Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme & More for The Pollinator Garden

Herbs are not just for cooking, medicine making and crafts.  Many herbs have beautiful flowers that are magnets for bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and so many other beneficial, but less beautiful looking, insects and pollinators. We have been taught to remove the flowers of herbs because they will affect the flavor, although in the April 2024 newsletter we dispelled this myth with the fact that herb flowers are some of the best edible flowers to add to your cooking.  Another great reason to leave herb flowers on your plant is that they will support pollinators.   Pollinator gardens have become very popular, as we better understand how important a role each home gardener can play in maintaining forage for all part of the life cycle of pollinators.

Often, only native plants are considered as good plants to support pollinators, but many of the non-native herbs also help to increase biodiversity and create a supportive ecosystem for both native and imported pollinators like the European honeybee.   Also, because these herbs are typically culinary or medicinal plants we are more inclined to grow them organically, avoiding chemicals which negatively impact the soil, water table and pollinator life cycle.  

Most culinary herbs are drought tolerant, deer resistant and sun loving.  They are easy to grow and are multi- functional in our garden space.  This means they are useful for us and for pollinators.  I find it so satisfying to be able to wander into my garden and be able to cut herbs to cook with and to make a fragrant bouquet for the dinner table, to make a tea and fashion a cocktail, to infuse into oil for a cosmetic and to infuse into milk for ice cream.  We have been taught to prune flowers off of our culinary plants, but the activity around your herb flowers will surprise you, and you are going to want to snip off a flower or two so you can taste the sweetness that all the bees and other insects are enjoying!  Herb flowers are actually very delicious for people to eat – soft, well rounded, and sweet.  The flavor of most herbs are not affected by flowers, and for those herbs that do lose flavor with the flowers, such as basil, parsley and cilantro, I suggest planting a few extra plants so that everyone can enjoy the garden. 

Here is a list of some of our most popular culinary herbs and a few ornamental herbs that are terrific to include in your pollinator garden.

Ocimum ‘Mountain Magic’; ‘Wild Magic’ – fun tender perennial/hardy annual basils for ornamental and culinary use that we encourage to bloom throughout the season.  Allowing older annual seed grown basil plants to bloom also produces a great source of nectar for bees, and a great way to get pollination in the vegetable garden

Petroselinium crispum - parsley; Foeniculum vulgare – fennel; Anethum graveolens – Dill; Anthriscus cerefolium – Chervil; Coriandrum sativum - cilantro – all members of the Apiaceae – very important for caterpillars, especially swallowtail butterflies

Salvia officinalis; Salvia fruticosa – common culinary sages that bloom beautifully for hummingbirds and bees

Salvia ‘Mesa Azure’; S. greggii ‘Lemon Light’; S greggii ‘Blaze’; Salvia elegans ‘Honeymelon’; S. ‘Marine Blue’; Salvia melissodora,; Salvia clevelandii; Salvia apiana – just 8 of the thousands of possibilities of ornamental sages that hummingbirds and bees will thank you for including in the garden.  Some are California natives, some native to the western states and/or northern Mexico and others are native to the Mediterranean, Asia, central America or Africa.

Rosmarinus officinalis– early spring bloom for bees – the upright varieties are best for culinary 

Thymus vulgaris; Thymus longicaulis; Thymus x citriodorus ‘Lemonada cascada’; Thymus vulgaris ‘French Thyme’ – all of the thymes attract bees and smaller insects

Satureja repens – dwarf winter savory – a terrific bee attractor for late summer and fall, and a magnificent sturdy edible groundcover

Allium schoenoprasum – common chives; Allium tuberosum – garlic chives – the most common of herbs, but the blooms are huge attractors for honey bees and butterflies

Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote Blue’ – our most popular English lavender variety, early blooming, very sweet fragrance; all of the L angustifolia are fun to grow and range from very small 10 inch tall ‘Thumbelina Leigh’ to the 2 ft fall ‘Folgate’ and the unusual pink and white blossoms of the spicy sweet flavored ‘Melissa’.  Bees love them, and most will bloom in June and again in fall if they are pruned after their summer bloom

Lavandula x intermedia ‘Grosso’;’Provence’;’Phenomenal’ and many others -– later blooming lavindins, heavier fragrance, usually only blooming once but right in the middle of summer to late summer. Great for pollinators to have plenty of nectar through the hottest part of the summer

Lavandula stoechas ‘Ghostly Princess’; ‘Kew Red’; ‘Otto Quast’;  –Spanish lavenders. Not good for use in the kitchen but the earliest to bloom in the garden, great for early bees and butterflies

Lavendula canariensis – very drought tolerant, unusual lavender, great attractor of hummingbirds!

Origanum vulgare ‘Italian’;Thymbra spicata ; Origanum vulgare ‘Hot and Spicy’ - - culinary varieties that are great honey bee attractors,  as well as many beneficial insects; super drought tolerant

Origanum ‘Santa Cruz’; ‘Bellissimo’; Origanum dictamnus- - unusual blooms on these ornamental oreganos, great for flower arranging. Bees love the little pink flowers all summer long

Aloysia virgata-–big attractors for beneficials and bees to this huge herbal shrub – flowers smell like honey!

Agastache sp – All of the hyssop genus attracts beneficials.  Some like A. rupestris; A. ‘Arizona Sunset’; ‘Pink Pearl’; ‘Kudos Red’; ‘Morello’ – have every color possibility, with edible blooms and leaves for tea, and bees,  and hummingbirds.  Others like A.’ Blue Boa’ and the traditional A Foeniculum have smaller flowers that bees and butterflies love

Monarda didyma ‘Blue Stocking’; ‘Balmy Purple’ – North American native that produces whorls of delicious flowers that everybody adores.  Leaves also makes a delicious tea for the humans

 Echinacea purpurea ‘Pow Wow Wildberry’; ‘White’ - Great for people, butterflies, bees, cut flowers…Stick to the coneflowers that are single petals rather than ‘pom pom’ flowers for the insects to access the nectar easier

Achillea ‘Little Moonshine’; A. millifolium ‘New Vintage Violet’; ‘Pink Grapefruit’; ‘Pomegranate’; A. ‘King Edward’ – excellent for butterflies and insects