Once upon a time New England gardens, fields and woods were full of hummingbirds, bees and butterflies doing what they do best, flitting from flower to flower sipping, lapping and pollinating. That isn’t true today. In the past few years a perfect storm of pesticides, air pollution, weather events and plant hybridization have swirled together to create conditions that are seriously damaging pollinator populations. Honey bee colonies across the country are collapsing, butterfly populations are declining and the hummers can’t do their job properly in cold, dreary weather that prevents flowers from blooming on schedule. Many native pollinating insect populations are declining also. The pollinators need our help.
There are lots of things an individual gardener can do, but the most important is to grow plants that attract and sustain pollinators. Older varieties of familiar garden flowers, many of them herbal, and lots of culinary herbs are highly attractive to pollinators. All plants that are easy to grow, they are widely available and add charm and fragrance to the garden, porch and patio. They grow in full sun or part shade, don’t require lots of fussy or expensive care, color and scent our personal landscapes, add flavor to our food and can be cut to decorate our homes. They also are highly attractive to our pollinators. In baseball lingo, these are plants are batting 1000.
If all of us who garden, whether in multiple beds or pots on the porch, grew some of the following plants to attract and sustain our very important pollinators, we would help to stabilize their populations. Remember: fewer pollinators means fewer fruits, vegetables and flowers. That translates to higher grocery prices and less available food.
Fall is the best season to add perennials to gardens or large containers. Roots have time plenty of time to grow before the soil freezes. When spring comes, fall-planted perennials jump briskly into action. This fall, add a plant or two from the following list to your garden collection. Mother Nature will thank you and your garden will be even lovelier next year!
POLLENATOR-ATTRACTING HERBS FOR NEW ENGLAND GARDENERS
Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
Anise-hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Artemisia (mugwort, southernwood, sweet Annie, wormwood)
Bee balm (Monarda didyma, M. fistulosa
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
Borage (Borago officinalis)
Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Catmint (Nepeta mussinii)
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina)
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum)
lungwort (Pulmonaria officinale)
Morning-glory, red (Ipomoea coccinea)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
Nicotiana, jasmine scented (Nicotiana alata)
Poppy (Papaver somnifera)
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Solomon’s seal, true (Polyganatum)
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme, creeping (Thymus serphyllum)
Wood betony (Betonica officinalis)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
WANT TO DO MORE?
Bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects need a variety of flowering plants to feed on. Any or all of the following will help pollinator populations thrive throughout the growing season.
* Avoid the use of pesticides.
*Plant flowers in generous clumps.
*Try to have several varieties of plants in flower all season long. The greater the variety of flowering plants, the better.
*Find a spot on your property to allow wildflowers to flourish from early spring to fall. Some pollinator favorites: violets, dandelions, Queen Ann’s lace, goldenrod and milkweed.