leaf comparison: foxglove, borage, comfrey, green alkanet

It's a common problem to differentiate between foxglove, borage, comfrey and green alkanet before flowers appear. I have blogged about this before but I saw queries online recently and happened to notice I had all four in my garden yesterday so was inspired to take photos and blog again. This is a particular challenge if there are no flowers (all the flowers are quite distinct). 

I happen to have a green alkanet (bottom) below a comfrey (top) which makes comparison easier. This is my only comfrey and it's in bloom so ID is easy. Green alkanet is variable so further examples below.

comfrey and green alkanet comparison

closer view of the comfrey


I do love green alkanet and at a certain point in the spring my back garden is covered with it so I have decided it is not necessary or possible to have it in pots (it would soon be in every pot!) as well so I have pulled this one out of a pot. The green alkanet leaves have a bristly feel unlike the soft foxglove leaves.

green alkanet

another example of green alkanet

green alkanet

more green alkanet

green alkanet

these are foxgloves which had self-seeded and I planted them in this flowerbed (behind is a bedraggled hollyhock leaf), the foxgloves are soft unlike the green alkanet which have a bristly feel


another foxglove


I happen to have a borage at the moment as well. They do come and go more quickly than the others. The initial borage leaves are more distinctive. This one is from an established plant in bloom.


another borage leaf


more borage


July 2020


I have forget-me-nots self-seeding in my garden every spring, in bloom generally March and April. I never knew exactly which type but looking now, seem to be wood forget-me-nots (Myosotis sylvatica).


they have distinctive leaves


I was surprised to have this new plant self-seeding with different leaves but something about it said forget-me-not. It has finally bloomed and appears to be Chinese forget-me-not (Cynoglossum amabile) which I've never actually seen before. No idea where it came from. 23-7-2020

chinese forget-me-not Cynoglossum amabile

a few days later, 26-7-2020, more buds have opened

chinese forget-me-not

this was it a few days previous before it bloomed, with quite different leaves from my usual forget-me-nots

chinese forget-me-not

As the season progresses, my lack of bees is becoming more pronounced. No bees so far on my globe thistles - usually a real bee magnet or my new monarda Cambridge Scarlet, which I haven't grown before but I understood it was attractive to bees.

monarda Cambridge Scarlet

just recently I'm seeing a lot of hoverflies, on the hollyhocks (also have seen bees on them)

hollyhocks with hoverfly


scabious with hoverflies

a bit overexposed but there is a hoverfly on one of the flowers

nemophila snowstorm

earlier in the month, bees on the centaurea dealbata

centaurea dealbata

hoverfly on the centaurea dealbata

centaurea dealbata

echium Blue Bedder with a bee

echium Blue Bedder

cornflower with bee

cornflower with bee

sea holly with bee

sea holly

sea holly with bee

sea holly with bee

June 2020

This has been a very difficult time with hot dry weather. It finally really rained this week but how long the effects of that last, not sure. The slugs are back wreaking havoc. The only positive thing about the drought was fewer slugs and snails.

The poppies have been amazing for the bees. "The" plant of this spring. in the background, sea holly, echiums vulgare and Blue Bedder which the bees are visiting but as long as there's a poppy in bloom (sadly they don't last long) that takes the bees' attention.

lauren's grape poppy with bees

the melancholy thistle is blooming and has had a few visits from bees but I guess I just don't have that many bees, sadly

melancholy thistle with bee

viper's-bugloss (Echium vulgare) with bee, knautia macedonica and nepeta in the background

vipers bugloss echium vulgare with bee

the salvia sclarea var turkestanica is blooming but so far I have not seen a bee visiting, sadly

salvia sclarea var tukestanica

the nemophila is blooming, first flower of the Penny Black

nemophila Penny Black

Penny Black on the left, Five Spot on the right, the two are wildly different in their seed germination, each pot was one packet of seeds


my first veronica flower of the season




centaurea dealbata

centaurea dealbata

echium vulgare on the left and echium Blue Bedder on the right, Lauren's Grape poppy

echium vulgare and echium Blue Bedder

hollyhocks (teasel to the right, artichoke behind) sadly crawling with hollyhock weevil


I loved seeding bees on the monkshood this week

monkshood with bee

a bee has climbed right inside a flower, bottom left

monkshood with bee

monkshood with bee

identifying small seedlings

I like to identify the smallest seedlings so I can keep what I like and remove those I don't and not fill up pots with seedlings I don't want. I have about 10 pots that seemed to be all self-seeders rather than something I planted, I'm not sure why. There's a lot of repitition as each pot has attracted a lot of the same self-seeders.

pot 1: largest is nepeta, underneath it, widest is poppy, top left is snapdragon, bottom is verbena bonariensis, bottom right is passionflower


pot 2: a number of red deadnettle, 3 verbena bonariensis, one on the right I'm not certain of


pot 3: clockwise from top left, verbena bonariensis, snapdragon, poppy, another poppy, another verbena bonariensis and wild basil


pot 4: clockwise from the top, 2 verbena bonariensis, common field speedwell I think, poppy, red deadnettle


pot 5: clockwise from top, snapdragon, plantain?, verbena bonariensis, poppy, forget-me-not and salvia in the middle


pot 6: same as pot 5 but from the other side


pot 7: red deadnettle at the top, poppies, foxglove bottom centre


pot 8 is 7 from the other side: clearer view of the shoo-fly on the right just under the foxglove


pot 9: clockwise from top left, snapdragon, poppies, viola (better view in next photo), verbena bonariensis,


pot 10: same pot as 9 but from the other side with a clearer view of viola at the bottom


Drought-tolerant Plants

At this time I am impressed by the flowers that are blooming without any water at all.

iris foetidissima

iris foetidissima

stachys byzantina, ox-eye daisy

stachys byzantina

will be adding more photos

end of May 2020

The relief about the rain was short-lived. Weeks of no rain and high temperatures. The only good thing about it, the slugs and snails seem to have been curtailed by this weather.

bee on a green alkanet

bee on green alkanet

first lupin in bloom and some buds coming below


lupin buds


I got this yellow flag iris last year. It was a small plant and did not bloom last year but I guess it's gotten established in the small puddle that is my pond and is happy enough to produce flowers. I look forward to those buds opening. I see a bee on a green alkanet I didn't even realize was there when I took the photo nor when I processed it until just now.

yellow flag

iris foetidissima, it's nice to have a few stalworts in the garden that will flower with zero effort on my part and regardless of it raining or not and regardless of how much sun it gets, I even saw a bee on one in the front garden

iris foetidissima

the melancholy thistle has required constant slug survelliance, it's the one plant I keep on my patio table but it has some buds so maybe I'll actually get some flowers this year

melancholy thistle buds

the first bloom in that huge red poppy that self-seeded in that pot

red field corn common poppy

the nepeta is blooming and it's tempted the bees away from the green alkanet, nice fat lupin buds to the left, foxglove just blooming, sea holly front right with flower stems, sadly one stem was destroyed by slugs, I was putting the pots on the table every night for a while but couldn't keep that up


I do find the seed sowing can get stressful but I feel I've turned the corner this year where things are a bit more manageable. The nepeta cataria (catnip) is potted up.

nepeta cataria seedlings potted up

I have 5 seed trays left, easier to deal with than the 10 I had before. 

delphinium, centaurea dealbata and rudbeckia Green Wizard on the top shelf, hopefully to keep them away from slugs and snails, if the Green Wizard actually blooms it will be my first after years of trying from both seeds and purchased plants, each time the slugs have had them

the slugs and snails have also been savage with the melancholy thistle so I am keeping them on the table

beginning of May 2020

It has finally rained. What a relief. I hope we continue to get regular rain.

My water avens (Geum rivale) is blooming. I have a new-found love of geums. When things get back to normal I hope to get a geum Totally Tangerine for the garden and a marsh marigold ( Caltha palustris) for the pond.

water avens and green alkanet

Here is a wider view, there is a pond in there, small and shallow but some water for the water avens, yellow flag iris and purple loosestrife.

water avens and green alkanet

first flower on this scabious and buds, I have lots of scabious as it's one of my favourite plants

scabious columbaria

I've been working hard trying to tidy up my pots and planting out what I can but I have to accept that this spot in the flowerbed is not available.

I'm getting annoyed about slugs and snails again. I'd had a good clear-out in March and I initially seemed to have fewer but my hosta is being eaten and I am not willing to accept that. I have moved the hostas close to the path so it's easier to remove the snails. I went out last night but didn't fnd any. I need to go out a bit later I think. It wasn't full dark. I need to try to do it every night. Good news though. I found that two-colour hosta under the ivy and it's only a little slug-eaten. I didn't even realize it survived.


two other pots I had hostas in I have replanted with hellebores as the hostas had not survived


just to the right of those 2 pots above, I have fringecups - with buds! I am so glad this survived the winter, it had been looking quite poorly but I repotted it and it's perked up and has buds so I'm really pleased


end of April 2020

It's so dry and no rain. We went from raining every day to no rain at all, what is going on? I have a lot of pots and have to water them every day or other day or every 3rd day? That's aside from the seedlings that need watering most days.

I do find certain things in the garden stressful - and worrying about seedlings is one of them. But I also try to organise things and find a solution so the other day I thought, tackle these seedlings so I planted out 3 of them (see my seeds page for more info). Another thing I do is look under each pot every day and remove any slugs. I did have a good clear out a few weeks ago and removed a massive number of slugs and snails, including from my mini greenhouse, and it's really helped reduce the damage to plants and seedlings. I guess the dryness has helped as well.

sainsburys seedlings

another thing I'm trying to do is put the seedlings in the mini greenhouse to avoid squirrel disturbance, they've basically destroyed any seedlings here, not that there were that many (I've thrown a few more seeds in) and now try to be disciplined putting them away in the evening

I also thought why am I growing on small plants I don't even want? I could share with neighbours but that is often stressful. I've shared before but no one seems to swap they just want stuff and are so unreliable about collecting and even bringing a bag to put them in.

I have enough globe thistles and I have enough small plants for my neighbour so decided to stop potting them up and dispose of those I don't want. I find disposing of plants challenging, in some ways, I'm a novice gardener. So no more globe thistles. Or wild basil. I'm removing from pots these plants (wild basil, forget-me-nots, red deadnettle, wood avens, etc) I don't want and just putting them in the garden - on top to save digging or just putting in the compost pile (globe thistles).

globe thistle seedling

With fewer smaller pots and fewer seedlings, watering should be easier. I have lots of pots with self seeders and am trying to make better use of them. This one has forget-me-not, a wood avens and I discovered nepeta in the middle.

as I removed the wood avens and obviously disturbed the nepeta, releasing the smell, Jeffrey was attracted

I'm working on planting out anything I can and these two pelargoniums (out of the skip at the garden centre) were still in their original pots and needed to be planted. Glad I did, they are now blooming.

this iris was also a garden centre special (out of the skip)


I planted some alliums last fall and wanted to share them with my daughter-in-law but sadly, with lockdown, I can't.

allium bud

allium bud

in reviewing the alliums, I see one of the allium schubertii's buds has withered (right below) before it got started

allium schubertii

there's a close-up of it

allium schubertii

these alliums are looking good but not sure what kind of allium they are, I can't remember


in reviewing my pots I see some that need a better use, I don't need a pot of ox-eye daisy, I have loads in the front and it's not suspectible to slug damage so that's going in the garden

ox-eye daisy

and I don't need a pot of wood avens, even if there are some other things there as well, that's going in the garden

these also went into the garden except the knautia bottom right

I love nepeta and realize I have a lot of it, 6 large pots in all and a few smaller pots



(forgot there's another pot of nepeta back left) I also love scabious and had one languishing in a small-ish pot - why not appreciating it? so planted it in that large pot with one of the echium vulgare which I love ("wildflower" from the garden centre, seed sowings of echium vulgare have yielded very little in the past), when those forget-me-nots to the right have finished (I've seen bees on them) that pot will get something new

here are some of the pots, scabious top left - bit crowded, should probably repot, middle top sea holly (and one below it) - from the garden centre last year and the slugs and snails haven't attacked it this spring so so happy about that - but where are any others in the garden, sure I had more, nepeta top right, those big fuzzy leaves on the left are salvia sclarea var turkestanica, poppy seedlings (must thin them out!) bottom and poppy small plants on the right

I've got 2 pots of lupins but no sign of a flower spike, must feed them, they've been in the same pots for a while

Eastern Rocket - watching it develop

I first saw some uncertain rosettes locally back in March 2020. It looks like hedge mustard - but it's got some furry leaves in the centre. I was lucky enough to get some expert advice pointing me in the direction of Eastern rocket.

eastern rocket rosette

that hairy furriness really threw me

eastern rocket

as it developed it looked like the eastern rocket I was more familiar with

eastern rocket

then it developed those very long fruits so distinctive of Eastern rocket

eastern rocket fruits

eastern rocket fruits

looking back at these 2 unknown plants from March 2019 - at a place I did not find it easy to get back to, I see they were early Eastern rocket

eastern rocket

eastern rocket

Speaking of Brassicaceae in this road, I'm suddenly seeing both Eastern rocket and thale cress here where I haven't seen either before.

eastern rocket and thale cress St Pancras Way

this thale cress has none of the initial basal rosette left

thale cress

this thale cress still has the basal rosette

thale cress

April 2020

I have a few flowers the early bees are visiting, including cerinthe


honesty, green alkanet, forget-me-nots and muscari

tulip Whittallii Major, I love orange species tulips

tulip whittallii major

a lone Little Princess I have from a previous year

Little Princess tulip

Pansy Beaconsfield flowering on and off

pansy Beaconsfield

a fringecups I bought last year, I am hoping for flowers this year but I guess it's not going to happen as no flowering stem even starting slightly


I found this plant in this pot and had no clue what it was so took a photo and while looking at it carefully, realized it's a rudbeckia Green Wizard I got a few years ago (after failures with seeds because of voracious slugs), I hope it can really get going this year - maybe even flowers!

rudbeckia green wizard

nepeta mussiniii I bought back in February or March when there was so little in the garden centre; I love (as do my cats) nepeta and I have pots of it all over the garden mostly nepeta faassenii but also nepeta cataria

nepeta mussiniii

I have at least 2 sea holly starting to grow. I should have more in the garden but these two from the garden centre last summer (Magical Blue Lagoon) are the only I see. I've bought sea holly before as small "wildflowers", grown them from seed both bought and collected but they just can't seem to survive the slugs who adore them!

sea holly

Papaver dubium? / long-headed poppy

I've not seen it in person before. I hope to see it in bloom but in this position I never know if I'll see that.

papaver dubium

papaver dubium

papaver dubium


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