Eryngium giganteum, also known as Giant Sea Holly, is a dramatic addition to the flower border. Its flower heads are surrounded by a rosette of very spiny silvery-grey bracts, which seem to glow in the evening light. As with most grey foliage plants, it likes a sunny situation. Once in flower, the bees go mad for it! It is a short-lived perennial but a good self-seeder.

This variety is named after an Edwardian plantswoman and gardener Miss Ellen Willmott, who allegedly used to sprinkle the seeds of this, her favourite plant, in other people’s gardens!

Eryngium giganteum</p><br /><br />
<p>Miss Willmott's ghost

This flower looks good in dried flower arrangements.

Aquilegias are an easy to grow perennial flower, which the bees love. A popular cottage garden plant, its bonnet shaped flowers give them the common name Granny’s Bonnet. I used to wonder why the aquilegia flower spurs had holes in them and then I discovered that the bees are using a shortcut to get at the nectar, by piercing the spur instead of using the ‘front entrance’ of the flower. Clever little bees!

Bumble Bee on Aquilegia flower

Here are some tips on how to get the most out of your self-sown aquilegia plants.

Delphiniums are hardy perennials and very easy to grow. The young shoots may need protection from slugs and staking the plants before they start flowering is essential as they get incredibly heavy and easily snap off in the wind. This vivid blue delphinium has no trouble attracting the bees in my garden!

Blue Delphinium Flower

If you are looking for plants to attract bees, then the Honeywort is a must-have flower for the garden. The sumptuous purple of Cerinthe Major makes it look so exotic and delicate, but it really is as tough as old boots. You can buy these plants in the garden centre where they will cost you a small fortune, but they are really easy to raise from seed. They happily reproduce themselves in the garden and the self-sown plants are much stronger than the ones sown in pots and mollycoddled.

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This lovely shrub has started flowering and is a valuable source of food for any bees still out and about.

Although a deciduous shrub, it flowers throughout the winter, producing fragrant pink blooms, set against cinnamon coloured bark. The leaves in spring are beautiful bronze, turning red in the autumn.

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Aquilegias, also known as Columbine or Granny’s Bonnet are a lovely cottage garden plant which has put on a magnificent display this year.

Aquilegas growing in the border

Aquilegias are hardy perennials which propagates by seed in a big way. They are very promiscuous and cross pollinate with one another and the self-sown plants grow all over the place. Sometimes you can get some absolutely stunning flowers on the next generation as a result, but equally the flowers can be small, bland and uninteresting.

Purple AquilegasFree plants are always welcome, but like to weed out the ones that are in the wrong place, perhaps because they are too close to something else. I move other small plants either in the autumn or early spring, to where I want them to flower.

I never have the heart to pull up the plants when they are in flower, even if they are a bit insignificant, because the bees seem to enjoy them so much. However, whilst they are still flowering I  always go round the garden with a ball of brightly coloured wool and tie a piece onto the stems of all the Aquilegias that I want to keep. That way I can dig up all the less interesting ones once they have stopped flowering, knowing I will be keeping the best.

Have you noticed how the bees cheat to get at the nectar in aquilegias?

This Ceanothus ‘Yankee Point’ is in full bloom at the moment and it is positively hums all day long with bees visiting the flowers!

Ceanothus 'Yankee Point'

I would certainly recommend this shrub, commonly known as a Californian Lilac, if you are looking for a relatively quick growing evergreen shrub that is easy to look after. It likes a sunny, sheltered spot.

This Ceanothus covers an ugly, south-facing wall and every Spring is a mass of colour. It is self-supporting so doesn’t need wires. After flowering I prune it back to stop it getting top heavy, and restricting its width. It was labelled as growing to five feet in height, and eight feet wide, but it has reached around 15 feet high and wide and I keep it to this size by pruning.