Shade Garden Plants
For Bees

Shade gardens: blue bell woods show demonstrate that some flowers can thrive in shade, and provide value for wildlife.Bluebells in the woodland close to my home. There are quite a few bees in this woodland, despite the shady areas.

Although it seems pollinators prefer foraging in sunshine, a shade garden can provide many opportunities for wildlife, including bees, particularly if the shade is caused by hedgerows, or trees.

I have a number of shady spots in my garden, some of which are also quite dry. In the past, I thought that shade gardens were automatically ‘problem gardens’, and that nothing would grow in them. However I now believe that this is not necessarily true - it depends to a large degree on the depth of the shade.

This was the conclusion I came to when I looked to nature for evidence.

When I contemplated the rich diversity of plant life in forests and woodlands, I realised that there are plants that can tolerate different degrees of shade, and specifically, there are quite a few that can tolerate light and dappled shade, including bluebells, wild garlic and wood anemones.

These shade tolerant plants are also valuable to wildlife - - for example, woodland wildlife, where tree canopies restrict the light.

Nevertheless, shade gardening has its challenges.

So, here are my thoughts about using shade for the benefit of wildlife, and bees especially:

Bees and the shade garden

 1. Have you ever noticed bumblebees flying up against the windows of your house, or hovering around dark holes in the lawn? 

Chances are, they are looking for a suitable nest site.

Generally, bumblebees prefer to make their nests in shady areas. Leave a pile of logs in a secure, shady spot, or if you have purchased a bumblebee house, find a sheltered area in the shade, away from predators, and place it there.

Alternatively, you can make your own using an upturned plant pot, covered over with logs and leaf matter, but with access for the bumblebee.  Then leave it undisturbed. Ensure you provide suitable nest material, such as hamster bedding.

If you are very lucky, in the first year, the nest will be occupied by a mouse! This will make a potential nest site far more desirable for use in following years!

2. Some excellent bee plants are happy in light shade – but remember to plant them in swathes. Group foxgloves together. Plant crocuses and daffodils in groups too, as well as bluebells.

if you are still in need of encouragement, think of the bluebell wood. Despite the dappled shade of the trees, bees will visit masses of bluebells for the nectar reward.

3. Some bedding plants with a spreading habit can also be used. Campanula and Common Dog Violet (Viola riviniana) are examples, as well as cranesbill-type hardy geraniums (left).

In my experience, hardy geraniums have a spreading habit and are easy to maintain.

4. Other partial shade tolerant plants that are attractive to bees include:

Here is a full list of plants (and shrubs) mentioned, plus a few more:

(Please note, do not plant any species known to be invasive in your area, and as with all plants, check for toxicity if you have pets or children).

Blue bell
Monkshood (Aconitum)
Bell flower and bedding campanula
Bee balm
Lamb's ear (stachys byzantina)
Crane's Bill (Geranium sanguineum var. striatum).
The lungworts are fantastic plants for bees. Try Lungwort 'Lewis Palmer' (Pulmonaria 'Lewis Palmer').
Polemonium (Jacob's Ladder)

Ivy (hedera helix)
Hydrangea paniculata
Viburnum opulus
Bleeding heart (dicentra)

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I also have a single petalled fuchsia that produces ample flowers year after year.

In my experience, bees do seem to prefer foraging in the sunshine, but to some extent, shade gardening is about experimentation.

You can only try it and see!

Find out more about how to attract bees into your garden with these links:

Garden plants for bees
List of plants for attacting bees and butterflies, including garden plants, herbs, wildflowers, trees and shrubs.

Create a bee garden
Great tips for creating a bee garden!

More Bee Plants for Problem Places
Find plants to attract bees that will grow in drought conditions and dry soil.

Free Plants!
It need not cost a fortune to design your bee garden. Get some tips here for getting free or low cost plants.

Bee Pollination
Find out how the different types of bees are adapated to be perfect pollinators.

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