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Bay Laurel

And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and your leaf know no decay.
from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book I, Daphne

One of my favorite herbs to grow is bay laurel, Laurus nobilis. Roman poet Ovid made this plant famous in his poem that recounts the tale of Daphne and Apollo. As the story goes, the river god Peneus transformed the beautiful nymph Daphne into a bay laurel tree to save her from the unwanted advances of Apollo. As a tribute to his love and the beauty of the bay laurel, Apollo blessed the tree with evergreen leaves and named it as his sacred tree. It has since become a symbol of victory and merit.

Bay laurel is an easy herb to grow. It thrives in sun to partial shade in well-drained soil. In my zone 7 garden I grow bay laurel in a container so that I can bring it indoors when the weather turns cold. In temperate climates (zones 8 - 10) bay laurel is grown as a culinary tree, reaching heights of up to 50'. This herb is especially well suited for training into topiary forms.

While I may not have witnessed my bay laurel change from a water nymph into a tree, I have watched it grow from a small cutting into a beautiful 3' tall shrub. It is a treasure to me because I received it in 1997 from herbalist and author Adelma Grenier Simmons when I visited her at her herb farm, Caprilands in Connecticut. She passed away several months after my trip to see her, making her gift that much more special. Adelma was a leader in the promotion of herbs and herbal remedies. I recommend her book Herb Gardening in Five Seasons to anyone who enjoys growing herbs.

While I was with Adelma, I asked her what her number one piece of advice would be to fellow gardeners. She replied that she would encourage them to learn more about the plants they select for their gardens before heading out to the nursery. I agree with Adelma's wise counsel. Not only will this ensure successful growing, but it is an opportunity to learn about plants, like the bay laurel, that have fascinating histories.