10 best plants for wildlife

Posted: Thursday 27 November 2014
by Kate Bradbury

To round up and celebrate my five years of blogging on gardenersworld.com, I thought I would come up with a list of my favourite plants for wildlife.

Apple blossom

To round up and celebrate my five years of blogging on gardenersworld.com, I thought I'd come up with a list of my favourite plants for wildlife – or at least those I’m particularly fond of now.

Lists such as these are ever-changing, but there are some plants I grow which I don’t think I could ever live without in my garden. Many of them provide the perfect food for bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Some of them provide seed for birds, while others can be steeped in water for two weeks to create such a stench that they bring in the local dung flies and dung beetles.

I've learned a lot over the last five years of blogging on gardenersworld.com. My passion for bumblebees ignited an interest in the natural world that now incorporates a rather gruesome fascination with all things living and dead, but which I suppose boils down to the fact that we are all compost (composting is still my very favourite gardening activity).

So, without getting too maudlin over this being my last regular post, here is my definitive list of the best 10 plants for wildlife (for now).

Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)
What’s not to like? It’s beautiful, tall and statuesque. The purple flowers attract polllinators and the seeds attract goldfinches. What’s more, the plant is thought to be slightly carnivorous – the reservoirs of water that develop in the leaf axils trap insects, providing an extra burst of nutrients for the plant. Gorgeous and clever – my perfect plant.

Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
When the red clover is in flower the bees in my garden ignore everything else. And with good reason: along with other leguminous plants, clover pollen contains an incredibly rich source of protein and amino acids. While they sustain themselves on carbohydrate-rich nectar, worker bees gather pollen to feed the grubs back in the nest. Protein helps us and bees grow, so the bee grubs fed with the richest protein become bigger, healthier adult bees. Bumblebee superfood.

Scorpionweed (Phacelia tanacetifolia)
Phacelia is widely used all over the world as a green manure. It’s ideal for spring/autumn sowing as its seeds germinate in cold temperatures and it overwinters well. It forms a dense matt that suppresses weeds, while its roots improve soil structure. But, oh, the flowers. Long, coiling inflorescences of deep-blue nectar-rich blooms appear in succession above fern-like foliage, providing bees and their friends with a long season of nectar and pollen. Again – gorgeous and clever.

Nettles (Urtica spp.)
Many wildlife gardening enthusiasts would argue that nettles are not required in the wildlife garden. And they are right. But I think nettles make the garden more interesting. They support more than 40 species of insect including some of our most colourful butterflies. They attract the nettle aphid and therefore lots of ladybirds, and they can be steeped in water to create such a stench that they bring in the local dung flies and dung beetles (which is exciting, no?). Birds eat the seeds in late summer.

Lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina)
Lamb’s ears are loved by the solitary wool carder bee, which seals the cells of her nest with the fine downy hairs that grow on the leaves. Females comb the hairs off the leaves and bundle them together in a ball under their abdomen. They then carry this ball to the nest and seal each cell of their burrow, sticking the hairs together using saliva. Gorgeous.

Apple (Malus domestica)
A gnarled old apple tree is a wildlife spectacle in its own right. One tree can be home to lichen, mistletoe, lots of different types of moth caterpillars and various bark beetles. Its blossom attracts bees and its fruit attracts birds, wasps, butterflies and small mammals. And you get apples.

Ivy (Hedera helix)
I couldn’t not include ivy. Late flowers for insects, berries for birds and shelter for a wide range of creatures. Perfect.

Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare)
The bees love this. And so do I.

Crocus (Crocus tommasinianus)
One of the earliest sources of nectar for queen bumblebees recently emerged from hibernation, which may even sleep in the closed flowers overnight. Cute!

Honeysuckle ‘Graham Thomas’
If you want a wildlife-friendly climber that’s not ivy, opt for honeysuckle. The 20 plume moth uses it as a larval plant, moths and butterflies, bees and hoverflies visit its flowers. And birds and small mammals eat the berries. It looks rather wonderful, too.

Thanks for reading and commenting over the years!

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Talkback: 10 best plants for wildlife
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oldchippy 27/11/2014 at 17:51

Thank you for your interesting blogs but what are we to read on Fridays G/W blogs?Good luck for future endeavors Oldchippy.

fidgetbones 27/11/2014 at 18:06

I would add lavender to that list. The bumble bees in my garden will always be on the lavender (hidcote giant)

happymarion 30/11/2014 at 10:09

I hope you will be still around on GW Kate. A kindred spirit like you would be sadly missed. Being one of the oldest of your fans you will forgive me if I include my hazelnut trees as I love the antics of the squirrels and the harvest in years like this one is delicious.

Lyn 30/11/2014 at 10:17

I havvent time to read Kates blog, but I think the best plant I had this year were the giant Echium with a bee in every flower almost and the Scabious that went from bees to butterflys. I had the Cerinthe and Borage earlier in the year that were marvelous for bees.

Kate Bradbury 02/12/2014 at 12:54

Thank you Happymarion and Oldchippy! I will miss blogging on GW too and reading your comments. I will still be around on GW - we will be doing videos and other bits and pieces. And yes - hazelnut trees are great. I wish I'd had the space to write a list of 100 best plants, but it still wouldn't be enough!


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