Growing Herbs for Bees and Butterflies

22 June 2013

This year in the garden is amazing. Maybe it was last year’s copious rain, maybe it was a reasonably normal winter (whatever normal is these days), maybe it was a late Spring, but the speed at which plants are growing is incredible. I’ll swear our potoatoes are growing visibly every day: I just hope they are busy below ground as well, given they were very late getting going and we usually get hit by pototo blight.

I just came across a photo I took of our herb bed back in April – 24th to be precise, so that’s not quite two months ago, and look at the difference:

Herb bed: left on 24 April; right on 20 June

Herb bed: left on 24 April; right on 20 June

It’s a bed just outside the back door, and we dug it right out and re-started it this year, as the mint had rampaged and nearly flattened everything else. Now the mint is (hopefully) limited to either end of the bed, and in the middle we’ve got sage, lemon balm, marjoram and buckler leaf sorrel. For this year there is also a bit of thyme and some flat-leaved parsley, but they will both be gone by next year; I might re-plant some flat-leaved parsley, as I like it in salads, but the main parsley crop will be in the veg beds – we always aim to freeze a load to get us through the winter. If you haven’t tried buckler-leaf sorrel, by the way, do: it’s got a lovely lemony zing, and though it’s a bit too strong by itself, it peps up salads a treat.

Many herbs are good for insects; they are often native or long-established plants, so the insects have developed to use them. It can be a problem growing for both culinary use and wildlife, as the former calls for flowers to be cut off so the leaves develop best, while the latter means letting the flowers develop. I generally go with the latter – I find there are still enough leaves to give us what we need. Sage has a beautiful flower, and the blue of the flower looks lovely against the leaves if you have the purple-leaved sage; it is also very good for bees: I spend many a contented few minutes watching them buzz from flower to flower. Marjoram flowers are good for butterflies to nectar on, especially those within the family of Browns such as the Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper. One of the butterflies I wish I saw more in my garden – the Small Copper – uses sorrel as its caterpillar food plant, but I’m not sure it uses this type of sorrel – but I live in hope.

Small Copper on Aster Frikartii 'Monch'

Small Copper on Aster Frikartii ‘Monch’

So – pep up your diet by growing some herbs, and let them flower for the wildlife.

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