Sometimes you have to share your garden with nature’s pollinators. While trying out fennel, I discovered butterfly gardening. It was amazing to see how fast their voracious appetites can devour a whole plant, but breathtaking to watch a butterfly emerge from their chrysalis and soar high into the sky. Now I specifically plant fennel every spring, and I anxiously await the black swallowtail’s first visit. I watch over her brood and make sure they have enough food and try to figure out where the chrysalises are so I can watch them hatch.
My first fennel plant was a Florence fennel grown mostly for their bulb. The black swallowtail butterfly found it before it got very far along. The next year I did not get a fennel plant, and they devoured all of my dill and parsley. Since we use a lot of parsley and it takes a bit of time to recover, I thought I would beat them at their game and bought two common fennel plants, two dill plants and an extra parsley plant in hopes they would stay out of my parsley this year. They must have spread the word since they got into it anyways. Oh well the sight of them gracefully dancing around the garden was worth it.
I have learned that buying one plant for the insects and another for you never really works out, they always seem to find them both. I have also discovered that if I do not want to lose all of my parsley buy lots of fennel. I have determined that Florence fennel does not produce a viable bulb in Florida or at least not before the caterpillars find it or perhaps it was the heat. The common fennel works better in my garden as it produces more greenery for the caterpillars to eat and it looks like it is regrowing nicely.
Now to experiment with the fennel fronds, upon tasting them they are sweeter than dill.