I love early Summer in the garden. Who doesn't? The sudden rush of growth after Spring is hard to keep up with and it's easy to forget the impatient passing of dreary months that were eventually shortened by the first glimpses of aconites and snowdrops, then daffodils and tulips followed by the cloudy blues of massed forget-me-nots and the dainty flowers of Aqueligia or Granny's Bonnet which I borrowed for my name. Then though comes the mixed blessing of a plant which I have long been confused about. It's beautiful, piercing blue flowers with white centres, being referred to by myself as Borage, or should it be Lovage?
After a conversation with a friend in which I once again stumbled over those two names, I decided to check it out once and for all in my plant book and lo! it was neither. It was in fact, Green Alkanet, a name I had never heard before
This plant Pentaglottis sempervirens turns out to be native to south-west Europe where it favours damp and shady areas. It has long been cultivated and occurs as a garden escapee naturalised in woods and grassy places though I have never myself seen it in the wild. I don't know where my original plant came from but I do know its ability to self-seed and regenerate from deep tap roots makes it a particularly troublesome invader.
I really hate destroying seedlings of any kind but I'm afraid green alkanet brings out my ire since it has the ability to grow literally anywhere in my garden. I find my small vegetable patch sprouting with unwelcome plants and my gravel paths readily invite its seeds to germinate. Elsewhere I have to dig the long tap root out from under whatever else is trying to grow. As I also tend to pull weeds randomly and without gloves, I frequently fall foul of the plant's very bristly stems!
I try with some difficulty to keep it to the back of borders but I have to confess a sneaking regard for the way it pops up around my back door and gate and along the fence... It's the price I'm prepared to pay for a bee-friendly plant, the blue I love and which will stoutly defy me well into Summer.
Green alkanet is a member of the forget-me-not family, Boraginaceae, and is related to borage and comfrey. Hairy stems to 80cm (32in), leaves broadly ovate and noticeably bristly. Bright blue forget-me-not type flowers with white centre, 8-10mm (½in), open from pink buds and are borne April to June.