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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


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