Plants for a wildlife garden

Information sheet

Choose the right plants and you will attract a variety of wildlife into your garden. Wildflower seeds are readily available from garden centres and mail order seed suppliers.

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s):

A wildlife garden can be an excellent teaching resource. It can offer a rich habitat for insects, amphibians, birds and even small mammals of all kinds. The size of the plot may present limitations on the numbers and variety of the plants you choose, but some native plants are essential for an ecologically balanced wildlife community which can be further enhanced by a colourful garden border. Flowers provide nectar, pollen and seeds. Remember that you will only attract the wildlife that is found in the locality into your garden, so look at the surrounding countryside and try to base your garden management on your observations.

When selecting plants for your wildlife garden, try as far as possible to aim at providing food and shelter for insects and birds during the whole year. Pollen and nectar-rich plants, for example, feed bees, butterflies, hoverflies and other insects during the spring to autumn period. Seeds and berries, if left, are a rich source of food for birds in autumn and winter. Dead and withering foliage can shelter overwintering insects. Many shrubs, especially thorny ones and evergreens, can provide shelter and nesting sites for birds. Ideally, place plants for butterflies, bees and hoverflies in sunny, sheltered places and avoid double-flowered forms, as these often lack pollen and nectar for insects.

Wildflowers will attract a wide range of insects and may also provide seeds for birds. Many wildflowers are adapted to poor conditions and are therefore well suited to be grown in unfertilised soil. Remember that it is illegal to dig up wild plants or take seeds without the permission of the landowner.

Flowers for Bees

Allium species
Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)
Clovers (Trifolium species, for example red clover and white clover)
Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)  
Cotoneaster species
Cranesbill (Geranium species)
Crocus species 
Devil’s bit scabious (Succisa pratensis)
Firethorn (Pyracantha cultivars)
Golden rod (Solidago species)
Heliotrope (Heliotropium cultivars)
Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)
Honesty (Lunaria annua)
Lavender (Lavandula species)
Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena)
Marjoram (Origanum species)
Michaelmas daisies (Aster species)
Poached egg plant (Limnanthes douglasii)
Types of single-flowered rose species (Rosa species)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosebay willowherb (Chamaenerion angustifolium)
Scabious (Scabiosa species)
Snowdrops (Galanthus species)
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)
Thyme (Thymus species)

Plants for Birds

Berberis species
Crab apples (Malus species)
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Field scabious (Knautia arvensis)
Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus)
Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)
Ivy (Hedera helix)
Some species of rose (Rosa rugosa and Rosa moyesii)
Viburnum betulifolium
Wild roses (Rosa canina and R. rubiginosa).

Flowers for Butterflies

Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)
Aubretia (Aubrieta deltoidea)
Blackberry (Rubus fructicosus)
Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
Candytuft (Iberis amara)
Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii)
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
Globe thistle (Echinops species)
Heather (Calluna vulgaris)
Hebe species
Ice plant (Sedum spectabile) – not dark red cultivars
Knapweeds (Centaurea species)
Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Mignonette (Reseda odorata)
Thistle (Cirsium species and Carduus species)
Verbena bonariensis
Verbena rigida

Tips for wildlife gardening

  • Try not to disturb the balanced state of the garden community too much.
  • The greater diversity of plants and wildlife, the more enjoyable and rewarding it will be.
  • Don’t be too quick to kill or tidy things and thus minimize disturbance.
  • Avoid using fertilisers, pesticides and weed killers wherever possible; biological control is preferable. Rose shoots, for example, are often populated with aphids, which provide food for other insects such as ladybirds.
  • For more ideas, check out our resource Encouraging wildlife in your school garden