Once while poking around my vegetable garden, I noticed the parsley was looking sparse. I hadn’t harvested that much, had I? Closer examination showed it wasn’t me, but a very hungry caterpillar who had been chomping on the parsley. Since then, I’ve always planted extra parsley—for the caterpillars and also for other critters who hang out in my garden.
It’s a good idea to plant herbs for pollinators, because so many herbs are useful plants for the larvae of butterflies and useful moths. (We have an article about all the great larval plants for pollinators in the upcoming March/April issue of Northern Gardener, which is an adaptation of a chapter from Rhonda Fleming Hayes’ new book, Pollinator-Friendly Gardening.)
Among the plants butterfly larvae (caterpillars) like are dill, fennel and, of course, parsley. Dill and parsley are extremely easy to grow. Fennel, while delicious, is a bit trickier.
Not only are herbs great plants for butterfly larvae, they are a favorite of bees and other pollinators as well. Some of the best ones for bees are chives, which are an absolute bee magnet at my garden, borage, lavender, mint, thyme, basil and one of my favorite herbs, lemon balm. For cooks and gardeners, many of these herbs are grown for the leaves, but the bees are interested in the flowers. So, to help the bees, allow at least some of your plants to go to flower.
Herbs are so easy to grow in containers, in the vegetable garden or on the edge of ornamental beds and so available as plants or seeds in the spring that you really cannot plant too many herbs. And, if you are interested in attracting pollinators, you should plant as many as you have room for!
Another herb that you may want to let flower is the dandelion. While not a favorite of lawn aficianados, dandelions are one of the first plants to flower in the spring and an early source of nectar.