Home & Garden

Plant Herbs to Boost your Yard’s Ecosystem

Each yard has its own ecology. Based on what we do to improve our soil, how much we irrigate, what we plant and what chemicals we use, the ecosystem in every homeowner’s yard is different.

As homeowners, each of us has the ability to affect and improve the health and diversity of the ecosystem in our yard.

Adding herbs to our garden is a good way to start. They are relatively inexpensive plants. Many are readily available at nurseries and garden centers. A good number of herbs are native, and their flowers attract bees, butterflies, birds and beneficial insects.

To a botanist an herb might be simply any non woody flowering plant. However, herbs are not just herbaceous; they can be woody, too.

We commonly think of herbs in relation to their culinary qualities, aromatic effects and medicinal properties. Some, too, are used for their essential oils and for toiletries, dyes and cleaning agents. Herbs are plants that blend sensory appeal and function. In the broadest definition they may be defined as any useful plant.

Historically herbs were grown in small kitchen gardens close to ordinary houses. They were intermingled with flowers, fruits and vegetables. In England the garden was called a cottage garden, in France, a potager, and settlers in the U.S. called it a kitchen garden.

Formal herb gardens, where the plants were grouped by type, took form as rectangles divided by paths and featured ornamental focal points. These maintenance intensive gardens were located only in monasteries and on large estates.

Fast forward to today. It is not necessary to confine herbs to a specific garden. They can be tucked into any garden, given center stage or placed anywhere in between as long as you give them the right growing conditions.

Herbs are interchangeable with any other plants for their growth habit in the landscape. They may be spikey and grassy like chives and lemon grass, mounding like oregano or suitable for hedging like rosemary and bay laurel. Jasmine and clematis are climbers, while tall plants like fennel, salvia and rosemary can stand at the back of a border.

The addition of herbs to any garden is a great way to welcome and support wildlife.

Color in the garden is a strong draw for certain pollinators. Butterflies love brightly colored flowers, but not blue and green. Give them host plants like dill, fennel and parsley for their larvae. Hummingbirds prefer red, yellow, orange, pink and purple. Bees are attracted to yellow, purple and blue but cannot see red. Not surprisingly, nocturnal pollinators like moths see white the best.

You will improve your garden by providing sequential blooms from early spring through late fall. The constant source of pollen and nectar sustains our pollinators. Plant a diverse garden. Annual and perennial herbs like echinacea, marigolds, lantana, monarda (bee balm), penstemon, roses (especially easy care varieties like Knock Outs), salvia and verbena bloom most of the growing season. Chrysanthemums, solidago and asters add late season flowers. Plant rosemary for winter blooms.

Visiting birds and pollinators need water. Incorporate several shallow manmade water sources into your garden. Make sure they have gently sloping sides for safe access. Add stones for secure perching spots.

Be sure to plant milkweed for the Monarchs. Native plants attract native pollinators. Milkweed and Monarch butterflies have evolved together to meet each other’s needs. What we choose do in our yards and gardens affects us as well as our unique ecosystems. By helping native pollinator populations thrive we support a more diverse environment which, in turn, ultimately supports us.

Herbs and their flowers are valuable in building a healthy garden environment. Fair warning, however, it is critical to avoid using toxic chemicals in our gardens. They not only degrade our ecosystems, but they can kill or injure the wildlife that comes to visit.

Reach Debbie Menchek, a Clemson Master Gardener, at dmgha3@aol.com.