Not all nettles sting - find some space for those that don't.
Common stinging nettles are loved by the caterpillars of peacock butterflies - but unless you have lots of room, I'm not sure if that's a good enough enough reason to have them around. Turn instead to the striking and strangely exotic dead-nettles. Bees love them, they do well in shade and, of course, they don't sting.
Fall in love with Yellow Archangel and the Giant Hungarian dead-nettle - the bees will.
These are plants with flowers that merit close attention. Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolon) is a woodland native that creeps across the forest floor; spreading slowly by seed and running stems. Its flowers are primrose yellow with leopard spots on their lower lip. Its country name is yellow weasel snout which I think is fabulous. Another native is the white dead-nettle (Lamium album). With creamy white flowers, from February through to November, it is an important source of nectar for many pollinators - so much so it's also called the Bee nettle. Both of these are delicate plants that look lovely together and with bluebells in a shady or woodland spot.
Giant Hungarian Dead-nettle (Lamium orvala) is just that - a giant. Whilst our natives creep along the ground, this grows to waist height - with large maroon spotted pink flowers. Happy in deep shade, you can plant it in a little sun and it will buzz with bees all day long. But, it does need space!
These plants are herbaceous perennials so they'll die down at the end of the year. They'll be back next spring - ready for the bees to find when their colonies are growing. Keep an eye on them as they can spread if they find a perfect spot - unlike common nettles though, they are easy to weed out.
There are other wild natives and garden cultivars to check out. Avoid the silver-leaved version of what looks like Yellow Archangel - its a cross with something else. It's invasive and a threat to native woodland plants.
WHICH BEES LOVE THEM?
The dead-nettles have long flower tubes and so they are especially valuable to long-tongued bees such as the garden bumblebee (Bombus hortorum).
Shorter tongued bumblebees can gather nectar from the flowers by being sneaky. They drill a hole in the side of the flower and go in that way! Honeybee tongues are just too short so they rarely visit.