On our dill this year, it has been a black swallowtail invasion, which has caused some to celebrate and a few to voice concern. Some gardeners might look at the dill covered in black swallowtail caterpillars and ask what we are going to do about that.
Yes, I planted dill in our herb garden, right where you might expect it. But my goal wasn't fresh pickles or harvesting a few sprigs for my favorite culinary dish - I did it for the butterflies.
This year has been incredibly awesome from the standpoint of caterpillars. We have seen them at all stages, or instars, as they are referred to in lepidoptera circles. Now we are starting to watch the chrysalis and waiting for that moment of emergence or eclosion.
I also love dill from the standpoint of texture. The fine-leaf element adds so much to the garden, especially when you can contrast it with coarse texture or even other leaf colors. In the early morning, after heavy dew, the dill almost looks like it has been decorated over night with a thousand tiny Christmas lights.
Dill is also wonderful from the standpoint of its yellow blossoms. It combines wonderfully with other butterfly flowers such as Black Knight buddleia, Homestead Purple verbena and dark blue salvia.
It looks quite at home in the butterfly or perennial garden with its tall feathery foliage and yellow flowers. Grow in the herb garden with fennel, which also has feathery leaves. Both plants make outstanding choices for the butterfly garden and herb garden.
Your love for butterflies may be determined whether you get any of the herb for your pickles. Plant a bunch! We have grown them from transplants and from seed - both were highly successful.
In addition to combining them with the Black Knight buddleia and Homestead Purple verbena, try also partnering them with perennial hibiscus like Lord Baltimore, Flare and the Turks Cap. They are all butterfly and hummingbird magnets.
The site should have plenty of sun with well-drained organic rich soil. Prepare the bed by incorporating 3 to 4 inches of organic matter like compost along with 1 pound per 100 square feet of a slow release 5-10-5 fertilizer. In our herb garden, where we normally keep a layer of mulch, we rake back our pine bark whenever planting by seed and then re-apply.
Dill is also an excellent fall and winter crop, which doesn't exactly match with the cucumbers. Sow crops in the spring and thin to 12 inches. Dill will quickly bolt with very hot temperatures.
Keep plants watered and well mulched during the summer. Harvest dill when the flowers are open but before seeds have formed. Immature leaves can be harvested as flavoring for sour cream, meat and fish. Dill seeds are good to use fresh or dried in salads.
Dill is mostly sold generically, but "Tetra" is a selection known for more heat tolerance and shorter height. Whether it is the herb garden, butterfly habitat or edible landscape, be sure to incorporate dill.
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus, Ga., and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden."