LOOK GOOD, TASTE GREAT Chive buds about to bloom
Using herbs in the flower garden
Herbs can provide an interesting addition to the flower bed and also have the benefit of being edible and useful for flavouring and cooking food. Herbs also have highly aromatic and colourful flowers and foliage and many herbs are perennial and will come back each year needing little attention, so they are a boon in the garden.
Planted in a large drift they will quickly establish and cover the ground, crowding out weeds. Bergamot, chives, golden marjoram, bronze fennel, lavender, rosemary, sage and parsley are just some of the herbs that can be used to effect in the border.
Chives grow to 18 inches and provide a structural element in a large planting and look well with pink roses or equally well with orange geums.
The purple-blue pom pom heads are flowering now and will last throughout May.
When the plants finish flowering, they can be cut down to 3 inches and will come again with a second flush of flowers in late summer. Chives grow well from seed and the clumps need to be divided every few years to rejuvenate the plants.
The flowers taste great and look good in salads and the chive leaves make a perfect addition to potato salad, omelettes and recipes calling for scallions.
Lavender (Munstead varieties) also complements roses and when fully grown will hide the spindly lower parts of rose bushes. The lavender flowers attract hover flies, which come for the pollen and nectar. They will also hoover up aphids and help to protect the rose from attack.
Lavender is more difficult to grow from seed but very easy to grow from cuttings taken from woody stems in august.
Lavender flowers picked before they open can be dried, put into little cloth bags and inserted into the pillow case to encourage a good night’s sleep for the restless child or adult.
Bergamot, or Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), grows to three feet. It provides a vivid red colour in August with long-lasting flowers. Bergamot will grow equally well in sun or shade and attracts bees as well as a wide variety of moths and butterflies.
It makes a great soothing tea (Oswego) and was used by the early pilgrims who learned its uses from native Americans. The flowers dry well, retaining their bright colour and are a major constituent of pot-pourri. The plant spreads readily in good soil and can be propagated by division of the clumps in the spring.
Striking structural herbs
Angelica and Bronze Fennel are striking plants that provide structure in the border – both growing to four to five feet. Angelica Archangelica is a native of Lapland and so is a good choice for our climate. The leaves are a bright green colour and the flowers are white umbels (like upturned umbrellas) and if left over winter look good encased in hoar frost on an icy day. It is a biennial taking up to three years to flower so it is best to buy potted plants.
The stems of angelica are candied for confectionery use but they are also good when cooked with rhubarb as they reduce the need for lots of sugar. It is also recommended as an aid for digestion in old remedy books.
Bronze Fennel is easy to grow and provides an attractive foil to the golden autumn colours of Nasturtium, Crocosmia, Euphorbia and Knautia Macedonica. The leaves are airy and ferny and though it appears to be delicate it is a hardy plant. The white flowers form umbels similar to angelica and wild parsley. It is best treated as an annual plant here in the west of Ireland although in many locations it will reappear each year. Both the leaves and the seeds are used in cooking – especially in fish dishes and the seeds are used to chew to sweeten the breath and the digestion.
Garden tasks for May
- Prune back the old woody stems of spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia and lilac to one third. Younger stems produce better flowers.
- Plant hardy annual flowers to fill the gaps created by the loss of plants to last winter’s frosts. These can include cosmos, candytuft, cornflower and nasturtium.
- Feed shrubs with organic chicken pellets.
- Summer bedding can be planted out now but watch for frost warnings first. If planting in a border make sure that the soil is well watered first and don’t plant out on a very hot day as this will cause young plants to wilt.
Patsy O’Sullivan is a founding member of Ballinrobe Garden Club, which meets on the first Tuesday of the month at 7.30pm in Gannon’s Hotel in Ballinrobe. The club’s next meeting is tonight, and Jimmy Morley of Morley’s Garden Centre will give a talk on ‘Growing and using Herbs in the Garden and Home’. New members are welcome.