Perfect plants for pollinating insects

P. Brook

Here are some of Penny and Peter's favourite plants for providing that all-important pollen and nectar for the insects in their garden.

Following our previous blog about bug hotels, we want to highlight some of our favourite plants for providing that all-important pollen and nectar for the insects in our garden, particularly in that tricky period after spring but before summer is in full swing. We try to have a variety of flower types to meet the needs of insects with different feeding habits and to make the garden visually attractive. They are all tough plants and, in our garden, they survive slugs and snails.

Erysimum or perennial wallflowers are fantastic, particularly ‘Bowles Mauve’, as it has a good flush of flowers in spring. It then keeps going, though with fewer flowers, until the first frost. We love it because it is always alive with insects and enlivens our garden during its rather green phase between spring and summer.

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Common carder bee on an erysimum which we think may be ‘Sweet Sorbet’ - P. Brook

Early flowering hardy geraniums are very popular with the bees in our garden, particularly one that we think is geranium robustum. This may be partly because it has grown into an enormous plant, about 1.5 metres across. We have noticed that insects are really drawn to large plants or drifts of the same plant which they can then work across with minimum effort. In our garden, geranium robustum is a short-lived perennial but seeds fairly freely and is tolerant of being transplanted when small. Thankfully we have always found a seedling somewhere as we haven’t seen it for sale since buying our first plant years ago at a small nursery in Wales.

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Red girdled mining bee on what is probably geranium robustum - P. Brook

Foxgloves are excellent for long-tongued insects such as the garden bumblebee. It is important to provide flowers of different shapes to cater to the needs of a wide range of insects. Foxgloves need a little care in our garden if they are to be spared by the slugs. Self-seeded plants generally survive, perhaps because they are naturally in an ideal spot. If we put them in as plants, we ensure they are a good size and they generally survive the slugs.

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Garden bumblebee on foxglove - P. Brook

Allium provide early summer colour, and bees seem to love them! We have found that some allium are rather thuggish, even in the wilder parts of our garden. Perhaps our favourite allium is ‘Purple Sensation’ which is tough but not an over-enthusiastic spreader, and we can always find bees on its vibrant flowers.

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Male early bumble bee on allium ‘Purple Sensation’ - P. Brook

All the plants we have mentioned so far are on the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plants for Pollinators list. We cannot find Welsh poppies on the list but in our garden, they seem to be very popular with bees. We love this plant because its beautiful flowers illuminate dry and dark corners where nothing else will grow, and it also copes with being baked in our sunniest borders. Most are yellow but we have some vibrant orange ones too, self-seeded progeny of a ‘Frances Perry’ that we bought many years ago. They are a brilliant slug-resistant alternative to Iceland poppies which would be totally devoured in our garden.

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Buff tail bumble bee on Welsh poppy descended from ‘Frances Perry’ - P. Brook

We find that all these plants are good for carrying the garden from spring to summer by providing colour to delight us, and provide a good supply of pollen and nectar for insects, particularly bees. We hope you have enjoyed seeing our selection and might be tempted to make room for some of them in your own garden.

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