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Ruby-tailed Wasp. Photo by Zakidot - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Making sure there is a year-round supply of flowers in your garden is vital for pollinators, especially as our seasons become less predictable. Bees will forage on warm days even in winter; careful planning can ensure they find nectar and pollen in your garden whenever they visit. A range of different flower shapes also helps to attract a wide variety of pollinators: tiny solitary wasps like to land on the broad heads of umbellifers like fennel, while long-tongued bumblebees can reach the deep pools of nectar in tube-shaped flowers like honeysuckle. 


Helleborus – It's hard to say whether hellebore flowers in midwinter are more welcome for us or for bees. Certainly their beautiful flowers uplift the spirits as well as providing pollen and nectar. 

Galanthus nivalis – Our native snowdrops are a welcome winter source of nectar for honeybees, who will emerge on sunny days even when temperatures are as low as 8°C.  


Daphne odora 'Aureomarginata'  An attractive shrub with gold leaf edges. In the late winter, the shrub is crowned with incredibly sweet-scented pink flowers. Plant in a sheltered spot near a doorway so you can enjoy the scent.  

Crocus – There is surely no easier way to add a beautiful wash of colour to the February garden than to plant crocus bulbs. My favourite varieties are the pale purple Crocus tommasinianus and ‘Jeanne d’Arc’- large goblets of the purest white. Both are enriched by saffron-coloured stamens.  


Erica carnea – This early flowering heather is a boon to bumblebee queens as they seek a nesting site. Fully hardy, and more tolerant of alkali soils than other heathers.  

Pulmonaria – Lovely flowers in shades of blue, pink or white above silver-spotted leaves. Choose ‘Trevi Fountain’ for the earliest blooms, ‘Blue Ensign’ for the truest blue or ‘Sissinghurst’ for pure white flowers.  


Symphytum – Several species are available, all of which self-seed readily and spread around the garden. To keep it under control, choose the cultivar ‘Bocking 14’ which is sterile and will not set seed. Comfrey is an exceptional bee plant, and also a source of organic fertiliser for your garden.  

Erysimum bicolor 'Bowles's Mauve' - A perennial wall-flower with one of the longest-flowering seasons of any garden plant.   


Digitalis purpurea – Our native foxglove is well known for its tall spires of pink blooms, always humming with bees.  

Malus - A crab apple is one of the most valuable small trees that you can add to your garden, offering spring blossom, nesting places and autumn fruits. Recommended varieties include ‘Red Sentinel’ for its bright red fruit which hang on the tree right through the winter, ‘Red Jade’ for its weeping habit and pink-flushed flowers, or ‘Comtesse de Paris’ for the lemon-yellow fruit. 


Achillea millefolium – With cultivars available in a wide range of colours and attractive ferny foliage, Achilleas are a must-grow for any garden. The flat flower-heads provide a landing-place for a wide range of insects: on my Norwich allotment the achillea had regular visits from the amazing Ruby-Tailed Wasp (pictured above).

Linaria purpurea – Delicate airy spires of purple (or soft pink, if you choose the cultivar ‘Canon Went’ or 'Peachy') will last until October and delight bees.  


Agastache aurantiaca, 'Navajo Sunset'  - tubular flowers in a gorgeous soft orange will bloom until the first frosts, set off by aromatic silvery foliage.  

Antirrhinum majus- Glorious spires in any warm shade you could desire. For a more cohesive look, choose plants of a single colour rather than the mixed packs. Be sure to avoid the 'Madame Butterfly' double cultivars, as they do not provide the same benefits to wildlife.  

Origanum vulgare – More commonly thought of as a herb than a border plant, if left to flower oregano will reward you with beautiful pink flowers which attract countless pollinators. 


Inula hookeri – A clump-forming perennial with beautiful fluffy buds that unfurl into showy, elegant and amazingly honey-scented yellow flowers.  

Hylotelephium (Was Sedum) - Choose from the green-leaved, mid-pink varieties or the atropurpurea group with purple leaves and red flowers. These will flower until October and develop attractive seedheads which stand well over winter, providing cover for hibernating invertebrates.  


Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Firetail' - A vigorous perennial with airy spires of tiny vivid crimson flowers. Adored by bees and with a long flowering period.  

Salvia yangii (was Perovskia) - Tall spires of the most beautiful blue atop silver leaves. You’ll rarely see this plant without a bee visiting each small flower in turn. 


Aster x frikartii ‘Mönch’ - a tall and elegant plant, covered in a profusion of lilac flowers through the autumn.  

Salvia ‘Amistad’ - This unmistakable plant can add wildlife value to its many other charms. Growing to 2 metres, Amistad will be covered in beautiful flowers of the richest purple from midsummer until a really sharp frost nips it. In a sheltered spot, I’ve seen it flower into December.  


Hedera helix – Ivy's late clusters of flowers are one of the most important autumn sources of nectar available to wildlife. You will often hear an ivy in flower before you see it, so attractive to bees that it hums audibly. 

Mahonia × media ‘Winter Sun’ -A shrub with a statuesque habit, strongly-shaped leaves and, in winter, drooping clusters of clear yellow flowers, beloved by bees.  


Primula vulgaris – A real winner to brighten up a shady corner. As a native woodland plant they are adapted to the shade cast by the summer tree canopy, but enjoy spring sun. Flowering right through until April they offer an important nectar source for early butterflies. 

Lonicera fragrantissima – A winter-flowering shrubby honeysuckle with wonderfully fragrant flowers. 

When buying plants specifically to benefit pollinators, it's good to consider the way the plants have been grown. Many nurseries around the country are committing to growing without harmful pesticides: find them here.

Plants for pollinators: About
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