Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bay laurel

Happily, no snow accumulated Monday, we only had flurries. After sunset though, the temperatures became seriously chilly and we needed to turn on the heat in the house again. Today we topped out at 58F/14C with lots of sunshine and a stiff breeze. All the emerging plants in the garden did well and the asparagus bed is still putting up new spikes. The few asparagus spears I picked before the freeze warning were delicious.

As I previously posted, I am death to houseplants, so as I appraise the condition of the hardy plants moving up from their winter sanctuary in the basement; I thought it would be interesting to blog about my three-year-winter-survivor-champion, a bay laurel tree, also known as sweet bay or Laurus nobilis. This plant started as a one foot tree, gifted for Mother's Day a few years ago, so I could enjoy plucking my own bay leaves for homemade spaghetti sauces.

This herb is really a tender perennial shrub in the United States north of the Mason/Dixon line. Generally grown in a pot, it achieves a three to six foot maximum height and it must be sheltered indoors during the winter. In it's native Mediterranean range though, a bay laurel grows into a 50-60 ft tree. In our Missouri locale it thrives in a large clay pot, kept evenly moist and in a sunny spot. Emerging from my basement, all of last years leaves have completely dried in situ, but tender new branches and leaves are beginning to sprout.

Bay laurel appears throughout ancient Greek & Roman history as a crowning wreath of honor for kings, heroes on the battlefield, Olympic champions and scholarly men, for example, a poet laureate. Back in the time of Cicero (106-43 B.C.), wedding cakes were baked on a bed of bay leaves with one leaf hidden inside the cake. To find the lucky bay leaf in the cake is a predecessor to universally known phrase, "finding a needle in a haystack." (Miloradovich, M. The Home Garden Book of Herbs and Spices. Doubleday & Company: New York, 1952. p 64.)  Mythological references occur as well; the nymph, Daphne pursued by Apollo was saved from certain ravishing by her timely transformation into a bay laurel tree. I do love this kind of trivia...

Anyway, I am planning to re-pot this bay a bit later in the spring and will incorporate its potted self into a new herb garden. The current idea is a raised, layered, circular herb garden which will be accessible on all sides and accommodate different soil needs in the individual layers. It looks good on paper but the engineering might be challenging. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. I love the idea of having a bay laurel as a winter houseplant. Where ever did your clever offspring find one?