Mother Earth Living

Please Bees with Germander

By Marci Degman
October/November 2005
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While many plants are known to be bee magnets, honeybees and bumblebees will pass them all by when germander blooms.

An herb garden is traditionally a busy place, with bees buzzing from plant to plant, their fuzzy little bodies perfect for trapping pollen and transporting it to the next flower. But declining bee populations means that we can no longer take these beneficial visitors for granted; we need to lure them with a choice selection of plants, so they can set about the essential business of pollinating our gardens. In my garden, there is none better at bringing in the late-season bees than wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys).

I first discovered wall germander, also called hedge germander, on a visit to an area herb farm, where I noticed this stately little shrub because it was completely covered with bees. Since adding it to my own garden, I’ve learned that, while many plants are known to be bee magnets, both honeybees and bumblebees will pass them all by when germander blooms. The 6- to 8-inch purple flower spikes, which appear July through September, are their absolute favorites, and they are drawn to the flowers in astounding numbers. These bees are not aggressive; in fact, they are so content working the germander flowers that they barely notice me gardening nearby.

Germander is a low-growing evergreen perennial, which makes it an ideal hedge plant. The flowers, in colors ranging from deep pink to purple, are borne loosely atop wands of tiny, glossy, serrated leaves. When left to bloom to draw the bees, the effect is a loose, pleasing hedge in a naturalistic setting. Germander also can be tightly clipped for topiary or more formal garden arrangements, including knot gardens.

I began my germander hedge with the one-gallon plant I purchased on the spot from the herb farm that day. I was amazed at how easily I could propagate this plant by sticking the cuttings directly into the ground. This works well with both spring and fall cuttings. Germander also roots well in a container of ordinary potting mix.

I later purchased another plant also labeled Teucrium chamaedrys, but on comparison I found that the leaves and flowers were slightly different. I have since found out that there are dozens of species, hybrids and varieties that could be sold under the common name of hedge or wall germander. A third plant I purchased was labeled ‘dwarf germander’; the leaves are larger, the flowers similar, but this one is better used as groundcover, topping out at about 8 inches. The wall or hedge germanders can reach up to 20 inches when in bloom, but 12 to 18 inches is more common. All the germanders have the same cultural requirements, thrive with little effort and are exactly right for attracting lots of helpful, happy bees.

When you find the germander that is the color and height (at maturity) that you want for your garden, you need only one because you can so easily propagate more from cuttings. I have two large beds completely edged from my first and favorite plant. I still enjoy the other tall variety, but keep it contained to a different area. The dwarf plant is filling in between my lavender and rosemary in little round patches, completely choking out any weeds that might want to creep in there. The evergreen habit of these plants in my Zone 8 garden lends winter interest and structure, which is always welcome when designing with herbs.

Hedge germander will grow in Zones 4 through 10, a versatility that recommends this plant for wide use. The slightly woody stems are easy to prune. I shear my germander hedge back each fall, removing the spent blooms and about a third of the leaves.

As with many herbs, this plant requires full sun but can tolerate even poor soils. Germander is said to dislike wet conditions, but in the well-drained soil of a raised bed it endures the rainy season in western Oregon with no problem.

I was so taken with my germanders that I’ve started looking for others in the family. One I recently acquired was bush or tree germander (T. fruticans). This plant will grow in Zones 6 through 10, has plush silver leaves and two-lipped blue flowers rather than spikes and can grow up to 8 feet. The variety I planted was ‘Azureum’ with lovely cobalt blue flowers. It must have found my garden’s wetter winter conditions a challenge, as it did not return this spring. I enjoyed T. fruticans so much that I’ll try it again and maybe grow it as an annual if I have to.

Germanders are seldom used today for medicinal purposes, but were once known to remedy high fevers, snake bites, skin irritations and other ailments. The modern value of this plant is as a low evergreen hedge and to attract beneficial insects. I enjoy locating and collecting these easy-to-grow plants. I guarantee that if you build a hedge of germanders, the bees will be buzzing in your garden.

Marci Degman is a garden designer, teacher and writer who gardens in the foothills of the Coast Range outside of Portland, Oregon.

RESOURCES

Goodwin Creek Gardens
P.O Box 83
Williams, OR 97544
(800) 846-7359
www.GoodwinCreekGardens.com
Catalog $2. Teucrium chamaedrys, T. fruticans.

The Thyme Garden Herb Company
20546 Alsea Hwy.
Alsea, OR 97324
(541) 487-8671
www.ThymeGarden.com
Catalog $2. T. chamaedrys, T. fruticans.

Forestfarm
990 Tetherow Road
Williams, OR 97544
(541) 846-7269
www.forestfarm.com
Catalog $5, free to regular customers.
Teucrium buergerianum, T. canadense, T. ¥lucidrys, T. scorodonia and others.


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