Plants Bants, Valentine’s Day Edition: Borage

Valentine’s day is unavoidable. It really is. It’s everywhere. Cards. Chocolates. Cuddly Toys. Sexy undies. Sexy undies everywhere. Flowers. So many bunches of flowers. So many roses. So many sad, supermarket carnations.

I have a bit of a pathetic secret, I’ve never been bought flowers by a man. Never. Not once. Which is a hell of an achievement really given the fact that I’m not only a gardener but I’m also absolutely gorgeous. Modest too. The mind boggles. Now, before you think I’m looking for sympathy (or flowers), stop everything! I am not. In fact, I quite enjoy lamenting about it at length to my friends, while on the inside I’m happy about the fact that somebody hasn’t hacked a poor plant to bits in order to get the ride; because let’s be honest, that’s the whole bloomin’ idea behind it and anyone who says otherwise is just plain lying.

So, in an effort to encourage you all to stop spending outrageous amounts of money on flowers that will be wilted within a day, I propose this (nice bit of matrimony humour there); for Valentine’s day this year, why don’t you get yourself or your other half some seeds and plant some edible flowers in your garden.

One of my favourite things about my allotment is the flowers I have growing. I don’t just grow fruit and veggies but also grow a wide array of flowers, the majority of which I grow because they are edible, good for pollinators or both.

I have a deep seeded love affair with blue flowers. There is something wildly romantic about them, I can’t quite place it but blue flowers stir something in my soul. You’ll definitely think I’m insane if you’re not one of my fellow flower-fanatic friends, but there’s just something intrinsically… sensual about blue flowers. Forget drowning in the pools of someone’s blue eyes (except mine of course, worthy applicants can apply via twitter), and instead do some gazing in to some blue blooms and grow yourself some borage. Borage (Borago officinalis) is my absolute favourite flower, so for the romantic day that’s in it, I’d like to write a little ode to this great love of my life.

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Borage is my bae

Borage, with its intensely blue, star shaped flowers is one of the best plants you can grow in your veggie patch. Not only do bees love it, but borage is edible and has beneficial medicinal properties. Borage is essentially a miracle plant and absolutely gorgeous too.

Borage is a nectar rich flower which will self seed all over your garden. In fact, I planted borage once four years ago and now it pops up all over my garden every year, it is the Valentine’s gift that’ll keep on giving.  Borage is one of the most bee friendly plants you can have in your garden. Bees adore borage, particularly honey bees – which as we all know need all the the help they can get – and honey made from borage flowers is known to be sweeter and more flavoursome than other honeys. My borage plants are laden with bees right throughout the growing season, which can stretch from March right up until October if the weather is good.

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Planting Borage

Borage is very easy to grow, simply sow in a well drained bed after the last frost has passed and the ground has heated up. Borage has a taproot so it prefers to be direct sown where it is to grow as opposed to being transplanted as this causes root disturbance. Water your borage well until it has established. Borage needs very little in the way of care throughout the season and it can grow quite tall in sunny positions.

You can collect the seeds and replant the following year or you can simply wait for it to self seed, because trust me, it will. In fact, you will probably never get rid of it unless you either bomb your garden or simply move. Very far away. We’re talking miles.

The Science Bit

Borage is one of those lovely “companion” plants in the vegetable garden. In essence, it is a very good friend to many of the plants you grow in your veggie patch like tomatoes, strawberries, cabbages and squashes. Because borage attracts bees and wasps, it therefore repels other pests that bother tomatoes and cabbages which wasps are known to prey on.

Borage is also known to actively improve the flavour of strawberries, possibly due to the effects it has on the soil. Borage leaves contain vitamin C, potassium and calcium so it adds trace minerals to your soil and it is also a brilliant plant to add to your compost heap.

Borage is the highest known plant source of an Omega 6 fatty acid called GLA (gamma linolenic acid) which is good for excema, arthritis and diabetes and is also a source of fibre and B vitamins.

Beginning to understand why borage is my ideal boyfriend now?

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Swoon!

Using Borage as an Edible Flower

Now for the fun part! Borage is of course, an edible flower. It has long been used in salads and drinks as a garnish.

Borage has a mild cucumber flavour. For my gin loving friends, I urge you to try it with some Hendricks, though I do not like to encourage gin drinking because gin is the devil and that’s all I have to say about that.

Freeze borage flowers in an ice cube to add to drinks to really impress your guests.Unless you’re like me and you never actually ever have any guests. Forever alone. Sob.

I’ll just sit here for Valentine’s Day and munch on whole borage flowers while watching soppy romantic comedies, don’t mind me.

Borage for Courage

Borage is literally good for the heart, which makes it the ultimate Valentine’s Day flower. It stimulates your adrenal gland, encouraging the production of adrenaline, raising your mood and is beneficial for your kidneys and digestive system too. Borage has been used to treat depression and states of melancholy and has long been believed to bring comfort and to give you courage. Historically, borage flowers were often embroidered onto knight’s battle garments and was said to be eaten by roman soldiers before going to war. Badass borage! In fact, there is even an old wive’s tale that states if you slip some borage into your lover’s drink it would give them the courage to propose. Not creepy or desperate in the slightest.

Sure, why do you think I have so much of it in my garden? If you see me today, slipping some blue flowers into some poor, unsuspecting sods drink, save him before he shackles himself to me in holy matrimony and has to spend eternity competing for my affections with a flower.

The flower will win every time.

Fiona luvs Borage 4EVA.

Mrs. Fiona Borage.

A Blooming Great Day in the Park

This week, I’m taking a bit of a change of tack from my usual How To Tuesdays to tell you about my amazing weekend at Bloom. I’ve been on  little bit of a blogging hiatus the past week due to a redesign of the blog itself and of course, a busy weekend, volunteering at Irelands best summer festival. It was a glorious bank holiday weekend here in Dublin, The sun was blaring (mostly), the mood was high, families lined north wall to see the tall ships, thousands of women ran the mini marathon and the wonderful Bloom festival took place in the Phoenix Park. Back in March, when I put my name down to volunteer at Bloom, I was eager to experience Ireland’s annual gardening festival, having never been before. I was eager to meet new people, enjoy talking to like minded people and perhaps feel a part of this wonderful event. Thankfully, my experiences far exceeded my expectations.

On Sunday morning, I arrived in the park at 8am, sun blaring, the park buzzing with excitement at the day ahead. The truly wonderful thing about arriving at Bloom before the gates opened was this, I got to see the show gardens before the crowds arrived, a rare opportunity. I was just blown away, never before had I seen such a diverse collection of gardens, plants, designs in one place. Making my way over to the fab food village, I grabbed a coffee and enjoyed my surroundings before the madness kicked off. I collected my Bloom Ambassador T-shirt, cap and name badge before we were shown around the site and assigned jobs for the day.  That’s when the madness started, people poured in the gates in a steady stream from 9am until 4pm. By one o’clock, the place was very busy. The food village was full of people, sitting out in the sun, enjoying the festival atmosphere.

I must say, it was one of the better experiences I’ve had in a long time, I met a lot of wonderful new people and it was great to feel part of the team that makes Bloom one of the best festivals I have ever been to.

The big attraction at Bloom of course is the show gardens, there were thirty show gardens in total, ranging from larger gardens to the small postcard gardens. Now, I had never been to a show garden event so I was completely mesmerised by what was on offer. Each garden was obviously designed with such passion and hard work it blew me away.

"The First Place" designed by

“The First Place” designed by Fiann O’Nulláin

One thing that really struck me about the show gardens was that nearly every one featured lupins, these herbaceous perennial’s are some of my favourite flowers, their vivid coloured flower spikes provided the show gardens at bloom with a serious display of colour. I also noticed a trend of edible and medicinal gardens, one of the Gardens, “This First Place”, deigned by Fiann O Nualláin was a garden designed for growing medicine, and I took a real fancy to  Wayne O’ Neil’s “An Edible Woodland Garden”.

Lupins were definitely the star of the show

Lupins were definitely the star of the show

To be honest I can’t even begin to try explain each show garden or pick a favourite as they were so varied, but I will say this, there was not one design I wasn’t seriously impressed with. Beside the show gardens was a large walled vegetable garden, this was, without a doubt, the highlight for me (of course it was). It was a spectacularly maintained, productive large vegetable garden that I’m told is actually always in the park and can be visited. I have literally never seen so much borage in my life, it was a borage batallion, a starflower regiment.

The borage battalion

The borage battalion

It felt good to get involved, it felt good to volunteer my time to be part of something so enjoyable for so many people.

There was so much to experience at Bloom, from the Nurseries to a Botanical Art exhibition, to cooking demonstrations and live music. I must say though, I think my favourite part was the volunteer work itself. I was working with a lovely bunch of people at one of the entrances, greeting the visitors and helping people with directions and information about the festival. I really enjoyed working with those people, some of us were gardeners, some not, some were horticulturalists, some just liked to volunteer at events and every single one of those people taught me something I never knew before. And I guess this brings me back to my love of community and my theory that it is the one of the most important developmental tools we have as human beings. It felt good to get involved, it felt good to volunteer my time to be part of something so enjoyable for so many people.

I took far too many photos to share them all here so I’ve popped a little selection gallery into this post for you to have a gander.

Being a Bloom Ambassador is definitely one of the major highlights of 2014. I even got myself a few fab ideas for my own garden, oh, and of course, a fancy cap. Who doesn’t love a fancy cap?

 

 

 

 

Midsummer Murderer

I’ve had a pretty busy few weeks and I wouldn’t say that I’ve neglected my plot, but I haven’t been to it nearly as much as I would have liked either.

The weather has been pretty odd for June, a mix of horrible rainy days and milder dry days but nothing like the hot, sunny weather we had two weeks ago. It’s hard to believe that midsummer’s day is only a week away. The warm weather did however, start a growth spurt on my plot and it’s looking significantly greener than it did a few weeks ago. Most of the greenery, however, is weeds. They seem to be trying to take over the plot, within a week, they went from tiny seedlings to tall bushy weeds all over my paths and on the parts of the plot that are still unused.

I visited the plot on Sunday and spent over four hours just pulling weeds up from the paths and from the paths around the outside of my plot in an effort to stop them from spreading onto my plot. In fact, I did so much weeding that I gave myself a hoe-ing blister on the inside of my thumb, ouch!

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Beetroot, Swiss Chard and Perpetual Spinach. You can see some of the weeds on the paths here.

I did feel a little guilty tearing up some of the lovely red poppies but it had to be done. I truly felt like a murderer though, when I had to thin out my beetroot and swiss chard plants. After all my weeks of careful nurturing, I had to pull out about half of each to give the rest space to grow. It did give me a chance to have a cheeky nibble on the baby chard leaves though.

I planted out my borlotti beans which had been hardening off at home for a week and I finally planted some carrots, a bit later than I wanted but it couldn’t be helped. This weekend, I hope to plant some florence fennel and pak choi too. Unfortunately, my pumpkin plants all died, all three of them, and my courgette plant. I have literally no idea why this happened, they had been thriving before. I have heard they are very easy to grow and really prolific so god only knows why they died, it seems I am having trouble with plants that are seemingly easy to grow and no bother at all growing the trickier plants. I’m just going to chalk it down to bad luck and try again next year.

Borage. Spot the ladybird?

Apart from that, the plot is thriving, my potatoes plants are huge and my jerusalem artichokes finally showed up, after months of nothing. My rhubarb which had disappeared in the bad weather in april, is back with a vengeance and is now pretty huge. My borage grew far larger than I expected and the two plants are a lovely addition to the plot, I’ve seen lots of bees buzzing around them. My first sowing of peas are starting to really climb now and the second aren’t far behind. I also have lettuce, rocket, salsify, cabbage, onions, shallots, celery, purple sprouting broccoli, artichokes, red currants, raspberries and strawberries growing very strong, in addition to my tomatoes at home and my herbs. Not bad for the first three months of my gardening adventure.

Rhubarb

Peas, borlotti beans and early potatoes

Broccoli, celery and cabbage

It’s amazing how different the allotment looks since I started it in March, it’s difficult to get the whole plot into the pictures but you get the idea. I still have a million and one things to do, I need a gate, some proper pathways, a patio area, and lots of other bits and pieces. I’m also hoping to get some food out of it soon, that is, after all, the whole point.

Plot P26 on the 10th March 2012

Plot P26 on the 10th June 2012 – 3 months later

Bloomin’ Beautiful

We’ve had a beautiful stretch of weather here in Dublin the past 12 days. It’s been warm, dry and sunny, and it feels like summer is finally here. I’ve even been able to get out in my shorts and terrify the world with my so-white-they’re-reflective legs. I’ve been trying to visit the plot in the evenings to water it, the clay soil seems to totally dry out in the sun and becomes cracked very quickly.

The good weather has caused a wonderful growth spurt on the plot and everytime I visit, something new is growing of something has doubled in size. Everything is beginning to bloom. My main crop potatoes are coming up very quickly and I planted peas last Monday and they had germinated by Thursday!

Potatoes

Pumpkins

I had to thin out my beetroot, chard and perpetual spinach the other day. I felt like a murderer but it had to be done. I’m just pleased they’re growing, they were looking like they’d never come up. I also planted out my courgette and pumpkin plants, they were just too big to keep on the windowsill anymore, thankfully they seem to be adjusting well to being outdoors.

My strawberry plants have come back to life, having been battered by the wind a few weeks ago, and they are thriving. They have lots of beautiful white flowers and I can see some of the flowers starting to develop into fruit. I covered the bed they are in with weed control fabric, this is so the fruit won’t be sitting on wet soil when it grows as this causes the fruit to rot. Straw is also good for this purpose, just spread it under each plant for the strawberries to rest on. I also made a cage of sorts to protect them from birds, I simply used bamboo and wire to make it and draped netting over it to protect my strawberries .

Strawberries in bloom

Strawberry cage

When I first got the allotment, I knew I wanted to grow Borage. I had read about this wonderful plant in a few different books and loved how it looked. Borage is an annual herb, with beautiful blue star shaped flowers and a mild cucumber flavour. I planted two borage plants in early spring and in the past week they have literally tripled in size and burst open with gorgeous blue flowers, I’ve already seen a few bees buzzing around them.

Borage flower

Another one I planted to attract bees is lavender. It was very (very) slow to start and I didn’t think I’d see any life on it this year but lo and behold, the sunshine has done it wonders and there’s lovely stalks of lavender beginning to form

Lavender

My rhubarb has come back to life too, it’s amazing what a few days of heat and sunshine can do for the garden. It’s great to be able to sit out on the plot on a sunny day and just enjoy my surroundings. This weekend, there is an open day at the allotment site, there’s to be a barbeque, music, entertainment etc, I’m really looking forward to it.

This weekend also sees the return of the Bloom in the Park festival in phoenix park, an annual gardening and food festival held in Dublin. If you have the time, it’s worth a visit, especially if this weather keeps up.

I have big plans for the plot in the coming weeks, I’m going to finally rebuild our gate, install a patio area, compst bin, water butt and I’m working on a little project to attract some unusual wildlife in, watch this space.

The plot in the sunshine