2016-04-14 / From The Garden

Planting for Bees and Butterflies

by Cynthia Gibson

Considered a mid-summer bloomer, some varieties of buddleia, often called butterfly bush, can grow to heights of 12 - 15 feet. Considered a mid-summer bloomer, some varieties of buddleia, often called butterfly bush, can grow to heights of 12 - 15 feet. Not all gardens are meant to produce food. Some are filled with flowers, plants, and herbs that draw insects or butterflies, and you can even cultivate a garden that repels mosquitoes!

Certain plants can help to attract bees, even though their numbers have generally been decreasing. While mason bees are here in force, the population of the large bumbles has been disappearing along with honeybees, whose count has been diminishing in New England for quite a few years. I grow many fruit trees and since bees are crucial for good pollination, it is necessary to grow plants and flowers that bees love.

To help keep the bees happy, healthy and working, it is best to provide them with gardens that provide a lot of pollen. The list is actually quite long for bees: They love lavender, all varieties of flowering sedum, coneflower, black-eyed Susans of any variety, and mint. They also love yarrow. It seems that flat-headed flower blossoms or flowers that spike are the best for our buzzing friends. Most varieties of sedum and yarrow have flat heads, while lavender and hyssop have tubular spikes of flower heads.

One caveat about planting such a bee-friendly garden: Before doing so, you might consider if anyone spending time in your garden might have a bee allergy.

Butterflies are another welcome sight, and they also have their favorite flowers.Multi-colored lantana also attract butterflies.Multi-colored lantana also attract butterflies. We see monarchs return in early summer, but there are many beautiful varieties that can be attracted with plants and flowers. Butterfly gardens were a rage about 15 years ago, and the good news is their importance is returning.

If you are planning to grow one shrub at your home to attract butterflies, a good choice is the buddleia, which produces complex cone-shaped flower heads that come in purple, pink white, and, periwinkle. They are right out of an English garden, grow beautifully in our area, and are very happy by the sea. Colloquially – and appropriately – they are often called a butterfly bush.  

Phlox, butterfly weed, purple salvia and lantana also attract butterflies. All of these plants have flowers that produce a symphony of color.

There are also options to battle nature’s bane to a perfect evening cookout, the mosquito. Herbs are nature’s best repellents for these pests, which will not tolerate lemon balm, catnip, basil, peppermint, citrosum, sage, and rosemary.

Many of us are also familiar with citronella’s reputation as an insect repellent. The citrosum plant is sometimes labeled citronella in nurseries because of its strong citronella scent. Rub the leaves of these plants at dusk to release oils onto your skin and fragrance into the air.

If you are grilling lamb chops, add a couple of bunches of fresh sage and rosemary to the coals. They will create a fragrant smoke for your lamb; it will also repel mosquitoes.

This year might be the time to introduce some of these plants to your gardening regimen.

Cynthia Gibson is a  gardener, food writer  and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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