Choosing Wildflowers For Bees In Shade, Clay Soil, And Coastal Locations

Following on from a previous page about wildflowers for bees, I thought it was time to add further information, following a number of queries about what to plant where, in particular species for environments often regarded as more challenging for plants and gardeners.  Common questions have included:

  • Which wildflowers can I plant in a shady area?
  • Will wildflowers survive in my heavy clay soil?
  • I live by the sandy coast, what would you recommend?


Planting Wildflowers In Challenging Conditions

Having done some research, I came up with the following lists of wildflowers for bees and butterflies, for some particular conditions.  However, please note, I haven’t tested all of these myself! 

Some species appear to be quite adaptable in terms of their environment, whilst others appear to be more fussy!  There are some great resources available on the internet – see my links below to plant databases where you can search for ‘plants by postcode/zipcode’.

In the meantime, here are my lists:

a colorful wildflower planting with daisies, corn marigolds, poppies.

Wildflowers Tolerant of Shade

When considering your options for a shady spot, think of the flowers found in the dappled sunlight of woodlands (as in the image below), and wildflowers beneath hedgerows for inspiration.

Beautiful English bluebells thrive in the light shade of woodland.Beautiful English bluebells thrive in the light shade of woodland.

Bumble bee foraging on bluebell.Bumble bee foraging on bluebell.

You may struggle with very heavy shade, however, to attract bees and other pollinators.

Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)

Wood avens

Hedge Bedstraw

Nettle-leaved bellflower (Campanula trachelium)



Meadow buttercup


Red Campion

Ramsons / wild garlic  (Allium ursinum)

Red mason bee flying toward wild garlic.Red mason bee flying toward wild garlic.


Tufted vetch


St John’s Wort

Bush vetch

Wood sage

Hedge woundwort

Wildflowers Which Are Tolerant of Clay Soil

Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)

Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)


Bird’s Foot Trefoil 

Black Medick

Meadow Buttercup

White Campion


Common Knapweed

Common carder bumble bee - Bombus pascuorum on common knapweed.Common carder bumble bee - Bombus pascuorum on common knapweed.

Greater Knapweed

Lady’s Bedstraw


Oxeye Daisy

Davies' colletes on oxeye daisy.Davies' colletes on oxeye daisy.

Wildflowers Tolerant of Coastal Areas, Dry Sandy Conditions

Think of the flowers you naturally see when you are on holiday by the beach or close to the coast (in your own country, of course).

Eryngium (Sea holly)

Sea Campion

Evening Primrose

Common Knapweed

Corn marigold

St John’s wort


Viper’s Bugloss


Coastal leafcutter bee - Megachile maritima - female - foraging on restharrow.Coastal leafcutter bee - Megachile maritima - female - foraging on restharrow.

Bird’s Foot Trefoil

Kidney vetch

Common restharrow

Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon (Tragopogon pratensis)

Common Cat's-ear (Hypochaeris radicata)  

Salad Burnet

Field Scabious


Wild Carrot


Wild Clary


Yellow Rattle

How Can I Include Wildflowers For Bees And Butterflies In My Garden?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Create a mini-meadow or wildflower patch.  See my page ‘lawns for bees’.

  2. Add them to your rockery.  Good candidates include selfheal, ajuga, bird’s foot trefoil, evening primrose, cowslip – I have the first four of these in my own rockery.

  3. Plant them in your garden inter-mingled with your border plants.  I have found this is easily achieved with a number of species which I have experimented with in my small garden.  From the lists above, I currently have poppy, foxgloves, forget-me-not, and hedge woundwort.  Teasels are on my list to add into the border at some point.  I have seen them in other gardens, and they provide real visual interest in a border, as well as being beneficial for pollinators. 

  4. Fill planters – why not?  Again, there are lots of pretty candidates that would not look out of place!  Try forget-me-nots, low growing, creeping wildflowers, and poppies.


You might like these

Create a
lawn for bees

Home page

  Pssst ... spread the word!

leafcutter bee on sweet pea plant sweet peas for bees