Saturday, November 28, 2009

Energizer Bunny Borage

"There remaineth one necessary thing...
which in my Opinion makes as much for Ornament, as either flowers, or forme, or cleanness...which is Bees, well ordered."
~ William Lawson,
New Orchard and Garden 1618

I’ve mentioned in my profile that I am a beekeeper. I have one hive in my urban garden.  I love seeing honey bees buzzing around and pollinating my flowers, but mostly I have to walk a few houses down the street to find legions of my bees gathering nectar and pollen in my neighbor’s yard. I’m happy to share so I don’t intend to duplicate her garden in mine, but one day she mentioned my bees had been all over her Borage for weeks. Well, I knew nothing about Borage but I just had to get some of that!

So I looked it up. Borage (Borago officinalis) is an annual that grows to two feet tall. It comes to us from Corsica, N. Africa and Europe. It is speculated that the name borago came from the Latin burra meaning “a hairy garment”. Hmmm….I wonder what it means by that? It reportedly grows in sun or shade, wet or dry conditions, and tolerates poor soil. Sounds pretty fool proof to me. The leaves are supposedly slightly cucumber tasting and flowers can be used as edible garnish. Even better! I like to be able to eat what I grow.

So I ordered a seed packet from along with my vegetable seeds order. I planted 4 seeds in March indoors in 4 small pots. All four came up and three survived. I planted the seedlings outdoors, one in the sun, two in semi-shade. They grew quickly and began flowering, beautiful true blue single flowers. And sure enough the bumblebees and my honey bees found the flower’s sweet nectar in no time. The taller the plants got the more leggy they seemed, but the one in the full sun was better. Then they needed staking…I very much dislike staking, but did it anyway, for the sake of the bees of course. Then after a wind blew through a few of the stems broke down. More staking and trimming, grrr. And on and on it went till I gave up the tiresome staking and just let them break down. I figured I’d be ripping them out when I got around to it but the bees still came to the flowers, even the flowering branches lying on the ground. As I removed the damaged stems I noticed lots of fresh new shoots coming from just below any damaged area. The plants just kept going and going and going, rejuvenating themselves!

Since I just left them alone, they have become nice and full and still blooming even now in November. That’s one energized annual! I wonder when they’ll quit. The few hard frosts we’ve had haven’t fazed them at all. Last month I noticed a humming bird sipping from the flowers too.  And I gave up trying to save all the seeds this plant produces, so I’ll be hoeing seedlings for sure. It is a prolific self seeder!

Were you wondering still about that “a hairy garment” comment? Be forewarned, the leaves do taste cucumber-ish but are so furry, they are unpleasant to chew on. Every bit of the plant except the flowers are covered with soft spines.  The flowers are a true blue color, a rare find in garden plants. Mostly ‘blue’ plants are on the purpley side, and some gardeners search high and low to include true blue in their garden scheme. Give borage a try.

In bloom in my garden today: Kirengeshoma palmata, Borage, Daphne, Digitalis (foxglove), Salvia, Nepeta (cat mint), Solanum crispum (potato vine), Phygelius (cape fushia) Schizostylis (river lily), Alyssum

Food ready for the birds: Caryopteris seeds, Mountain Ash berries, Pyracantha berries, Echinacea seeds, Coreopsis seeds, Liatris seeds.

Photo's courtesy of Pat Chissus


Shari B. said...

I love that they are named for "hairy garment"! That's what it looks like in the picture - like an angora sweater! Very pretty! :) Do you think this is the same plant that boarge oil comes from?

Joan said...

Hi Shari,
Could be...I saw some lotion the other day with borage in the title but I failed to look at the ingredients list. Now you've got me curoius! If it says 'borage officinalis' as an ingredient then, yes it is from this plant. Probably from the seeds, as many seeds contain the oil extracted from plants. 'Officinalis' means medicinal; of the pharmacopoeia.
Thanks for writing!

Anonymous said...

Your blog entry most closely matched whats happening with my borage plants here in eastern Mass in early july. They are a bee magnet and i just had the pleasure of seeing a hummingbird visit! I havent staked them yet and im probably going to just cut them back significantly. Although they look a bit messy in the garden, the life force they bring to the garden is so mighty i was even inspired to write them a poem! Thank you for the blog entry!

Joan said...

Hi and thanks for reading and commenting! I still grow Borage from the seedlings that pop up here and there in the garden. I don't bother staking them anymore (hate staking) but just let them twine their way through their neighbors. I still love the flowers and that the bees and hummingbirds enjoy the nectar. They are messy but I just let them go till I can't stand it anymore. A few months anyway! Cheers!