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How to make a pollinator friendly garden

From the wildflowers in our meadows, to the shrubs in our hedgerows, and the blooms in our gardens – pollinators play a pivotal role.

Eager to get more bees and butterflies into your garden? Follow our pollinator-friendly tips!

A bee on a pretty Sea Holly bloom

Our plants and pollinators go hand in hand. You might have heard how important pollinators are to our food crops, but did you know they are just as vital for the rest of our plants? From the wildflowers in our meadows, to the shrubs in our hedgerows, and our garden blooms, to our ancient woodlands – pollinators play a pivotal role.

Unfortunately, some populations of pollinators in the UK are now in decline. While there is no one answer to the cause of this drop in numbers, habitat loss is certainly high on the list. Which is why it’s so important that there are moments like Bees Needs Week or National Meadows Day (on the first Saturday in July) that spotlight the incredible meadows and flower-rich grasslands that are home to pollinators.

Plantlife, and other environmental and farming organisations, are calling on the UK Government to prioritise action for these habitats by committing to developing a Grassland Action Plan.

Read more below to find out how you can get involved.

A butterfly on a blue Scabious Flower

What are pollinators?

Whilst some pollinators are more well known than other, a wide range of insects and other animals can also fall under the umbrella because they move pollen to fertilise plants.

Here is a list of common pollinators in the UK, some you might already be familiar with, while others are a little more unusual:

  • Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Moths
  • Beetles
  • Wasps
  • Flies including hoverflies
  • Hornets
  • In other parts of the world, some birds, bats, small rodents and lizards can also be added to this list
Two different lengths of grass, a short flowering lawn, and long grass with taller wildflower

Take part in No Mow Summer and let your lawn grow wild for nature

By making small changes to how you manage your lawn, you can make a huge difference to nature. As well encouraging a more species-rich green space for you to enjoy, wilder lawns can also be havens to other wildlife, including our pollinators.

Follow our expert guide to managing a nature friendly lawn here, or find more information here on how to encourage more wildflowers into your garden.

Pollinators love some of our common lawn species including White Clover Trifolium repens, Dandelion Taraxacum officinale  and Daisy Bellis perennisYellow Rattle Rhinanthus minor is also a firm favourite and can help to suppress the growth of grasses to allow room for other species and wildflowers to grow.

Pick the bees favourite blooms

It’s important to remember that butterflies and bees feed on pollen and nectar, so choosing plants that are rich in both will help to provide a full feast for our insect friends.

These plants are favourites among some of our common pollinators and could be good to include in your garden. Click through to our species pages to learn more.

  • Primrose Primula vulgaris These pretty pale-yellow native plants bloom early in the spring making them valuable to provide pollinators food before other sources are available.
  • Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta Bluebells are one of the most quintessential British spring plants, that can often be seen blanketing the countryside. But you don’t have to head to your nearest woodland to see them at their springtime best, you can grow them at home too.
  • Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca These little red berries often found in meadows and verges can also be grown in the garden. The white flowers that form in spring are loved by many pollinators which in turn help the plants produce fruit which make a tasty treat for animals and insects alike. Keep in mind that while these plants have declined in their distribution across England, they also spread very quickly, so could be better grown in pots.
  • Field Forget-me-not Myosotis arvensis – These little blue flowers provide easy to access nectar for bees and grow easily in most gardens. With a long flowering term from April to September, these tiny flowers can have a big impact.
  • Sweet Violet Viola odorata Pretty violet to white flowers that smell as good as they look. These plants provide a great source of food for early pollinators as they begin to bloom in March. As well as being great for bees, they have been known to be candied as a delicious decoration for baked treats.
  • Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis These pretty lilac flowers are another good source of early nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies, they are partial to a more damp habitat, so if your garden is close to a water source, this could be a great option.
Buff tailed bumblebee feeding on Knapweed

Bridging the ‘June Gap’

The ‘June Gap’, refers to the time in the year when the spring flowers are fading but the summer ones have not yet reached their peak, which means nectar and pollen can be harder to find.

Here are some plants that can help to bridge this gap and brighten your garden at the same time:

  • Common Knapweed Centaurea nigra A firm favourite of pollinators especially butterflies. Blooming between June and September this bright purple plant helps to provide a good source of nectar as the seasons switch over.
  • Common Poppy Papaver rhoeas – These bright blooms can provide a pop of colour to any garden or field and as they begin to bloom in June, they can also help to bridge the pollen gap.
  • Common Comfrey Symphytum officinale – This native wildflower is a bushy and bristly plant with cream coloured flowers that has a long flowering period from May until August. This helps make it a great choice to provide food for bees and butterflies throughout spring and summer.
  • Borage Borago officinnalis – This striking herb has bright blue flowers and bristly leaves that smell like cucumbers. It is great for pollinators as it refills its nectar quickly after it has been drained. It also blooms from June until September which makes it perfect for bridging the gap.
People gathered in a meadow learning how to ID wildflowers

How to help bees and other pollinators when you don’t have a garden?

You don’t have to have your own garden to lend a helping hand to pollinators. There’s several ways you can still get involved, including by making your own mini meadow.

Plant pots by the door, hanging baskets along your walls or window boxes all make great options to increase the biodiversity in your area, even without a garden. Have a look at the suggestions above for ideas of what to plant, harvest your own seeds, or even buy our Perfect for Pollinators seed mix here to get started.

Why not share the joy of creating a nature-friendly space and start a community meadow? This is not only a great way of bringing attention to plants and pollinators in your area, but it’s also a fun way to get to know your neighbours. Find out more in our guide to getting started here.