JENNY STEEL  The Ten Best Wildlife Plants




How to Create a Wildlife Friendly Garden - BBC Easy Gardening

Growing the 10 Best Plants for Wildlife in your Garden - BBC Gardens Illustrated

A Flavour of April in your Wildlife Friendly Garden - Country and Border Life

The Rural Craft of Hedgelaying in Dorset - The Countryman

Managing your Garden in October  - Country and Border Life

The Historic Welsh Gardens of Plas Tan y Bwlch - The Countryman

Looking after the Bees in your Garden - Daily Express

Making Wildlife Ponds the Easy Way - Daily Express

Wings over Mull - a Centre for Birds of Prey - The Countryman

A New Garden for Wildlife with Butterflies in Mind - Butterfly Conservation

The Wildlife Art of Ian and Richard Lewington - Limited Edition Magazine

'I went to Noke and Nobody Spoke' - Fascinating Otmoor - Limited Edition Magazine

Gardening on the Wild Side of Town - New Consumer Magazine

Peter Parks and the Great Rainforest Project - Limited Edition Magazine

The Countryside in January - Limited Edition Magazine

The Countryside in May - Limited Edition Magazine

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Contact Jenny to find out more about her freelance writing 


Wildlife friendly gardening has never been more popular and long gone are the days when the phrase ‘wildlife garden’ conjured up visions of straggly grass, scruffy ponds and overgrown hedges.  Wildlife gardens are beautiful, vibrant, fascinating places, well stocked with colourful, interesting plants.  And their added bonus is that they are absolutely full of life.

Any garden will support nature and there are many ways to encourage wildlife within your existing garden framework without a total makeover or designating a patch as a bird or bee haven.  A few tweaks in your maintenance regime, a rethink on the management of your pond or lawn and the deliberate inclusion of some plants with proven wildlife attracting ability, can together make a huge difference to the wildlife friendly nature of even the smallest town garden.

The most positive action any gardener can take is to add some wildlife super-plants to existing borders, ponds or containers so go for maximum impact – multipurpose plants with nectar, pollen, seeds or berries.  A mixture of native and non native is best as long as they are plants with known wildlife attracting credentials.  Create shelter for insects, small mammals and birds where you can by planting closely and keep hedges, climbers and shrubs thick and dense.  Leave borders untouched in autumn for a frosty winter display, cutting back herbaceous plants in spring.  Lastly cultivate a totally pesticide free garden for maximum wildlife friendliness.

Native Wildflowers

Wild Marjoram – Origanum vulgare  Best known as a wildflower for the smaller butterfly species that are less inclined to visit larger, more gaudy blossoms, wild marjoram has clusters of tiny, scented pink flowers which attract a range of insects.  This is our native version of the Mediterranean herb oregano and serves just as well in pasta dishes as its slightly more flavoursome Greek cousin.  With a height and spread of 50cms, it is perfect for a sunny corner in a terracotta pot to attract butterflies, honeybees and bumblebees in late summer.

 Field Scabious - Knautia arvensis  The mauve buttons of field scabious, waving on slender branched stems, are always covered with butterflies, bees and hoverflies.  It blooms throughout summer and well into autumn although the flowers get progressively smaller.  Field scabious is equally at home in a border or rough grass and is especially attractive to small tortoiseshell butterflies and the vibrant black and red day-flying burnet moth.  Best grown amongst other plants or grasses for support, it is valuable in late summer, reaching a height of 80cms and spread of 40cms.

Teasel – Dipsacus fullonum  Few plants, other than berried shrubs, bring birds flocking to the garden but teasel is one of those special species.  At its sculptural best when covered in frost in winter, this biennial wildflower attracts goldfinches to the nutritious seeds.  It is also an excellent pollen and nectar provider for insects in the summer, including hoverflies, peacock butterflies and many species of bumblebee.   Teasels can reach a height of 2 meters so are best grown at the back of a border for maximum impact.

Greater Knapweed  – Centaurea scabiosa  Greater knapweed is naturally a native meadow flower and will happily grow in long, rough grass but it can be especially effective in prairie style plantings.   Sturdy and upright, its bright pinky purple flowers attract a range of insects including many native bumblebees and butterflies including the common blue and marbled white.  Small tortoiseshells also love this plant.  Expect a spread and height of 60cms and flowers from June through to September or October.

Goat Willow – Salix capraea   If you have room for just one wildlife attracting shrub in your garden the goat or pussy willow is for you.  The early flowers - polleny blobs of fluffy yellow - are a springtime delight and provide valuable sustenance for queen bees newly out of hibernation.  Over 250 different species of invertebrates are associated with this plant.  These include a huge variety of insect larvae, especially the caterpillars of beautiful moths such as the pebble prominent, puss moth and feathered thorn.  The copious pollen feeds honeybees and bumblebees and nectar tempts spring peacock butterflies.  Pussy willow grows to 8 meters or more but can be cut to the ground every two or three years to restrict its growth.


Verbena bonariensis  Many plants have a period when they are in fashion and Verbena bonariensis is still having its day.  Rightly so, for it is a plant that has everything a gardener could want – the bright purple flowers last well into late summer and the sturdy, branched stems have a wonderful architectural quality.  It is also adored by our native insects giving us the perfect reason to include this non native in our gardens.  Nectar fills the clusters of long-tubed flowers, enticing bees and butterflies, while the pollen is collected by honeybees, bumblebees and hoverflies.  Height 2 meters and spread 60cms.

Digitalis ferruginea   All foxgloves including our familiar pink wildflower are wonderful wildlife attracting plants but this non native is exceptional.  Tall spikes of rusty-buff coloured flowers are covered in the smaller bumblebee species throughout the summer, and the plant spikes persist into colder weather to provide an interesting addition to a wintry frost-covered border.  This is a mid or back of the border plant for sun or semi-shade, and the larger variety called gigantea, can reach a height of 2 meters. 

Phacelia tanacetifolia  If you are new to encouraging wildlife to your garden, a quick and easy project is to sow insect friendly annuals in the spaces between existing plants.  Phacelia is usually grown as a green manure, but if left to flower it is one of the best bee plants available.  Other insects like it too, including the pretty day flying moth, the Silver Y, and many types of hoverfly.  As an annual phacelia will seed around, but not to the extent where it can’t be easily pulled out.  This pretty plant with its fluffy pale mauve flowers that unfurl through the season, will soon became a space-filling favourite in a sunny spot.  Flowering from early summer, phacelia has a height and spread of about 50cms.

Buddleia Lochinch   All Buddleia species and varieties, of which there are many, are well known butterfly magnets, yet these plants only attract the larger species of our British butterflies.  To provide nectar for red admiral, small tortoiseshell, peacock, comma, painted lady and the ‘cabbage’ whites, you can do no better than Buddleia.  However look out for the Lochinch variety which is a hybrid between B. davidii and B. fallowiana.  Its pale, felted leaves are attractive throughout the year and the sweetly honey-scented flowers are pale mauve.  Like all Buddleias it should be cut down in late winter to encourage flowering and can reach 3 meters in a season.

Hebe Midsummer Beauty Midsummer Beauty is a slight misnomer for this excellent evergreen shrub as it often has flowers in the middle of winter.  The racemes of purple flowers appear in June but continue for months afterwards, slowly fading to white but still attracting bees and the larger butterflies.  Hebes can be fickle in their hardiness but this one copes well with most conditions, its evergreen foliage and attractive shape creating interest all year round.  A mature plant can reach a height of 2 meters and a spread of a little less.

© Copyright Jenny Steel 2017