Tag Archives: Laurus nobilis

Garden Lore Friday 23 January, 2015

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.

Grow it yourself: bay tree

The culinary bay has a long and noble history

The culinary bay has a long and noble history

The culinary bay is Laurus nobilis, also referred to as sweet bay. It has a long history dating right back to ancient Greece and Rome yet is still widely used today. It is easy to grow and hardy for all conditions in this country. However it needs to be kept trimmed. Left to their own devices, bay trees can reach 15 metres. Fortunately once a year is usually sufficient. We trim ours hard in early spring and the fresh growth soon appears to cover up the unsightly woodiness. At the same time, we clean up the base. Bays will sucker and shoot all over the place. If you train the plant to a standard lollipop shape, it is easy to cut away growth at the base.

One plant will yield plenty of leaves for any family. The current fashion is to use clipped bays as formal standards in potagers, but you will never need that number of leaves and there are other more interesting plants you can clip for effect. Besides, as well as suckering, bays are vulnerable to thrips – tiny insects which live on the underside of the leaf and suck the chlorophyll out, turning the leaf silver. We never spray our bay and would not want to spray insecticide on an edible leaf. Planting in a position with good air movement helps (thrips don’t like drafts) and stopping the plant from being too dense will also help reduce infestations.

Bay is not difficult to strike from cutting, though most people buy it. It grows reaonably quickly so it is not necessary to pay over the odds for a large one, unless you are impatient. If you have an abundance of leaves, they are reputed to repel pantry moths when you strew them through your food cupboard.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here withe their permission.