Step Four: Add Plants for Beauty and Production
After you have finished placing the permanent elements and anchor plants in your garden, you are ready to choose additional plants that are beautiful and productive. These plants include perennial edibles (like rhubarb, artichoke, asparagus, lemongrass, and berries), annual vegetables (like peppers, eggplants, chard, onions, and celery), herbs, and flowers that you will add to the remaining spaces in your planting beds.
Just as your edible plants work for you, pollinator-attracting plants work for your edibles by providing a habitat for the pollinators and beneficial insects that your edible garden needs. Pollination is what happens when pollen is transferred from a plant’s male parts to its female parts. Without it, the development of new seeds and fruits wouldn’t happen. The most effective way for pollen to move around from flower to flower is when it is carried by insects, also called pollinators. Pollinators include bees, butterflies, beetles, ants, and sometimes also birds. Even plants that can rely on the wind to distribute pollen will increase production significantly when they have support from visiting pollinators.
A healthy garden also needs a whole host of beneficial insects to help fight off unwanted garden pests. “Beneficial insect” is a general term that includes the above pollinators and also insects that prey on garden pests like aphids or mites. These pest-killers include ladybugs, green lacewings, praying mantis, assassin bugs, and some flies and wasps. Because this range of insects help keep each other’s populations in check, you cannot have a healthy garden ecosystem without them.
Happily, the plants that are attractive to your local beneficial insects and help lure them to your garden are also attractive to us – we all like flowers! There are so many pollinator-attracting blooms to choose from, such as yarrow. Yarrow is the real workhorse of the garden. A beautiful, perennial, low-water plant, it is available in a wide range of colors and attracts ladybugs, lacewing bugs, hover flies, bees, and more. In addition to traditional perennial flowers to attract pollinators, you can cultivate herbs throughout the garden and let them flower.
Don’t forget to include some of the flowers you really love – even if they are not pollinators’ favorite flowers. Dahlias, hydrangeas, daffodils, and tulips all have a place in your garden if you like them. Mix them in with flowers that pollinators love too for a beautiful, productive, and healthy garden. It’s easy to do regardless of your chosen garden design style, because there are so many flowers to choose from.
Here are a few of our favorite pollinator and beneficial insect-attracting plants:
- anise hyssop
- blue throatwort
- flowering culinary herbs
- Russian sage
- sweet alyssum
Find the book at Johnson’s for more information
Bennett, Leslie and Stefani Bittner. (2013). The Beautiful Edible Garden. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.