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.

Fiona Gets Flu: Garden Remedies for Colds & Flu

It’s been a miserable few days chéz Fiona. I’ve been struck down with the flu. The black death ain’t got nothin on me this week. I’ve spent the past few days veering wildly between being hot and cold, my nose is blocked, I’ve a sore throat, cough, headache, fever, muscle aches and I have the complexion of a cast member of the walking dead. Fatigue has run rings around my eyes resulting in this season’s highly coveted bar brawl eye make-up look. I’m doped up on ibuprofen, cradling a packet of tissues like a comfort blanket, swaddled up in my duvet and have been generally feeling very sorry for myself.

So in honour of the great snottening of September 2016 (I’ve such an eloquent way with words), I’ve decided to turn this into something positive and share some garden remedies for flu and colds.
Herbal remedies for flu and colds have been around far longer than over the counter drugs and while I’m not saying not to take these (Nurofen is currently my bestie), there are loads of plants in the garden that can help to ease the symptoms of colds and flu. I’ve been known to get into healthy (unhealthy?) debates with people about the medicinal effects of plants and they seem to think this makes me some sort of hippie earth mother type, eschewing modern medicine, wearing flowers in my hair while dancing around in clothes made only from hemp while playing a mandolin (though this actually sounds like gas craic). I’ve found so many of my peers scoffing when I encourage them to make sage tea or eat raw garlic for their ailments but these remedies really do help to alleviate the symptoms of a cold and if like me, you are lucky enough to have a garden, you can essentially grow your own drugs. The legal kind of course. Ahem. 

Garlic
Garlic has natural antibacterial antiviral and antioxidant properties which makes it a bit of a wonder plant for boosting your immune system and alleviating symptoms of cold and flu. To get the best benefits however, you’ll need to eat it raw. Cooking garlic removes many of its medicinal qualities. Obviously raw garlic isn’t the most gorgeous breath freshener on the market so I wouldn’t be going out to the pub and lobbing the gob on handsome strangers after eating it raw. That being said, if you are going out kissing people with the flu that’s highly irresponsible, devil may care behaviour and you need to be my new drinking buddy/wingperson immediately. 

Garlic is possibly the easiest crop ever to grow. It requires little to no care, it likes the cold and only takes a couple of minutes to plant. Garlic should be planted in October-November as it grows over winter and benefits from the frost. Simply push the clove of garlic into your soil, leaving the top just above the surface. I would not recommend you just plant any old garlic that you buy in your supermarket as you have no idea of the variety or origin, buy proper garlic bulbs from your garden centre and you can replant your own cloves the following year if you wish. 

Sage
Sage is one of those wonder herbs that is criminally underused in most kitchens. Sage is also one of my favourite plants, with stunning silver green foliage and the most beautiful smell imaginable. Sage has natural antiseptic properties so it makes an excellent gargle for a sore throat. I often make sage tea for sore throats and it is hands down the best natural relief for throat pain I’ve come across. Sage tea also helps to relieve stomach pain and anxiety and tastes surprisingly yummy.
To make sage tea, simply use 3/4 fresh sage leaves and pour over hot water and allow to brew. You can add honey or lemon to sweeten if you want but I prefer it as is.

Thyme
Thyme is another hardy perennial that is mostly used for its flavour, however, thyme is a natural antiseptic and is proven to relieve coughs and chest pain so if you have a pesky cough, have thyme in tea or even chew some fresh thyme leaves.
Mint & Lemon Balm
Mint tea is another herbal remedy for cold and flu symptoms and is known to ease stomach discomfort. The menthol helps to clear out your airways and makes it easier to breathe. Plus, it’s delicious! 
Mint is a prolific plant that has a tendency to run mad in your garden when planted in the ground. Keep mint in a container or pot if you don’t want it to grow everywhere, though I happen to like mint in my borders and just let it do it’s thing, much to the horror of some of my fellow plot holders. I’ve never been one for adhering to the rules, where’s the fun in that? 

Another firm favourite in my herb garden, lemon balm (also known as bee balm) makes an excellent tea for clearing your sinuses, eases stomach cramps, headaches and earaches and helps you to relax if you’re finding it difficult to sleep. 
Echinacea
Echinacea (coneflower) is one of my favourite additions to my herb garden. With its large almost cartoon like flowers, it’s loved by bees and can be used for boosting your immune system after a cold or flu. Echinacea supplements are available in most health shops but why buy it when you can grow it? Dried echinacea flowers can be used in teas to give your body a boost during flu season. 

These herbs are all perennials so once planted, will grow every year and require little care apart from some pruning in early spring and you’ll have your very own home grown apothecary. 

I’d also urge you to buy some local honey to keep in your kitchen as its one of the best natural remedies for illnesses

My flu is beginning to lift today, I can breathe through my nose again and my natural smokey eye look is less punched-in-the-face and more I-haven’t-slept-in-two-days. I’ll be ditching my slippers for wellies and be out of my bed and back in my raised beds in no time. 

For anyone who would like to apply for the role of new flu ridden drinking buddy, I’ve a great song we can go dancing to:

My black death brings all the herbs to the yard,

And they’re like, we’re better than pharms 

Damn right, we’re better than pharms

We can heal you, we don’t even charge….

How To Grow Lavender

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Botanical name: Lavandula 
Flowering time: Summer
Height & spread: 30cm-1m height, 30cm-1.5m spread

Lavender is probably my favourite plant in my garden. It’s beautiful, easy to grow and smells amazing.

Lavender is best when planted late spring/early summer, ideally in May. Like many other herbs, it does well in most soils once it gets full sun and moderately good drainage.  If you have heavier clay soil, lavender can become woody and the plant may not live as long. Now, I have very heavy clay soil so I often add gravel to the base of my plant for drainage. Lavender grows well in pots also and makes a lovely addition to a balcony or driveway if you are growing in an urban environment.  Just ensure you add some gravel to the end of your pot for drainage.

Lavender does not need to be watered too often, and in fact over watering lavender is more likely to kill it than anything else.

Lavender should be pruned every year to keep the plant compact. Some people prune after it flowers in late summer and others in early spring. I pruned mine in early spring this year. Use a secateurs to remove the flower stalks and and inch of the years growth.

To propogate lavender you can take semi ripe cuttings from young plants in early summer. You can also collect seed from dried flower heads and plant the following year.

Lavender is an aromatic herb, famed for its calming qualities. It is   often used to treat insomnia, nervous stomach, and anxiety. it can also be used as an analgesic and an antiseptic.  It is also beneficial to the respiratory system, in particular in the treatment of colds and flu. Lavender is one of the most popular ingredients in aromatherapy used to treat insomnia and headaches.

Lavender is also widely used in the culinary world, often used in condiments and dressings. Its flowers yield a lot of nectar and as so is popular with bees make high quality honey  from the lavender nectar.