Best plants to grow for pollinators in your wildlife garden

Dave Goulson, author of The Garden Jungle, reveals some of the best plants you can grow to give garden pollinators and other species a helping hand.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly on ivy flowers. © Estuary Pig/Getty

Together, our gardens are a huge living landscape and a really important habitat for a range of insects, birds and mammals. The way we choose to manage our green spaces can make a big difference to the natural world. By growing wildlife-friendly plants you can attract more animals to your garden and create a haven for nature.

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Wildlife gardening expert Dave Goulson shares some of the best plants you can grow to create a wildlife-friendly garden and give pollinators and other species a helping hand.

Add the tubes. © Sarah Cuttle

Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Blossom of Viper's-bugloss (Echium vulgare)
Blossom of Viper’s bugloss. © Bildagentur-online/Universal Images Group/Getty

A hairy plant with dense spikes of bright blue, funnel-shaped flowers.

Plant range: Europe; scattered distribution in the UK, most common in the south

Attracts: buff-tailed and red-tailed bumblebees, large skipper and painted lady butterflies, honeybees and red mason bees

Where to plant: full sun; well-drained soil; loam, chalk, sandy

Flowers: June to August (purple flowers)


Comfrey (Symphytum officinale)

Comfrey. © Michael Meijer/Getty
Comfrey is an important plant for organic gardeners. © Michael Meijer/Getty

Perhaps the single best plant you can grow for bumblebees – they absolutely love it. It also makes a great liquid manure.

Plant range: Europe and temperate Asia; widespread in the UK but most common in England

Attracts: Bumblebees

Where to plant: full sun or partial shade; moist but well-drained or poorly drained soil; sand, chalk, loam, clay

Flowers: May to July (purple, pink or cream flowers)


Meadow crane’s-bill (Geranium pratense)

Meadow crane's-bill (Geranium pratense) is a herbaceous perennial.
Meadow crane’s-bill is a herbaceous perennial. ©Getty

Almost all of the perennial hardy geraniums available for gardens are great plants for pollinators but Dave Goulson’s favourite is the meadow crane’s-bill.

Plant range: Europe to Himalaya

Attracts: many species of bee, including buff-tailed and red-tailed bumblebees, and honeybees

Where to plant: full sun or partial shade; moist but well-drained/well-drained soil; sand, chalk, loam, clay

Flowers: June to September (blue, purple flowers)


Catmint (Nepeta)

Honeybee on catmint flowers. © Ivanoal/Getty
Honeybee on catmint flowers. © Ivanoal/Getty

Alive with bees all summer long, and extremely easy to grow.

Plant range: southern Europe

Attracts: bees, butterflies and other pollinators; its leaves are used as a caterpillar foodplant

Where to plant: full sun or partial shade; well-drained soil; sand, chalk, loam

Flowers: June to September


Wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare)

Common blue butterfly on marjoram (Origanum vulgare).
Common blue butterfly on wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare). © Ian West/Oxford Scientific/Getty

Very attractive to a broad range of insects, including butterflies, bees, beetles and hoverflies.

Plant range: Europe; North Africa; quite common in the south of England, but largely absent from central, northern and western Scotland

Attracts: bees, moths and other pollinators

Where to plant: full sun; well-drained soil; sand, loam, chalk

Flowers: June to September (pink flowers)


Garden angelica (Angelica archangelica)

Garden angelica (Angelica archangelica) flower buds.
Garden angelica (Angelica archangelica) flower buds. © Daniela White Images/Moment/Getty

Tall plants with giant, plate-like flowers that are enjoyed by numerous small solitary bees, wasps, beetles and hoverflies.

Plant range: Europe, Asia, Northern hemisphere

Attracts: pollinators; seeds are eaten by birds

Where to plant: partial shade; moist but well-drained/poorly drained soil; clay, chalk, loam

Flowers: June and July (green flowers)


Field scabious (Knautia arvensis)

Painted lady butterfly on a field scabious. © Carolos Rodriguez/Getty
Painted lady butterfly on field scabious. © Carolos Rodriguez/Getty

A beautiful native wildflower, with mauve powder-puff flowers in the summer months, attractive to many different insects.

Plant range: Europe, Asia

Attracts: bees and butterflies

Where to plant: full sun; well-drained soil; loam, sand, chalk

Flowers: July to September (blue/purple flowers)


Dahlia (single varieties, Dahlia)

Small tortoiseshells bumblebees on pink dahlias. © Lisaeleba/Getty
Small tortoiseshell butterflies and bumblebees on pink Dahlias. © Lisaeleba/Getty

Overlooked as plants for pollinators, the single-flowered dahlias are hugely attractive to bees and butterflies because they are more accessible and have a long-flowering period.

Attracts: bees, butterflies and other pollinators

Where to plant: full sun; moist but well-drained/well-drained soil; loam, clay, sand

Flowers: July to September/October


Ivy (Hedera)

Small tortoiseshell butterfly on ivy flowers. © Estuary Pig/Getty
Small tortoiseshell butterfly on ivy flowers. © Estuary Pig/Getty

According to the RHS, more than 140 species of insect and 17 species of bird feed on this climber in Britain, and countless others appreciate its evergreen shelter.

Attracts: birds and a huge variety of insects

Where to plant: partially shaded; well-drained/moist but well-drained soil; sand, clay, chalk, loam

Flowers: September to November (yellow-green flowers)


Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

Bird's foot trefoil. © Erik Agar/Getty
Small white butterfly on bird’s foot trefoil. © Erik Agar/Getty

Member of the pea family with lots of interesting common names, including ‘eggs and bacon’ and ‘hen and chickens’, which refer to the yellow flowers and reddish buds.

Attracts: bees and larval food for some moths

Where to plant: full sun; well-drained soil; loam, chalk, sand

Flowers: May to September (yellow flowers)


Dog-rose (Rosa canina)

Dog rose. © Andi Edwards/Getty
Dog-rose is the most abundant of the UK’s native, wild roses. © Andi Edwards/Getty

This scrambling shrub has an attractive burst of lightly scented, flowers in summer, followed by a show of bright red hips in autumn.

Plant range: Europe, N Africa, SW Asia

Attracts: bees, butterflies, moths and birds. Also provides shelter for birds and small mammals

Where to plant: full sun; moist to well-drained soil; chalk, clay, sand, loam

Flowers: June to August (pale pink/white flowers)


Wild cherry tree (Prunus avium)

Blossom of wild cherry (Prunus avium).
Blossom of wild cherry. © Ian Lycett-King/Getty

Planted as an ornamental tree (be aware that Prunus avium can reach 20m in height or more so is suited to large gardens), this species also grows wild in woods and hedges. Its red fruits are edible cherries.

Plant range: Europe to Asia Minor, Caucasus, W Siberia

Attracts: bees, beneficial insects, birds, butterflies​/​moths and other pollinators. Has seeds for birds and mammals and is a caterpillar food plant

Where to plant: full sun; moist but well-drained/well-drained soil; sand, clay, chalk, loam

Flowers: March and April (white flowers)


Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor)

Yellow rattle. © Creative Nature NL/Getty
Yellow rattle is known as the ‘meadow maker’. © Creative Nature NL/Getty

At the height of summer, the tiny seeds rattling in their brown pods give this wildflower its name. Because yellow rattle feeds off the nutrients in the roots of nearby grasses, it is used to turn grassland back to meadow.

Plant range: N Hemisphere

Attracts: bumblebees; foodplant for the larvae of two rare moths, including the grass rivulet

Where to plant: grassland of low to medium fertility; full sun; well-drained/moist but well-drained soil; chalk, clay, sand, loam

Flowers: May to September (yellow flowers)


Wild carrot (Daucus carota)

Flowering wild carrot (Daucus carota).
Flowering wild carrot. © Jacky Parker Photography/Moment/Getty

Widespread perennial umbellifer of grasslands. After flowering, it develops a concave seedhead.

Plant range: Europe to India

Attracts: bees, beetles and hoverflies

Where to plant: full sun; well-drained soil; sand, chalk, loam

Flowers: June to August (white flowers)


Common knapweed (Centaurea nigra)

Small skipper butterfly feeding on common knapweed (Centaurea nigra).
Small skipper butterfly feeding on common knapweed (Centaurea nigra). © Ian West/Oxford Scientific/Getty

The bright pink-purple flowers of common knapweed are actually composite flower heads made up of many small florets.

Plant range: NW to C Europe

Attracts: butterflies, including common blue, marbled white and meadow brown

Where to plant: full sun/partial shade; moist but well-drained soil; chalk, clay, sand, loam

Flowers: June to September (pink/purple flowers)


Dandelion (Taraxacum)

Dandelion. © pechrvoy/Getty
Bright yellow dandelion flowers are a common sight in spring. © pechrvoy/Getty

Naturally found in grassy places and waste ground and an important food source for many insects.

 Plant range: Northern Hemisphere

Attracts: bumblebees, solitary bees, honeybees, hoverflies and beetles; a larval food source for moths

Where to plant: full sun/partial shade; clay, loam, chalk soil

Flowers: April to June (yellow flowers)


Common/English bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

A holly blue butterfly resting on a bluebell. © Estuary Pig/Getty
A holly blue butterfly resting on a bluebell. © Estuary Pig/Getty

These sweet-smelling flowers nod or droop to one side of the flowering stem (known as an inflorescence) and have creamy white-coloured pollen inside.

Plant range: W Europe

Attracts: butterflies, bees and hoverflies

Where to plant: partial shade, well-drained/moist but well-drained soil; chalk, clay, sand, loam

Flowers: April to May (blue flowers)


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Main image: Small tortoiseshell butterfly on ivy flowers. © Estuary Pig/Getty