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In many landscapes I’ve seen evergreen hedges that are trimmed and maintained to form living walls of foliage. I’ve often seen these hedges maintained between 3 to 10 feet, or sometimes even unmaintained and left to become behemoth walls of greenery. The trend in these hedges is to use an evergreen bush, usually some sort of broad leaf shrub, which can withstand intense pruning.
In my approach to landscaping of using edible plants in traditionally ornamental landscaping techniques, I found an attractive edible evergreen broadleaf plant that can withstand heavy pruning. The plant is called Laurus nobilis, perhaps more recognizable by its common names of Bay Leaf, True Laurel, Sweet Bay, Grecian Laurel, Laurel, or Bay Tree. It is an aromatic evergreen tree, whose leaves are most commonly used in such ways as adding flavor to soups and stews
Bay leaf is best maintained and pruned; otherwise it can reach up to 40 feet high and 32 feet wide. It handles pruning well, and is even successfully kept as a houseplant.
About 2 years ago I planted my bay leaf hedge of 4 plants in a partially shaded area. The suggestion I read was to plant them 10 feet apart, but since I want them to overlap and form a hedge I instead spaced them about 4 to 5 feet apart. When I bought the plants they were about 1 foot high, since then they have exceeded 6 feet. The hedge is now beginning to section off a part of my yard to form a private area that I intend to turn into a veranda. I am planning on maintaining the hedge at about 6 feet and encouraging more overlapping growth in the following years.
I’ve come to use bay leaf a lot, not only in my cooking, but in pest control as well. The aromatic nature of the leaves seems to ward off insects like earwigs and weevils. Whenever I have a box of fruit that needs to sit for a day or more, I put a handful of bay leaves in with it to chase away and keep the earwigs out. I’ve seen grains stored for years with bay leaves in it, in order to discourage insects from invading. I started putting a bay leaf into the forming artichokes in my garden, which has been helpful, since I used to find earwigs in my artichokes, which was a nasty surprise when eating them.
In my cooking, I usually just walk out to my hedge and get any number of needed leaves off one of my bay leaf shrubs, wash them, and include them fresh in my soups. I like the complex and rich flavor that is imparted to my soups when cooked with bay leaf. Once my soup is done, I remove the bay leafs. The bay leaves are fibrous so they aren’t palatable, but I’ve seen them dried and powdered for direct use in the store. I’ve seen or heard of bay leaves used in Indian, Mediterranean, and European cooking, though that is outside the range of my cooking skills. I’ve only personally used them in soups. If you have any good suggestions for cooking, I’d be interested in hearing about it.
I’ve heard from some that drying the leaves and letting them sit for a couple of weeks will increase the flavor; however I have not been able to notice a difference in my cooking between the fresh or dried leaves. So, drying them seems to me to be a waste of work, unless I needed to store leaves for a long time. Since I have a year round supply of more fresh bay leaves then I could ever use, I haven’t bothered drying any. If I were to give bay leaf as a gift of spice to family or friends, I’d probably dry them, since I wouldn’t know when they would need to use them.
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May 23, 2007 | 8:26 PM PST
Interesting and helpful as I have come to expect from your writings!
May 24, 2007 | 12:29 AM PST
Wow, thank you very much! You are very kind.
Sometimes I worry that people find my blog boring or even worse my eccentricity pretentious in some way, so it is a relief to hear that you find what I write useful and interesting.
Jun 1, 2007 | 1:38 PM PST
I have a couple of bay bushes in tubs as screens, and was unsure of using them in cooking. Will have a go now. L
Jun 8, 2007 | 11:00 AM PST
I haven't seen any bay in the nurseries here. I would love to have some. As for you being pretentious...to quote Scrooge..."Bah Humbug" LOL. I love your point of view on gardening. And I learn alot from you.
Jun 8, 2007 | 11:16 AM PST
Thank you! That made my day!
Dec 29, 2007 | 7:07 AM PST
This is a great idea! Do you know if these trees will do well in Ohio? I worry about what our winters will do to them.