Sunday, April 8, 2012

Beesy Herbs

How can I resist?  Here is my short list of herbs for bees, honey and otherwise...

Bumble bee on borage
Borage - this is named on many lists of suggestions for bees.  An annual, it has an array of blue flowers that face downward from fuzzy stalks.  I only grow it ornamentally - in fact that is true for quite a few of the herbs.  It is supposed to be good in iced drinks and the  young leaves evidently taste like cucumber.  It reseeds itself every year  -  the visiting bees are responsible for this - and I usually let it grow where it may. 

Bumble bee on lemon balm
Lemon balm - who would have guessed the insignificant little flowers would attract bees?  But they do.  I found my star bumble bee of last summer on them.  This herb is a perennial and tends to spread by seeds.  This one makes a delicious tea with the fresh leaves.  But in order to attract the bees, you have to let it grow and flower!

Honey bee on catnip

Catnip - almost the same as above, not just for cats.  I grew the lemon-scented variety last year and it is already quite a nice cushion coming up in the garden, but its demure stature right now will not last.  I expect to find seedlings as well. 

Honey bee on apple mint

Mint - apple and others - another perennial and if you have never grown it, beware.  This plant can take over.  Either make use of that trait and plant it where you need a vigorous ground cover, or encircle the plant with a bottomless pot or other barricade to prevent the ranging roots from escaping.  Even that might not be foolproof.  I  repot ours every year and sometimes find sprigs that are quite far from the pot grabbing some turf.  Don't get me going on the spearmint that I just let go one year.  Applemint seems a bit tamer but I think maybe it's just playing a deceitful game.  However, of all the mints, applemint is very attractive, soft green with softer fuzz, and attractive sprays of purple flowers.  Not my favorite for ice tea, but a good one to keep for bees.  You can then feel free to cut the spearmint!

Two bumble bees on spires of anise hyssop

Anise hyssop - now here is a wonderful bee plant.  Dense spikes of small purple flowers that especially bumble bees go for top this perennial that also sends seeds flying.  In the fall, gold finches also love eating the seeds so it has multiple uses in the garden.  It's not a particularly long-lasting perennial but no worries because there are always new ones coming somewhere and they are easily transplanted to wherever you want them.  Like all the three previous, this is a tea herb. 

Honey bee on spotted beebalm

Spotted beebalm or horsemint (Monarda punctata) - this unusual herb which I grew from seed last year flowered late with several layers of pale yellow spotted flowers arranged in a circle around the stalk.  Topped off with a halo of pinkish bracts, this plant really surprised me with its understated beauty.  And honey bees were regular visitors.  Sources suggest medicinal uses or tea for this US native plant, neither of which I have tried.  But thanks to the experience with this beebalm, I am going to try several others this year, also from seed. 

Notice how most of these plants have blue-purple-white flowers?  They attract the most bees.
Other plants I will be watching more closely this year for bee and other beneficial visitors are common garden chive and garlic chive blossoms and basil flowers.  Garden chives are quite pink but the garlic chives trend more toward purple so I will be interested if bees favor them more.  Basil is hard to let flower because it is so handy and tasty for cooking.  Dill and fennel are not as attractive for bees but I have had swallowtail larvae on especially the fennel fronds. 

And one more herb of note that I know is a bee magnet is thyme.  Our rock garden area that has reverted au naturel over the years still has quite a bit of very low growing thyme that is covered with bees when it is blooming.

Next on the list will be perennials that are more traditionally in borders or in fields that attract bees.  Often all of these plants, herbs, annuals or perennials, attract other pollinators such as flower flies or hover flies and butterflies making them especially useful plants to add to a garden.  Pollinators add color, sound and their presence that all augment the beauty of any backyard or border.  And they pollinate to ensure a storehouse of seeds for the future and for food for wildlife as well.

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