One of the key initiatives of GatE is to support pollinating insects and more generally to increase biodiversity in our gardens. There are a variety of ways we can do this.
Plants for pollinators
The table below is an initial list of garden plants which are good for pollinating insects, drawn from the RHS Garden Plants for Pollinators. Plants marked with N are natives; HP stands for Herbaceous perennial.
|Latin name||Common name||Type||Flowers|
|Calamintha nepeta||lesser calamint||HP||Jun-Aug||N|
|Campanula glomerata||clustered bellflower||HP||Jun-Aug||N|
|Centaurea scabiosa||greater knapweed||HP||Jun-Aug||N|
|Coreopsis species||tickseed||HP or Annual||Jun-Aug|
|Echinacea purpurea||purple coneflower||HP||Jun-Aug|
|Echinops species||globe thistle||HP||Jun-Aug|
|Eranthis hyemalis||winter aconite||Bulb||Nov-Feb|
|Galanthus nivalis||common snowdrop||Bulb||Nov-Feb|
|Geranium pratense||meadow cranesbill||HP||Jun-Aug||N|
|Heliotropium arborescens||common heliotrope||Annual||Jun-Aug|
|Helleborus species and hybrids||hellebore (spring-flowering)||Shrub||Mar-May|
|Helleborus species and hybrids||hellebore (winter-flowering)||HP||Nov-Feb|
|Knautia arvensis||field scabious||HP||Jun-Aug||N|
|Knautia macedonica||Macedonian scabious||HP||Jun-Aug|
|Lavandula angustifolia||English lavender||Shrub||Jun-Aug|
|Lavandula stoechas||French lavender||Shrub||Jun-Aug|
|Origanum vulgare||oregano, wild marjoram||HP||Jun-Aug||N|
|Salvia species||sage||Annual or HP||Jun-Aug|
|Scabiosa species||scabious||Annual or HP||Jun-Aug|
|Symphyotrichum species and hybrids||Michaelmas daisy||HP||Sep-Oct|
|Verbena bonariensis||purple top||HP||Jun-Aug|
The following list was drawn up by Annie and provides a more personal view on some of the plants listed above.
Achillea millefolium, is the British native species with pretty white flower heads, held in flat clusters surrounded by feathery foliage. A reasonably tall plant, there are many Achillea cultivars. Flower colours range through yellow, pink and bronze; for example, Achillea ‘cloth of gold’. Butterflies and hoverflies like the flat flower heads of Achillea.
A cottage garden favourite as well as a pollinators’ favourite! Whites, pinks, purples and even yellow flowers are possible, as are bi-coloured forms. Aquilegia will suit most garden styles except the very modern or Japanese gardens.
There are different types, varieties and cultivars, all popular with bees, pollinating wasps and butterflies. Most respond to being cut back as the flowers die by producing fresh growth and masses more flowers. One of the National Collections of Centaurea is held by Special Perennials in Cheshire. Centaurea dealbata has bronze buds open into deep rose pink cornflowers. Centaurea montana — also known as perennial cornflower — is usually found with blue flowers. But there are also white and purple varieties; the delightful Centaurea montana ‘purple heart’ has white outer petals surrounding a purple centre.
Much loved by butterflies, flowers may be yellow /white or right yellow, all with fine, feathery foliage. A very long flowering period and general cheerful manner makes them an easy maintenance choice for those who also want to help pollinating insects.
Echinops (Globe thistle)
This is a wonderful architectural plant with varieties large and small. The seed heads are a further bonus for you and the garden birds. Personally, I find Echinops fascinating in bud, in flower and in seed, adding interest to the flower border in all stages.
Geranium, with its open flowers — but not all carry good supplies of nectar. Those that do are Geranium pratense, the meadow cranesbill. Blue / purple flowers are scattered over large clumps of soft green foliage; Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’ with magenta pink petals and a black centre.; Geranium sanguineum, a smaller leaved geranium perhaps offers better ground cover for a smaller garden. Pale pink, bright pink and white flowers from sanguineum.
Also known as Macedonian scabious, and Scabiosa rumelica, the Knautia has similar flower heads to Scabiosa. Knautia ‘red knight’ has a bright red flower which sings at you on rainy summer days. Knautia are good for human interest as they have a long flowering period; and good for pollinating insects for the same reason!
Plants which are mainly silver leaved with blue / lilac / purple flowers. Nepeta ‘kit kat’ is one of the dwarf varieties. Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ is larger and more sprawling.
The herbaceous salvias, such as Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’, a particular favourite with its royal purple flower spikes held on red-black stems. Salvia nemerosa are also known as Balkan clary sage, and all have mildly aromatic foliage.
Scabiosa or pin cushion flower. Pin cushion heads of flowers in white, pale pink and blue, dark red and purple can lend themselves to cottage garden and contemporary garden styles, Scabiosa ‘Chile black’ is highly dramatic.
Make a home for solitary bees in your garden
- How to make a bee hotel — Wildlife Trust
- How to make a bee hotel — Natural History Museum
- How to make a bee home that really works — Vertical Veg
- Constructing some planters to attract insects and put them where they are visible on the street — the Grove Community Garden initiative is a source of inspiration for this.
- Encourage people to sign up for the Edinburgh Pollinator Pledge
- Encourage people to avoid pesticides and to campaign against their use — Community-driven Action: Pesticide-free Balerno
See more info and resources for pollinators on the GatE Resources Page.
How will this help with the climate crisis?
The best way to restore natural habitats to help fight global warming is through natural regeneration from seeds, and for that we need pollinators.Jeff Ollerton, 2021
Drawing down carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it requires multiple approaches; there is no single solution. Without pollinators as allies, reversing the effects of climate change will be much harder.Jeff Ollerton, 2021