Plants for Assynt Pollinators

January 19th 2024

Plants for Assynt Pollinators

Our indoor meeting on 14th December 2023 was all about ‘Scotland’s Pollinator Strategy’. The guest speaker was Jim Jeffrey, Pollinator Strategy Manager at NatureScot.

Jim introduced us to the Scottish Pollinator Strategy, what it aims to deliver, how a range of partners work together to create pollinator friendly projects, and finally a brief look at some of the science behind the strategy.

The Zoom recording of the talk is available on our website at this link.

As always there was a question and answer session after the presentation. One of the questions asked was “what are the best plants to plant here [Assynt] for pollinators”.

Jim didn’t fully answer that one. He explained that he is not a botanist, and certainly advice for the north-west highlands would need to be more specific than might apply further south given soil types, the weather, exposure, etc.

However, Jim did promise to speak to his colleagues about this and get back with more information.

He has now done just that, and the information provided by several of his colleagues is now below.

Thank you Jim!

Some photos by David Haines to show just a few of the plants mentioned below.

First comments-

Stereotypical pollinator meadows advice won’t suffice.

A focus on alpines which can tolerate the exposure, and prostrate creeping growth forms will do better.  I suppose cues from what is growing locally and try to avoid thuggish invaders – (which may naturally tolerate the exposed conditions quite well)

Providing shelter – so hedges have a double benefit with the structures providing shelter and overwintering sites as well as leeward microclimate for more tender plants and pollinators, depending on the species there can be a great pollen and nectar benefit – willow as always is so beneficial early in the season as a food source – not to mention cheap and easy to cultivate – (in my fantasy garden I would definitely have a living willow sculpture)

Leaving a bit of wild area – I am sure nettles and dandelions will thrive regardless.  It is quite difficult to prescribe given the range of locations – but what I would do is take a nosy at neighbouring gardens and see what is thriving and aim to recreate, but shelter creation (even a stone dyke) and low growth forms would be my top tips.

I have heard of Gale force gardening from a Shetland author, Rosa Steppanova – more coastal challenges, but having not read it I can’t vouch for the usefulness.


Trees and shrubs:

Presuming the site isn’t very large. I’d suggest one, two or a few currant bushes plus an apple tree, including ornamental crab apples.  If a triploid apple is used then an additional diploid would need to be planted in addition to the triploid, but make sure that the pollen donor tree produces its pollen at the right time.

Holly – yes, but female plants are better for looks, males if you want pollen!

Hawthorn – yes including ornamental species, but for single flowered e.g. Crataegus laevigata ‘Crimson cloud’

Sloe – very early flowering which good, then sloes also good, but produces a lot of suckers so I’d avoid the cherry trees in gardens, unless they are for a specific purpose e.g. filling a problematic gap.

I’d add Rowan, native or ornamental.  Red berries best to attract birds.  Smallish and containable.

Avoid cotoneaster.  Some are invasive and really, they don’t add a lot.

Ivy – can become an invasive native, but super good for wildlife

Fushsia magellanica – not native, but grows.

Herbs, great for insects and can be eaten by people.

Some ornamental species based upon season:

Early winter/ late autumn Schizostylus coccinea.  Later winter snow drops.  Any species, but avoid double flowered “plena” varieties.

Early spring – crocuss species and varieties. Narcissus species. Any apart from double flowered which will fail in any case as the flowers are heavy and don’t cope will with windy places.  Plant in pots, borders or wild flower meadows.

Summer- a huge range – check local gardens to see what grows.  If near a water course avoid skunk cabbage and common montbretia (Crocosmia × crocosmiiflora).  If montbretia is to be planted used a variety such as “Lucifer”, a red cultivar which seems to be less prone to being invasive.  Definitely if orange do not plant! Also do not plant monkey flower of any variety or species!  It also spreads down waterways.  Honeysuckle is good, but aim for cultivars of the native species.  No other species!

Some species only flower for a short period of time e.g. Iris. I have planted different species of Iris, the nicest ones for a garden are the tiny “reticulata” section. They come out along with crocus flowers, but can be difficult to establish for more than a year or two.

Summer continued – see what is flowering locally.  Most native species will have stopped flowering which is why some garden exotics can be good for butterlies e.g. butterfly bush Buddleia perhaps.

Autumn Again late flowering species – check what is out locally and plant that.

I hope that helps.


My colleague had also stored an email from 2017.  This came from a contact he had in Plantlife. You might find it useful but it won’t be tailored specifically to your [Assynt] location … here are some extracts which might be of interest-

I suspect we’re hugely underestimating the importance of trees and shrubs in providing pollen and nectar. We rarely look up into the canopy of a flowering oak or willow, and it’s even harder to see the bees that might be foraging up there.

In fact, blackthorn and hawthorn are particularly good for wildlife. Not only do their early flowers support a wealth of different pollinators, including all sorts of bees, hoverflies, beetles and flies. But they’re also a food plant for a vast array of invertebrates – nearly 200 for hawthorn and over 260 for blackthorn. If you really want to boost wildlife in your garden, I’d highly recommend planting one of these shrubs.

Planting for pollinators needs to take into account several factors. The most important one is to plant a wide range of species to extend the flowering season for as long as possible, from early spring (primroses, bugle and celandines) to late summer (common knapweed, harebell and devil’s-bit scabious).

But it’s also important to plant a wide range of species as different plants produce different amounts of pollen and nectar. Some flowers, like dandelions, oxeye daisy and common knapweed, produce lots of both nectar and pollen. Others produce large quantities of nectar but very little pollen (eg viper’s-bugloss and ragwort). Conversely, common poppy and musk mallow produce large amounts of pollen but relatively little nectar.

Best plants for pollen and nectar
Based on several studies looking at the quantity of pollen and nectar produced by wildflowers, the following 30 will give a good mix of both pollen and nectar over a long season:

1. Bell heather (Erica cinerea)
2. Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)
3. Bugle (Ajuga reptans)
4. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
5. Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale)
6. Common knapweed (Centaurea nigra)
7. Common poppy (Papaver rhoeas)
8. Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)
9. Corn-marigold (Glebionis segetum)
10. Dandelions (Taraxacum agg.)
11. Devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa
12. Early dog violet (Viola riviniana)
13. Field scabious (Knautia arvensis)
14. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
15. Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)
16. Heather (Calluna vulgaris)
17. Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)
18. Meadow crane’s-bill (Geranium pratense)
19. Musk mallow (Malva moschata)
20. Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
21. Primrose (Primula vulgaris)
22. Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria
23. Red campion (Silene dioica)
24. Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
25. Sea campion (Silene vulgaris)
26. Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris)
27. Thrift (Armeria maritima)
28. Viper’s bugloss (Echium vulgare)
29. Wild thyme (Thymus polytrichus
30. Yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus)

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