Planting for Honey Bees and other pollinators ….

Astrantia Roma Bees

Bee Mindful/Planting for honeybees and beneficial pollinators

These are some of my notes for a day-long workshop taking place at Petersham Nurseries today, focusing as we have all month on the honeybee, bee-keeping, planting for bees, honey tasting and fermenting and styling with fresh flowers. And lunch, let’s not forget that important little bit, and the new ‘Cire’ candle from Cire Trudon, with soft sandalwood, vanilla, tonka bean. I have one at home and even unlit, it is scenting the room.

We have seven and a half beehives at Petersham, and have teamed up with Bermondsey Street Bees’ Sarah Wyndham -Lewis and chef/author/forager Rachel de Thample, who with me and Ronny de Konig will be hosting the day long session.

Our gardens are an essential resource for the busy bee, a source of pollen and nectar, protein and carbohydrate. What plants we choose, how we grow them and how we plan for a display right the way through the year will not only make our patch a productive, bee-friendly but beautiful. We have a number of hives in the Nurseries and we understand that there is an amazing concentration of hives in London – somewhere close to 3,600 – and these bees need sustainance.

Astrantia Roma Bees
Our gardens, however small they may be, play a vital part of the food chain for the bee, accounting for 10% of green space and by understanding a little more of the behaviour of the honeybee, small changes can have a big impact, if they are repeated right across the country. Act local, think Global, isn’t that the phrase?
Several factors all come in to play when choosing plants that will benefit the honey bee, and by extension those plants that are good for them will also benefit other bees, butterflies and other pollinators.

In all things, try to garden as ORGANICALLY as possible, reducing the use of chemicals whereever possible, choosing organic alternatives. Feed the soil, compost, mulch, allow pests to build up just enough to encourage the beneficial insects and predators. Your garden is alive, it sustains a substantial family of insects, invertebrates, small mammals and birds. That big picture aside what about getting down to detail.
Bees are vegetarian (they share the same family tree as the wasp, who opted for a carnivorous liefestyle), but bees need protein and sugars, carbohydrates. The figures relating to the miles they fly and forage over, the huge numbers relating to pollen and nectar collection and the intensive process that is their alchemy in producing honey and many other essential products – these are hungry and hard-working communities. We can do our bit by providing a little breakfast, lunch and tea.
You don’t necessarily need to know a lot about gardening, or particular plants. Just by looking, you can tell a lot, whether one flower over another is likely to be a good candidate for bee foraging.

Astrantia Roma Bees 1


Access is key of course by which I mean the pollen and nectar. Single flowers are best, being a convenient landing pad and cup-shaped, open flowers best again. Flowers with long tubular parts– Penstemons, Foxgloves, are just too deep for the honey bees shorter proboscis, the ‘straw’ used by the bee to drink the nectar. Sometimes they will cheat, piercing the flower at the base of the tube, to access the nectar. Bumbles and other pollinators have no difficulties. Plants with pincushion- like flowers – Knautia, Astrantia, Echinacea, are excellent, often where there are numerous small flowers collected together on one head. Those with lots of individual flowers held on spikes, as with lavender, Liatris, Veronicastrum, are also attractive.
Heavily bred varieties, while in many ways the pinnacle of the flower breeder’s art, is often at the expense of nectaries and pollen-baring stamens. Roses, where there are more than 100 petals make poor fodder while single, closer-to-wild or species, however, are perfect. Happily David Austin has several in their portfolio – Kew Gardens, Tottering-by-Gently are both single, though some of the semi-double roses, like Gentle Hermione or Lady of the Lake, and my particular favourite, Lady Emma Hamilton, are still useful.

Visibility means visible to the bee, which see differently to us – no reds, but blue and violets are good, and they see ultraviolet – hidden to us, but often signalling to the bee where the nectar is to be found. Some plants help out further, with the colour changing once the flowers are pollinated (Pulmonaria for example from blue to pink), so the bee doesn’t need to waste any time where there is no reward.

Planting in blocks reaps rewards too – it is energy saving for the bee, moving from one plant to the next with little unnecessary energy expenditure. Happily this can also look good for us humans. The Broad Walk beds at Kew Gardens, only planted a couple of years ago but already quite beautiful, is a fine example of planting in blocks, swathes and drifts. These are also grouped in to plant families. Asteraceae tops the list for plants that bees will most enjoy (think Daisy). The Lamiaceae family are often aromatic, including Lavender, Rosemary, Mint, Marjoram and sage. Great plants for bees, with rich rewards for their endeavours and useful to us too. Letting plants flower of course is key; sometimes this might be at the expense of flavour, as with herbs, but you can plant for the kitchen, and plant for the bee. If your rocket or lettuce, bolt, don’t worry – the flowers will find a welcome visitor I’m sure.

Stokesia with Bee
Speaking of plant families, Boraginacea, including Borage of course, but also Comfrey (Symphytum), Forget me nots (Myosotis) is followed in usefulness and popularity by Ranunculaceae – buttercups, Celandine, Anemone, Clematis and Aconitum. Roseaceae include the rose, Malus (crab apples), Cherries (Prunus), Pears (Pyrus). But I’m getting ahead of myself.


Before we look at particular plants, let us consider seasonality. Honeybees start to appear in March or April depending on weather conditions and temperatures. Honeybees will continue flying right up to the first frosts. Ivy is a huge source of late season nectar, as well as providing fruit and a habitat for much wildlife.
What the bees need, and what we as gardener’s want too, is a display that starts early, with Snowdrops claiming the earliest treat, crocus too are out and about early in the year. Winter-flowering shrubs, Daphne, Chimonanthus, some Viburnums, Sarcococca, are incredibly fragrant, advertising for pollinators across great distances. The flowers may not be the biggest or brightest, but they earn their place in our gardens for their rich, intoxicating scent, providing structure and back bone to the garden.

Rhododendrons and Camellias on the other hand, are often riotously colourful. I’d recommend a late winter/early Spring visit to the Saville Garden within Windsor Great Park to see their annual show. The woodland areas, beneath deciduous trees, are tapestry of Hellebores and Pulmonaria and buzzing with insect life in February and March.

As the season’s turn from Spring into Summer, the choice of plants increases exponentially, with bulbs (alliums, tulips, Camassias) and perennials, roses of course, flowering herbs, blossom trees … What you plant will reflect your personal gardening style – traditional mixed borders, cottage gardens, something more contemporary, naturalistic. Salvias and Dahlias, Sunflowers, Heleniums, Echinacea, Japanese Anemones continue the show into Autumn, with Ivy making a serious contribution to the late late summer diet.

chelsea 2014 soft pastels


In a traditional border, Clematis and Ivy might clothe the boundary fence or walls. There is a Clematis in flower pretty much every month of the year, so the choice is yours. Lavender, Eryngium, Echinacea, Agastache, Perovska and Achilleas will all enjoy a hot spot, with free draining soil and full sun. Herbaceous Geraniums can offer a long period of flower (Rozanne was voted Plant of the Centenary, quite rightly so), Sedums (with extra rich flat heads of flower) are a beautiful and architectural perennial, the flower heads drying and lasting right through until mid-winter.

Anemone hybrida Margarete
Alliums will bulk up nicely over the years. Nigella (love in a mist) can be seed down direct, and you might try borage too (with blue or white forms). The Scorpion Flower, Phacelia tanacetifolia, is a great plant, used as a green manure and associating well with roses and other perennials, it is easy to grow from seed, very reliable and the bees adore it.

Tulips planted in the Autumn will provide a welcome burst of colour come Springtime. Verbena bonariensis is one of those plants, which while tall, are pretty transparent so can be planted right at the front of the border without hiding or shading other plants behind. It self-seeds freely too. What’s not to love.

Geranium Rozanne Gerwat (2)

Monarda Scorpion 1
For shrubs, Skimmia offer up evergreen structure and a long period of flower, over winter and into Spring. Fragrant too. Abelia is a free-flowering summer shrub with attractive, sometimes variegated leaves, a scent of honey, appealingly, too on short clusters of tubular flowers.

Abelia parvifolia Bumblebees 1

Choisya is in full spate just now, and will be again in September (it flowers in response to day length, not weather so is utterly reliable! Rock Roses, Cistus, will be flowering right through the early summer while Lilac, Phildaelphus, Buddleja and Hebes can put on equally fine show – again all sun lovers. Bees prefer to work in the sunshine.

Skimmia Fragrant Cloud

Right Plant/Right Place is of course our mantra, and these selections will all be good for a sunny border. Bees prefer to forage in sun, and these plants will perform right the way throughout the year. Happy plants, stress-free, perform best and reward you with the greatest number of flowers. Good gardening technique is key to our gardening success and to the bee.

Choisya Royal Lace


Lonicera peryclymenun Serotina
For a more Cottage Garden feel, you might invest in a fruit tree – a crab apple or a dessert apple. We have Malus Red Sentinel set against one of our glasshouses – it is one of our favourite 15 plants we have chosen to mark this 15th Anniversary and with blossom and fruit, as well as being very beautiful, provides a brilliant habitat and ecosystem for diverse wildlife in the garden.

salvias blue white mottisfont

A tumble of tender and half-hardy annuals, perennials and flowering shrubs, Clematis and Honeysuckle, roses and edibles all compliment the style.

Lavender Hidcote

More Contemporary Styles

Regular blocks of planting, repeated throughout a scheme using a more reserved palette of plants, mixing in shrubs and grasses (which as wind pollinated plants have no benefit directly to the bee, or any other pollinator, but serves to add structure and movement in a scheme and can be at once naturalistic and formal.

Limiting the colour scheme can pare down the style, but err on the side of white, blue and purple for maximum bee-friendlyness. Lavender, Echinacea, Nepeta and Salvias, Alliums for early summer drama, Verbena bonariensis to achieve some gauzy height, a grouping of a single rose like Kew Gardens for bulk, body and flowers.

Gaura sinuata
Gaura sinuata


These are hard working plants, forming a strong frame and skeleton to a border with permanent planting, balancing different foliage colours, textures, leaf shape and size and flowering times. You might consider Hydrangea aspera var Sargentiana, Buddleja, Caryopterix (though it is a sub-shrub really), Hebes and Skimmia, lavender, Mahonia, Cotoneaster with flower and berries for the birds, Viburnum tinus, or the architecturally pleated Viburnum davidii, Pittosporums for some silver variegated foliage, Escallonia for summer flower and some with beautiful gold foliage. Varieties of Choisya redeem this otherwise ubiquitous car-park planting into something much finer.

Caryopteris Dark Knight 2


Herbs are an incredibly important source of nutrients for bees and a carefully planned herb garden, pot or potager (where herbs and edibles are mixed in with decorative, ornamental planting) can be very rewarding. Allow the plants to flower, obviously, Thyme comes in a wide variety of foliage colours with flowers in white, pink, purple and red; Rosemary is a huge favourites and very decorative too, especially if you choose one of the superb varieties that scramble and trail, with soft blue flowers or pink, that earn their place in our gardens and our kitchen. Oregano ranks up there too, along with a raft of edibles, including Spinach if left to flower, and edible climbers like blackberries and caned fruit, like Raspberry, or bush-fruit such as currants, gooseberries and blueberries. Something for everyone.

Mixed herbaceous grasses Hampton Court 2014

Native vs., non-native – for the bees, this really isn’t a consideration; they forage for food where they can find it. Equally the argument for sterile flowers not being attractive to bees is a little bit of a fallacy. While they do not produce seed, they can be rich in nectar and flower for a startling length of time, making them attractive over many weeks and months. It is also why we love them. Geraneum Rozanne, Erysimium Bowles Mauve, Helenium Sahin’s Early Flowerer – are all excellent sources of nectar.
WILDFLOWER MEADOWS – should be left to the professionals!

wildflower meadow

Finally, keep it natural – allow a few weeds in the lawn, leave some of the grass overlong, pile up twigs and logs to provide safe haven and nesting sites, don’t be too tidy. Encourage wildlife into the garden with water – a pond if you can but bees need water too, and a shallow bowl filled with pebbles or shells, topped up with water, will be a great watering hole for bees and many pollinators alike.

Alphabetical Listing of Bee Friendly Plants

HP – Herbaceous Perennial
S – Shrub
T – Tree
H – Herb
B – Bulb
A – Annual
C – Climber
B – Biennial
H – herb/edible

Abelia (S)
Achillea (HP)
Aconitum (HP)
Agastache (HP)
Ajuga (HP)
Alcea (hollyhock) (HP)
Allium (B)
Ammi majus (A)
Anchusa 9HP)
Anemone (HP)
Aster (HP)
Astrantia (HP)
Budleja (S)
Calendula (A)
Calluna (S)
Camassia (B)
Campanula (HP)
Caryopterix (S)
Castanea sativa (T)
Catalpa bignoniodies (T)
Centuarea (HP)
Cetranthus (HP)
Cirsium (HP)
Clematis (G)
Coreopsis (HP)
Cotoneaster (S)
Crataegus (T)
Crocus (B)
Dahlia (HP)
Digitalis (B)
Dornicum (HP)
Echinacea (HP)
Echinops (HP)
Eryngium (HP)
Erysimum (HP)
Fragaria (H)
Gaillardia (HP)
Gaura (HP)
Geraneum (HP)
Geum (HP)
Hebe (S)
Hedera (C)
Hellebores (HP)
Helenium (HP)
Helianthus (A)
Hypericum (S)
Iberis (HP)
Knautia (HP)
Kniphofia (HP)
Lamium (HP)
Lavender (S)
Leucanthemum (HP)
Liatris spicate (HP)
Lonicera ©
Mahonia (S)
Malus (T)
Malva (HP)
Monarda (HP)
Muscari (B)
Nepeta (HP)
Nigella (A)
Origanum (H)
Osmanthus (S)
Papaver (HP)
Penstemon (HP)
Perovskia (S)
Phacelia tanacetifolia (A)
Philadelphus (S)
Pittosporum (S)
Polemonium (HP)
Prunus (T)
Pulmonaria (HP)
Ribes (S)
Rosa (S)
Rosemary (H)
Rudbeckia (HP)
Salix (T)
Salvia (P)
Scabious (HP)
Sedum (HP)
Sidalcea (HP)
Skimmia (S)
Solidago (HP)
Sorbus aria (T)
Stachys (HP)
Symphytum (HP)
Teucrium (S)
Thymus (H)Tulip (B)
Verbascum (HP)
Verbena bonariensis (HP)
Veronicastrum (HP)
Viburnum tinus (S)


Salvia Sallyfun Blue

eryngium cool blue

15th Anniversary Celebrations at Petersham Nurseries

As part of our 15th Anniversary Celebrations this month of May, we have chosen 15 of our favourite garden plants and roses. How to choose amongst so many favourites, but a choice had to be made, and we think the arguments for these 30 starry stars of the garden are sufficient to earn their place in such respectable company. We’ve done the same for houseplants too, a vertitable Jules Vernes tour of the world.

From these lists it is true that not all are astoundingly bee-friendly, some are of course, but diversity is the name of the game, creating complex habitats for all kinds of wildlife in our gardens, and beauty for us humans too. What are your favourites? Can we match any from our lists with your would-be candidates?

15 Favourite Garden Plants

A mightily divisive process of picking just a few garden plants from so many. We’ve missed out the huge family of Clematis, all of the Hellebores, fragrant lavenders, Magnolias and flowering Cherries that have been so amazing this season, fruit trees that are decorative as well as productive (though the crab apples do make a wonderful jelly), ferns and grasses, trees galore and conifers, whole worlds of perennials and annuals, and there is bound to be a quite valid argument for choosing any one of these over our subjective selection. Maybe if we did our Favourite 100, or 500, it might be fairer … but it is our 15th Anniversary, so fifteen plants it is …..

Erigeron karvinskianus - Mexican Fleabane – a dainty but tough beauty, with a flurry of tiny white daisy-flowers on wiry stems, fading to soft pinks and purples. Softens walls and terraces, superb underplanting for a sunny spot, near-evergreen and utterly reliable, self-seeding freely too. We love it.

Trachelospermum jasminoides - a superb fragrant evergreen climber with starry jasmine-scented, white propeller-like flowers held against glossy green foliage, that turns an attractive burnished burgundy in cooler winter months.

Malus Red Sentinel - one of the best, this crab apple blossoms in Spring, pink buds opening to pure white, and in Autumn developing very attractive, persistent scarlet fruit, often lasting through to early Spring. We have two of these grown as pleached specimens against one of our glasshouses. They are delight all the way through the year.

Hydrangea arborescens Annabelle - pale-lime green buds become huge, airy creamy flowerhead on this beautifully romantic shrub, quite happy in sun or shade.

Geraneum Rozanne, voted Plant of the Centenary by the great and the good, this herbaceous perennial flowers for an incredibly long season throughout the summer into Autumn, with clear china-blue flowers with a white eye.

Cobaea scandens - a vigorous annual climber, that can put on an astonishing amount of growth through just one season, self-clinging with attractive leaves that set of the unusual, large cup-and-saucer blue-purple flowers that pale of lilac. Sow seeds early in the year for a riotous display in summer and right through until the first frosts

Erysimum Bowles Mauve - a perennial wallflower that is the epitome of flower power. Evergreen foliage and with tall spikes of rich mauve flowers that smother the plant from Spring until Autumn, flowering at least non-stop for six, seven, or more months at a time. Deadhead regularly to stop it going to seed and it will be a triumph in a sunny position in your garden.

Salvia Amistad - we had to choose one Salvia although there is a lot of competition from this family of summer and autumn flowering perennials, Hailing from warmer climes, they need a warm sheltered spot but will repay you with flowers right through until November. Of the smaller-flowered varieties like Hot Lips, Neon and Clotted Cream, they have the bonus of blackcurrant-scented leaves. This one though, Amistad, is a fast-growing border star, with tall spikes of silky deep-blue, indigo and black flowers held high above pointed foliage. Architectural and bold, it is attractive to bees, butterflies and moths.

Foxgloves (Digitalis) - statuesque spires of purple, pinks, rose, peach, whites, lilacs, creams, some the colour of apricots, others of strawberry milkshake – one or two of the species a strong yellow or rich rust - spotted or plain, with dense tubular flowers, sometimes deftly split, these are adaptable biennial stars for containers and garden alike, in sun or shade. We love them and plant up hundreds each year to adorn our Nurseries. We can’t choose a favourite, but would mention the reliable Camelot and Dalmatian Series, Sutton’s Apricot, Pam’s Choice and Serendipity.

Dahlias - another family of flowering though tender, perennials and again, an almost impossible task of picking just one – there is such a kaleidoscope of colour and such a variety of flower-shapes and size in plants that can grow knee-high or more than head-high in just one season. Flowering from mid-Summer right until the frosts, they are an undoubted star of the garden, with many suitable for container growing too. We grow a huge variety in the Cutting Gardens here at Petersham Nurseries, though we do have perhaps one true favourite, Cafe au Laite, a Babylon or Dinner-plate Dahlia with huge creamy flowerheads, streaked with coffer, creme, peach and soft pinks. A true star.

Tulips - yet another family of plants, this time a Spring-flowering bulb. We plant thousands in the Cutting Gardens and in the gardens of Petersham House, and they are a highlight of the April and May floral display. Like the Dahlia, there are a myriad variety of colours and flower shapes  -slender-waisted lily-flowered, bowl-shaped, double forms, fringed and puckered. We love the striking Parrot tulips like Rococco, Ballerina in bright orange is as elegant a flower as you could wish for, Black Hero is a rich double, blackcurrant and liquorice creation. If we had to single one out, it would be the late-flowering double, Belle Epoque. A stunning combination of apricot-pink and coffee, fading to the edges, with a silky, pearly sheen. A charming companion to other warm tones, and particularly lovely in a terracotta planter.

Scented Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’ - flecks of pink flowers above downy rose-scented leaves, this scented Pelargonium is absolutely one of our favourites. Hailing from South Africa, they can summer outside on a sunny terrace, being brought inside when colder weather threatens to overwinter. Fast growing and generous, cuttings are easy to take as are almost all of the family – which as well as this rich rose fragrance, offer up varieties redolent of orange and strawberry, cherry and saffron, mint and apple, pine, hazelnut, lemon – with flowers in whites and pinks, cerise and richer reds. Place a leaf at the bottom of a baking tin if you are making a Victoria Sandwich, and it will delicately flavour the cake, quite naturally.

Herbs - another group of plants rather than one favourite. many flowering herbs are veritable bee-magnets, Rosemary and Thyme, Oregano, borage and chamomile. There is a dizzying variety of herbs. Thymes that are green, gold, silver, lemon-scented, flowering in pinks, purples, reds and white, bushy or creeping; mints can be chocolate, eau-de-cologne, black, strawberry-scented, trailing (Indian), Moroccan (best for tea), spearmint, peppermint, ginger, grapefruit, apple, Spanish, Silver or lime! We simply can’t choose one …

Daphne odora aureomarginata - in the depths of winter, this evergreen gold-flashed shrub can ambush you on a woodland walk with an intoxicating fragrance of jasmine and vanilla, rich, deep, utterly satisfying and being pumped out by clusters of pink and white, waxy flowers. Plant it where you can best appreciate its scent, by a path or entranceway, with a little shade and deep, rich soil for best results. Perfect for early foraging bees. Many winter flowering shrubs rely on scent to attract pollinators but none are as heady and glorious, we think, as this Daphne.

Muelhenbeckia - such a versatile plant, with tiny oval dark green leaves held on thin wiry stems, hailing from New Zealand but quite happy in a British garden. Given support it will climb, or scramble upwards; left to its own devices it will form an undulating dense ground cover mass in shade, or trail equally happily over the edges of a raised bed or container. There are flowers, and fruit, but these are pretty inconspicuous. A delightful alternative to ivy, used just on its own or in combination with other plants, we have found no end to its uses here at Petersham Nurseries and we couldn’t be without it.

15 Favourites – Roses

Lady Emma Hamilton - a deliciously fragrant English rose, of rich tangerine with golden centre, paling to apricot, with raspberry flashes on the reverse of the petals. Fresh foliage is a beautiful rich dark bronze which sets off the flowers perfectly. The scent is a heady mix of citrus, pear, mango and tropical fruit, Sauternes – quite exceptional. It grows into an upright bushy shrub 1.2m x 1m, and flowers freely throughout summer and autumn. The petals make a stunning compote or jam too. Our No. 1 Favourite from David Austin Roses. (AGM – Award of Garden Merit)

Gertrude Jekyll - the quintessential English Rose, with a fine heritage and a rich true Old Rose fragrance that is carried freely on the breeze. A strong pink, many-petaled flower, starting out small, scrolled and cupped and swelling to large full rosettes. Mid green healthy leaves set off the display. Versatile, it can be grown as a large shrub though fanned out against a wall, it will behave as a short climber and will flower even more prolifically, in flushes throughout the season. Introduced by David Austin in 1986, it is in every way a winner (AGM – Award of Garden Merit)

Munstead Wood - another stellar rose from David Austin, the flowers starting out a bright rich crimson, and maturing to a velvety, rich deep blackcurrant and plum, with a fragrance to match, strong, warm, fruity Old Rose. Forms a broad bushy shrub 1m x 80cm, with good disease resistance and with an Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

The Generous Gardener - A fragrant English Climbing rose, though it can equally be grown as a large shrub. An English Musk rose, with beautifully formed not quite-double flowers of a soft glowing pink at the centre, paling to palest pink at the outer petals. When open, the numerous stamens create an almost water-lily like effect. Fresh spring leaves are red-tinted, the scent has a strong character of musk, myrrh and Old Rose and it flowers freely throughout the season, growing up to 3.5m. Rosehips, if left to develop at the end of the year are a large bright cherry red and long-lasting. AGM.

Scepter’d Isle - An English Rose again from David Austin, bearing numerous cupped blooms above the neat green foliage, fifteen or more on each spray. The colour is a soft clear pink, paling towards the outer petals, with an award winning, rich strong myrrh fragrance – redolent of aniseed. An upright shrub, growing to 1.2m x 1m, it is charming addition to any garden.

Lady of the Lake - Rambling roses tend to be huge, clambering through large trees and clothing substantial walls. And they flower just the once, small flowers held in dense clusters. Spectacularly it must be said, but fleeting. David Austin has taken the form and bred a series of much more manageable ramblers, this one up to 3.75m, with pretty 5cm wide, semi-double pale peachy-pink, fruitily fragrant flowers with boss of stamens making them attractive to pollinators too. Held in delicate sprays on flexible, purple-flushed stems, they have the added bonus of repeat-flowering throughout the season.

Olivia Rose Austin - A very important recent introduction to the English Rose canon, with superlative health. Flowering from very early in the season, with outward-facing rich mid-pink flowers with a light fragrance, set against dark green leaves it will continue to dazzle, flowering in flushes right through into the Autumn. A well-balanced shrub rose growing to 1.2m x 1.2m. Named for David Austin Snr’s grand-daughter,

Eden Rose `88/Pierre de Ronsard - we have this superb rose flowering over an wooden pergola at the heart of our Cutting Garden at Petersham Nurseries and it never fails to delight, nor is is rarely ever not in flower during the season, no matter how many blooms we seem to cut. It can be grown as a large shrub but well-trained as a climber, it will flower even more prolifically, with huge, pale ivory, tightly packed flowers washed in pink and carmine at the edges. The perfectly round buds are an enchanting pale green, only hinting at the delights to come. There is little or no fragrance, but its many qualities allow us to overlook this. It was voted the World’s Favourite Rose by the World Federation of Roses in 2006, deservedly so, for it is a beautiful rose, with a romantic Old Fashioned look, healthy glossy green leaves setting of perfectly the whole display. It can be found under two names, Pierre de Ronsard, a poet well-known in France, though elsewhere, Eden Rose is meant to convey the idea of paradise conjured by this exceptional bloom.

Boscobel - a bright richly coloured, fruitily fragrant English shrub rose, with large rosettes that are in turn more strongly pink in cooler weather, warming to coral, salmon and peach in sunnier periods. The scent is good, with hints of myrrh, hawthorn, elderflower, pear and almond. It forms a well-rounded shrub, 1m x 0.8m, with healthy glossy dark green leaves.

Jude the Obscure - for a strong clean citrus scent, grapefruit we think, but guava and sweet white wine too, it is a firm favourite of ours. Large, almost egg-shaped flowers of pearly, clotted cream, darker on the outside and paler within, it is very free flowering, with bushy habit and strong arching stems. In warmer situations it can be grown as a wall-climber, but otherwise forms a shrub, a little broader than tall, 1.2m x 1.5m. A real delight.

Summer Song - with large cup shaped flowers, the perfect outer petals forming a perfect ring enclosing the many inner, informally arranged petals. It is a strong rich burnt orange, the colour of a Caribbean sunset, with s fragrance hinting at raspberries, chrysanthemum leaf, ripe bananas and tea. It forms a bushy upright shrub 1.2m x 1m, the display blending well with other warm shades, particularly in the late summer border.

Seven Sisters Rose / Rosa multiflora Platyphylla - what an extravagant rose this, being grown in our Nurseries over a Victorian umbrella frame. In full bloom, it is a pure cloud of mixed pinks, hugely fragrant even at a distance. Seven Sisters describes the transition from rich pink to lilac, palest pinks and white as each truss of flowers age and mature. At it’s peak in late May and June, there is barely a hint of the small neat mid-green leaves that clothe the plant from early in the season, hidden as they are by the blizzard of blooms. A rambler rose, raised in 1815, it flowers just the once but my-oh-my, what a sight. 5m x 4m

The Poet’s Wife - a recent rose from David Austin, with spicy-scented clear, rich yellow cup-shaped rosettes held above shiny foliage. A charming neat shrub roses introduced in 2015, it is ideal in the garden or in a large container, growing to 1.2m x 1.2m.

Wollerton Old Hall - originally introduced as a shrub, it has proven to be best suited to being grown as a vigorous free-flowering climbing rose with a delightfully strong fragrance dominated by that elusive scent of myrrh – referring to Sweet Cecily, Myrrhis odorata, redolent of aniseed (as in Pernod and Ricard!). Plump buds, with attractive flashes of red, open to chalice-shaped blooms of soft apricot, eventually paling to soft pearly cream. Happily it has few thorns, producing many stems from the base to form an easily traine“`

Our final list has, of necessity, missed out on some outstanding candidates. We have focused on plants within the Nurseries, that we sell as well as those treasures planted in the Cutting Gardens and House Gardens.

Roses come first, for me at least for those who know of my singular passion for them. I was quite willing to repeat Lady Emma Hamilton 15 times and be done with it. The vast panoply of Old Roses have almost entirely been passed by. I would love to have included Mme Hardy (white lace and emeralds), the superlatively fragrant Mme Issac Pereire, a raft of Hybrid Musks (Ballerina, Penelope), the China rose Mutabilis, tea-scented Lady Hillingdon Climbing (growing in the Kitchen Garden), the near-wild and fragrant Rugosa family, amongst them Blanc Double de Coubert. Of the ramblers, Phyllis Bide has become a favourite – teamed with Alchymist it is a triumph and if you have room, Paul’s Himalayan Musk will rarely disappoint. How to choose a favourite amongst so many favourites. Modern roses? Sally Holmes, Jacqueline du Pre, Bonica, Rhapsody in Blue, Margaret Merrill …

Therefore I have sided predominantly on the side of the English Rose bred by David Austin and his eponymous company, together with a few that planted out, grace our Nurseries.

A travesty, really, missing out on Desdemona; Gentle Hermione is just glorious, and I understand a favourite of the late Master; Spirit of Freedom with huge pink-lilac blooms set off by grey-green foliage, grown well, cannot be beaten, though perhaps best in a warmer, dryer climate; Abraham Darby regularly tops the list of the most heady, beautifully fragrant roses.

I love Harlow Carr for its dense bushy habit, rich Old Rose scent and flurries of small neat rich pink flowers. Morning Mist forms a large shrub with huge great butterflies of salmon pink; give it room. Abraham Darby has the most delicious fragrance and while Lady of Shalott does not, it is a prolific flowerer and makes a fine show over a very long season. Snowgoose, like The Lady of the Lake, is a repeat-flowering rambler, with pure white pompoms of petals. I’ve set myself up to fail, I can see. The only constant in my reverie and rose day-dreaming is Lady Emma Hamilton.

3 thoughts on “Planting for Honey Bees and other pollinators ….

  1. Fabulous photos! Funny you should mention the “Lady Emma Hamilton” rose which is one I had years ago and absolutely loved the color of the blooms as well as the reddish new stem growth!

  2. This is a tour-de-force Martin. So much knowledge and experience condensed here. Most (expensive) gardening magazines have far less information in them from cover-to-cover, than you have provided here. Thank you

  3. I posted a few days ago, saying I thought this article was a gardening tour de force – so much knowledge. I dont see this comment, so have posted it again !

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