Pre-spring in the garden brings out some of my favorite blue-colored flowers. In addition to the regular irises and two kinds of bluebells (Scilla), the garden is currently loaded with volunteer borage plants (Borago officinalis) and the two big patches of evansia irises (Iris japonica).
Lots of stuff is starting to flower, but it seems that most of the blue flowers come on strong before the heat hits. We’ll have agapanthus and plumbago flowering later on, and the forget-me-nots will in the shade bloom into summer, but the blue-flower show is particularly strong right now.
Photo by Rick Gush
The evansia irises are particularly striking. Also called crested irises, these plants originated in China but are now planted all around the world in temperate and subtropical areas. This iris grows as an attractive weed in many areas of Italy. The plants growing in constantly expanding clumps are so aggressive they smother everything in their expansion path. The non-stiff, bright-green leaves look nice growing on a slope because all the leaves hang down like a green waterfall. The stems of the irises rise above the leaves, with six or more flowers on each stem as if clouds of pale-blue mist rising from the cascade. The individual flowers are nicely exotic, with a bunch of colorful purple and yellow spots on the petals. The irises in my garden now number in the hundreds, and they are all from a few plants I took from a friend’s yard 10 years ago. I like remembering my friend every time I see how well the irises are growing here.
The evansia iris’s co-star, wild borage, is usually wild. Borage seems to be an early colonizer of any cultivated ground. This means I have the sad task every year of eliminating a lot of beautiful borage plants as I prepare the spring planting areas. The good news, though, is that borage is delicious, and we get to eat all the borage I’m forced to remove.
The season for borage is pretty long, too, and we’ll have new plants sprouting until the hot months of summer. If left alone, borage will survive well into the summer, though the tender new shoots are best for eating in the spring. We eat borage leaves and flower clusters, sometimes cooked into vegetable pies in combination with other greens, like spinach and wild beet greens, and in soups. When I’m lucky, my female Italian relatives will make a few batches of ravioli with a borage-and-cheese filling. I like to leave a lot of borage in the garden because I’ve heard that it’s a good companion plant, and I do know that tomato hornworms can get confused and lay their eggs on borage plants instead of the tomatoes.