The best herbs for flower and vegetable gardens
By Alice Spenser-Higgs
For a healthy, productive vegetable and flower garden, plant herbs among your other plants – they truly are nature’s helpers.
Herbs are nature’s most beneficial plants. Not only do they work their magic on food and the body, but they are hard-working garden plants as well. They are an organic gardener’s greatest ally in repelling insects, attracting pollinators, conditioning the soil, aiding composting and enhancing the flavour of some vegetables.
Best insect-repelling herbs
The strongly aromatic foliage of these herbs deters pests or masks the odour of other plants that are sought after by pests.
Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is a very effective insect repellent. It is a perennial, growing 1.2 m high and 1 m wide, with fern-like foliage and clusters of yellow button flowers. It needs good drainage and room to spread.
Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium) is known for repelling ants and can be planted around wormeries to keep them ant-free. It grows in full sun or shade and the leaves release a strong peppermint fragrance when crushed.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is a medium-high (60 cm) annual with strong-smelling and bitter-tasting foliage that repels any insect that comes into contact with it. The white daisy-like flowers attract butterflies and bees. It is a very attractive garden flower.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) keep aphids away from roses, grapes, tomatoes, carrots and fruit trees.
Low-growing and spreading herbs act can act as insect-repelling mulches, attract pollinating insects with their flowers and keep the soil weed-free.
Grow spreading oregano (Origanum vulgare) as an insect-repelling groundcover under tomatoes, brinjals and sweet peppers. Its flowers attract butterflies.
Ground-hugging thyme varieties, like creeping thyme (Thymus coccineus) and white thyme (Thymus serpyllum ‘Alba’), have very small, fine, aromatic leaves that form a carpet. Creeping thyme has crimson-pink flowers in summer. Clipping maintains the dense texture. Pests don’t like their aromatic leaves.
Lawn chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) and German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are low-growing plants with fine leaves that stimulate the growth of nearby plants, repel pests and attract pollinators with their small white flowers.
Herbs for making natural insecticides
Fresh or dried leaves or flowers from these herbs can be used in natural insecticides. Steep the herb material in hot water, strain when it has cooled, add a tiny amount of liquid soap for spreading, and spray onto plants affected by pests.
Pyrethrum (Tanacetum cinerariifolium) is a compact, sun-loving perennial (30 cm high and wide) with white daisy flowers in summer. Even the dried flowers can be used as an insect repellent.
The passion fruit daisy (Tagetes spp.) is a medium-sized perennial shrub (1.5 m by 1 m) with golden-yellow flowers, and foliage with a strong passion fruit fragrance that repels white fly on tomatoes, Mexican bean bug on beans and nematodes in the soil.
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) have pungent grey-green leaves that deter insects. A spray made from the leaves is reputed to repel thrips, snails, slugs, spider mites, and mealybug. Both species produce yellow flowers in summer.
Best herbs for diverting pests
These are herbs that attract pests to them and away from the veggies. Often referred to as ‘trap crops’, they make it easy to eradicate pests.
Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) and garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) attract black aphids in droves. Pull out the infested nasturtiums and throw them away. Cut garlic chive leaves to ground level and dispose of them. The plants will quickly resprout. Snails love marigolds (Tagetes erecta) and are easily picked off the foliage.
Best herbs for beneficial bugs and bees
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) in all its forms, both annual and perennial, produces spikes of flowers that attract bees. They particularly like perennial pink basil, which becomes a lovely garden shrub of 60 cm high and 50 cm wide in summer.
Bergamot (Monarda didyma) is a tall annual (80 cm high and wide) that bears beautiful pink-red flowers in summer that attract bees. Grow it in rich soil and water it well.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is also known as bee balm because the bees love its small white flowers. It has bright-green serrated leaves and dies down in winter.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) that is allowed to flower will attract butterflies and bees, while its strong-tasting leaves are loathed by aphids. This annual grows best in autumn and spring.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a low-growing perennial with feathery leaves and heads of pink flowers. The flowers attract parasitic wasps and hover flies, which are beneficial predators.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), with its large heads of yellow flowers in summer, acts as a trap crop for beetles and aphids but also attracts ladybirds.
Best compost herbs
Borage’s (Borago officinalis) hairy leaves are rich in minerals, making it a good green manure for adding to compost or making into a liquid ‘green tea’ fertiliser. It is an annual that dies down in winter but re-seeds easily.
Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) leaves are a natural compost activator and can also be infused as a liquid fertiliser. It is a clump-forming perennial that dies down in winter.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) has to also be included because its leaves help to break down compost and can also be infused to make a liquid fertiliser.
The information in this article is supplied by Healthy Living Herbs (www.healthyliving-herbs.co.za).