Please read the introductory page in the Real Botany of Desire for the background to why I’m listing the observed insect favourite flowers that bloom during this month, and which seem to be the most popular with the groups of insects which frequent our garden. Another summer month where choosing an arbitrary top 5 favourite insect friendly flowers for the month is tricky. But Stachys officinalis, Dahlia merckii, Persicaria amplexicaulis, Fuchsia magellanica, (‘Duchy of Cornwall’ seedling) and Eryngium alpinum are my current choices.
If reading the introduction is a click too far, then briefly, there’s a huge issue with loss of wild flowers as agriculture intensifies and mono-cultures prevail. This impacts on all the insects which rely on flowers as food sources. But all flowers aren’t equal in their appeal to insects, or particular groups of insects, (e.g. honeybees, bumblebees, hoverflies, moths, butterflies) and many nursery bred plants have been designed to be attractive to our senses, not insects.
Some flowers are useful both as pollen and nectar sources whilst other flowers simply provide just one of these insect ‘foodstuffs’. This simple record is to help gardeners reflect a bit more on this issue, and perhaps plant more flowers to help our very diverse native insect groups. I’ve found that many of the best plants seem to be some of our native wild flowers, which in other respects also have real garden merit.
Equally, there are many plants from the other side of the globe which are preferentially favoured over native flowers at certain times of the year – there’s no simple easy guide to their relative appeal.
The positive spin offs from incorporating more insect friendly flowers in our gardens, apart from the appeal of seeing the insects themselves, will be better pollination of our crops, favoured garden flowers and their seed set. In addition, more diverse wildlife will be attracted to our gardens, since insects are at the bottom of many animal food chains.
It’s certainly not an exhaustive list, and if you know other flowers which have equal appeal, which aren’t listed here, do please let me know, and I’ll trial them up here as well. This work started a couple of years before my blog began in March 2011, but previous to that I’d produced the UK’s first DVD-ROM guide to Garden Moths ” In A Different Light”. This project attempts to widen that work in a more general way.
Another point to ponder if you actually stand and watch honeybees, bumblebees or any other insects working in the garden, is how quickly they discover which flowers are their preferred ones from all those available. None of them you observe will ever have experienced the seasonal flowers in a temperate garden before, since both flowers and insect visitors have such relatively short lifespans, yet within just hours of emerging as adult insect forms they develop clearly defined favourites, which can change from day to day, or even through the day, often to the complete exclusion of many flowers which we may find attractive.
As I mention elsewhere, the actual numbers of flowers of a single plant type growing together, and their position in the garden (e.g. sun, shade, shelter from wind) can also impact on how favoured the flowers are by your garden’s insect population – probably because sunshine and warmth can affect nectar and pollen production and release, as well as the actual temperature the insect will experience whilst visiting a particular flower:
July is definitely one of the months when we seem to have fewer insects around in the garden early on, perhaps in part because we don’t have the right balance of nectar and pollen source flowers, or perhaps because late June and July are often quite dull and wet here, even if warm, and so not conducive to much insect flight, or observation! Though I should add that moths aren’t affected by inclement weather to the same extent. In addition July usually sees a second wave of important wildflower blooming times with bramble, knapweed, willow her and the start of the Himalayan balsam season, in addition to the now huge numbers of mainly insect friendly flowers now growing in our meadows.
It’s been estimated that a vibrant hay meadow can have over 40 species per square metre, and over 500 flowers per square metre, during the peak flowering season, which is a huge floral resource. (Watch this Plantlife video, produced by their current botanical specialist, Dr. Trevor Dines, for more about the value of wildflower meadow restoration, and their species diversity. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dd5rIxIWQTA). Click here, and here, for two fascinating papers from researchers based at the National Botanic Garden of Wales, on the relative values of different plants as nectar sources for honeybees, both locally and from around the UK.)
But we do seem to be moving in the right direction with our plantings. I’m also starting to realise that there are real insect preferences at work. For example, plants which flower over a long season and attract many insect visits early in the year may lose out when there is greater flower diversity in the garden – an example being Sea campion, which is very popular in late April and early May, but less so now.
Difficulties in moving images around on the blog means that the photos are a bit randomly ordered, but hopefully this still provides an interesting overview of what’s going on in our limited garden space, in this upland, high rainfall region. I’ve now added a diary section for the other favourite flowers which we grow, which includes many of those which rarely seem to get insect visits (for example in July, many Clematis cultivars fall into this category – see our Gelli Uchaf plant palette pages).
The short video below is a selection of popular plants in early to mid July 2021 – a time of wonderful sunshine and even the Met Office’s first ever excess heat warning. The plants shown in order are: Eryngium alpinum; Rose ‘Grouse’; Sidalcea ‘Elsie Hugh’; Echium ‘Blue Bedder’; Common Valerian/Valeriana officinalis; Persicaria amplexicaulis/affinis ‘Darjeeling’; Marjoram/Oregano; Meadow Sweet/Filipendula ulmaria, and Betony/Stachys officinalis. So a real mix of native and non-native plants. It’s worth setting your You Tube settings to watch in HD quality.
Rosa moyesii flowers continues to bloom into July and often after the deluges typical of early July, these are some of the first flowers visited by bumblebees and honeybees after the rain eventually stops falling. Apparently only valuable as a pollen source, since only Dog roses, Rosa canina, produce nectar.
Honeybee on Rosa moyesii flower.
Rosa rugosa flowers are also visited by bumblebees and honeybees for pollen, the bumblebees often using sonication, or buzz pollination to loosen the pollen.
Stewartia pseudocamellia is one of the few trees we grow which blooms in early July, and its large bowl shapes flowers are popular with honeybees, bumblebees and flies, providing a fleeting, but increasingly valuable food source as the trees grow ever larger.
The common Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, continues to be a valuable nectar flower into July for larger bumblebees, even in wet weather.
And I’m not sure if this fly is simply sheltering from the wet conditions.
Geranium phaeum sometimes continues to flower into July, and is still one of the favourite flowers in the garden for honeybees and some smaller bumblebee species.
We grow masses of Geranium nodosum as a good plant for poor places in the sun or shade. It’s not as obviously popular with insects as some Geranium (G.procurrens, G. magnificum, or G. macrorrhizum, for example), but does occasionally get some honeybee and bumblebee visits.
Native ‘Fox and Cubs’, Pilosella aurantiaca, now grows in profusion on our bank in really poor conditions, and also in our upper hay meadow, and produces 6 weeks of vivid flowers which appeal to flies, honeybees and bumblebees.
In spite of very poor pod production with the horrendously wet June weather in 2012, broad bean flowers (home saved ‘Witkiem Manita’ beans) continued to attract bumblebee visitors in July, principally as a nectar source flower.
Sweet Rocket, Hespera matronalis, in its white form, flowers into early July and attracts a few flies, and bees in sunny moments.
The first flowers of our autumn fruiting raspberries, ‘Autumn Bliss’ attract bumblebees, wasps, and honeybees.
The poached egg plant, Limnanthes douglsaii, is visited by honeybees, mining bees as above, and flies, as a great nectar source annual flower, though it’s often finishing by early July.
Although highly toxic to humans, the intense purple flowers of Monkshood, Aconitum ‘Spark’s Variety’, are very popular with some larger bumblebee species.
This single un-named verbascum always surprises us, appearing at the end of July from beneath other tall foliage and flowers with very pretty flowers, and attracted this beautiful silver and orange/red hoverfly amongst others feeding on the pollen, as well as bumblebees.
Penstemon ‘Huskers Red’ is now the only penstemon which we’ve managed to keep going in the garden, and is visited by bumblebees, but we also really like the purple foliage colour and form and contrast with the pale flower colour.
The daisy like flowers of this un-named Coreopsis are visited by hoverflies and solitary bees and bumblebees.
The wildflower, Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Lotus corniculatus, and later flowering, larger Greater Bird’s-foot-trefoil, Lotus pedunculatus, grows in our fields and also in areas of the garden, and is a popular flower with bumblebees and honeybees in July and August.
Still flowering is Clematis orientalis and it’s also still attracting bumblebees, honeybees and hoverflies, but this bumblebee seemed to have an interesting habit of exiting the flower for a few seconds of hovering just outside the flower bowl whilst it combed pollen onto its hind leg, before re-entering the same flower. It would repeat this activity 3 or 4 times per flower before moving to another one. A marked contrast to the usual habit of a brief visit only to each single flower. Did it need to do this after spending too long upside down in a single flower? Or for some other reason?
Achillea ptarmica ‘Benary’s Pearl’ is attractive to a few moths, but I haven’t noticed other insect visitors.
When Stachys officinalis, like ‘Rosea Superba’, and the now many home grown seedling variants, start to flower in July, they are a magnet for a range of insects including hoverflies, bumblebees, moths, and butterflies, both in the garden, and the meadows.
Bumblebee on Stachys officinalis ‘Hummelo’.
White clover, Trifolium repens, flowers in our (mid-summer) un-mown lawn, and meadows, are one of the favoured flowers in July for the bumblebees in the garden and honeybees. Red clover, Trifolium pratense, in the meadows, only attracts bumblebees with a long enough tongue to reach their nectar.
This upright, ornamental pink, conical clover flower, Trifolium rubens, native to central and Southern Europe, is both pretty and a big hit with bumblebees where it grows in the garden, but slugs devour the foliage, which limits its use for us in the garden.
Even in a wet July the Welsh poppies, Meconopsis cambrica, continue to flower attracting bumblebees and hoverflies.
Cerinthe major var. purpurescens, is a beautiful plant with blue green drooping stems, and the blue/mauve flowers are popular with smaller bumblebees, which will buzz pollinate them.
Phacelia tanacetifolia is often recommended as a green manure, but if allowed to flower it attracts masses of bumblebees early on, and later honeybees too, though they seem to struggle a bit to master reaching the nectar.
Another annual suggested to us by a knowledgeable garden visitor in 2011, is Echium ‘Blue Bedder’. It looks great en-masse, and generated lots of interest from garden visitors this year. Whilst it took a while to get going in July, it attracts honeybees, bumblebees and several fly species, being a member of the Borage family – see August folder for more images.
After seeing the gorgeous blue flowers of the native cornflower attracting insects on the Jekka’s Herb Nursery stand at Hampton Court Flower Show in 2011, I bought some seeds. What an intense blue, and the honeybees, some bumblebees and flies love the flowers too, but they don’t attract as many insects for a long period as I’d hoped for after growing them en-masse in 2019. Perhaps some of the colour variants in this mix, don’t have the same nectar potential?
And finally, not normally bothering with the fag of annuals, I’ve grown some Cosmos ‘Purity’ which I knew was a pretty good flower for attracting hoverflies.
Another new plant in 2012 was the native perennial Linaria purpurea, which we love for its tall spikes of small purple flowers coming at a good time for us in our July/August lull. Honeybees and some bumblebees and flies love it too.
Another Linaria sp, L. genistifolia was given to us in 2011, flowering for the first time in 2012. Although it’s pretty and produces masses of flowers over a longer period than L. purpurea, it’s rarely visited by insects. But I did photograph this distinctive but unknown bee on it.
The common wall growing Campanula poscharskyana is a popular flower with honeybees, and some flies, which I guess is why it seeds around so freely.
Fly on C. poscharskyana.
But Campanula are one of those plant groups where different species, or cultivars seem to appeal to different insects. This is very tall C. lactiflora, which seems to attract lots of tiny flies.
And a few larger ones, and clearly produces masses of pollen, but I’ve yet to see any bees visit it.
Another unknown white Campanula, which the honeybees do like, in spite of all those hairs that have to be negotiated to reach the nectar.
Astrantia major is visited by flies and honeybees, though isn’t one of the most popular perennial flowers for much of its time in bloom.Any remaining oriental poppies, Papaver orientale, still flowering in July, are always popular with honeybees and bumblebees.
Japanese Anemone, (unknown variety) flowers are attractive to many species of hoverflies and honeybees.
Erysimum ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ has been a star flower in the garden for months now, but doesn’t seem to be as popular with insects as I’d expected from the reports I’d read. Perhaps just now in July, other flowers have greater appeal.
Blue and white borage, Borago officinalis, flowers are always a hit with bumblebees, honeybees and hoverflies as soon as they open. We let seedlings develop around the garden, and they rarely dominate. Are they in the same group of plants as potatoes and tomatoes, with anthers with pollen in a tube?
Loaded with orange pollen, another bumblebee visits an unknown geranium.
The few bumblebees around in the garden in early July do seem to visit some of the gap filling geraniums, like this G.x oxonianum f. thurstonianum which we grow in several parts of the garden.
Native Self-heal, Prunella vulgaris, which we allow to seed throughout the garden including our lawns, is a very popular flower with hoverflies and other insects, but rarely flowers for long as a result.
Bumblebee on Self-heal, Prunella vulgaris.
Moth nectaring on Self-Heal, Prunella vulgaris.
The Cornflower, Centaurea dealbata, is popular with hover flies and solitary mining bees.
The first of a few Dahlia tubers added to the garden in autumn 2011, the species Dahlia merckii starts to flower in late June, but this was the first insect visit of a hoverfly which I recorded to a very wet flower in early July 2012. Over the years since, I’ve grown many more D. merckii from seed and it’s one of the most favoured flowers for bumblebees and honeybees, continuing until frosts cut it down, and even better the tubers overwinter in the ground here, without lifting.
Starting to flower in mid-July, Francoa sonchifolia went on to flower for weeks in 2012, and was one of the most popular flowers in the garden for flies, honeybees and bumblebees. This image was taken early in its flowering period.
We now grow a few forms of Sidalcea malviflora, which have a fairly short flowering season, but flower at a useful time in early to mid July, before the knapweed begins. Honeybees certainly visit the flowers.
Eryngium alpinum was bought as a packet of seed from the RHS seed exchange and it’s proved to be a wonderfully popular flower for bumblebees, and in some years, honeybees and butterflies, growing in the gravel of the yard, and even coping with part shade.
Fuchsia magellanica, (‘Duchy of Cornwall’ seedling), has been bulked up through cuttings and is a popular flower for small bumblebees and honeybees. It survives the winter most years, and is really valuable as a flower which the bees can visit in wet weather.
Persicaria amplexicaulis/affinis, in a couple of named forms (‘Firetail’ and ‘Darjeeling Red’) and self seeded plants, are exceptional nectar plants. Beginning to flower in early July, they’ll continue up to the first frosts, with occasional dead heading, and are always the first flower which bees visit really early in the morning, and in rain, or in cold weather. Bumblebees, honeybees and wasps all fall under its spell. The bee and wasp above were photographed on a cool and foggy July 8th 2021 at 6.40 a.m.
Last updated 08 07 2021