Herbs Going Wild

Across the driveway from the house, behind the Crabapple tree, there is a little sunny space that I intended to use for herbs and vegetables.

DSC_0774The thing is, though, this bed is being overrun by several wonderful yet overly aggressive herbs.

DSC_0851First, there’s the Oregano (Origanum vulgare), seen above with a Painted Lady butterfly (the first we’ve seen this year in the garden). This plant is a magnet for all kinds of pollinators, including some really scary giant black wasps.

But it also harbors dark ambitions of world domination. It spreads by rhizome, creating a mat of roots so impenetrable that I generally use a pickax to break off clumps of it. And it self-sows – “freely” is really an inadequate word. I’d say it self-sows maniacally.

DSC_0664Then there’s Borage (Borago officinalis). This is a beautiful plant, I love the star-shaped blue flowers. And the bees do, too.

DSC_0674But once you have a single Borage plant, you will find Borage popping up everywhere until the last syllable of recorded time. Trying to remove Borage plants is like playing a game of whack-a-mole.

DSC_0772Last but not least, there’s the Bronze Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’). This too is a fecund self-sower, but once Fennel seedlings take hold, they put down a tap root that lives approximately forever. Fennel is a host plant for Black Swallowtail butterflies, and the flowers are popular with all kinds of pollinators.

Hold on – time for a hummingbird break!

fennel 2While Judy was taking pictures of the Bronze Fennel, this Ruby-Throated Hummingbird started feeding on the one Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) I’ve got in the Herb Bed. Judy got a couple of pictures before the hummer zipped away.

DSC_0783Anyhow, where was I? Oh, right. There are a few other plants in the Herb Bed besides the Big Three. There’s some Rue, (Ruta graveolens). I’ve never tasted Rue, but I planted it because it’s a host for Red Admiral butterflies. If you look carefully in the picture above, you’ll see a Black Swallowtail checking out the Rue flowers.

clematisThere’s also the ‘Multi-Blue’ Clematis on the tuteur, which continues to put out the occasional flower.

Finally, there are some Tomato and Basil plants – but to be honest, these have almost disappeared from view. I have no idea how they are doing.

DSC_0857But that’s not such a terrible problem, as my container herbs and Tomatoes on the back steps are looking pretty good. We’ve been using the Mint, Basil, and Parsley from the containers – and it’s really nice to have them right outside the door near the kitchen.

tomHere’s a closeup of some green ‘Patio’ tomatoes.

DSC_0863And these are ‘Juliet’ grape tomatoes.

Judy did not seem concerned when I told her that the Herb Bed was getting out of control. Maybe she’s right – a bed filled with Bronze Fennel and Borage might not be such a bad thing. So perhaps I will let it go mostly wild. Certainly, the bees and Black Swallowtails would be happy. Though I think I need to cut back the Fennel flowers before they set seed.

The Oregano, though – don’t think I want that monster to take over. I might dig all of it up and just grow a small amount in a pot from now on.

What do you think – am I asking for trouble if I unleash the Borage and Bronze Fennel?

44 Comments on “Herbs Going Wild

  1. You’re right about the pollinators loving oregano–it’s the same in my garden, so many different bees and butterflies love those little blooms. I think you should let that herb garden rip! Great photos, especially of the hummingbird. I’ve had absolutely no luck getting photos of mine this year.

    • The photo of the hummer is Judy’s, of course. The timing was unusually good, it was right there while she was taking pics of other stuff.

  2. What a hilarious post, Jason! Herb-wise (in my humble opinion) you are playing with fire if you let the bronze fennel seed. My neighbor’s bronze fennel is my nemesis. My neighbor is decidedly NOT a gardener, but he added the aforementioned fennel three years ago, to my eternal consternation as it seeds like a son-of-a-gun into my garden. I know what you mean about Oregano. I had to practically pick-ax a clump of prostrate chartreuse Oregano out prior to our backyard project two years ago. It was in for the long haul and I worried about the surrounding plants as I hauled it out. But I know – the pollinators!

    • I’ll take your warning about the fennel under advisement. I just cut back some of the flowers to keep them from going to seed.

  3. Oregano is taking over my garden too, so I know what you mean about its designs on world domination. I’ve been considering adding bronze fennel to my garden, but hmm….maybe not such a good idea.

  4. I had to laugh when you said there are some tomato and basil plants in that bed somewhere – no sign of them on the photos! 😉 I love the Oregano too, as well as borage and fennel. My fennel died last winter and I really miss it. It’s strange, but things just rarely seed themselves in my garden, except the Aquilegias! Maybe the conditions aren’t right for seedlings to get going. Borage is easy enough to pull up of it appears in the wrong place, so I say, let the herbs run wild!

  5. Some plants have no boundaries, just like some people I know. But we let them stay in our lives. So I’ve decided to let the lamium grow where it wants. I’d do the same with the oregano.

  6. The herb garden is beautiful! I have an oregano plant, but (so far) it has stayed about the same size. I’ve had it for about 2 years.

  7. The Bronze Fennel is easy to control IF you don’t let it set seed. I wish I had that trouble with borage. I have yet to keep it alive. hmmmmmm

  8. I have a borage plant from a friend’s garden. It’s a piece of her garden that is now in mine. I love it. We planted our window boxes with herbs, and they are only doing okay. afraid of mint going crazy, so I’m okay with the containment. Love your herb garden-strong and thriving.

  9. If you could isolate the herb bed in the middle of a big lawn, I would say let it be. But having battled mint, lemon balm, catnip, and oregano, I would be circumspect about what you let run wild. My oregano is now in a container, as is some mint. Hmmm – now I am wondering if I should situate an herb bed in the middle of my front lawn….

    • I already keep mint in containers only. Thinking of doing the same for oregano, even if I let the fennel and borage run.

  10. You must have the wrong oregano, but my oregano is not that aggressive. Not at all! It grows more like a tussock (correct word?). I purposely seeded borage this year. Yes, next year I will also have a problem.
    I don’t like lemon balm or estragon!
    What would a garden be without all those black box plants?

  11. Had to look for the translation first. 🙂
    Didn’t know that there are hummingbirds in Chicago!
    Maybe I always went to the wrong gardens?

    • There aren’t a lot of hummingbirds and they are easy to miss. We plant lots of flowers that they love and we have a hummingbird feeder in the backyard, and still we don’t see them every day.

  12. I have rampaging borage in my garden and I don’t mind it at all because the bees love it and you can weed out the seedlings you don’t want. I’m careful to dead-head the fennel, though! Your description of the oregano spreading made me laugh – maybe that should go but if it’s all contained in one bed, it will hopefully stay there? Great to see the hummingbird. Lucky you.

    • Well, it would be interesting to see how the Oregano, Fennel, and Borage would interact. Would they grow up out of the Oregano or get smothered as seedlings? I guess I’m worried the Oregano would spread into other parts of the garden.

  13. I wish I had more room for edibles. Maybe I should “rearrange the furniture” at some point. It seems to me I used to get hummers more often than I have in the last two years and I can’t figure that out, I haven’t even seen a hummer moth (Sphynx) in a while. I wonder where your hummers are nesting. Great shots!

  14. I think I’d pull any seedlings that I saw outside the herb bed.
    I used to grow and sell herbs to a local market. I’d bet your favorite restaurant would love to get their hands on some really fresh herbs.

  15. Well, it looks beautiful and it tastes good, so…what more can you ask? I suppose you could clip and adjust and add a few additional herbs here and there. The potted plants look very healthy. I’m looking forward to my first fresh tomato of the growing season–the best!

  16. Ah just let it all go wild. You can always wack it back later when you’re waking round the garden with a homeless new plant that you didn’t quite figure out a location for.

  17. Leave it for the wildlife and put what you need for yourself in pots! To have beautiful butterflies and hummingbirds in your garden is more important!

  18. I like the look of your herb bed…soft and meadow looking!

  19. You have me smiling here! I know what you mean about these herbs, I have the same problem, oregano is a scourge, I cannot get rid of it, nor borage and fennel…they are thugs but as you say the pollinators love them. Pots are the way to go. Loved your little hummingbird.xxx

  20. I’m with the “let them go wild” group. They smell wonderful and the pollinators love them.

  21. I think it’s a beautiful productive garden. Since borage is related to comfrey you could cut down the excess growth and steep it to make a liquid plant food? I’d let the fennel do its thing but instead of cutting off the flower heads before it seeds collect the seeds for a bonus crop. Great photo of the hummingbird!

    • Not sure who I would give the fennel seeds to – many would end up not thanking me for unleashing such a thug on them.

  22. Oh dear, I face exactly the same problems and I have no answer for you, ‘cos I swing from letting them go wild to ripping all but one out and starting again. It sounds like you have the ones that you use regularly in containers, so you could let these few fight it out and enjoy the wildlife they bring. Great hummingbird shot!

  23. Strange, but I haven’t had self-seeding problems with borage. I also have bronze fennel, and oregano the latter going haywire. Rue is very attractive. I’m tempted more and more toward container gardening for herbs.

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