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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Visit Plantasia at Kew for Herb Heaven

Herb information in abundance at Plantasia

I visited Kew in the first week of June with friends, not realising that Plantasia was on. It’s a really informative project, with signage everywhere, explaining the usefulness of a variety of plants.

Experience the life-enhancing power of plants at the Kew Gardens Summer Plantasia Festival until 7 September 2014.

Of course we made a bee-line for the glasshouses, and the herb garden was a must.

kew glasshouse

Kew glasshouses

 

The herb garden at Kew

Although of a manageable size, the herb garden was packed with informative signs, not just about individual plants, but also the uses of herbs, such as traditional strewing herbs and herbs thought to ward off the plague in times past.

Kew garden herb borders

Kew garden herb borders

 Many wayside flowers have had herbal uses

These common flowers were all thought to have their uses:

cranesbill herb info

Cranesbill with herb info sign

According to the sign, Geranium pratense was known by Gerard as Crowfoote cranesbill, and in 1597 he wrote:
“Cranesbill with the Blew Flower is an excellent thing to heale wounds.”

oxeye daisy  herb info

Oxeye daisy info sign

Leucanthemum vulgare or Oxeye daisy:
“The juice, decoction, or distilled water, is drunke to a very good purpose against the rupture or any inward burstings.” Gerard 1597

Personally, inward burstings are not something I think about on a daily basis!

bistort herb info

Bistort plant info

Polygonum bistorta or Snakeweed:
“Both the leaves and the rootes of Bistort have a powerfull facultie to resist all poyson.”
Parkinson 1640

The bumblebees were working in force when we visited. They loved the Salvia officinalis inside the herb garden, and also the lavender beds in the adjoining Queens garden.

Kew bumblebees on herbs

Bumblebees on sage and lavender

 Outside the Herb garden

Wandering elsewhere around Kew, we came across many more information points, for example Houttuynia cordata was signposted in the borders as being a plant of much importance to Chinese medicine, having antibacterial properties.

houttuynia cordata plant info

Houttuynia cordata herbal properties

As part of Plantasia, there was even a gin bar serving a selection of botanical alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, with recipes to try at home.

around Kew

Candelebra primulae and refreshments at Kew gardens

A variety of useful plants are featured in this festival: find out more about them on the Kew Gardens website.

 

Chelsea Physic Garden

A Garden of Many Medicinal Plants

A couple of weeks ago I was in London for a visit to Westminster Abbey Gardens with the Herb Society London Group, and took the opportunity to continue the herb theme with a trip to Chelsea Physic Garden. It has been in the press recently with the unveiling of the new Garden of Medicinal Plants, so perfect timing for my first visit.

herbs in the medicinal garden

The Garden of Medicinal Plants with a flowering Judas tree, lots of herbs and many informative displays

What a friendly place! I was greeted warmly and had a quick look round before the next optional tour was due to start. I had wondered if I had sufficient attention span after touring the Abbey gardens in the morning, but I’m glad I did. I picked up so much more of interest by listening to our guide Marion (a volunteer) than I would have otherwise.

The short dictionary definition of a herb is “any plant with leaves, seeds, or flowers used for flavouring, food, medicine, or perfume”, so a large proportion of the plants at Chelsea Physic Garden qualify! It is London’s oldest botanic garden, having been founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries. As well as herbs, the garden contains many trees, shrubs and plants of decorative as well as historical interest.

I arrived on Tues 29th April to find a brand new statue of Sir Hans Sloane, benefactor of the garden, ready and waiting for the official opening of the new Garden the next day. I was immediately inspired by the news that this was the man that brought drinking chocolate to the UK!

sloane statue at chelsea physic garden

The new statue with pond & peonies; across the lawn

Here are some of my favourite areas:

chelsea physic montage

L-R from top: Fortune’s tank pond; Garden of useful plants; unassuming entrance; fernery; green roof in compost area; pond & rockery; rockery detail

And some interesting plants:

flowers herbs chelsea physic garden

L-R from top: Rosa chinensis; successfully grafted mistletoe on an apple tree; handkerchief tree; Lavandula pubescens in the rockery; Iris germanica grown for orris root; red-flowered echium; tree peony

What a glorious way to spend an afternoon! Thoroughly recommended.

Find out more about Chelsea Physic Garden and the Garden of Medicinal Plants

The Gardens at Westminster Abbey

Herbs and serenity in central London

Last week, the London herb group visited Westminster Abbey with Head Gardener and Herb Society member Jan Pancheri. The gardens comprise several areas: Deans Yard; Great Cloister Garth; Little Cloister; St Catherine’s Garden, and the College Garden which contains a beautiful herb area.

outside westminster abbey

Westminster Abbey in the hustle and bustle of central London. On entering the Great Cloister, peace reigns.

little cloister

Once inside the Abbey grounds, the atmosphere is incredibly tranquil, for example in the Little Cloister

st catherines garden

St Catherine’s Garden with column bases and self seeded erigerons

college garden

Corners of the College Garden – roses planted for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee; a grape vine, and bluebells in grass

As herb enthusiasts, it was the herb garden that attracted much of our attention. It is square in shape and separated into quarters, with a central decorative circular bed planted with Rosa Mundi. The four main beds each contain vegetables; culinary herbs; medicinal herbs and dye plants. The garden was opened by the Queen in 2010, and reflects the way herbs may have been used by the Benedictine monks who lived in the Abbey centuries ago.

herb garden

The herb garden beautifully set out with willow edging – we were shown around by Jan (stripy top)

herb garden plants

Herb garden plants that caught my eye: woad; very early nasturtiums; milk thistle, and white flowered borage

greenhouse

It’s always great to see behind the scenes. Jan has a lovely corner of the College Garden for office work and propagation

It was a really enjoyable morning, and Jan was kind enough to include a visit to the Abbey’s impressive library in her tour.

Find out more about Westminster Abbey Gardens

If you are a Herb Society member and would like to join the London herb group, contact Gwenneth at garden@gbz.demon.co.uk