After a great visit to Helmingham Hall Gardens in Suffolk yesterday I felt inspired to write a post about bee and butterfly plants and just how important it is to include some in your garden. This has always been a subject close to my heart as has wildlife gardening in general and I endeavour to include both bee and butterfly plants when designing new beds and border as well as including them in my own garden.
Helmingham Hall Gardens are an interesting mix of styles with formal gardens (parterres with box hedging) large sweeping herbaceous beds including roses, a large walled garden with different sized beds and borders, planted with a mix of vegetables, fruit, herbaceous plants, climbers and roses giving more of a ‘cottage garden’ feel, as well as a ‘wild meadow’ and an area planted with an interesting and unusual selection of trees and shrubs. The gardens are well worth visiting, if you’d like to find out more here’s a link to their website – Helmingham Hall ( I can highly recommend the tea rooms too, particularly the gluten-free Mango sorbet!)
I was totally delighted by the abundance of bees in the garden (with a full range of both bumble and honey bees), with so many different bee friendly plants they must have been in ‘bee heaven! The gardens looked stunning and well maintained with lots of inspiration both in terms of design, planting combinations and plant selection in general. I have picked some of my favourite plants, which just happen to have quite a pastel theme to them in shades of white, pink and purple; all were well visited by the bees!
Probably the three most bee visited plants that I saw were Nepeta, Centaurea and Armeria. As you will see from the photo the Nepeta were full of bees – look for the black dots on the plants!
Interestingly the genus name Nepeta is apparently a reference to the ancient Etruscan city Nepete. Most people will be familiar with the effect that some of the Netepa species can have on cats (hence their common name of catnip or catmint). This euphoric effect is caused by the organic compound nepetalactone, which binds to their olfactory receptors!
Centaurea is another great bee friendly genus with both Centaurea montana (the blue one) and Centaurea dealbata (the pink one) producing abundant nectar and therefore being well visited by bees (as well as making excellent garden plants). The third plant was Armeria or Sea Thrift, so-called because they are often found growing on coastlines. This makes them tough little plants and the bees loved them too!
There is an amazing selection of Peonies at Helmingham, which seemed to be more favoured by the honey bees. Below is a selection of some of my favourites ones in pastel shades of white and pink. Peonies are often considered quite tricky to grow so I’ve included a couple of links to sites giving more information about Peonies – How to Grow Peonies and All About Peonies.
Other genus worthy of mentioning as bee friendly are Allium, Salvia, Cirsium and Erysimum (bulbs/herbaceous perennials) and for shrubs Ceanothus (looking particularly good this year). I’ve used the first three in planting schemes for clients and after planting Salvia ‘Mainacht’ in a bed it was a joy to see a bee find the plant almost immediately!
The Allium I have used extensively is ‘Purple Sensation’ (having first seen it used to good effect whilst I was at Cambridge University Botanic Garden ) and Allium’s seem to have done particularly well this year. I did spot another much large Allium at Helmingham which I think might be Allium schubertii.
Finally, I haven’t forgotten the butterflies and moths! Whilst at the plant fair at Helmingham I came across a stand for Butterfly Conservation, just as important as so much of their natural habitat has been lost in the countryside. Do have a look at their website – Butterfly Conservation They have lots of information about gardening for butterflies and I was pleased to see that one of the plants I have just used in a clients new bed (Centranthus ruber or Red Valerian) is on their top ten nectar plants! I used both Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’ and Centranthus ruber coccineus and very much like the Saliva a butterfly appeared soon after they were planted. Interestingly it only seemed to visit the white valerian and on investigating I discovered it had been a female Orange Tip butterfly which according to my nutterflies book is because the females prefer white or bluish-pink flowers!
If you can, do think about included some bee and butterfly friendly plants in your garden, even if you can only have a pot of something it’s still worth doing (amd very rewarding for both you and the insects!). The 2 pots of Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ I have on my patio are a magnet for bumble bees and in fact I’ve just spied a wonderful Humming-bird Hawk-moth on them as well, so you never know what you’re going to see enjoying your flowers! Do take a look at the following link, which is all about a really great initiative – Plant Pots for Pollinators and have a read of one of my previous posts – An Insect’s-Eye View of Flowers