Follow our progress running the nursery, watching wild bees, keeping honey bees and creating our own bee-haven in south Oxfordshire

Bee plants for containers

I have had a lot of requests for bee-friendly plants that will work well in pots, window boxes and hanging baskets.  Most of my plant original plant range was selected to be tough and survive in wildlife gardens amongst grass, so containers are at completely the other end of the plant-care spectrum. Never the less, the bees will appreciate plants producing pollen and nectar wherever they can find them and therefore I am now testing some plants that I think will work well. One thing I will continue to encourage is that even in containers, its important to have a reasonable size block of the same plants to make it worth the bee to visit and so I recommend keeping the range simple.

I also realise that even if the bees dont care what the plants look like, people growing in pots do and so I have chosen a simple colour pallet of blue, mauve and pale pinks.

- dwarf scabious columbardia  - dusky pink pin-cushion flowers

- trailing lobelia - one of the few trailing plants that still retains nectar

- dwarf campanula carpatica - deep blue bell-flowers

- dwarf lavender

- echium blue bedder - this one is annual and all the rest are perennial - true blue spires.

Salvia nemerosa will make a good substitute for the echium as it will keep quite small if grown in pots but provide the same height with spires of blue/purple.

I will be selling these separately or as a package which is better value. Advance order can be taken now for delivery end of July and they should still flower this year.

In spring we sell a Collection: plants for pots and containers


Annual plants for bees: not sterile bedding plants

In the UK when people talk about planting 'annuals' they usually mean brightly coloured bedding plants, bought from the garden centre and planted in late spring to provide rich colour for much of the summer.  For many, this is the main source of colour in their gardens, and is definitely the main contents of hanging baskets and pots. Colourful indeed, but also unfortunately, most Garden Centre annuals are  completely useless for pollinating insects.

The term 'annuals' of course means any plant the sets seed readily and then dies out during the winter to be replaced by its seedlings next year.  The sad truth about most bedding plants is that they are sterile and produced in vast numbers through 'hydroponics' in laboritories (sort of the plant version of cloning) and incapable of producing the pollen and nectar or setting seed.  They have been bred for their colour and are now very far removed from their native species that would once have been part of the complex ecosystem. (I may be being cynical but I also wonder if the fact that they need to be replaced every year is not part of the business model to get us to buy new ones every year.)

But the world is still full of many true annuals, and although they may not all be as brightly coloured, during their brief life they are one of the most productive sources of nectar of all plant types.  And, given the right conditions (and if weeding round them is carefully avoided) they set masses of seed and will reward you every year.

My Top annuals for bees are ...

1. Echium and borage; both members of the boraginaceae family and both have the handy habit of producing nectar all day long rather than just in the morning like most flowers.  Apparently you can get more honey from an acre of borage or echium than any other plant that will flower in the UK.

2. Phacelia; grown in the UK mainly as either a green manure (where it is usually dug in before it flowers!!) or a game cover crop for grouse etc.  Another member of the boraginaceae family and so easy to grow even in near-drought conditions and will support an incredibly wide variety of bee types.

3. Poppies - all types (and preferably multiple types which will extend the flowering period). Great for both pollen and nectar and have that fantastic habit of self-seeding anywhere

4. Forget me not - the humble little blue flowers that are often pulled out as weeds flower in April and are some of the first annuals to provide nectar after the tree blossom begins to fade. Dont week it out - keep at least a few patches as its gone by May allowing other things to grow over it.

5, Cornflowers - beautiful blue flowers that keep blooming from June through to September.

There are many others too so I would encourage everyone to stop wasting their money on bedding plants and invest on a much cheaper packet of 'real annual' seeds. Alternatively, Rosybee can provide annual plants including all of the above to get you started. We also sell perennial versions of both poppies and cornflowers and a range of perennials that is a great alternative for filling pots and window boxes.

In 2013 we did a trial of garden centre annuals and the results can be found here