Jane McLeod: Borage provides some character in the garden

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Instead of a flowering herb plant tucked into your garden that is princess pretty, how about one that is hairy and strange looking? One that has some character.

Borage (Borago officinalis) fits that description — a tall hairy-leaved annual with striking, black-centered, deep blue flowers. It is the flowers that will grab your attention, though the leaves don’t exactly disappear into the background.

Borage is a native of the Mediterranean and was taken by the Romans to many parts of Europe where it quickly became naturalized. It arrived on our shores brought by the early settlers. True to its heritage, borage prefers a sunny setting but is not fussy about the soil as long as the drainage is good. The plants, 12 to 18 inches high, get top heavy and will droop. Borage will grow anywhere and everywhere, and once you have sown borage, you don’t ever have to be without it, for it readily seeds itself and comes up in the most unexpected places. The seeds are largish, dark brown, tri-sided and lozenge shaped. The dark gray-green, oval-pointed leaves are covered with prickly white hairs as are the stems. If you grow more than one plant, thin them out to remove any plants that will mask others from the light. Cut the plants back after flowering and remove any dead leaves.

This herb has a very old reputation as a bringer of courage. Some say its name comes from the old Celtic name borrach, which means courage, or from the Latin cor ago, meaning “I stimulate the heart.” Consequently, there is a tremendous amount of lore attached to the plant and especially its flowers. This plant is truly all about the flowers — small, brilliant blue, five-petalled stars, with black stamen tips that nod downward in delicate drooping clusters at the tip of the stem. Lore denotes these flowers were chosen for their color by the Old Masters to paint the Madonna’s robe. The strange but attractive flowers also were a very popular motif embroidered on fine medieval tapestries, on scarves for tournament jousters, strung as a necklace, infused as a drink before jousting tournaments and even floated in cups given to departing Crusaders.

A borage plant can be a conversation piece in your garden. It’s a strong growing beauty that whatever the weather will continue to bloom for many months reminding you of its ancient heritage and donating an aura of courage from its beautiful blue blooms to get you through your day.

Jane McLeod is a master gardener through the CSU Extension office in Routt County. Call 970-879-0825 with questions.

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