Beneficial Insects

One of the best ways to keep harmful pests in check, and to
provide a food source for birds, is to encourage a diverse insect
population. And one of the best ways to
do that is to plant what they like—in particular, plants with clusters of very
small flowers.

right. Just increasing one particular
type of flower in the garden will shift the bug population in your favor. It just so happens that any number of
beneficial insects, from thrips to lacewings, from ladybugs to parasitic wasps,
love plants that produce tiny flowers. Grow them in abundance and you’ll be amazed at the number of creatures
they attract.

 Start with
yarrow. No garden or wild patch should
be without it, and there is a California native variety, Achillea
millefolium californica
, that produces white flowers and thrives in both
dry and swampy areas. In general,
though, yarrows are available in a wide variety of colors, from yellow, orange,
and red, through pink and purple. They
need almost no water in summer and you can even mow them, which makes them
perfect for meadows or pastures. They
make a great cut flower and also do well as a dried flower if you hang them
upside down in a cool, dark place, so there’s absolutely no reason not to
include them in any kind of garden, from a flowery perennial border to a tough
rock garden. Oh, and did I mention that
the strong-smelling foliage has been rumored to keep aphids away? There’s no guarantee, but try it among your
roses or around your tomato bed and experiment for yourself.

 Next, move
on to tough, aromatic herbs like thyme and oregano. Both also make excellent ground covers (although some varieties
of oregano produce taller flowers) and both can also handle mowing or just
about any kind of abuse. They also
thrive in dry, sunny conditions. Some
low-growing varieties of thyme will adapt to shady spots, but will probably
bloom less.

feverfew, Queen Anne’s lace, fennel, and dill all produce tall, lacy flowers
that fill in gaps in a sunny border and also work as bouquet fillers in garden
flower arrangements. However, some
cultivars of Queen Anne’s lace and fennel can be invasive. Check with your nursery about choosing
better-behaved garden cultivars that will not escape as readily into the wild.
(For instance, Foeniculum vulgare azoricum is a shorter, annual variety
of fennel grown more for its bulb than its flowers.)

 Last but
certainly not least, fill your containers and the spaces around your shrubs
with sweet alyssum. The honey scent is
heavenly on summer afternoons, and it attracts an astonishing number of good
bugs to the garden.