If bees could make a list of their favourite plants to collect nectar and pollen from, I bet phacelia would be on it. A shame it is not very well-known and not planted more often in gardens and allotments in the UK.
|Phacelia makes a pretty addition to an allotment plot|
Phacelia tanacetifolia is an annual plant and belongs to the borage family (Boraginaceae) together with other good pollinator plants such as borage (Borago officinalis) and viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare). It is native to California, Arizona and Mexico and colonises dry stony hillsides up to 2000 m above sea level. Phacelia is not very frost-hardy and will only survive light frosts but can overwinter in mild areas.
|Phacelia as green manure (in the foreground): still looking good in mid-December|
Phacelia has pretty blue flowers and ferny leaves and can be sown from late March to September in almost any garden soil. Slugs and snails tend to ignore the seedlings so if you have problems with these pests phacelia is the right plant for you. The plant is pretty enough to grow in a flower border, together with other pollinator-friendly annual plants such as cosmos and sunflowers. It can also be grown in small patches between vegetables on your allotment or as a green manure which is dug into the soil after flowering.
|The blue flowers of phacelia are a nice contrast to orange pot marigold and yellow sunflowers|
Phacelia is a prolific self-seeder but never gets invasive as the seedlings are easy to pull out or hoe off. The plant can also cope with dry soil once established so you don`t have to water in summer.
The flowers produce lots of nectar and will attract countless honeybees, bumblebees and other pollinators (the German name for this plant is quite aptly Friend-of-the-bees or Bee-feast). It is amazing to see how many bees are actually visiting on a sunny day; I often counted up to 30 bees per 1m2 at a time. Below you can see some pictures of bumblebees enjoying the nectar and pollen feast:
So, if you have not grown this plant before, give it a try. You will be rewarded with pretty flowers and lots and lots of pollinators.