Proving that size isn’t everything, the Corsican mint growing between the slabs in my herb garden/patio is flowering. It’s easy to miss, but worth seeing! It has very shallow roots, so it’s easy to accidentally sweep up when you’re brushing vine leaves off the patio. Massive fail. Still, there’s plenty more. It’s not as invasive as most types of mint and it can grow in tiny spaces, so it’s perfect for planting pockets and tiny gaps. You should totally get some. Go tiny or go home!
This is a good thing! My garden is buzzing. Luckily I have the same taste in flowers as bees do so my garden has plenty to offer them.
If you’ve got some thyme, then be sure not to trim it all too much- let it flower, the bees love it.
This is Jacobs Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum), which I am growing for the first time this year. So far; no maintenance at all, the slugs have left it alone, it looks fab and the bees like it too. Winner.
I will do another update when my arms start working properly again. I’ve been swinging my 5lb mattock up at the lottie and I swear the ground is so dry it’s just bouncing off.
Summer is here and my lavender is flowering. At this time of year, my garden is full of bees making a beeline (sorry) for the lavender and geraniums.
Last night I was having a little google about bees and had a look at the fantastic website of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust.
Being unable to resist an internet quiz, I had a go at the Bee Kind gizmo. This is not one of those ‘If you were a celebrity, what flavour biscuit would your favourite animal be?’ quizzes. Tick off all the plants you have in your garden and it’ll give you a Bee Kind score. I racked up a fairly respectable 3224, above the regional average of 2248 (btw we are totally winning this, East Anglia *high five*). You’ll also get suggestions on plants to add to your garden and loads of tips for becoming more bee friendly.
My purple loosestrife and buddleia are always seriously popular and are about to flower, so I will expect even more bees very soon.
How you can help bees
Rule number one is don’t use insecticides that can kill bees! If you want to kill off pests in your garden there are loads of ways to do so without harming bees. Here are some brilliant ideas for organic pest control. If all else fails and you need to break out the pesticides then make sure they will not harm bees or other animals, other than your particular foe.
Another way to help is to add some shelter. This can be a little insect house like mine, a massive bug hotel, or just a bundle of hollow sticks hung in a shrub. Bees aren’t too fussy, as long as it’s somewhere warm and sheltered from rain and wind.
Finally, make sure you add loads of bee-friendly plants to your garden. Try to have something flowering early in spring to catch those early bumblebees. Here are some of my favourites:
Lavender (Lavandula): Every garden should have lavender. It’s beautiful, tough, and so easy to grow.
Scorpion weed (Phacelia): Much pretty than its name suggests, it’s a very easy self-seeding annual that loves bees and can also be used as green manure. Win win.
Buddleia (or Buddleja if you prefer): Not just for bees, but also for butterflies. When this flowers, you’ll forget about the weeding and just sit and watch.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare): Don’t chop it all down for your marinara sauce, let some grow up and flower.
Snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus): The ultimate lazy gardener’s favourite. They just come up and flower and the bees love them. No work involved apart from a little deadheading.
Borage (Borago officinalis): You can have a couple of the flowers for your Pimms, but leave the rest for the bees. It seeds around freely so you’ll have plenty if the slugs don’t get to it first.
Cowslip (Primula veris): Beautiful in spring, they do so well in my damp clay soil. If you’ve got other primulas then you may end up with hybrids.
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea): A beautiful native. Biennial so stagger your sowings and you’ll have flowers every year. Very tall and also poisonous so stick it at the back of your borders.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Same as Oregano, you only need to keep a bit of it trimmed for casseroles. The rest of it can flower for the bees.
Honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.): Beautiful climber, you can even get evergreen ones if you prefer. Bees love the flowers and birds love the berries.
Bugle (Ajuga reptans): Great groundcover plant with gorgeous blue flowers. Don’t let it misbehave! It can spread pretty quickly.
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria): Mine is in my pond at the moment but boggy ground is fine too. It gets tall!
Geranium (Geranium sp.): Not pelargonium, the bedding plant. The old-fashioned cottagey perennial sort of geranium. Great for hoverflies too.
Columbine, Granny’s Bonnet (Aquilegia sp.): Another cottage favourite, the thing I love most is that if you let it seed around you never know what the flowers will be like.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): The smallest of the Allium family, the leaves are great for salads and dips (try it in coleslaw!) and the flowers are great for bees.
It’s finally stopped raining long enough for me to take some photos of my herb garden and give you a quick tour. So here it is!
This is the sunniest corner of our garden, on a south facing slope. Previously there was a deck here and we wanted somewhere we could sit and eat/drink/relax surrounded by beautiful-smelling plants. We have very heavy clay soil so a lot of the herbs were in pots dotted around the garden.
I came up with the design and my husband built the pergola (from a flat pack kit we got at Asda- seriously!) and patio in Sept 2012, so this is the herb garden’s second summer.
So, here are the plants and some uses for them.
Calendula, chives, viola, creeping thyme
Calendula and viola both have edible flowers. The viola flowers can be crystallised and used in cake decorating, or you can use them fresh in drinks (my mum always freezes them in ice cubes). Calendula petals look pretty sprinkled on a salad, or you can dry them to use in icing, cake mixture or tea. The dried petals can also be added to moisturiser for their medicinal benefits. Extensive studies by me have shown that you cannot look at a calendula flower without feeling at least a little bit better about life.
Creeping thyme can be used in the same way as any other thyme, but I’m growing this because it’s filling a gap and it smells nice when you step on it.
Chives have beautiful flowers, the bees love it, and you can make sour cream and chive dip. Ace. Also they are nice added to salads if you want it a bit oniony but not overpoweringly so.
Oregano, thyme, marjoram, tarragon
Oregano and marjoram are very similar and so they’re often mixed up. I’m pretty sure the bright green stuff is O. vulgare ‘Aureum’ but I’m happy to be corrected. I use it in all kinds of Italian recipes. The marjoram (if that’s what it is) usually gets stuffed inside a chicken, alongside thyme, sage and rosemary.
Tarragon is a plant that slugs will devour overnight. This is probably my third or fourth one. It is surviving so far. Makes a good addition to cream and white wine sauce for chicken or veggie alternatives. I haven’t experimented with it yet, I want it to bulk up a bit before I start snipping bits off.
Thyme is another herb garden staple. Add it to pretty much any savoury dish. Yum. Also, bees go crazy for the flowers and I like bees.
Echinacea, feverfew, lemon thyme
This is my 3rd attempt at trying to grow Echinacea. The slugs just love it and the only flowers I’ve ever had were the ones on the original plant (RIP) when I bought it. Last year it got eaten to death so this year I replaced it with 3 cheapo ones from Poundland. Two have never showed up but the 3rd is surviving with the help of beer traps, organic slug pellets and pointy-stick patrols.
Lemon thyme has a lemon note to it and is great on its own with chicken and garlic.
Feverfew is used as a preventative for migraines. I’m a massive cynic and don’t go in for all this alternative medicine stuff unless there is convincing evidence. So, if you’re as cynical as me here is some convincing evidence. I would report back but you are meant to take it regularly and I always forget, so there’s been no difference. It doesn’t taste good but you can hide it in a cheese and pickle sandwich.
There are two species of chamomile- one is the perennial sort for growing lawns, Chamaemelum nobile. The other is an annual that grows taller, Matricaria chamomilla. This is the one I have. It seeds around, apparently everywhere except where you want it. This one’s coming up in a crack in the slabs but thanks to weeding efforts by my 3 year old, it’s the only one I have left so I’m leaving it for now. I’ll collect seeds later on in the year and sprinkle them in the beds where they won’t come up. You can dry the flowers to make lovely, lovely tea.
Apple mint, ginger mint, Moroccan mint, chocolate mint, Corsican mint
Minty minty mint. I luuuuurve mint. I very rarely actually eat any, but I like the smell. I use it for veggie ‘lamb’ dishes. We never eat any real lamb, husband doesn’t like it and I don’t eat meat any more. Moroccan mint is meant to be the best for making tea. I might make chocolate mint ice cream at some point, it’s on my to do list. Mint needs to be contained if you don’t want it taking over. Mine are all in pots except for the Corsican mint, which is in a planting pocket. Corsican mint probably isn’t any good for culinary uses because it’s so tiny, but if you’ve got gaps in a sunny patio then pleeease put some in, it smells so lovely when you walk on it and it has the cutest tiny little flowers. Ginger mint has one purpose in my garden- Pimms.
Purple sage, rosemary, hyssop
Purple sage looks and smells beautiful, so it’s a worthy addition to any herb garden, even if you never cook with it. It goes well with pork and chicken. I think it has medicinal uses too but I just use it for cooking.
Rosemary is a must have for every herb garden. It looks beautiful, it’s easy to grow and you can use it for all sorts. I keep meaning to make some rosemary water for my hair. It goes with chicken and lamb, also roast veg.
Hyssop is the newest plant in my herb garden. To be honest, I don’t know what it is for. It was a panic buy at a plant show. The girls were bored, having chosen their plants already, and were crying to go home. Somewhere in the back of my mind I had a memory that slugs won’t eat hyssop. As you can tell from this photo, they bloody do and the poor thing looks a bit sorry for itself. Ah well, it’ll settle in and it smells nice. I’ll figure out what to do with it eventually.
My kiwi vine is doing better this year. It’s a bit fussier than the nursery I got it from led me to believe. It was sold as frost hardy but it definitely benefits from wrapping up in the spring as the new leaves are very susceptible to frost. It’s also not a fan of drought as I found out last summer. So it needs a little TLC while it’s settling in. This is a dwarf (ie not 40 feet long) self-fertile variety called Issai. It’s got one little flower bud on it this year so hopefully next year we’ll have our first crop.
I grow these mainly for their scent and for their structure- I needed something tall and narrow to fill in the gap. Lovage is related to celery so has the same smell and flavour. You can use the leaves in salad and the stems chopped in soups and casseroles. Fennel is mainly used in fish dishes, which I have never eaten, so it just looks pretty. The seeds are used a lot in Indian cooking but I like it to seed around so I haven’t saved any yet.
So there it is.
There are a couple of things yet to go in- the central post has nasturtiums planted and they are just sprouting. The leaves and flowers can both be used in salads and nasturtiums are a fantastic ‘stay the chuff off my brassicas, caterpillars’ sacrificial plant. Also I have lots of little sunflowers to go along the back fence but I’m waiting until they’re bigger so they don’t just end up as slug food.
If you have any questions or tips or if you want to invite yourself round for Pimms then please leave me a comment.