Bee friendly low maintenance natural flowers?(39 Posts)
Hello. Advice appreciated.
We have a mound of earth (about 7 x 5 m?) i’d like to cover with flowers.
We already have trees and will be planting different ones so want lower level cover here. It’s in an area with trees on two sides and a wall on another so is in partial shade, but most (though not all) of the mound does get some sun. Happy to plant different things on the gets sun/doesn’t get sun part of it.
Soil isn’t great- topsoil no longer there and it feels pretty Clay-y to me but I don’t know much about this really so could have this wrong. (the soil is supposed to be chalky in this area).
The garden is bad for bees so I’d really like to give them some food so am thinking native, high nectar, maybe lavender (thought I thought this liked sandy soil and full sun?). I’m happy for it to look pretty wild and meadow like (it’s next to the tree’d area with lots of ground elder and nettles)- self seeding annuals would work well.
Oh and once established I want to do very little work - this area will need to cope with neglect!
I find herbaceous perennials are easier to manage than self seeding annuals (the ones you want to self seed never do!) so I’d go for a mix of both. Maybe herbs in the sunny part- lavender, rosemary, oregano. Oregano in particular is tough as old boots, will spread and make a big clump and the bees love it. The native oregano (marjoram) is particularly tough. The shady parts are trickier. Fox gloves will self seed, so might be worth a try, as will forget me nots. If you have damp soil then ragged robin with happily self seed and is loved by bees. Maybe red campion for drier soils- I think it’s shade tolerant. You can fill in gaps with native ferns (eg dryopteris) which obviously aren’t attractive for bees but do provide a habitat for lots of other creepy crawlies.
Just bear in mind that it’s not just as easy as scattering on the seed and watching it grow. Seedlings are beloved of slugs and snails so you’ll either need to slug pellet (NOT metaldehyde) or start seed off in pots. Some wildflower seeds need a period of cold to germinate and can take quite a long time. Fox gloves are biannual so you won’t get flowers the year you sow seed. Bit of effort will be worth it though for a pretty patch full of bees
Ooh, geraniums are Good for shade on dry soils and very low maintenance. There are quite a few native varieties if you can source them.
Phacelia tanacetifolia is an easy to grow annual - it’s a green manure but if you leave it to flower the bees will go wild for it!!!
Thanks so much - after posting this I saw some forget me not seeds that I thought might work so good to see them suggested. I’ve also bought oregano, sage as I seem to remember bees liking those flowers before (and if not we’ll use it anyway) and a lavender. Will see what takes!
It’s definitely a clay soil with I don’t think any of the above likes but maybe they’ll tolerate it.
I’m starting everything off inside then will plant out once they should survive - hopefully there will be enough for some to survive even once the slugs have feasted (I never use pellets).
I have googled phacelia whatever-it-was as I had no idea what it was and it sounds ideal - going to order some seeds to try to get that in there and hopefully it’ll self seed itself around to where it will tolerate growing.
Oh also I love fox gloves so will try those too - can’t believe I didn’t think of them.
Remember they are extremely toxic if you have small children
Lavender. Grew it with great success in heavy clay soil.
I have heavy clay and lavender, rosemary and oregano will all grow in it, they’re quite tough plants (although don’t get the tufted lavender- that’s quite tender). Sage is a bit more fussy but then again I’m in the north and I don’t think it likes the cold- might alright down south. Anyway, that’s what gardening is all about- experimenting to see what works best! Sometimes, things that really should like your soil refuse to thrive (I’m looking at you, astrantia) and the plants that should hate your soil do
Penstemons are beautiful and loads of variety. Hardy and the bees love them
The bees don’t touch them in my garden, I wonder if the variety makes a difference? Penstemons are one of my faves otherwise though, beautiful.
important is a continuum throughout the year.
in september buy bulbs, snowdrops & crocus for early, daffadils & tulips. hyacynths. gladioli for later.
some biannuals (foxglove for example)
some annuals: marigolds, nasturtiums, borage, sunflowers
fruit trees/fruit bushes, lavender, honeysuckle.
ivy (flowers in winter)
foxgloves are very poisonous, so you need to keep children away.
Another good one for spring on clay is hellebore orientale. Thrives on heavy clay in part shade and has lovely big flowers in spring and nice foliage the rest of the year. Just don’t buy double flowered ones- in general, bees don’t like double petalled flowers.
All good suggestions - get some sedum in there too & if stuck a buddleia. I have similar space & have wildflowers the last few years but doing a. Mix this year. Fennel is also good
I have more shrub style plants in my garden that the bees love. Hebe - as soon as it flowers it is a bee magnet, salvia - hot lips also loved by bees, also wallflower. I have thyme and oregano in a pot that are also really popular once they've flowered.
Ah i forgot about my sedum brilliant for later summer flowers.
Daffodils are of little or no use to pollinators as they are so highly bred. Tulips and gladioli may be the same. As may be some penstemons : ultimately, the more we mess with flowers to make them showy, the less interesting they are to insects.
Aliums are absolute bee magnets, and very self sufficient. Chives also.
One of my great Joy's is yellow Welsh poppies, which self seed and generally thrive on neglect. Bumbles get in them and go round and round and round, buzzing like mad. Gorgeous.
Also snapdragons. I will never forget my toddler laughing and laughing at the bumbles going in and out of them.
Welsh poppies self seed in my garden. I presume bees go for them. The shrub I notice bees on is cotoneaster when it flowers. Lots of tiny flowers. Good for ground cover if you need it, though takes a few years.
Aquilegia are one of the earliest to flower, so bees go for it, and do spread themselves. Mine has a maroon coloured flower, rather than a new exotic type, and is tough as I keep trying to get rid of it but it just reappears
Oh you could get a perennial scabious! They don't mind partial shade and the bees love them.
One of the things you’re supposed to do to help bees is have plants flowering in every season. Check out this list: friendsoftheearth.uk/bees/beefriendly-plants-every-season
The perennial wallflower ‘Bowles mauve’ is on the list. The one I have flowers literally all year round but it is in a very sunny spot. Clover is amazing for honey bees but probably prefers a bit more sun.
Especially if the trees shading the mound are deciduous you could get a nice lot of spring bulbs in, of the less overbred types, also maybe celandines and wild wood anemones. White, yellow and red deadnettle (Lamium) are good in shade, have lots of nectar, and there are some pretty variegated types.
Just to add that deadnettle can be very spreading so don’t set up anything delicate in competition with it (or choose a cultivated type that has been bred to be more contained).
Yes-scabious is great & some lovely shades of it!
For early spring, lungwort. For the summer gap, comfrey. Both unfussy and i find them pretty. Will return every year. Suitable for shade.
I grow Astrantia and Aquilegia in my shady courtyard. They're low maintenance and come back year after year. The bees love them both, I also grew some lobelia in hanging baskets and windowboxes, which they were mad for. I'd had very few bees and butterflies in my garden before, and last year (first time I got to grips with gardening) it was buzzing with them.
Don't do what I did though and lovingly tend to a gang of sawfly lavae thinking they were caterpillars.
Our bees love my lavender. We also grow nigella and cornflowers in between. It looks so pretty but they need regular dead heading to keep the flowers and I cut the woody bits of lavender away in autumn.
You could also get some fancy buddlia, not just the common one that grows everywhere as a weed. There are some really pretty ones in other colours/shades than the usual plain purple, ranging from white to a deep reddy purple. It grows anywhere really easily, all we do with ours is hack it down at this time of year and it springs up again with lovely flowers most of the summer and the bees and butterflies love it.
Seconding the pulmonaria (lungwort). The bees are going crazy for mine, so we're planning on planting much more of it! Flowers quite early too.
You could also get some fancy buddlia
Buddleja buzz is a good little plant. Flowers from around june until late summer, never gets all that big and doesnt spread. We have decided to get a common one too though, the seeded ones arent hard to spot and pull up.
Another vote for lavender and rosemary. they grow well in crap soil and need pretty much no maintenance. Also sage - we have a couple of different varieties including a lovely ornamental red one that flowers all summer.
Ceanothus (California lilac) is fab for bees but might be a bit big for the space you describe.
Sweet williams are good but they don't flower the first year so require some patience!
Oh the Buddleia Conundrum - feeds the butterflies but encourages egg laying too, without feeding the caterpillars. So be careful with buddleia and please consider the entire life cycle.
ceanothus - some are sterile and don't feed bees.
try to see them in bloom in a garden centre and see if there are bees about.
I saw these bee bombs mentioned somewhere recently - probably an expensive way of doing it but sounds quite reliable.
Bees here seemed keen on my blue geraniums last year, as well as lavender, & also campanula (I think blue/purple is as popular as yellow?)
I have terrible clay soil- goes rock hard quickly and water logged in winter, doesn't matter how much home brewed compost we dig in. As mentioned above lavender andd rosemary grow well in it, and last year Cosmos seemed to be popular. Also borage, marjoram, and thyme- although the common thyme seems most popular. I haven't had much success with sage, or any other salvia species, previously although I seem to have one at the moment which has lasted a couple of years. I have the perenial geraniums - both blue and pink, which grow like weeds and attract bees. So do chives but they have ended up as a weed- I planted some 20 years ago and am still getting rid of them- similarly grape hyacinths
Loads of good suggestions here. Yy to marjoram, v tough and keeps some leaves over winter. Another plant that does this is bugle - (ajuga) flowers quite early and bumblebees adore it. Other end of the size scale is purple loosestrife. Big clumps of vivid magenta-purple spires in late summer that can top 5' and also loved by bees and butterflies. Self seeds too. But it's definitely a beast!
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