Search This Blog

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Bodacious, boisterous but incorrigible Borages

I've been slowly realizing how many members of the Borage family, now called the Hydrophyllaceae, have come to grow in my yard, and to succeed, many fantastically.  My favorite ground cover, Symphytum grandiflorum, pictured in my introductory post, is one such.  A similar plant is regular Comfrey, which is tall with purple flowers in spring.  The fuzzy leaves are supposed to make good animal feed and good green stuff to hasten decomposition and boost mineral content of compost piles.  The Comfreys fall into the incorrigible category, don't even think about trying to get rid of them.

The annual herb Borage self-sows very easily, and is coming up now.  It can be chopped finely and eaten in salads, with a cooling cucumber-like taste, and also has an edible blue flower that is a colorful addition to a salad.   The young leaves can also be cooked like spinach, or used to flavor other dishes.  The stems can be peeled and eaten like celery.  In ancient times, the herb was thought to increase courage and was used before battle to flavor wine by the Celts.  Borage is also an excellent plant for attracting bees to the garden.  I like to let it volunteer in my squash and cucumber beds to draw the bees.  It can become an imposing 3-5 foot plant studded with blue star flowers. 

Then there are the wonderful Pulmonarias, Lungworts.  These plants have a wonderful variety of leaf shapes and colors, most variations on a theme of dark fuzzy green swirled or spotted with varying amounts of silver. 

Roy Davidson
They do best in shade or part shade, where they don't need much water in summer, but in the hot summer sun they can wilt dramatically.  They make an early spring show of various colors, from a deep cobalt blue,

fading pink (deep colors not photographing true to nature), to various shades of purple, light blue, pink,

David Ward
peach, and white.  So a few different plants can add quite a variety of attractive spring blooms, and the plants also self-sow sparingly, so the plants slowly increase in beds and can hybridize delightfully to create your own special blends of flower and leaf colors.

Mrs. Moon
Another fantastic plant is Brunnera macrophylla, Bigleaf Brunnera or Siberian Bugloss.  It has lovely heart-shaped leaves, and tiny forget-me-not type blue flowers in spring, in abundant sprays.
There is also a silvery form, 'Jack Frost', that I don't have, and a variegated form with added allure-
Brunnera  'Variegata'
These plants do best in shade or part shade, and will gently self-sow.

Then we get to the biennnial forget-me-nots, which will self-sow with a vengeance, Myosotis, I was given them so best guess is arvensis.  They will come up with reckless abandon, blanketing large areas.  This looks really beautiful for a while, though it seems mildew inevitably appears on the scene as the flowers start going to seed, when they become a pain to rip out.  But for a while they are a blue cloud of loveliness.
Various nurseries have developed pink, white, or varied blooms, and there are also annual forms.   There is also the perennial forget-me-not Omphalodes, with larger flowers and entrancing variations like 'Starry Eyes', blue petals lined with white edges.  These are lovely but so delicate they have not persisted in my garden.  There is even a native tiny forget-me-not, Myosotis laxa, only 4-16" tall and with tiny blue flowers fading yellow, in the famed spiral Borage scorpiod inflorescence toward the left corner, and fuzzy leaves.  Blogspot keeps turning this photo on its ear, arghh.  The tiny flowers are a deeper blue/yellow than pictured.  Cute.
Myosotis laxa
Another tiny native Borage that makes a vine with tiny oakleaf-like incised leaves, is Nemophila parviflora, with tiny white cup-shaped blossoms
Nemophila parviflora
But a woodland ground  cover of a larger size can also be found, capable of carpeting expanses of cool woodland floors, Hydrophyllum tenuipes, the Pacific waterleaf, here show with flower buds in a fuzzy ball.

Hydrophyllum tenuipes
Finally, there is the largest of the native Borages in my yard, which can attain 3-5' in height, crowned with one-sided coiled inflorescences that are intensely fuzzy with inconspicuous greenish flowers with protruding stamens.  They won't be in bloom for a while, this is the plant at this date, if you saw the bloom you would understand the common name, the Shade Scorpionweed.

Phacelia nemoralis
  I have a couple more Borage family members that I'm growing from seed but haven't seen blooming yet, Anchusa azurea, and Alkanet officinale which get 3-4' tall and 2' tall, with more blue flowers.  I'm also growing the house plant Heliotrope from seed, they are doing well so far but far from blooming.

So, a successful group of plants, very useful in the War on Weeds.  And a source of a rare garden color, true blue.  One of my pet peeves, have you noticed how often plant breeders try to breed the color blue into plants that just don't have the genetic potential for the color, like daylilies, and call various shades of magenta "blue" as though all of us are colorblind.  LOL


© Weeding on the Wild Side, all rights reserved. Any material copied must link back to this website,

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Serendipity Happens: a Weeding Discovery

I couldn't believe my eyes!  Life is full of surprises, and in addition to enjoying working out in all that fresh air, doing 2 hours of weeding on the bed pictured in my Paradise lost post, I made a fun discovery.  In removing several years of spent Himalayan blackberry vines and a tangle of the native Trailing blackberry, Rubus ursinus, and some hanging branches of the Western Red Cedar, I found some of the expected dwarf Cascade Oregon Grapes, and a nice clump of Salal, which had winding through it a number of vines (!) of the native Orange Honeysuckle, Lonicera ciliosa, aka the Western Trumpet Honeysuckle.  I had been wanting this choice native honeysuckle for several years, because hummingbirds would love it, and here it was in my backyard all the time!   And in addition I generated another pile of branches and vines to run through the chipper (free mulch!), including the Cedar branches, which always release a heady cloud of heavenly perfume as the leaves are chipped.  And here is the finished bed after weeding-
Here is the nice Honeysuckle, a cluster of blooms in a leafy bowl created by the last 2 leaves joined
in a disk.   Even this plant is supposed to have edible berries, though I haven't tried them..... yet.

Here's the nice clump of Salal, Gaultheria shallon.  It's native, and has a berry that is edible even raw-
it helps to be hungry- created to be healthy eating, with a nice complement of anti-oxidants from the dark purple pigments- anthocyanins, like Oregon Grape, though not tasty like a blueberry, and can make a dense 3' growth that can overrun the more delicate Cascade Oregon Grape and Trilliums.

The trick is keeping the Trailing Blackberry, aka Vegetable Barbed Wire, from just growing back over all the plants, not to mention the Himalayan blackberry.  At least it is nice to have weeds that make a tasty berry too.  The Western Trumpet Honeysuckle has been rated 2 out of 5 for food uses and medicinal uses by the database, Plants for a Future .   The Pacific Northwest proves once again to be a great place to garden!


© Weeding on the Wild Side, all rights reserved. Any material copied must link back to this website,

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Progress in No-weed Beds

Here is a sample bed I'm working on, one of my worst weed-infested beds since it is next to the lawn full of unscrupulous grasses knowing no boundaries and giving no quarter.  I initially killed the grasses and weeds in this bed with newspaper and black plastic, and this lasted for a while but the main plants in the bed were too vertical, like irises and daylilies, and some fig trees, and there was not enough ground coverage so the grasses invaded again.  This first bed had a second newspaper treatment over winter and is partially bare enough to allow planting some new plants that should give better leaf coverage, some hollyhocks.

The next photo is of an area where some Columbines and Figwort are already growing and competing with the grasses for coverage.

This bed, solidly planted for several years, has attained nearly no-weed status, with early spring bloom from Hellebores and species Tulip batalinii Bright Gem, and tree Peonies, and summer bloom from hardy Geraniums-

And along the driveway under some Red Cedars, I planted sword ferns, and variegated Vinca minor 'illumination', but the grey-green clumps of Rose Campion, Lychnis coronaria, sowed themselves in a row that will burst into deep hot pink blooms later in summer.

A sloped bed that is a work in progress, also winter-killed with newspapers, has Lady's Mantle that had self-sown elsewhere and been transplanted, a native Shade Phacelia nemoralis, and a favorite ground cover and edible salad plant, Corn Salad, which will self-sow and grows in the winter.  There is still a little grass but it is slowly being crowded out.
This bed was an attempt at a grey-green themed bed, with Festuca, Irises, and Alpine Pinks along the front. 
The pinks looked great the next year, but were slowly invaded and overgrown with grass...
This is the right side of the bed (note irises along front), and has been taken over on the left side by a lovely bed of Sheep Sorrel, which can be eaten in moderation in salads and was very nice in late fall and also in early spring but is now going to seed.  An Amber Ghost Japanese maple is in the center, surrounded by Heucheras of various leaf colors.  A Wormwood plant lends some grey-green to the right, and the wild Dovesfoot Cranesbill, Geranium molle, is behind the irises.
Some contrast of the Amber Ghost foliage and Crimson Curls Heuchera-
And another Heuchera with silvery accents, Hollywood.
Lastly, a view of our front bank, which used to be a mess of grasses and weeds that I had to weed-whack, but I planted ground cover Comfrey grandiflorum, Geranium macrorrhizum, Hypericum calycinum, and some Sword Ferns, and let them fight it out, and there are massive Rosa Rugosas at the top of the bank which bloom profusely in spring.

Kind of a divide and conquer strategy.  Weed replacement takes a lot of strategy, because it is a battle, millions of them against one of me and my hopefully growing army of successful (invasive, self-sowing, native) plants.  Win a few, lose a few.  If one plant doesn't succeed, what's next?


© Weeding on the Wild Side, all rights reserved. Any material copied must link back to this website,