It is the scientific name for it – origanum vulgare. It is a typical ingredient of Italian cooking and is also a popular ingredient all over Europe as well as in the UK. But, more importantly, it is the best of plants to attract butterflies, bees, or other species of pollinators into your gardens.
The most extensively cultivated and adored garden favorites. Of course, they are those that have attractive flowers. It is also a popular belief that the plants that are attractive to the eye are also the most beautiful to bees and other insects that frequent flowers. The research conducted by the Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects at the University of Sussex can give a more concrete view.
One study conducted in 2011-2012 included 32 varieties of flowering plants for summer that were planted in beds and counted the insects who visited the plants – 87% of them were bees. The plants chosen were all summer flowering plants commonly found in gardens.
They all were appealing to the eyes of a human. But, they were different in the sense that the insect world was concerned. They were the most attractive, including marjoram as well as the Agastache, an herbaceous perennial with simple, fragrant leaves and small flowers with dense spikes. Both were 100 times more insects than the smallest species, the pelargonium, which is part of an extensive group of frost-sensitive plants used for bedding in summer.
Making an impact
It’s a straightforward lesson. If they choose the right varieties to supply pollen and nectar, gardeners can make an enormous impact. Our research has shown that assisting bees as well as flower-visiting insects doesn’t have to be costly. In the 2012 study of more than 200 kinds of these sometimes referred to as Michaelmas daisies, which were exhibited at the British National Collection in Picton Gardens, Herefordshire The varieties that attracted the most insects were also simple to acquire, simple to cultivate, and appealing to the eye of the viewer. The prices are comparable, but this is largely based on the amount of plant as you purchase it.
So, how beneficial to insects are the plants that are grown in the gardens and parks? In the East Sussex town of Lewes, there is a stunning park called Southover Grange Garden that is meticulously managed to offer stunning flower displays during the spring and summer. We counted the number of insects on 79 varieties that were in the full flower in august of 2012.
Its results were shocking. The park was the perfect place for bees, but only three of the species were particularly attractive to visiting insects. In 24 varieties we observed none of the insects on one of the 15 counts, while on 37 varieties, there were only a few. There is definitely the potential for improvement. The majority of flowers in the garden tend to be more show than substance and are bred to produce a lot of vibrant flowers instead of providing food for bees.
Southover Grange Gardens in Lewes. Leonora (Ellie) Enking/Flickr, CC BY-SA
Refreshing the leaf
A lot of gardeners in the UK purchase their plants at one of more than 2000 retail and garden centers as well as nurseries. They are a popular destination for equipment and plants (and for the occasional cup of tea or slices of cake). They play a significant contribution to what British gardeners choose to grow and what insects are capable of visiting.
Garden centres usually offer blooming plants, with each variety having an individual patch. This makes it easier to keep track of insects. In 2015, we counted insects on the 59-74 types that were in full bloom for sale at five garden centers as well as one nursery in Sussex. We did 12 counts within a single day each. We even brought the plants we had grown ourselves for two patches in comparison to one we believed to be extremely attractive.
We observed a similar pattern to that found in the two other studies. The majority of the plants on sale were free of bees and other insects, but some had a few. The marjoram we picked was a success in line with expectations. However, 4.5 percent of the plants available were more appealing, and which averaged 26 percent more insects. Some of the best performers were the deep magenta blooms that are part of the cosmos bipinnatus “Sonata Carmine” and caryopteris x clandonensis “Heavenly Blue,” an upright shrub that has dark blue flowers in clusters.