Planting for Wildlife in the Garden - part 1

Since the feature on Gardeners’ World on the 4 September, I’ve had dozens of messages from people asking about plants for wildlife, and what they can plant in their garden to emulate our little ‘Shortmeadow’. So here you are - the first of a series of blog posts about great plants for attracting wildlife to your garden :)


Male Orange Tip Butterfly feeding on Bowles's Mauve

Male Orange Tip Butterfly feeding on Bowles's Mauve

Perennial Wallflower, Erysimum 'Bowles's Mauve'

A wonderful plant, Erysimum Bowles’s Mauve flowers almost all year round! Which is great as it provides early and late season nectar for those insects on the fringes of the seasons. The little mason bees that colonise the bee hotel love it in March and April, and the last of the bumblebees and butterflies use it to stock up on nectar before winter arrives. It’s a beautiful plant and the flowers smell divine - I wouldn’t be without it. It can get a bit woody and tired after a couple of years, but propagates really well from cuttings.


Bumblebee feeding on 'Sungold'

Buddleia, various varieties

Buddleia has a bit of reputation for being a thug in the wild. Buddleia davidii is the type that you see running rampant alongside railways and bits of wasteland, and it can often crowd out other plants. But there are some lovely cultivated and less thuggish varieties that are great for the garden. I have lots of Buddleia x weyeriana ‘Sungold’ in the garden - it doesn’t set seed, flowers for months, smells like honey, and is covered in bumblebees, butterflies and hoverflies throughout late summer.


Female Red Mason Bee feeding on Borage

Female Red Mason Bee feeding on Borage

Borage

Also known as ‘Starflower’ thanks to the pretty star-shaped blue flowers, borage is one of the best plants for bees. Its flowers refill with nectar astonishingly quickly, about every two minutes, which means borage can be an almost constant source of nectar for pollinators. An annual, it grows, flowers, sets seed and dies, all in one year, but is a prolific self-seeder, so once you’ve grown it, you’ll more often than not see it coming back year after year. Borage is edible and the flowers are lovely sprinkled on salads or in summer drinks, but I like to leave them for the bees :)


Song Thrush feeding on Cotoneaster berries

Song Thrush feeding on Cotoneaster berries

Cotoneaster

We have three cotoneaster shrubs in the garden and they are humming with bees and wasps in Spring when they are smothered in tiny nectar rich flowers. Then, with a second flourish of goodness in Autumn and Winter, they are smothered in red berries which are irresistible to many birds, particularly the blackbirds and thrushes in our garden.


Honeybee foraging on Common Knapweed

Common Knapweed

A native wildflower, I collected some Common Knapweed seed from a patch growing wild at the side of a nearby reservoir. One seedhead gave me dozens of plants which grew very easily and quickly from seed, and it is both pollen and nectar rich making it hugely attractive to all kinds of pollinators, including bees, butterflies, hoverflies and beetles. It’s cousin, the Greater Knapweed, is equally as useful and easy to grow.