Please Bees with Germander

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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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