Plant a bee-friendly border

Illustration: Gill Lockhart

Illustration: Gill Lockhart

Choose bee-pleasing blush and blue flowers for a soothing end of summer treat, says Helen Billiald

Choose plants with pollinators in mind and you’ll soon be visited by those ever-busy butterflies, hoverflies and bees, whose tumbling flight is so hypnotic to watch.

This blush-and-blue planting of herbaceous perennials has huge pollinator appeal, while also winning points for serious longevity, both in flower and the skeletons left behind. Find the plants a sunny site then sit back and watch the show.

Just make sure you pay attention to the conditions – monarda, phlox and echinacea prefer moist, humus-rich soil with sufficient drainage to prevent prolonged winter wet, while the agastache and hylotelephium require a well-drained soil.


PLANTS TO USE

Echinacea purpurea Pink-petalled coneflower with dusky orange centres. A pollinator pleaser, flowering July-Sept. Finches love the seedheads. H90cm (3ft) S60cm (2ft)

Phlox paniculata ‘Le Mahdi’ Large-flowered violet-purple phlox with scented panicles July-Sept. Needs moist but well-drained soil. H90cm (3ft) S60cm (2ft)

Agastache ‘Blackadder’ Vertical spikes of violet-blue flowers July-Oct, adored by bees. Strongly fragrant foliage. Needs good winter drainage. H90cm (3ft) S35cm (14in)

Monarda ‘Vintage Wine’ Whorls of magenta to berry-red flowers on top of sturdy stems July-Oct. Excellent winter silhouettes. Good bee pleasers. H90cm (3ft) S30cm (12in)

Persicaria alpina Statuesque perennial with a haze of frothy white flowers gradually tinged with pink Aug-Sept. Undemanding, but needs room to spread. H1.8m (6ft) S1.5m (5ft)

Hylotelephium ‘Veluwse Wakel’ Grey-green fleshy foliage and pink-purple starry flowers July-Sept that look like insect landing pads. H75cm (2½ft) S45cm (18in)

HOW TO PLANT YOUR BORDER

Clear the site, digging out perennial weeds and breaking up compacted ground, then work in plenty of well-rotted organic matter across the area. This improves the moisture-retaining properties of lighter soils, while opening up heavier ones and helps to balance the needs of the phlox, monarda and echinacea (adequate moisture in summer, good drainage in winter) with those of the agastache and hylotelephium (well-drained soil). Add horticultural grit to targeted areas on very heavy ground.

1 Establish the persicaria

This statuesque white-flowered perennial needs a generous amount of space, so establish it first as the backdrop of the border. Your potted youngster may appear puny but if you lay a 1.5m (5ft) bamboo cane down, pivoted at its centre, you’ll get an idea of elbow room required.

In growth it’s undemanding and will cope with some shade. Cut back established plants in February or March. Despite their size, they’re well-behaved clumping plants rather than invasive spreaders. You might need a saw when it comes to dividing them.

2 Add the rest of the perennials

Water the remaining perennials in their pots, then arrange them across the border. Allow plants enough elbow room for a couple of year’s growth and tuck the phlox towards the back to hide its less attractive lower legs. Once you’ve identified the area for the agastache and hylotelephium, check that their section has adequate drainage, lightening ground with further grit and organic matter if required.

Having confirmed the layout, begin planting, forking in further compost to each hole as you work and finishing with a layer of well-rotted organic matter as mulch. Keep an eye out for slugs and snails and keep watered during dry spells.

3 Maintain the border

Mildew can be problematic with these perennials, causing white powdery patches to develop across foliage. Your first line of defence is to grow plants well, watering deeply during dry spells and resisting overcrowding when you plant. Prune away infected foliage promptly, or in severe cases cut back the entire plant hard and water well for regrowth.

Deadhead to keep flowers coming but stop in early autumn to leave flowers in place for sculptural winter seedheads to catch those elusive hoar frosts. Clear away the phlox in late autumn but leave the rest of the sun-bleached stems until February or March. Then, cut back and mulch using well-rotted organic matter.

Lift and divide plants every three years; skip this step and the display will gradually diminish. Most of the plants are content with either an autumn or spring split (see p30), but the agastache and monarda need to wait until spring. When splitting keep only the healthiest and most vigorous sections, usually at the outer edges of the clump, and improve the border soil before replanting. Monardas in particular have a habit of dying at the centre and moving out into new areas where you don’t necessarily wish them to be.

If you struggle with agastache failing to survive winter (‘Blackadder’ is one of the most reliable), practise taking semi-ripe cuttings as insurance in late summer, and overwinter them somewhere sheltered and frost-free ready for planting out next spring.