Herbs make great border and pot plants. They bring scent, colour and texture to a planting. Many have nectar-rich flowers to feed the bees too. And, if that’s not enough to encourage you to plant herbs, these fantastic ornamentals come with the added bonus of being packed with wonderful flavours to use in your cooking.
If I could only grow one herb (I know… a terrible thought!), it might well be rosemary. The leaves are available to use in the kitchen year-round, while the delicate flowers attract bees early in the year – just as many insects are emerging hungry from hibernation. The flowers are usually a subtle shade of blue, but white- and pink-flowered varieties are available too.
Grow rosemary: in full sun and a well-drained soil. Cut back after flowering to keep the plant producing plenty of fresh growth and prevent it becoming woody. In the right spot, with a little attention, rosemary plants will last for years.
The purple pom-pom flowers of chives are a bee magnet in late spring and early summer. They also make a delicious and attractive addition to salads, and can be steeped in white wine vinegar to make salad dressings.
Grow chives: give them full sun for best growth, and a fertile, moist but well-drained soil. Cut back after flowering to encourage new leafy growth for the kitchen. Chives die back in late autumn, but don’t worry – new leaves will appear again in early spring.
Just one thyme plant can produce huge numbers of tiny flowers, each one full of nectar. There’s a whole range of thyme varieties which are great for cooking. Different varieties can have slightly different flowering times, so growing a few plants will spread the nectar season over many weeks.
Grow thyme: a Mediterranean herb which, like rosemary, thrives in full sun and a well-drained soil. Cut the plant back after flowering to keep it healthy and compact.
Mint is a versatile and delicious herb – dressings, salads, teas… it’s usefulness in the kitchen means that it may never get to flower in the garden. I grow a couple of plants to use for cooking and others that I leave to produce flowers for the bees.
Grow mint: in fertile, rich soil. Mint will tolerate some shade. It’s a vigorous/invasive herb that should always be grown in a pot and needs to be divided and given fresh compost at least once a year. Cut the plant back after flowering to stimulate fresh growth. Although this makes it sound like a lot of work, mint is easy to grow and well worth the time.
One of the best plants you can grow for bees. Borage produces lots of nectar and replenishes the supply quickly between visits from hungry bees, so there is always food available to them.
Grow borage: easy to grow from seed, borage likes a sunny spot and will tolerate a range of soils. It’s an annual, completing its life cycle in one growing season. But in the right place, it will self-seed and you’ll have more seedlings than you know what to do with the following spring… perfect presents for bee-loving friends!
There are, of course, plenty of other herbs that are great for attracting bees… garlic chives, sage, oregano and hyssop are all right up there in the list of top plants for pollinators. Which ones are you growing?