Jim Hole's Favourite Plants for the Bees and Butterflies

The Extraordinary Traits of Everyday Plants

For many of us, selecting plants is all about the aesthetics. We want brilliant blooms, fancy foliage and perfect performance. What hardly registers at all is that these beautiful ornamentals have other extraordinary traits. Some are helpful at preventing erosion and
at keeping our yards in shape, while others tend to our health—cleaning the air we breathe, feeding us and providing medicinal properties. 

For the Bees and Butterflies

Gardens designed to attract bees and butterflies aren’t just beautiful; they also serve a
practical purpose. Without pollination, seeds wouldn’t set and the food crops we rely on wouldn’t produce. So lure some bees and butterflies to your garden this year. Here’s what you need to know.

Annuals

Borage officianalis
Borage

Star-shaped flowers in a brilliant purple tone make this herb shine. Any vegetable that needs pollination, such as cucumber or squash, will benefit from having borage planted nearby. Besides attracting bees, this annual herb also serves as a larval food source for some butterflies. The mild-flavoured leaves and star-shaped flowers are similar to cucumber. Readily self-seeds. Height: 60–90 cm; spacing: 60 cm. Sun.

Cosmos bipinnatus ‘Pink Shades’
Cosmos, Sonata Series

Simply scatter these seeds and be dazzled by candy-pink flowers and lacy green foliage. This series has a nice compact habit and daisy-like, 10–cm flowers. Irresistible to bees and butterflies alike. An excellent cutflower and ideal for backgrounds or mass displays. Wind tolerant. Height: 50–60 cm; spacing: 25–30 cm. Sun.

Tagetes erecta ‘Gold’
African Marigold, Marvel Series

Impressive double blooms make this series a surefire selection—and the bees and butterflies will agree. Held on extra-sturdy stems, the rich golden-yellow flowers are 7–10 cm in diameter. Great garden performance; weather tolerant. Height: 40–45 cm; spacing: 35 cm. Sun.

Verbena bonariensis ‘Buenos Aires’
Verbena

This airy annual looks most impressive as it matures. Its clustered heads are densely packed groups of small, purple flowers. Superb as a cutflower. Use as a hedge or in tall borders or mixed planters. To complement this verbena, grow shorter plants in front of it. Heat and drought tolerant. Height: 60–90 cm; spread: to 60 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Zinnia elegans ‘Zowie! Yellow Flame’
Zinnia

Wow bees, butterflies and neighbours with the exceptional colouring of this zinnia. Each bloom features a central red-and-yellow cone surrounded by petals that are magenta-orange with yellow tips. This plant has a bushy and vigorous growth habit, so allow good air circulation and don’t crowd. Remove dead blooms. Height: 60–75 cm; spacing: 60–75 cm. Sun.

Perennials

Alcea rosea ‘White’
Hollyhock, Chater’s Double Group

Hollyhocks are an old garden favourite that shouldn’t be forgotten. Tall and majestic, they’re perfect along a fence or as a background plant in a perennial bed. This one has spires of double, powder-puff flowers from June to August. The slightly hairy and rounded leaves have three to seven shallow lobes. Height: 1.5–2 m; width: 90 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Dianthus ‘Starlette’
Pink, Double Star Series

Strong, spicy notes are a nice bonus with this great performing dianthus. You’ll also be thrilled with its perpetual double blooms. Each frilly edged, magenta flower has a deep-red eye. And each variety in this new series features compact and sturdy blue-green foliage. Mounding form; evergreen. Attracts butterflies. Height: 15–25 cm; width: 15–20 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Eupatorium ‘Phantom’
Joe Pye ‘Phantom’

Shorter in stature than most Eupatoriums, this dwarf variety doesn’t fall short on flower size. In fact, the fragrant wine-red heads aren’t much smaller than those on standard varieties. Joe Pye is one of the showiest fall-blooming perennials available. A favourite of butterflies. A virtually pest-and-disease-free plant. Clump-forming, upright habit. Keep moist. Height: 80–90 cm; width: 60–70 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Gaillardia ‘Oranges and Lemons’
Blanket Flower

Abundant flowers and a longer bloom period make this hybrid superior to other blanket flowers. It’s also heat and drought tolerant and abides poor soils. Its daisy-like blooms have peachy-orange petals with yellow tips. Clump-forming with blue-green foliage. Prefers dry, well-drained soil. A short-lived perennial that reseeds freely. Height: 55–65 cm; width: 30–45 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Monarda didyma ‘Pink Lace’
Beebalm

You don’t have to wait for this beebalm to start performing—it flowers robustly the first growing season. ‘Pink Lace’ has dark-purple stems that bear light-pink flowers with purple centre cones. The aromatic, bright-green foliage is reminiscent of Earl Grey tea. Will lure both bees and butterflies. Compact and clump forming. Blooms in summer. Avoid dry sites. Height: 55–65 cm; width: 30–40 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Phlox paniculata ‘Pink Flame’ (syn. ‘Bartwelve’)
Garden Phlox, Flame Series

Grow this compact garden phlox, and treat yourself to a bevy of large flower clusters. Bees and butterflies will also be pleased with the pink flowers, which have darker pink eyes. To prolong the midsummer bloom period, deadhead the spent clusters. This series features shorter and more compact plants. Fragrant. Do not crowd; water at base. Height: 25–30 cm; width: 30 cm. Sun to P.M. sun.

Trees and Shrubs

Diervilla sessilifolia ‘LPDC Podaras’
Southern Bush Honeysuckle ‘Cool Splash’

Variegated foliage and red stems make this shrub particularly eye-catching. It’s not a true honeysuckle (despite the common name), but its small yellow blooms are tubular shaped and perfect for butterfly snouts. The leaves have deep-green centres surrounded by yellow-to-creamy-white margins. Blooms in early summer. Forms a dense colony and suckers. Easy to grow and tolerates a wide range of soils and light conditions. Height: 75–120 cm; width: 1–1.5 m. Sun to P.M. sun.

Syringa meyer ‘Palibin’
Dwarf Korean Lilac

Ideal as a compact hedge or as a specimen shrub, this lilac has very fragrant blossoms. Red-purple buds open to pink in late spring. For best flower colour, pick a spot that’s shaded from hot afternoon sun. To promote more flowers next season, prune just after flowers finish, removing only the seed heads. Burgundy fall foliage. Non-suckering. Height: 1-2 m;width: 1.5–2m. Sun to P.M. sun.

Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’
Mockorange

Plant this shrub where you can enjoy its intoxicating orange-blossom fragrance. Its early spring blooms are white with a maroon blotch in the centre. This mockorange also has beautiful mahogany coloured stems. Prune after flowering. Height: 1.5–2 m; width: 1–1.2 m. Sun to P.M. sun.

Malus ‘Rescue’
Crabapple

There’s nothing quite like the buzz of bees in flowering fruit trees. To experience it yourself, try this crabapple. ‘Rescue’ is a favourite that produces lots of good-sized fruit. Yellow-green apples with a red blush are 3–5 cm in diameter and mature in late summer. Good for eating and for jelly or juice. Fireblight resistant. Requires another crabapple, apple or pear for cross-pollination. Height: 5 m; spread: 4 m. Sun.