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Plants for bees: our top 7 for gardens

 Plants for Bees

As bee populations are declining worldwide, introducing more pollinator-rich plants into our gardens can halt this trend. Here are the top 10 plants for bees.

1. Hylodelephium (Sedum) 'Carl'

Hylotelephium (formerly sedum) is a late-season perennial with flat clusters of small star-shaped flowers in pink. They provide abundant nectar and attract pollinating insects.

A perennial bugbear of some species of Hylodelphium has a tendency to fail, leaving a gap in the center. These are prime candidates for a Chelsea sap – cut them by two-thirds at the end of May and they'll produce stronger, less flexible growth. Or go for smaller varieties like 'Carl'.

2. Phacelia tanacetifolia

You may have seen the annual plant Phacelia tanacetifolia as a green manure that is dug up before flowering. Leave it to bloom, however, and you'll be rewarded with a constant bombardment of bees. As the individual flowers open in succession in curved cymes, they collect copious amounts of nectar that are released over a long period of time.

Sow the seed in fall or early spring in a fertile, well-drained, and sunny location where it will grow. A word of caution - it self-seeds very easily.

3. Allium 'Purple Sensation

All flowers in the Allium family (which includes leeks and onions) are magnets for bees. However, from a garden-worthy perspective, ornamental varieties such as Allium 'Purple Sensation' make it into the top 10.

Alliums look stunning when planted in groups among other herbaceous plants in a border, like a firework bursting in the center of the orbs of flowers. Plant the bulbs in the fall and bloom the following late spring or early summer.

4. Echium ‘Blue Bedder’

Grow Echium vulgare every two years, and the bees will make a sweet, subdued hum when they're in bloom. Being biennial, it blooms in its first year and dies in its second year. However, if you leave the flowers to seed, you will continue to replace the plants year after year.

There are also annual varieties, the most popular being Echium 'Blue Beder'. They are very compact in their habit and still provide a foraging feast for pollinators. Echiums like free-draining (marginal on alkaline) soils, but will cope with all but acidic soils.

5. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

Although Origanum vulgare is commonly grown as a culinary herb for its leaves, its flowers, and ornamental, non-edible varieties (such as O. laevicatum) are a source of nectar for bees.

Nectar is 80% sugar and the bees are so eager to access it that you can see them hovering in a holding structure above the flowers like airplanes waiting for a landing spot. Grow oregano in a sunny place with free-draining soil.

6. Lavandula ‘Gros Bleu’

Lavender x intermedia (Dutch lavender) and Lavandula angustifolia (English lavender) are bee-friendly plants. Research shows that within these species, there are some species that bees struggle to reach for honey. These are L. x intermedia 'Gros Bleu', 'Edelweiss', and L. angustifolia 'Sussex'.

All lavender species need full sun and well-drained soil to survive and thrive. Any hint of wet feet in winter will sound like their death knell.

7. Echinops ‘Veitch’s Blue’

Echinops, with their curious, Sputnik-like, spiky flower heads, add an almost otherworldly element to the perennial border. As far as bees are concerned, add their magnetic qualities and they make our top 10 list.

Although the common E. retro is not particularly strikingly colored, the variety 'Veach's Blue' is deep blue - a wonderful foil to almost any other color. Echinops are sun-lovers and, with branches and fleshy tap-roots, they can cope with very free-draining conditions.


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