Grow These For the Bees Garden Plan

Pollinator Garden landscape plan

Many pollinator species have suffered serious declines in recent years. Unfortunately, most of our landscapes offer little in the way of appropriate habitat, forage, and housing. Even the most beautiful gardens are not always healthy ecosystems. Design choices, plant selections, and maintenance practices can make a huge difference in creating your own healthy ecosystem, filled with life. As a garden designer, I use variations of this landscape plan for many gardens to attract the greatest varieties of pollinators.

Bradford Pears are typically planted in new developments which have very little value for pollinators

Native Bee Habitats

Mason bee habitats attract pollinators to your garden also. Simple strategies, such as providing bee habitats and gardening with an ecological community approach, contributes to species diversity, attracting and supporting more birds, butterflies, pollinators, and beneficial insects.

Mason Bee Houses for sale at a local garden center

Paper tubes or straws provide nesting areas for mason bees which are pollinator powerhouses, much more efficient than honeybees. Tubes of any kind can be used, like bamboo or hollow stems of sunflowers or other thick stemmed plants.

Bamboo makes a good tube for a mason bee house

A pollinator garden can be beautiful as well as useful. Strategies such as planting in groups of at least 3 to 5 plants is very important. A single plant won’t attract pollinators, but groups of same plants stand out and pollinators use less energy flying to a compact group of flowers.

Think of planting in blocks of color-border seen at Stirling Castle, Scotland

My planting plan for pollinators includes an array of plants that span the early spring-time starting with Aconites, Snowdrops, Willows, Crocus, and Scillas, ending with the late bloomers of Aster, Tithonia, and Agastache. Mid-summer is not an issue  to have blooming flowers in your garden; it is the shoulder season of early spring and late summer/fall that keeps pollinators going.

Early spring bloomers, like Winter Aconite, are very important early nectar sources
Agastache, Anise Hyssop, is a late blooming perennial that is very beneficial to all pollinators
Joe Pye Weed, Eupatorium maculatum, is a butterfly magnet
Flies are an important pollinator; this is an early blooming Willow

Mixing shrubs and trees with perennials, annuals, and bulbs creates an all-season show of blooms for foraging bees for both pollen and nectar. Many of the plants are also host plants for caterpillars that produce butterflies. And caterpillars are the protein rich food that keeps our songbirds going as it is the primary food that many birds feed their young. For example in my plan, willows are known to shelter tiny overwintering Viceroy Butterfly larvae rolled up in a leaf. You could also plant an Oak nearby as according to Doug Tallamy of ‘Bringing Nature Home’, oak trees are top of the list for providing a host to hundreds of caterpillar species, critical for providing essential food source for birds and their young.

It is important to include both herbaceous and woody plants in your pollinator garden. Trees and shrubs not only provide pollinators with food but also offer protected areas from the wind and predators. Also, remember to plan for a sequence of blooms, staggering the flowering time of nectar sources so that butterflies will frequent your garden throughout the season. Water is an essential for attracting pollinators, and something as simple as a birdbath will work. Mud is the other ingredient that pollinators are seeking when they lay their eggs into the paper tubes that you put out for their use. So, don’t mulch every garden bed.

Side view of mason bee tubes reveals mud plugs placed between each egg
I created a meadow around my beehives

Meadow Creation

Meadow creation is an option if you have a large wide open area in full sun. Using a newspaper layer on top of the grass to smother it, you add compost on top and scatter wildflower seed.

A layer of newspaper is laid down first, then compost and seeds on top
Mix together seeds from various varieties to sprinkle on top
Tamp the seeds into the soil and sprinkle with water to jump start the seed germination
Mid spring, the plants are growing vigorously
High summer meadow

You need a sunny spot in your yard for a pollinator garden to be at its best. If your garden is shady but you have a sunny patio, plant containers full of annuals and perennials instead.

For recipes on planting pollinator-friendly containers, go to Nectar in a Pot-Movable Feast. 

An assortment of pollinator plants fill this container

Don’t excessively manicure your yard. Leaf litter, tall grass, stumps, and peeling bark provide pollinators ideal places to spend the night or to overwinter.

Don’t cut back all your perennials to allow insects places to overwinter
Poster available in my Etsy Shop

For more information on what plants to plant specific to pollinators, go to Plant These For Bees. 

Plant Lust: More Must-Haves

Echinacea 'Pink Poodle'
Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’

With a Perennial Plant Association conference under my belt this past week, touring “wow” gardens, and cruising the trade show aisles filled to overflowing with new perennial introductions, you would think that I have ‘perennial fatigue’. It sounds like a new disease doesn’t it? But I have the perennial bug bad. And my list of must-haves just ballooned like an Peony on steroids! Here are some perennials that I will be looking for at the nearest garden center or big box stores. The big box stores sometimes get the new intros before my wholesale nursery starts to carry them, so I will be on the hunt. Go to Plant Lust- 8 Must Haves to see some other plant acquisitions on my list.

Heliopsis ‘Sunstruck’

Heliopsis 'Sunstruck'
Heliopsis ‘Sunstruck’

The variegated foliage of Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Sunstruck” was an attribute that jumped out at me right away. The flower is pretty too and I think for the size of the plant (a gallon), there were plenty of them.  Ultimately growing 14 to 16 inches tall with a similar spread, this is a selection of our native wildflower, False Sunflower. Forming a medium tall mound of silver and green variegated leaves with branching heads of sunny flowers in mid to late season, this should be attractive to native pollinators. Foliage beauty is very important to me since a perennial will only flower for a limited amount of time and this one has it in spades.

Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’

Echinacea 'Pink Poodle' planted with lavender Russian Sage
Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’ planted with lavender Russian Sage


Yes, I know, another Coneflower! I have Coneflower overload but this ‘Pink ‘Poodle’ was a standout in a perennial border that I visited. Introduced in 2009, but overlooked by me, the double-flowered plant features very full and fluffy-looking flowers packed with bright pink petals, resembling a dahlia. The plant habit is well-branched, strong and bushy. It is excellent for cutting, but I suspect that it won’t be as attractive to butterflies as the single flowered ones. If you are familiar with ‘Razzmatazz’, which looks very similar, this is a much better plant.

Helenium ‘Red Jewel’

Helenium 'Red Jewel'
Helenium ‘Red Jewel’

I am always on the hunt for red flowers. Red attracts hummers and butterflies, and it goes with everything. This Helenium ‘Red Jewel’ attracted my attention on an estate property along a country lane mixed with other herbaceous perennials. Petal skirts of garnet red surround the brown center and look like tiny ballerinas dancing through the foliage. Tall at 4 feet and yes, it probably needs to be staked unless you have other shrubs or perennials around supporting it, the flowers attract butterflies. Requiring full sun, with a good amount of room, I imagine planting this at the back of a border and enjoying the late season color.

Helenium 'Red Jewel' will probably need staking of other support
Helenium ‘Red Jewel’ will probably need staking of other support

Agastache ‘Kudos’

If you have never grown an Agastache or Anise Hyssop, go right to the nursery and pick one up. Deer resistance, longevity of bloom, attraction to pollinators, ease of growth, and fabulous scent, are just some of the attributes of this great plant. This is one of my top plants for attracting pollinators. Go to Plant These For the Bees for other good selections. Overwintering an Agastache has been a challenge for me. They sometimes make it and sometimes not, and of course drainage is always implicated when a plant fails. Only ‘Blue Fortune’ Agastache has been reliable for me, and the other varieties I treat more as annuals. But the Kudos series is purportedly hardier and also mildew resistant which can be a problem.

Agastache 'Kudos Gold'
Agastache ‘Kudos Gold’

‘Kudos’ are shorter than other Anise Hyssops, clocking in at 17-20″ tall. So, more compact, fuller flowers, and the blooms come in an array of colors-gold, ambrosia, coral, mandarin, silver blue, and yellow. What’s not to like? I have the gold one in the ground and am very interested to see if it survives my winter here in zone 6b. The claims of hardiness are zones 5 through 9.

Agastache 'Kudos  Ambrosia'
Agastache ‘Kudos Ambrosia’

Deer Combat-Using Deer Proof Plants Is the Best Strategy

Electric fence around veggie garden
Electric fence around veggie garden


I have done lots of plant portraits on my blog and always mention if it is “deer proof” or not.  As a designer, I am constantly updating – adding and subtracting plants from a mental list in my head that are reliably avoided by deer. I don’t want to plant a perennial or shrub for a client that disappears in a day or a week. I want something that deer won’t even consider including in their daily buffet choices.  Consolidating some of my favorites in one post was my goal, so that someone who is planning a new garden or renovating a “deer torn zone” that they call their garden, will be able to use a variety of plants other than boxwood, daffodils, and plastic!

Most people know that daffodils are immune from deer because they are poisonous
Most people know that daffodils are immune from deer because they are poisonous

Solutions for warding off the Bambi plague are legion. There are deer fences, deer sprays, deer gadgets such as water sprays, repellents, and ultrasonic solutions, which work sometimes, but deer get used to anything. Electric fences are the most effective but impractical for many people. Making the plant choices unappetizing and not on their menu, is really key to combat the deer problem, forcing them to search out greener pastures, like your neighbors!

Don't plant hostas or day lilies in deer frequented areas
Don’t plant hostas or day lilies in deer frequented areas

Deer tend to beat the same path through properties, so be aware of this and plant really unappetizing selections along these routes, avoiding attractive favorites like hostas, daylilies, and azaleas which attract deer for miles around.

Learn Deer Dislikes

Because of fuzzy leaves, bitter taste, or strong fragrance, there are plants that deer universally will not touch. A few are obvious because of the pungency of the foliage and flowers, like lavender,  catmint, and Big Root geraniums. Brushing against these plants releases a strong pungent odor which is your clue that deer will hate it!

Favorite Deer Proof Perennials

Deer proof for me simply means rarely touched, if ever. I have seen Hellebores nibbled on once or twice, but I think deer tried it and then rejected it as inedible.


Floating Hellebore blossoms
Floating Hellebore blossoms

One choice that everyone should plant who have deer browsing are Hellebores.  See more info at, What is Deer Resistant, Blooms in the Winter, and is Deer Resistant? . A tough shade loving perennial, a full stand of Hellebores will stop you in your tracks, and wow you with their beautiful blooms that can last for 4 months. A little pricey initially, these stalwart plants will repay you many times over the years for your investment.

collage of helleborus
Collage of Hellebores


Catmint or Nepeta is a beautiful choice that I have found universally rejected by deer, but loved by cats. It is a great edger, reliably comes back every year and is drought tolerant. Blooming prolifically for weeks, a cut back in midsummer will begin a new round of fresh blooms until frost. This is an unsung hero of perennials! And don’t worry that hordes of cats will descend on you. I have found my cat visits this plant only occasionally.


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Cat in the catmint or nepeta


Lambs Ears

Fuzziness or hairy leaves is also a big indicator of a deer repellent plant. Just consider Lambs Ears, the softest wooliest leaf, almost like a cashmere blanket, and deer will spurn this totally. On the other end of the spectrum, deer regularly browse on hollies and roses, the prickliest plants in my garden. Go figure!!

Lambs ears, Stachys byzantia ‘Helene von Stein’


Salvias are my go-to plant for deer infested areas. Another strong fragrance plant that deer disdain, salvias are a diverse group of plants that bloom for weeks and weeks during the summer, so you could plant just salvias in your garden and get bloom all season long in a spectrum of luscious colors. Check out my post on Salvia Amistad to see great selections.

Wide variety of salvias
Wide variety of salvias


Agastache or Anise Hyssops are gaining in popularity because of the staying power of the blooms- about 3 months, and the attractant power for pollinators. Just stand by an Agastache in full bloom and you will notice a cloud of insects covering the blooms. Hybridizers are coming out with a new palette of colors, like yellow, oranges and reds, but I find that the old stand-by ‘Blue Fortune’, is the most reliable.

Agastache or Anise Hyssop
Agastache or Anise Hyssop

Big Root Geraniums

Geranium's autumn color
Geranium’s autumn color

Named because of the large fleshy roots that hold the foliage up, this extremely fragrant ground cover, Geranium macrorhizzum, thrives in all kind of conditions – sun, shade, wet, and dry. It is a very tough plant that blooms with nodding flowers in spring, and turns a russet color in the fall. In mild winters the foliage will remain, shrinking down a bit, but remaining for most of the winter.

Geranium 'Karmina'
Geranium ‘Karmina’



In the onion family, Alliums are perennial bulbs known for their star like flowers that are quite spectacular. Easy to grow as accent plants, the seed heads are useful for dried arrangements.


Dianthus, Tiny Rubies

Looking for a stellar edging perennial with evergreen blue-green foliage that is covered in bright pink flowers for weeks?  Dianthus is your plant!  Not many perennials have evergreen foliage, and dianthus is one of the best. Easy to grow and easy to split up and move around. Buy just a couple and end up with many.




Variegated Iris
Variegated Iris

When I am looking for a plant to give some vertical height in a garden, that is tough and attractive even when not in bloom, I turn to the Iris family. The variegated form is a bonus, striking gold-toned foliage!


If you are on Pinterest, go to my board of deer resistant plants. Here are further examples of beautiful perennials that deer avoid. Take your pick for a beautiful garden!

Autumn All-Stars – Part 1

PicMonkey Collage autumn

September is one of the hardest months to have beautiful fall bloomers as it is usually bone dry, and your spring and summer bloomers have peaked and shriveled up and are only a memory.  This time of year I look for the big bloomers that were putting on lots of green growth all summer, things that you didn’t notice in May, June, and July, but now have come into their own.


One all-star is Nictotiana sylvestris, which carries its stately tiered white bloom for weeks in the fall.

Nictotiana sylvestris is a reseeder in my garden, coming up every year without any effort on my part
Nictotiana sylvestris is a reseeder in my garden, coming up every year without any effort on my part

Nicotiana sylvestris is a stalwart performer that I can always count on, and I do nothing to make it happen! It reseeds every year in different unexpected places, and I am glad it does that because not only is it not invasive, it comes up in great locations. I notice a rosette of the sticky, gummy leaves in mid-summer, and let it do its thing. As it slowly adds girth to the rosette, the flower suddenly shoots up with a tall stalk topped with long-stalked tubular white flowers that have a heavy scent at night.  This whole plant shines at night and will bloom for weeks on end.

My scarecrow surrounded by Nictotiana which reseeded
My scarecrow surrounded by Nictotiana which reseeded

 Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’

Solidago 'Fireworks'
Solidago ‘Fireworks’

Solidago or Goldenrod is not well-respected in the US, probably because you see it everywhere on the side of the road.  A native wildflower that is vigorous and provides a much-needed pollen source in the late summer and fall, the blooms resembles the lacy patterns of fireworks. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ is a phrase that comes to mind when I think of this plant.  The English recognize a good plant and admire it greatly, and plant it extensively in their gardens for the late summer color. A butterfly and bee magnet, it is invaluable as a food source for pollinators. The cultivar ‘Fireworks’ is my favorite as it intertwines with other plants for a color show.

Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’

Agastache 'Blue Fortune'
Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’

Anise Hyssop or Agastache is my absolute favorite for fall blooms. The whole plant is impregnated with a pungent licorice odor and deer give it a wide berth because of that attribute. The flowers start to bloom in July and just keep on coming for weeks on end.  You never see the flowers without hordes of pollinators working the spikes. Agastache comes in blue, pink and peach colors.

Agastache Tutti Frutti surrounds a dahlia
Agastache Tutti Frutti surrounds a dahlia



Rudbeckia hirta with green centers
Rudbeckia hirta with green centers
Rudbeckia hirta, Gloriosa Daisy
Rudbeckia hirta, Gloriosa Daisy

No fall garden would be complete without Rudbeckias, or Black Eyed Susans, also known as Gloriosa Daisies. But I like the unusual ones, like Rudbeckia hirta, which has a huge (7 inches across) flower and is neon yellow, and is treated as an annual here in zone 6b. My other favorite is Rudbeckia ‘Henry Eilers’, which is a solid perennial here and is notable for its narrow petalled flowers with a ‘spoon’ topping off the ends.

‘Henry Eilers’ Rudbeckia
'Henry Eilers' Rudbeckia with pods for Blackberry Lily, which will open and display ebony black seeds
‘Henry Eilers’ Rudbeckia with pods for Blackberry Lily, which will open and display ebony black seeds

Container Lust

This one has that fun whirligig orange coleus, a streptocarpus (purple), tuberous Begonia, New Guinea Impatien, and Asparagus Fern
This one has that fun whirligig orange coleus, a streptocarpus (purple), tuberous Begonia, New Guinea Impatien, and Asparagus Fern

I love putting containers together and saw some especially beautiful ones this spring that stopped me in my tracks. I did not create them, but I wished I had! I took pictures and thought maybe one day I would duplicate them. I am constantly amazed at what others put together so creatively.

Like a canvas waiting for paint, containers are seasonal so you can experiment and go wild with your colors and combos and try something else next year.

The one above would be for shade.  Who says a shade container has to be uninteresting and not colorful like sun ones? I would rather create a shade or partial shade container than a full sun one.

All foliage container by Leigh Barnes
All foliage container by Leigh Barnes

This container which is a quiet study of leaf shapes and textures, has Hakonechloa ‘All Gold’, Helleborus, Ferns, Creeping Variegated Fig, and a gold Coleus. For shade only, this container will winter over minus the Coleus and the Fig, giving you the opportunity to add something else for next season.


This window box is showcasing some beautiful forms and colors of succulents.  You hardly have to water it and it can take full baking sun.  I found this at Ladew gardens.

Found at a local nursery by my friend Millie-The orange and reds pick up the container colors
Found at a local nursery designed by my friend Millie-The orange and reds pick up the container colors

The above ‘carnival of oranges’ container has Orange Wave Petunia, Coleus, Lantana, Tuberous Begonia, Croton, Ferns, and Shrimp Plant. I wasn’t sure how this would perform in the long haul, as the Lantana, Shrimp Plant, and the Petunia like full sun, and the others like partial shade or shade. But it is a stunner.

Another container designed by my friend Millie in cranberry shades
Another container designed by my friend Mille in cranberry shades

This container is playing off the reds and burgundies with a touch of white and yellow. Calibrachia, Vinca, Dahlia, Hibiscus, Cordyline, and Angelonia are included to make this a full sun containers.  The designer chose a plant with visual punch, which is the beautiful pink-edged Cordyline, and built the plants around it, echoing those colors. A splash of white adds contrast.

Another Leigh Barnes creation in a beautiful purple pot
Another Leigh Barnes creation in a beautiful purple pot

Purple  is an uncommon color for a container and this pot was amped up a notch with orange flowers.  Gerber Daisy, Agastache, Peach Verbena, Sweet Potato Vine, and I think the small pink flower is Mexican Heather or Lobelia, were combined to make a statement. Full sun is required, and the Gerber Daisy does require cleaning of the old blooms to continue it’s show. This combo has structure, texture, and movement. Beautiful!

The secret to combining the right plants in a container, is to use good color contrast, by picking up the leaf, stem, flower, or container color. Another important element is to vary the form of the plants.  Always  start with something bold and architectural, like a cordyline, croton, canna, or papyrus, and combine with finer textured plants. Three to five plants is usually enough variety or the container can get too busy. Avoid a rainbow of colors for the same reason.  The container which I did below has a rainbow of colors, so I broke the rules on that! But seriously, there are guidelines, but in the end, experiment and make your own statement with what you select.

Strong textural cannas give this container visual impact
Strong textural cannas give this container visual impact

Try to select plants that will survive the environmental stressors of wind, pounding rain, and extreme heat.

My advice to get these beautiful results is go to a nursery and pick a strong, structural plant that you love, and try different plants next to it at the nursery. Keep in mind the light requirements when gathering your finds, and it is like picking flowers for a beautiful bouquet.

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