Food for all

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Taking over a garden from its previous owners leads to all kinds of surprise discoveries. We viewed the House at Nab End in October, and by the time we arrived there as its new occupants the following February its garden had morphed into a mass of spring flowers.  Drifts of snowdrops melted into clumps of daffodils; the array of nodding heads and trumpets far surpassing our knowledge of the different varieties.

As spring turned to summer Welsh poppies, aquilegias, and hollyhocks appeared in succession as if from nowhere: unexpected, surprise after surprise. We often find ourselves wondering what was deliberately planted and what has arrived here by accident, thanks to the constant encroachment of the wild from the neighbouring copse.  Into the garden gaily wander lords, ladies, and Jack (you know, the one who lives by-the-hedge).


Among these wilder guests I spotted a plant I thought I recognised as comfrey.  But instead of the watercolour-washed pink and blue flowers I expected to see, it bloomed all creamy-white.

White Comfrey

Another interloper? Perhaps. But under an old apple tree, surrounded by the elegant flowers of the summer snowflake, it didn’t seem such an unruly visitor to accommodate.  Besides, I knew three things about comfrey which prompted me to leave it be, just in case.


It’s loved by bumblebees. It provides food for caterpillars. And it can be turned in to a potassium-rich liquid feed for the garden (fellow Garlic & Sapphire blogger Kendra has written about this before). No doubt many of you will have already recognised my mystery plant as white comfrey (symphytum orientale).  But even once identified it I was unsure whether those three facts about comfrey would remain true of this white-flowered form.  So I watched and waited, and found that two undoubtedly are.

Scarlet Tiger Moth

The bees visit; and the caterpillars of my favourite daytime-flying moth – the scarlet tiger – munch happily away.  The only way to find out about the third – whether it will make a good plant food – will be to have a go.  But that would mean robbing the bees of their nectar, and the butterflies of their nurseries.

Scarlet Tiger Moth

Then I spotted these comfrey pellets over at Sarah Raven. In the coming months there will be courgettes, peas, and beans to feed.  Using comfrey pellets means we can harness the plant’s goodness for our crops, while leaving our white comfrey intact for the bees, butterflies, moths, and caterpillars to enjoy.  In turn the bees will pollinate the vegetables, and we will eat the harvest.  It’s a win-win situation!

Thanks for reading,

Helen Duncan sig

Helen D writes about simple pleasures and seasonal observations at The House at Nab End. She is a volunteer BeeWalker for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and her gardening is inspired by her love of the natural world.