The form of the orange-tree, the cocoa-nut, the mango, the tree-fern, the banana, will remain clear and separate; but the thousand beauties which unite these into one perfect scene must fade away; yet they will leave, like a tale told in childhood, a picture full of indistinct, but most beautiful figures.
Charles Darwin The Voyage of the Beagle (1839)
Garden Lore: standard bay trees
I have been guilty of describing Buxus sempervirens (the common box hedging) as the dullest plant in the world. But I was wrong. In a moment of hyperbole, I declare that Laurus nobilis can wear that crown. At least standardised laurels planted as formal, ornamental features. How many bay leaves can you use in the kitchen? I severed the top knot of my lollipop bay tree because it had become twiggy, over-large and infested with thrips. Again. What is more, it suckers badly from the base and needs frequent attention to keep it looking even half-way respectable. I figure I will keep it clipped to a mound closer to ground level where I can pass over it with the hedge clippers more easily.
There is nothing choice or special about Laurus nobilis, even when it is trained to a lollipop standard. It is handy in the kitchen as a flavouring and it is reputed to repel pantry moths in the food cupboard. The trouble is that we get such a bad infestation of sap-sucking thrips that there are months on end when I struggle to find clean leaves to use. It might be handy to make leafy garlands and laurel crowns were we to hold family games in the manner of Ancient Greece.
It is probably better in a colder, drier climate than we have. When it comes to formal lollipop plants, I much prefer the small leafed camellias which keep better foliage, michelias or even our native matai and miro which can be clipped to tight balls over time. Even buxus makes better balls than bays.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.