Free Plants (aka Volunteers)

My husband and I had a slight disagreement this summer about this lovely plant:

This borage appeared behind the trellis our kiwi plant is on and grew to an impressive height, flowering for the last part of the summer. I enjoyed the small blue flowers and fuzzy foliage, and felt ambitious for growing herbs (even though I neither planted nor harvested it).

My husband put up with its sprawling growth habit and generally unkempt appearance for a couple of months before he looked me in the eyes and said, "I think that's a weed." Since we were cleaning up the garden anyway, I pulled it out. But I have to admit that I secretly hope it dropped a few seeds, and that we'll see it again next year!


  1. Well, based on my experience, you are both right re borage (Borago officinalis) and you have a good chance of debating its merits again next year: it reseeds prolifically. Ernest Small’s bible 'Culinary Herbs' (National Research Council of Canada Research Press 1997) has an extensive write up on borage if you want to marshal some factoids.

    I’d agree that borage is way too disheveled to put one in the running for Edmonton’s ‘Front Yard in Bloom’ awards, but I kind of like its ‘Little House of Horrors’ look. Bees, especially bumblebees here, love it and reputedly honeybees make a superior honey from borage. The young leaves, before the hairs get too prickly, do have a cucumbery taste and the blue star of petals adds some colour to a salad. With a name like ‘officinalis’, of course, one knows that the plant has been used as an herbal remedy. Small’s book reviews the various known constituents of borage including the good (e.g. gamma-linolenic acid) and the bad (e.g. erucic acid – breeding this out of rapeseed gave us canola).

    An added advantage of borage is that when the Painted Lady Butterlies (Vanessa cardui) make one of their rare, northward migrations into Edmonton (last one was 2005), their caterpillars love it too. Of course, not everyone is delighted with having spiny black caterpillars eating their plants (they hammered the lupines and yarrow too), but we try to retain our child-like wonder for the bugs as we age (my wife and I are in perfect agreement on the merits of both borage and bugs).

    However, I’ll confess that while I let borage fight over the corners of the backyard with California poppy and other self-seeding annuals, I tend to weed it from the front. This summer, when borage popped up all over the line of new bulb beds that I put in along the front yard margin (improved with soil moved from the back yard), it looked pretty untidy. I let it go for awhile, but eventually weeded it out. It weeds very easily (with gloves) and transplants moderately well.

  2. I planted borage on purpose this year, but I put it toward the back of the vegetable garden. It is disheveled, but I love the pretty blue flowers. I plant it for the bees and as an aphid attractant. It gives food form my ladybugs before my other plants are infected - at least that is the hope. It doesn't always work.


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