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

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

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.

Geranium

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

Catmint

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

Wild cherry tree

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

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

Wild carrot

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

Common knapweed

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

Dandelions

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

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