Wildlife-friendly garden plants

Bring your garden to life by choosing the right plants – then sit back and enjoy watching the birds, bees, butterflies and more. Here are some to try

HawthornCrataegus monogyna

A native hedge is a good place to start when creating a wildlife-friendly garden. Hawthorn supports many species of birds that use the hedges as nesting sites and feast upon the haws (fruits) in autumn. They offer cover to small mammals as wildllife corridors.

  • Grow them: they thrive in wide range of soil conditions in full sun or partial shade. Regular pruning increases density.

  • Combine with: use on their own or mix with species such as blackthorn, hazel and holly as a boundary hedge.

  • Best for a wildlife-friendly garden: Crataegus monogyna (common hawthorn) is a fine choice with fragrant, white flowers and dark red fruits; Crataegus laevigata ‘Paul’s Scarlet' AGM  a variety of the Midland hawthorn, has attractive double, pinkish red flowers.

Annual sunflowerSunflower 'Valentine'

Sunflowers fulfil dual wildlife benefits. Their pollen is a boon to bees and later in the season, the seedheads provide plates of food for birds.

  • Grow them: avoid the pollen-free varieties if you want to please the bees. Either sow indoors in modules or directly. Choose a sunny site. Pinch out growing tips according to cultivar.

  • Combine with: they're great in annual or cut flower beds or for cheering up utilitarian areas such as allotments.

  • Best for a wildlife-friendly garden: .'Valentine' is 1.5m (5ft) in height and soft lemon; 'Velvet Queen', a rich red at 1.5m (5ft); Sonja is a good cut flower in warm orange at 1-1.5m (3-5ft).

HoneysuckleLonicera periclymenum variety

Climbing honeysuckles are the quintessence of sleepy cottage gardens. Their evening fragrance attracts moths which in turn feed birds and bats. Birds also enjoy their red berries and as plants get woodier use them for nesting sites. 

  • Grow them:  as part of native hedging and up trellis, columns and wires.

  • Combine with: climbing roses for a heady rush or plant to cloak tree stumps.

  • Best for a wildlife-friendly garden: L. periclymenum is the native woodbine; 'Graham Thomas' AGM reaches 2m (5ft), is pale yellow and highly scented; 'Honeybush' is a shrubbier form with deep red trumpets with cream throats.


SedumSedum 'Herbstfreude'

The nectar-rich flowerheads of stonecrop are a real plus for bees and butterflies in late summer. Their low-growing habit makes them perfect for the front of borders. Creeping species are commonly used on green roofs.

  • Grow them: sedums do best in neutral to slightly alkaline soil in a sunny position. A Chelsea chop to border types will spread their flowering time.

  • Combine with: late-flowering plants such as grasses or Michaelmas daisies. On roofs, sedum mats consist of several creeping species.

  • Best for a wildlife-friendly garden: Sedum telephium ‘Purple Emperor’ AGM has purple foliage with pink flowers; Sedum ‘Herbstfreude' AGM has glaucous green leaves - a perfect foil for its clusters of starry, deep-pink flowers; the creeping succulent
    S. acre is often a component in roofing mats.

BuddlejasBuddleja x weyeriana 'Sungold'

Buddlejas are butterfly magnets. Choose carefully as some cultivars self-seed freely. Dwarf cultivars generally self-seed less and still produce the nectar pollinators love.

  • Grow them: buddlejas thrive in most soils as long as they're in full sun, though they will grow in partial shade. Deadheading generally promotes more flowering.

  • Combine with: Hard-pruned in late winter, buddlejas make a good backdrop at the back of a mixed border.

  • Best for a wildlife-friendly garden: Buddleja davidii ‘Black Knight' AGM has lance-shaped leaves and deep purple, scented flowers; B. ‘Blue Chip’ is a dwarf choice, reaching about 1m (3½ft) with short spikes of lavender flowers; 'B. x weyeriana 'Sungold' AGM grows up to 4m (12ft) with fragrant creamy orange flowers.


More from the RHS

Wildlife gardening
RHS Plants for Bugs
RHS Perfect for Pollinators

Get involved

The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.