Self-seeding herbs

Live and let live in the garden

Many flowering herbs do have a tendency to set seed, often in the most unlikely places. In my garden, I believe in letting seedlings stay where they are until I can identify them!

Wall herbs

wall herb robert

Herb robert, Geranium Robertianum, readily self-seeds into cracks in the wall, and was traditionally used for toothache, nosebleeds and healing wounds.

Herbs in the veg patch

There is a lot of bare soil in my veg patch in early spring, and a few herbs have been known to colonise it!

Milk thistle

milk thistle herb foliage

Milk thistle, Silybum marianum leaves are very distinctive, and this herb self-seeded its way from someone else’s garden into my veg patch – presumably via a bird! I live on the South Coast of the UK, and it is thought to be a native of this area although it has naturalised in various places around the World. Milk thistle is cultivated as an alternative medicine associated with protection of the liver, although clinical trials are ongoing.

medicinal milk thistle

Chamomile flowers

chamomile herb flowers with kale

Chamomile comes up every year in my garden in among the kale and I’m pleased to see it, drying the flowers for tea year-round. This variety of Chamomile flower is Matricaria recutita (syn. M. chamomilla), known as German or blue chamomile.

Herb flowers

borage calendula flowers

Borage and marigold both seed themselves around happily. I leave the borage or starflower, Borago officinalis to flower wherever it germinates and use it fresh from the plant as a decoration on summer punch. Current scientific investigations include its use as an anti-inflammatory. Seeds of the pure white strain of this flower are now commercially available, but I personally prefer the more common vivid blue seen here.

My pot marigolds, Calendula officinalis predictably self-seeded themselves in a pot, so I rescued them, using them as an edging plant for my vegetables. I dry the calendula flowers and petals and add them to potpourri. The petals are a bright additive to salads, but in the American Civil War and World War I, calendula flowers were used when dressing wounds to promote healing.

Fennel in the borders

bronze fennel flowers pollinators

Pollinators such as hoverflies love fennel flowers, Foeniculum vulgare, because they form a flat landing pad. I very much enjoyed a talk by Herb Society President Toby Buckland recently, in which he pointed out that fennel secretes a chemical which deters the growth of nearby plants. This plant was self-seeded in the border, so I soon had my husband onto the job of weeding it out (see below)!

Fennel has an aniseed flavour and can be eaten as a vegetable or herb, and the seeds make a pleasant tea which refreshes the digestive system.

aromatic fennel leaves

Spot herb seedlings

There are many more self seeding herbs including lavender (especially if grown in gravel), marjoram (it grows in cracks in my patio), and lemon balm to name just a few. So don’t be too quick with the hoe, you might be missing an opportunity!

Read more about herbs in my Sussex garden

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Bowood House Garden Festival

Emphasis on Herbs at Bowood

Last weekend was Bowood House garden festival in Wiltshire. It is one of two garden festivals organised by Herb Society President Toby Buckland, the other one being Powderham in Devon. Bowood is a grade I listed Georgian country house with interiors by Robert Adam and gardens designed by Capability Brown. The large event boasted over a hundred stalls, and speakers including James Wong, Anne Swithinbank and Roy Lancaster.

bowood house

Plant stalls in front of Bowood House, Wiltshire

The Herb Society stand

peter depledge bowood toby barbara

L-R Volunteer Carrie Pakenham,  Chairman Barbara Depledge and President Toby Buckland. Photo courtesy Peter Depledge.

herb society stand bowood

The Herb Society stand

The Herb Society stall was very well attended, thanks to Toby’s cheerful and persistent promotion throughout the weekend! As well as membership information and herbal expertise, toiletries by Littlecote and our friends at Cooks Lane Herbs were available to buy, as well as Elizabethan potpourri and lavender bags from Daisy Gifts Ltd.

The stall was run by Barbara and Peter Depledge, who would like to thank volunteers Kathryn Flegg and her daughter Ellen, Janet Turner, Liz Tomlin and Carrie Pakenham for all their hard work over the weekend.

The Herb Society would like to welcome all the new members who joined at the show and received our new welcome pack. We look forward to meeting you again soon!

Herbs in the Speakers Marquee

Inside the speakers marquee, Toby gave a very interesting talk on herbs, kindly plugging Herb Society membership in the process. He followed Jim Buttress (BBC Big Allotment Challenge judge) onto the stage.

preparing for talk

L-R: Toby preparing for his talk; Jim Buttress signing autographs

toby promoting herb society

Toby kindly promoting the Herb Society before his talk

I learned many things in Toby’s talk – nuggets such as: fennel gives off a hormone deterring other plants; Stephenson’s Rocket was named after the herb; add sweet cicely when cooking rhubarb to reduce the amount of sugar needed; use hairy mint in your mojito; herbs flavour intensify when you reduce watering; grow sunflowers to break up clay soil, and finally – how not to confuse parsley with hemlock!

More Herb Stalls

herb stalls bowood

Clockwise from top left: Jeanette, Malcolm, Kirsty

I was pleased to meet Jeanette from Blackdown Hills Lavender who had a fabulous stand full of lavender bags and treats, and won a trophy for Best Hat in Show! It’s always a pleasure to catch up with Malcolm at Hooksgreen Herbs, who had a large stand full of very healthy looking herbs. It was lovely to meet Kirsty from Devonshire Lavenders and Herbs, who had an impressive range too, and had very much enjoyed exhibiting at Powderham a few weeks before.

herb growers

Elsewhere around the show

around bowood garden festival

Clockwise from top left: fab willow sculpture by Clare and Alec Turner at In Clover; plant a pot with the kids; me enjoying a glass of Buckland’s fizz; sweet Williams for sale; flower stand by Sara and Saffron of myflowerpatch.co.uk and bath-flowers.com; strawberries and clotted cream

herbs garden festival

Herbs dominate the stage at Bowood House garden festival

Thanks Toby for a great show!

Flowering herbs in my garden | Summer

Memories of Summer herbs

Now we are into November, and Autumn is truly upon us, I’m enjoying looking back at a Summer of flowers in my Sussex garden.

borders with herbs in my back garden

My back garden – bronze fennel, roses and geraniums, golden hop and self-seeded cerinthe.

The term ‘herb’ is pleasingly general

I look around my garden and see many plants which have been of use to previous generations. It’s lovely to find that plants I have grown for their decorative nature can also be put to good use in times of need. Saponaria used as a herbal detergent in my previous post is a good example.

Self-seeded herbs

borage herb hammock

Self-seeded borage herbs flowering in the veg plot of my summer garden. I often use it as a cucumbery addition to Pimms and fruit punch – I hear you can freeze it into ice cubes too – perfect for a G&T !

self seeded herbs

Marjoram self-seeded in the cracks on my patio – I hang the flowers in small bunches to dry for potpourri making. The borage in my veg patch produced a second generation this year and was joined by self-seeded evening primrose and geraniums.

Making herb tea

herbs growing in my garden mint

I grow mint in pots in my garden to stop it spreading. I make tea from the fresh leaves. When it starts flowering I cut it back to encourage new leafy growth. I do the same with my lemon balm although the flowers aren’t so eyecatching.

lavender herbs in pots

Mint is not the only herb I like to grow in pots. I grow three plants of lavender for tea in zinc florist buckets with holes drilled in the bottom. Of course lavender flowers can be dried and stored for use year round. If I remember rightly this variety is Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’.

My favourite roses and geraniums

I love making potpourri from flowers in my garden. Rose petals add fragrance and colour in shades of pink, while hardy geraniums are not particularly fragrant but do dry to pleasing shades of blue and purple. I used my favourite Rosa Mundi petals amongst others in my potpourri recipes for Herbs magazine September issue*.

roses geraniums

Clockwise from top left: Rosa mutabilis varies in shade between dark and light pink; Geranium palmatum is bigger with more decorative leaves than most species; Rosa mundi has a long history in this country, prettily striped flowers and a great fragrance; a bee visiting geranium x magnificum.

See what herbs were flowering in my garden in Spring

*Herbs is the journal of the Herb Society and is published quarterly. Download our membership leaflet top right of this page to find out about joining.