Last week I had the pleasure of visiting the Herb Garden in Battersea Park which was created by the gardening charity Thrive in 2002 from a derelict space. It is divided into different sections based on the uses of the plants including areas for both men’s and women’s health, plants which yield natural dyes and a huge variety of other herbs used for other ailments. February might not be a great time to see gardens at their best but it was great to hear the history of the space and how it is being used today to provide therapeutic gardening activities for local people. Thrive run variety of programmes across four gardens in the park working to support a number of different client groups including unemployed disabled adults, stroke survivors and people suffering from a mental health condition. Their activities not only teach people new horticultural skills but also provide a supportive opportunity where people can experience the positive effects that nature can have on their health and wellbeing.
Over the last few years there has been a renewed interest and respect for the restorative effect that plants can have on people so it’s always nice to recognise and celebrate organisations who have been putting this into practice for a long time! In urban places like London it’s a luxury to have your own garden so the importance of these public spaces where people have the chance to garden and get their hands dirty is really important. Studies have proven that being in a forest or walking through a park can have a calming effect on our mind, but that the impact can be even more profound when people are actively involved in planting and gardening activities. There is currently some interesting research being carried out looking at soil microbes and the effects that they have on the brain. The research is looking at how soil microbes can have a similar effect to antidepressants without the side effects. It’s great to see that GP referrals to gardening projects are becoming more popular and wouldn’t it be wonderful if more people were given an option to choose soil over Prozac!
At this time of year us gardeners are itching to get back into the garden to start preparing for the season ahead. It’s still too cold to be sowing things from seed and too early to be able to source many herbaceous perennial herbs. So instead we are focusing on planning. If you’ve been growing for a while or even if you’ve just started it’s always nice to try something new and grow things that can be enjoyed by other garden critters.
Here are five herbs that will encourage and support wildlife in your garden whilst also giving you joy with their appearance, fragrance or medicinal value.
An obvious choice and a herb that is adored by bees and butterflies. Lavender produces plenty of flowers so you can harvest some to use and then leave the rest to be enjoyed by pollinators. Most will also produce more than one flower flourish after an initial cropping in summer.
2. Lemon balm
Its nickname ‘bee balm’ gives us an indication that it is enjoyed by bees who go wild for its small white flowers. As a fragrant herb it loses a lot of its flavour after flowering but good to know that the bees are benefiting from it during this period!
The common stinging nettle has many applications as a medicinal herb but also supports around 40 species of insects such as butterflies and moths. Many beautiful butterflies including the Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell rely on nettles. They lay their eggs on the nettles and once the larvae (caterpillars) have emerged they have an abundant supply of leaves to munch through. Due to the stings on the leaves which ward off animals and other predators, nettles are a safe haven for the butterfly to complete its metamorphosis.
If you’ve ever grown teasels or seen them growing in the wild you might have noticed that they are a hive for a whole array of wildlife throughout their life. You have have seen ants farming aphids along their long stems, or ladybird larvae enjoying this aphid farm! Lacewing and hoverfly larvae also make use of farms of aphids. While in flower, teasels are visited by bumblebees and butterflies who are attracted to its sweet nectar. When the flowers are gone, teasels make a plentiful supply of seeds which are a great source of food for birds and particularly enjoyed by goldfinches. If you pick a few dried stems (they make a lovely indoor dried flower decoration) you might find you disturb a few earwigs that had also moved in!
All Roses produce hips but it is the Dog rose and Rugosa Rose which produce hips that are the favorite of many garden birds. The hips provide an important food source during the winter when insect numbers are low and grounds are frozen making worm-catching a difficult task. Thrushes, Blackbirds, and Waxwings are some common birds that make use of these vitamin C packed fruits!