Posted by in Features.

As I write this article, I am looking back on last year’s and the first paragraph is a warning not to forget to water your tubs and hanging baskets or to get a neighbour to look after them, if going on holidays.

Listening to the wind and rain outside today, I think I will leave that out this year.

In the glasshouse many crops are coming to fruition. Tomatoes will be on the plants but due to lack of sunshine, have not ripened. You can help this by taking some of the leaves off the plant to allow the fruit get more sunshine. To aid pollination, use a small brush and tip all the flowers with it. Careful watering and feeding is required now and watch out for any insects.

The vegetable garden will have a lot of crops coming through at the moment. Potatoes, the early varieties are late coming in, watch and spray for blight as it is particularly bad this year.

Fruit thinning of pears and apples is worthwhile also, if the tree is carrying too many fruits.

Bedding plants are having a bad year due to the weather. Keep deadheading where necessary and feed with a liquid feed on a regular basis. Roses will benefit from some deadheading now also and spray for blackspot where necessary.

Now reading this article you would never think we would have an answer to ulcers, good teeth, healthy skin, aching bones and a fertiliser for tomatoes and cucumbers, all rolled into one. Well we do, and old cure from a plant called comfrey. It was brought to Britain hundreds of years ago by the crusading knights because of its healing powers.

Its called Garden Comfrey (Symphytum Officinale), a medium sized perennial herb growing to 2–3 foot. It has a hollow stem and large ovate leaves covered with coarse hairs, to which some people are sensitive! The small bell like flowers which grow in pairs are loved by bees and come in a range of colours from deep purple to white. It prefers a moist shady position and is often found in damp low-lying places in the wild near ditches and drains. It will grow anywhere and can be invasive. Stocks can be increased by dividing the plants in Autumn or taking root cuttings in Spring. Most gardeners will already be familiar with the use of the leaves as a fertiliser, but it is as medicinal herb that its best known. The leaf contains a protein called allantoin which encourages cell division and is responsible for many of its healing properties. As its common name Knitbone implies, it produces amazing results in speeding up the healing of sprains and broken bones. Ulcers and other similar skin conditions such as sores and damaged tissue respond well to a mash of the leaves or root in the form of a warm poultice. Comfrey oil will ease aching joints, strains and rough skin, all occupational hazards to the gardener. Its easy to make, take a large dark airtight glass jar and pack it tightly with Comfrey leaves, which have been cut in to pieces about an inch long. Label and date and put the jar into a dark place and leave for 18 months to two years. The leaves will slowly decompose to make a dark amber/green emulsion, halfway between an oil and a liquid. Mixed with a little moisturizing lotion it is easier and more pleasant to apply. It can keep for many months. If you are sensitive to Comfrey and you would know very quickly if you were, wear gloves when you handle the plant.

After a hard day in the garden, soak in a healing herbal bath by placing fresh Comfrey leaves in a muslin bag and suspending this under a running tap. This really does relax muscles and ease aching joints. It is said to improve skin texture and give a more youthful appearance. Because the protein in the leaf structure of Comfrey is equal to that of Soya beans and greater than cheddar cheese it can be a useful supplement for vegetarians as it also contains calcium, potassium and phosphorous along with valuable vitamins such as A, C, and B12.

An infusion of fresh or dried leaves will ease sinus troubles, purify the blood and clear the skin. It also has a reputation for remarkable healing of gastric ulcers and bronchial problems and is widely used in natural treatments for TB in sanatoriums in Europe and Scandinavia. Make an infusion by putting 1 teaspoon of dried or 3 teaspoons of the fresh herb into a teapot. Pour on one cupful of boiling water, replace the lid and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes. Strain and drink.

All you need to do to produce this wonderful yet somewhat smelly fertiliser, is to put some leaves in a bucket (about 1lb of leaves to 10 gallons of water) and leave to stand for 4–5 weeks. It is advisable to cover it up to keep out the flies and to contain the smell a bit. The high potassium content in Russian Comfrey (symphytum K uplandicum) makes it a near perfect food for fruiting tomato and cucumber plants. A trench lined with Comfrey leaves will get potatoes off to a good start and keep them free of scab. If you have a compost heap, add the fertiliser on a regular basis as it makes a very good activator.

Once you are 100% certain your plants are Comfrey, it is perfectly safe to use externally. If you are sensitive to it when you touch it, always use gloves. It also should not be taken to excess internally. However, to do this you would need to consume at least a least a large plateful on a daily basis for a considerable amount of time.

Lastly, I am going to include a tip from last years Issue which is a frequent complaint. “Many of us have a problem with cats in the garden. We found that if we soaked used tea bags in diluted Jeyes Fluid solution and scattered them around the garden, the cats stayed away.” I hope this will work for others. Worth a try at least!

That’s it for now, happy gardening
Bosco McDermot, Glynns Garden Centre, Lydican, Claregalway