range in colour from blue to pinky-purple. Its leaves are long and oval, and differ from those of field scabious, which are dark green, hairy and deeply lobed.
Evening primrose (oenothera biennis) is an erect biennial with a rosette of oblong leaves and long, leafy racemes of bowl-shaped, fragrant, yellow flowers which open in the evening in summer and autumn. Evening Primrose is native to the UK. Other common names include coffee plant, fever plant, field primrose, four o’clock, night willowherb and wild four o’clock.
Oenothera can be annuals, biennials or perennials, upright or spreading in habit, with simple or lobed leaves and bowl-shaped, white, yellow or pink flowers which grow over a long period in summer All varieties can be grown in poor to moderately fertile, well-drained soil in full sun. Propagation is by seed sown in early summer and it’s ideal in cottage and informal gardens, wildflower meadows, flower borders and beds. Cut back after flowering, these generally pest-free varieties may be subject to powdery mildews and a leaf spot.
Great willowherb (epilobium hirsutum), is a tall and hairy plant which displays pretty pink-and-cream flowers. It can be found in damp places, such as wet grasslands, ditches and riversides. It can grow to a height of two metres and is common throughout the UK (but less so in Scotland) between July and August. Its fluffy seeds are dispersed by the wind.
Great willowherb is a tall plant that is covered in soft, downy hair. Its small, purple-pink flowers have creamy centres and the lance-shaped leaves sit opposite each other on the stems.
Great willowherb is also sometimes known as ‘Codlins-and-cream’. Codlins are actually cooking apples, so this name may have arisen from the rosy pink flowers with their creamy centres. Other names, such as ‘Apple-pie’ and ‘Cherry-pie’, seem to follow the same idea.
September and October
Trees: Most of trees have finished flowering by now with berries and fruit appearing instead.
Abelia is another long flowering shrub; going well into autumn and it is usually evergreen. It’s happy in most soils, and offers colour even after flowering. Abelias have glossy leaves and masses of tubular flowers in pink, white or cerise. There are golden and variegated varieties and when the flowers fade the coloured sepals remain, giving you continuing interest into autumn.
Abelia does best in a sunny, sheltered position in fertile, well-drained soil. This shrub won’t be happy in cold or windy positions or in soils that don’t drain well. You can take cuttings of soft new growth in early summer and root them easily to produce new plants.
Caryopteris × clandonensis ‘Heavenly Blue’ is another RHS Plants for Pollinators selection because it provides abundant nectar and pollen for bees and many other types of pollinating insects. It is included in an evolving list of plants carefully researched and chosen by RHS experts.
‘Heavenly Blue’ is a compact, upright shrub to 1m tall, with arching branches bearing toothed, grey-green leaves and clusters of small dark blue flowers in the leaf axils in late summer and early autumn. ‘Heavenly Blue’ is a member of the Lamiaceae family which is native to the UK. It has bushy, deciduous foliage with aromatic, simple leaves and small blue or white flowers in compact clusters which appear in late summer and autumn. Grow in moderately fertile, light, well-drained soil in full sun. Best positioned near a warm, sunny wall. Propagation can be achieved by taking softwood cuttings from spring to midsummer, semi-ripe cuttings from mid to late summer or hardwood cuttings from late autumn to mid-winter. Suggested RHS locations include; coastal, city and courtyard gardens, cottage and informal gardens and Flower borders and beds. May be susceptible to capsid bugs and mealybugs but is generally disease free.
Plumbago or leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is a herbaceous perennial and a personal favourite of mine; its sky-blue flowers reminiscent of Mediterranean skies. It’s another RHS Plants for Pollinators selection as it provides abundant nectar and pollen for bees and the other pollinating insects.
As a plant native to warmer regions of the world, Plumbago does not tolerate being frozen so will only suit a sheltered location. It can be grown easily outside in summer or under glass all year or if grown in a pot, can be brought inside during winter.
Propagate by rooting softwood cuttings in spring or by semi-hardwood cuttings in summer. Suggested planting locations and garden types include cottage and informal gardens, Mediterranean climate plants, city and courtyard gardens, shrub borders, wall side borders, banks and slopes. Cut back to ground level any shoots that get frost damaged. Generally pest free.
Fuchsias are instantly recognisable by their dangling, brightly coloured flowers in pink, cerise, and lavender shades. Hardy fuchsias will stay in bloom until the first frost of the year, making them a good long term source of nectar for bumblebees.
Fuchsias are much-loved by humans for their hanging, bell-shaped, bi-coloured flowers that look like colourful, dancing skirts. But as the flowers last all summer and there are thousands of varieties available, they are beloved by pollinators too. Some varieties have golden or variegated foliage, or purple or red-tinged leaves.
Autumn crocus (Colchicum
autumnale ‘Naked Ladies’) is a popular autumn-flowering bulb, the cheeky name comes from the fact that these flowers emerge from the ground without leaves, looking bare or naked.
Autumn crocuses are easily identified by their large, showy globlet-shaped flowers blooming on bare stems. Flowers, which come in shades of pink, purple and white, are native to European and North African meadows. These flowers add colour to any garden and are ideal for rock gardens or among other low-growing plants. Naked ladies prefer sunny but sheltered locations, along with fertile, well-drained soils.
Interestingly, while the Autumn crocus and the spring-flowering crocus may look similar but they’re not related as the Autumn crocus is not a true crocus. Another difference is that the spring crocus is harmless, while the Autumn Crocus is poisonous to both animals and humans, as it contains colchincine, a deadly toxin. Needless to say, Colchicum autumnale is not edible. Even harvesting them as cut flowers isn’t recommended!
Echinacea purpurea comes in many varieties. These wonderful, large daisy-like flowers are often known as ‘Coneflowers’ along with Helenium (sneezeweed) and Rudbeckia.
Bees and butterflies feed on the large centres, which become more cone-shaped and prominent with age. Coneflowers need full sun and like well-drained soil, but other than that, they are fairly easy to grow.
Look out for wonderful shades of pink, orange, copper, white and buttercup yellows. Although some varieties will flower from early summer, the later flowering varieties are a real help to bees and butterflies to feed emerging young, and help new queen bumble bees needing to build their energy reserves ready for mating.
Helianthus Lemon Queen is still flowing well at this time of year. It’s also known simply as ‘Sunflower’ and is a perennial flower in the Asteraceae family. Sunflowers are among the easiest and most rewarding annuals to grow. They’re also some of the tallest, with many varieties producing huge, saucer-shaped yellow flowers that tower over other plants in the border.
Helianthus annuus ‘Lemon Queen’ bears masses of large, lemon-yellow flowers from July to September. It’s ideal for growing at the back of a sunny border and makes an excellent cut flower. For best results, sow seed in individual 10cm pots of moist seed compost in April to May, cover with cling film and place on a sunny windowsill or greenhouse bench. Remove the cling film once the seeds have germinated, and water plants regularly, allowing the water to drain. Pot on into larger pots with multipurpose compost, before eventually planting outside once all risk of frost has passed.
Monarda Osteospermum. Plain and simple in structure, vivid and dazzling in colour, Osteospermum AKA ‘African Daisy’ has come out of Africa and into Britain; from the savannah to the garden. It has come out of nowhere into a rising arc of popularity – and why not? This flowering plant not only brings riotous good cheer, it is easy to grow and equally easy to maintain. It’s a good source of late pollen for bumblebees.
Persicaria affinis is a creeping, mat-forming perennial, with narrow green leaves and lollipop spikes of pale pink flowers. Semi-evergreen, it makes a fine choice for using as ground cover in a mixed herbaceous border and its blooms are popular with pollinators.
Grow Persicaria affinis in full sun to partial shade, in moisture retentive soil. Cut back after flowering and divide congested clumps every three years.
Red valerian (centranthus ruber) grows as a perennial plant, usually as a subshrub though it can take any form from a herbaceous plant to a shrub depending on conditions; the plants are usually woody at the base. The leaves are generally 5–8 cm in length. The plant flowers profusely, and though the individual flowers are small (no more than 2 mm), the inflorescences are large and showy. The flowers are small in rounded clusters each with 5 fused petals and a spur. The most typical colour is a brick red or purplish red, but colours include deep crimson, pale pink, and lavender. Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’ (about 10% of individuals) has white blooms. Flowering takes place in early summer and, in cool summer areas, continues sporadically throughout the summer and into autumn.
The blooms have a strong and somewhat unpleasant scent. They are pollinated by both bees and butterflies and the plant is noted for attracting insects so clearly the scent is not so unattractive to them! Seeds have tufts similar to dandelions that allow wind dispersal and as such, can self-seed freely.
Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan) The starry flowers of these robust, long-flowering plants can shine in borders, summer bedding, containers and prairie-style plantings. Perennials tend to be yellow flowered, whereas those grown as annuals are available in a wider colour range, with shades of yellow, orange, dark red or brown. The foliage can be hairy or smooth and comes in green or grey.
Sturdy upright stems carry daisy-like mainly yellow flowers, with a central disc that forms a cone (not visible in double varieties). Sizes vary considerably; R. hirta ‘Toto’ only reaches about 25cm (10in), whereas R. laciniata can reach 3m (10ft).
Rudbeckias grow well in moderately fertile, moisture retentive but not soggy soil. They flower best in full sun. Plants may wilt during prolonged dry periods in summer. They will not flower well in shade.
Verbascum. These are biennial or perennial plants, rarely annuals or subshrubs, growing to 0.5 to 3.0 m (1.6 to 9.8 ft) tall. The plants first form a dense rosette of leaves at ground level, subsequently sending up a tall flowering stem. Biennial plants form the rosette the first year and the stem the following season. The leaves are spirally arranged, often densely hairy, though glabrous (hairless) in some species. The flowers have five symmetrical petals; petal colours in different species include yellow (most common), orange, red-brown, purple, blue, or white. The fruit is a capsule containing numerous minute seeds.
Annuals and Biennials
Gypsophila elegans also known as Baby breath. This simple, single gypsophila could not be more different to the twee, top-heavy double form often used in flower arranging. It makes a good filler in the garden and vase and is excellent for pollinators. Needs very sharp drainage or they can be short lived. Can be grown in container pots.
Annuals and Biennials
Scabious (Scabiosa and Knautia) offers a succession of summer flowers – sometimes into autumn – scabious are great additions to borders. They can be perennials, surviving for several years, or annual or biennials, dying after flowering. Good for cutting, the flowers are very attractive to bees and butterflies.
Clover (trifolium). Small-leaved white clover is a creeping perennial that roots at the nodes. Between May and October, on long stalks, it bears rounded heads of creamy white flowers, sometimes with a hint of pale pink that fade to brown. Leaves are trifoliate – or four leaved, if you’re lucky! Leaves have rounded tips and often bear a white mark. Valuable to wood mice, bumblebees and common blue butterflies well into autumn.
Ivy (hedera helix); many varieties flower until November. Clingy, luscious and misunderstood, Ivy has long been accused of strangling trees, but it doesn’t harm the tree at all and even supports at least 50 species of wildlife. Some of the main insect species foraging on the nectar and pollen of ivy are bees, hoverflies and common wasps.
The high fat content of ivy berries is also a nutritious food resource for birds and they are eaten by a number of species including thrushes, blackcaps, woodpigeons and blackbirds. Ivy flowers in September to November and Ivy berries are an important food for winter migrants, like the Redwing. It has climbing stems with specialised hairs which help it stick to surfaces as it climbs. Ivy nectar and pollen are an essential food source for insects during autumn when little else is about. Click here to learn about the mythology and traditions around. Ivy.
2 thoughts on “Our bees’ favourite forage”
Absolutely wonderful, I shall be making many visits to expand the selection and season of plants to include in my patch. Thank you for making this available, it must have been a mammoth task. Have you considered compiling it into a hardcopy form for interested gardeners and beekeepers, which may contribute funds for the association? Or possibly an ebook form with lower cost overheads in the first instance.
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Thank you for your comments. As it happens, we are looking at ways of increasing revenue. We’ll certainly consider your ideas. Thank you in return!
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