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How to grow Borage

How to grow Borage: Article first published in Grow Your Own Magazine September 2015

My vegetable garden is a beautiful rambling polyculture where edible and beneficial plants happily co-exist. Bee friendly plants, edible flowers and aromatic companions happily nestle alongside my perennial and annual vegetables. This way of growing helps deter pests, maximizes your growing space and leaves less bare earth for the weeds – occupied by useful plants instead.
I first started growing the medicinal herb Borage, Borago Officinalis for its amazing vivid sky blue clusters of star shaped edible flowers to add to my salads.

The vibrant flowers have a faint taste of cucumber and can be used all summer long and well into the autumn. Growing up to about 3ft tall and 2ft wide, bristly light green stems and crinkled oval leaves up to 6 inches in length extend into furry stalks and buds with little constellations of flowers. It is a great companion plant, attracting pollinators, ideal next to your squash and strawberries and thought to enhance the flavour of your tomatoes.

Borage is a hardy annual originating in Syria and the Mediterranean and loves rich, well-drained soil and a sheltered, sunny position. You can start Borage off indoors in pots as early as February and transplant out when the risk of frost has passed but it much prefers to be sown directly with two or three seeds sown together with a light covering of soil.

After a direct sowing in April, you will soon see the first distinctive and welcoming pairs of leaves emerge and within 10 weeks you will be able to harvest your first crop of Borage flowers. It is a great idea to sow a few times over the summer to ensure a successional harvest and a late summer sowing will give you flowers right through to late Autumn. Dead-heading extends the flowering period, but once the plants have matured they start to get a bit unwieldy and this is the time to lift them.

Being a relative of Comfrey, Borage not only gives you beautiful edible flowers but is a great mineral accumulator too. Loaded with Potash and Nitrogen, the lifted plants make a great addition to the compost heap. I also make a liquid feed from my spent Borage plants by chopping them up, placing them in an old onion net bag and suspending in a large covered dustbin of water. Although the smell is unholy, diluted in a watering can this is a free super food for your other plants, especially for fruiting and flowering crops.

One sowing of Borage is usually enough to establish it in your garden or veg patch as it will freely self-seed and in subsequent years you will see colonies emerging at different times. Although you might find seedlings in places you never expected, they are easily lifted or can be hoed in to the soil if you find yourself being barraged by Borage!

Borage flowers are amazing to add to your summer salads, try them as a colourful contrast to the petals of Calendula, Nasturtium and Viola. Toss them into fruit platters, cooling punches and freeze them into different shaped ice cubes. Crystallized, they look beautiful on cakes and puddings. The young leaves are edible too, with a hint of cucumber and green melon and finely chopped or blanched can be used like a green vegetable in lots of dishes. Later sowings are best for more tender bristle free leaves.

“Thanks for everything, the info sheet was great. I planted the cuttings the day they arrived and have just multi sown the 9 star in seed trays. All very exciting, we’re now planning our perennial area.”

“You are right, perennial kale is fantastic! Thanks so much for the cuttings. I am a convert to having a corner of perpetual kale in the patch!”

“As the evening sun back lit the plants at Incredible Vegetables, I felt I was standing in one of the most important gardens of our time. Wildflowers working alongside an abundance of edimentals and perennial vegetables. A ‘food glade’ to rival the aesthetic of our greatest plant designers.”

– Jon Davies, garden designer, London Glades –

“I love your website and the work you’re doing. What you’re doing is exiting, useful, and one day will help to replace and enhance what human kind has damaged.With that our natural friends will return and we’ll be better for it.”

“Mandy, thank you. I am delighted with this plant – it is so strong and healthy and exceptionally well packaged – all done with loving care obviously. I shall look forward to having more plants from you.”

“Plants all arrived lovely and are growing well. I just wanted to say i was very impressed with the quality of the cuttings.. and its been a pleasure dealing with you. And I look forward to any purchases in the future.”

“The kale cuttings you sent survived the winter and are thriving. Thank you Mandy Barber you are the super hero of edibles, loving your work!!”

“I bought some Skirret seed’s off you last year. Well they grew and yesterday some got cooked and this message is just to say, they were delicious. Looking forward to a lot more next year. Thank you.”

“The Taunton Dean cuttings arrived a short while ago and never have I seen healthier looking cuttings! They are now firmly ensconced in some nice compost and are having a good drink. I even loved the packaging, which will be composted.”

“Hi I just wanted to let you know that I sowed half of my Caucasian spinach seeds and every single one grew, absolutely amazed, thanks for the seeds and keep up the good work.”

“Just to let you know that the lovely healthy looking plants arrived. Your plants are simply outstanding, every single tuber and plant are growing amazingly.”

“The plants arrived safely, I did not expect such magnificent specimens! I didn’t think I would be successful at stratification etc but I now have a whole bunch of Hablitzia seedlings sprouting after following your excellent advice.”

“Just to say, the Daubentons Kale is in the ground and looking well – thanks to the lovely damp compost encasing its roots…you do a good job at your end, I can tell by the way you package. Will be back for more of your wonderful perennials.”

“Thank you so much for all the vegetables, they really are incredible. I’m sure I’ve never before seen a healthier rootball than the one that arrived with our happy looking daubentons kale, and seeds and tubers are thriving thanks to all the useful information provided.”

“Thank you so much for sending such wonderful, healthy and very large plants. They are beautiful !! You packaged them so well and they arrived so quickly – I couldn’t get to the post office till the following day but they were absolutely fine. They’re now potted up and sitting in my ‘cold’ greenhouse while they adjust.”

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