Bees need flowers whenever they’re active. There are very few winter-flowering plants in the wild in Britain, so without our gardens, bees would starve. They need open flowers, with easy access to pollen and nectar. Bedding plants such as winter pansies are of no use – they either have no pollen or nectar or bees can’t access it.
Here are eight flowering plants that will help bees survive the winter and on into spring. They have the added bonus of bringing much-needed colour to your garden in the coldest months.
Winter aconite, Eranthis hyemalis, carpets the ground at the start of the year with bright, buttercup-like flowers that have a ruff of green leaves. These bulbs are ideal for naturalising under deciduous trees and shrubs.
There are sevearl winter-flowering varieties of Clematis cirrhosa, including ‘Freckles’ and ‘Wisley Cream’. Both climbers have glossy, dark green leaves and produce small, pale flowers from late autumn.
Mahonia‘s clusters of often scented winter flowers are a magnet for bees. The leaves are leathery and evergreen, and flowers are usually followed by dark purple berries. Try the varieties ‘Apollo’ and ‘Buckland’.
Our native primrose, Primula vulgaris, blooms from early March to May. It’s a woodland flower, so is perfect for naturalising under a tree or on a shady bank.
Arbutus unedo is an evergreen tree or shrub with small, bell-shaped, creamy-white or pink flowers in autumn. At the same time as the red, strawberry-like fruits from the previous year’s flowers ripen.
Catkins appear before the leaves in spring and are a magnet for bees. The catkins of Salix caprea ‘Kilmarnock’, for example, are a magnet for bumblebee queens.
Popular varieties of Erica carnea include ‘Adrienne Duncan’, which is a spreading, dwarf, evergreen shrub with red flowers and ‘Challenger’, which has magenta flowers.
Lonicera fragrantissima is a bushy, deciduous shrub with highly fragrant, cream flowers in winter and early spring.
Kate Bradbury says
Aim to have something in flower every day of the year, so start spring with bulbs such as crocus. The perennial wallflower, Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ flowers almost continually, and is a good nectar plant for pollinators.