Top plants 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 a helping hand.

Small tortoiseshell butterfly on ivy flowers. © Estuary Pig/Getty
1

Viper’s bugloss

A beautiful native wildflower, easy to grow and hugely attractive to bees of many types.

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  • Where to plant: sandy, chalk and disturbed soils
  • Blooming time: May – September
2

Comfrey

Comfrey. © Michael Meijer/Getty
Comfrey. © Michael Meijer/Getty

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

3

Geranium

Almost all of the perennial hardy geraniums available for gardens are great plants for pollinators, but my favourite is the wild meadow cranesbill.

4

Catmint

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

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

5

Marjoram

Marjoram. © Getty
Marjoram. © Getty

Very attractive to a broad range of insects, including butterflies, bees, beetles and hoverflies. Also very useful in the kitchen.

6

Leek

Leek. © Yuriy S/Getty
Leek. © Yuriy S/Getty

Simply allow a few of your garden leeks to flower in their second summer, and you’ll perhaps be surprised to see how attractive their large, ball-shaped flowers are to butterflies and solitary bees.

7

Angelica

Wild angelica. © Reim photo/Getty
Wild angelica. © Reim photo/Getty

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

8

Field scabious

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

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

  • Where to plant: grassy places and dry soils
  • Blooming time: July – September
9

Dahlia (single varieties)

Small tortoiseshells bumblebees on pink dahlias. © Lisaeleba/Getty
Small tortoiseshells bumblebees on pink dahlias. © Lisaeleba/Getty

Overlooked as plants for pollinators, the single variety dahlias are hugely attractive to bumblebees, with a long flowering period.

10

Ivy

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

A fantastic nectar-rich autumn flower for a wide diversity of insects, including bees, butterflies, hoverflies, wasps and more. The berries are also eaten by birds.

Where to plant: partially or fully shaded site
Blooming time: autumn

11

Bird’s-foot trefoil

Bird's foot trefoil. © Erik Agar/Getty
Bird’s foot trefoil. © Erik Agar/Getty
  • Where to plant: anywhere except in very acidic soils
  • Blooming time: May – September
12

Dog-rose

Dog rose. © Andi Edwards/Getty
Dog rose. © Andi Edwards/Getty
  • Where to plant: full sun with moderately fertile soil
  • Blooming time: late summer-early autumn
13

Wild cherry tree

  • Where to plant: mixture of sun and shade, fertile soil
  • Blooming time: April – May
14

Yellow rattle

Yellow rattle. © Creative Nature NL/Getty
Yellow rattle. © Creative Nature NL/Getty
  • Where to plant: grassland of low to medium fertility
  • Blooming time: May – September
15

Wild carrot

  • Where to plant: free-draining and slightly acidic soils
  • Blooming time: June – August
16

Common knapweed

  • Where to plant: well-drained fertile soil in a sunny position
  • Blooming time: June – September
17

Dandelions

Dandelion. © pechrvoy/Getty
Dandelion. © pechrvoy/Getty
  • Where to plant: anywhere
  • Blooming time: spring and then late summer
18

Bluebells

A holly blue butterfly resting on a bluebell. © Estuary Pig/Getty
A holly blue butterfly resting on a bluebell. © Estuary Pig/Getty
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  • Where to plant: partial shade, well-drained soil rich in organic matter
  • Blooming time: mid-April – late May