Lovage: The Easy-Peasy Celery


Celery (Apium graveolens dulce) is a persnickety vegetable that only seems to thrive on constant attention. It is slow growing, so you need to start it indoors in most climates, but hates hot summers, so, unless you live in a climate where temperatures rarely rise above 70˚F (21˚C), you have to mulch it and sometimes even shade it. Nor will it tolerate dry soil. For the best taste possible, you have to blanch its stems. Yet even when you have finally succeeded in producing a good crop, you have to start all over the next year, as it is grown as an annual (in fact it’s a biennial that is harvested the first year).

Might I suggest you cultivate instead its perennial doppelgänger, lovage (Levisticum officiale)?

Perennial Celery

Lovage is closely related to celery, not only genetically (both belong to the Apiaceae), but also physically and tastewise: if you tried to make the case that it’s a giant perennial form of celery, not many people would fault you.

The pale yellow umbels are borne on very tall stems. Photo: http://www.amazon.com

In spring, lovage produces a rosette of shiny green tripinnate leaves with long petioles and triangular toothed leaflets … so similar to those of the celery you could easily mistake the two. By early summer, though, you’ll discover that lovage is a much bigger plant, 4 to 8 feet (1.2 to 2.5 m) tall when in bloom and 3 feet (90 cm) in diameter. The flower stem that rises from the rosette is hollow, as are the leaf petioles. The stem leaves are smaller with fewer leaflets than the rosette leaves. At the top of the stem, usually in June and July, depending on the local climate, the plant bears multiple umbels of not unattractive pale yellow flowers very popular with pollinating insects.

You can drink tomato juice (or a Bloody Mary) using a hollow petiole as a straw. Photo: http://www.macombdaily.com.

The whole plant smells like celery and is traditionally used as a substitute for celery. Its taste is a bit stronger than the celery, though, so use a little less in your recipes. The hollow petioles also make great straws. Try using them with tomato juice, as the combined flavors of tomato juice and celery give a taste very similar to V-8. The leaves, stems, seeds and even roots are also edible. Seeds, in particular, have a taste of fennel and can be used to flavor food. As for the leaves, they can be stored frozen or dried for use all year.

Lovage is also a medicinal plant, used in particular to help digestion and prevent kidney stones.

Growing Lovage

Lovage is a long-lived perennial. You can grow it in the vegetable garden, of course, but, with its attractive flowers and neatly cut leaves, lovage is pretty enough to deserve a place in the flowerbed. It’s the ideal choice for foodscaping, so much in style right now.

Lovage coming into bloom at nearly 8 feet (2.5 m) tall. Photo: Anra2005, Wikimedia Commons

Lovage couldn’t be easier to grow. It adapts to a wide range conditions, from full sun to partial shade, and any well-drained soil will do, although it grows best in rich, fairly moist soils that are not too alkaline. And it is hardy in zones 3–8. Lovage doesn’t seem to suffer from any serious insects or diseases and is deer and rabbit resistant. There are no cultivars that I know of.

The More the Merrier

Lovage is most easily multiplied by division (it produces occasional offsets), as it can be a bit tricky to grow from seed. I had little luck with packaged seed, but freshly harvested seeds, sown outdoors in August when it matured, sprouted readily. Its growth from seed is rather slow. It may take 3 or even 4 years to reach full size.

Next time you’re in a garden center, especially one that has a good herb department (although most gardeners use lovage as a vegetable, merchants seem to see it as a herb), see if you can find it. If not, many companies offer it on-line.

I find that most frustrated celery growers never look back once they’ve discovered lovage!

Adapted from an article originally published on April 26, 2015. 


Why I Don’t Grow Comfrey


Many years ago, in the very first garden I ever actually owned, I had to deal with a serious comfrey invasion. It had obviously been introduced as a useful plant, probably generations ago, as it grew everywhere. I understand it was formerly popular as pig fodder, but the pigs were long gone; the comfrey had stayed.

I was never fully certain exactly what species of comfrey I was dealing with. I suspect it was Russian comfrey, a hybrid species (Symphytum uplandicum), because of its particularly bristly stems, but it might well have been common comfrey, also called true comfrey or boneset (S. officinale). Besides, I never saw seedlings (Russian comfrey is sterile). But that really doesn’t matter, as however it had gotten loose, it showed no intention of wanting to leave. 

The flowers are quite attractive, but the plant is a thug. Photo: eonvanrijswijk.nl

Comfrey is an upright-growing, large-leafed plant in the borage family, with pinkish flower buds on arching stalks turning into blue to purple flowers … and bristly stems. It would actually be quite pretty if it weren’t so dominant.

When exactly comfrey was first planted there, I couldn’t say: the house itself was nearly 200 years old, so it could have been there for generations. All around the lot, trees had had time grown to full size, but not a tree was to be seen in the “comfrey patch”. I suspect that either comfrey kills tree seedlings (it’s now known to be allelopathic [toxic to neighbouring plants]) or the dense shade of its thick leaves prevented tree seeds from germinating. In fact, nothing else grew in the sector, not even a weed. This seemed to me to be the ideal place to put a vegetable garden. No tree roots to deal with and full sun. What could go wrong? 

But I failed to grasp the persistence of comfrey. The more I tried to dig up the huge, trunklike roots, the more it grew back. Every little bit of root left in the soil (and you really could not get it entirely out!) resprouted. The more I worked at it, the worse the problem got. And I can still recall the irritating bristles that seemed to work their way into my hands as I pulled. No, I didn’t break out into a rash, but it was certainly an unpleasant plant to have to pull on.

I confess to now having developed an aversion to comfrey. Even thinking about touching it makes my skin crawl!

The Good Sides of a Bad Plant

Comfrey leaves are said to accelerate decomposition in compost piles. Photo: http://www.luontoportti.com

Comfrey has a extensive history of usefulness. It was long exploited as a vegetable and herbal tea, but studies now show it to be quite poisonous, containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are carcinogenic and toxic to the liver. They build up slowly over the years and are not eliminated. Thus, comfrey is now banned as a food source in most countries. 

As mentioned, it can be used as pig fodder and others feed it to chickens.

It has been used too as a medicine, notably as a poultice for healing broken bones (the source of the common name boneset). 

I keep hearing how great it is in compost, as it is said to stimulate decomposition and to be rich in minerals. However, that would only be true of the leaves and stems. Never put comfrey roots in your compost unless it heats up considerably, enough to kill them: that would be a horrible mistake! The leaves and stems can be used as mulch as well, but, obviously, certainly not the roots. 

Comfrey is widely touted as a bioaccumulator: its deep roots are said to reach deep into the soil and bring minerals otherwise unavailable up to the surface. However, if you check things out thoroughly, this seems to be at best highly exaggerated; at worst, largely a myth. 

My compost decomposes just fine, thank you, and I have plenty of garden and kitchen refuse to add to it. I have no desire to grow comfrey as a special additive.

My Solution

Be careful when handling comfrey: its bristles can be irritating. Photo: http://www.cherrug.se

I solved the comfrey invasion by moving. To be honest, that wasn’t because of the comfrey … well, not really. But was it a factor in choosing to move? I’m sure that, in the back of my mind, my inability to grow good vegetables because of weedy comfrey probably did influence the change. 

The house burned to the ground shortly after we moved out. The lilac that grew near the back door was killed as were most of the trees nearby. There is now a new house where the old one once stood. And despite the devastation, there is still comfrey popping up everywhere: in the lawn, in the hedge and in the flower bed!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Keeping Easter Plants Happy


Easter is a time of renewal and rebirth, traditionally celebrated by filling our homes with flowers, both cut flowers and potted flowering plants. Stores of all kinds, not just garden centers, but box stores, supermarkets and even corner stores, fill up with beautiful blooming plants as Easter approaches … and who can resist them! 

So, fill up your home with flowering Easter plants … and now sit back and read about how to care for them.

Easter Lily (Lilium longiflorum)

Easter lilies are highly scented. Photo: http://www.indystar.com

The most popular Easter plant in most areas. with long, tubular, highly perfumed white flowers. It prefers cool temperatures, especially at night. Place it in a well-lit spot during the day, but at night a cool window is better or even in an unheated garage or cold basement. Water well when the soil is nearly dry. In late spring, you can transplant it to your garden, but it won’t succeed everywhere, as it’s quite tender for a lily: only hardy to zone 7, maybe 6.

Warning: lilies are toxic to cats!

Other Lilies (Lilium spp.)

Asiatic lilies come in a wide range of colors and are often sold as Easter plants. Photo: http://www.lowes.com

The other lilies sold at Easter with flowers that are yellow, orange, pink, red, etc. are usually Asiatic lilies. They are much hardier than Easter lilies, to zone 4 or even 3, so will grow outdoors in most gardens. While they remain in your home, they need the same care as the Easter lily, but you can later transplant them into the garden in a sunny location and they will do well there in most climates. Again, keep your cats away them away from them!

Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Blue is but one of the colors of bigleaf hydrangeas. Photo: http://www.crocus.co.uk

With its huge globes of blue, pink, purple, red, purple or white flowers, the bigleaf hydrangea, also called hortensia or florist hydrangea, is very popular at Easter. The key to its success is to closely monitor its watering, because it dries out at a phenomenal rate: it may be necessary, depending on conditions, to water it every two or three days! Average light and normal indoor temperatures will do, although it does appreciate cool nights. 

You can transplant it into the garden at the end of May in a protected location in partial shade, although full sun is fine where summers are cool. However, there is no guarantee of success, at least in northern climates, as it is only hardy to zone 6.

Chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum x morifolium)

Chrysanthemums come in almost every color except blue. Photo: http://www.pioneer-pff.com

As long as it remains inside your home, give your chrysanthemum normal indoor temperatures and moderate lighting, watering as needed so it doesn’t dry out. After it finishes flowering, cut it back harshly, to about 2 inches (5 cm) high. At the end of spring, transplant it to a sunny location in the garden. It will probably bloom again in the fall, but there is no guarantee that it will survive the winter, because chrysanthemum hardiness varies widely, from zones 4 to 9 depending on the cultivar … and the varieties offered at Easter are rarely among the hardiest.

Spring Bulbs

Pretty much all spring bulbs are offered as potted plants at Easter. Photo: http://www.thefreshmarket.com.

Tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, and grape hyacinths, alone or in mixed containers, are often offered as flowering plants at Easter. They do best under cool conditions: the cooler it is, the longer they last. If possible, give them cold nights: 50 °F/10 °C or less. Provide good lighting and water as soon as the soil starts to dry out. Cut off dead flowers as they occur, but keep watering the bulbs. When you have time, transplant them into the garden. All these bulbs are hardy (usually to zone 3) and should bloom again in the garden … but it may take a few years for them to recover sufficiently from the trauma of their stay in the house before they do so!

Gerbera (Gerbera jamesonii)

Gerberas make stunning but temporary houseplants. Photo: parkseed.com

This plant, with broad, toothed basal leaves and large daisy-shaped flowers in a wide range of colors, has become a popular Easter plant. For maximum bloom, give it plenty of light while avoiding hot sun and, if possible, moderate temperatures: less than 70 °F (21 ° C). Also, water carefully, without wetting the foliage, keeping the potting soil at least a bit moist at all times. Watch out for spider mites: they’re very fond of this plant when the air is dry. Remove the faded flowers.

The merchant sees the gerbera as an ephemeral plant, designed to be tossed after flowering, but in fact, it’s possible to recuperate it for use in the summer garden. Plant it in a generally sunny spot, but with some protection from the hot afternoon sun. Continue to remove the faded flowers to maintain bloom.

In most gardens, gerberas will be annuals, quickly killed by fall frost. Only in mild climates (hardiness zones 9 to 10, sometimes zone 8) might it come back as a perennial.

Florist’s Azalea (Rhododendron simsii)

The florist azalea makes a stunning houseplant. Photo: plantsam.com

The florist’s azalea is not a garden azalea (unless you live in hardiness zone 9 or 10), but instead is the only true houseplant among the Easter plants. Give it moderate lighting and closely monitor its watering: when in bloom, especially, it loses a lot of water through evaporation, yet it is intolerant of dry soil, so you’ll have to water as soon as the soil begins to dry out. It loves cool conditions and will do best if placed outside in the summer in a cool, shady spot. Don’t bring it back indoors too quickly either: leave it outdoors until late fall until frost threatens, as cold autumn nights stimulate bud formation. It should bloom again indoors during the winter.

Primrose (Primula spp.)

The polyanthus primrose (Primula polyantha) is hardy enough (zone 4) to grow in most home gardens. Photo: http://www.plantmaster.com

Several primroses are sold at Easter. They all love cool growing conditions and require frequent watering (never let them dry out), but they do differ in their hardiness. Some can be transplanted into the garden in partial shade and moist soil where they will bloom again next spring. Others, like the fairy primrose (P. malacoides) and German primrose (P. obconica), lack the hardiness necessary for garden culture, except perhaps in cool areas of the tropics, as they need cool summers, yet don’t tolerate frost.

Photo: http://www.askideas.com

Easter in the Snow


Yes, there is still plenty of snow this year around my home in Quebec City, Canada, even at Easter. These photos, taken the day before Easter, that is, April 20, 2019, gives you an idea of the situation. 

Don’t cry for me, though: the snow is melting and over the last three days, some patches of bare ground have appeared and soon little spring bulbs will be bursting into bloom. 

It may seem hard to believe, but there will be a summer here … one of these days!

Photos: laidbackgardener.blog

Crown of Thorns: The Subversive Easter Plant


You’re just not into Easter? The idea of filling your home with perfumed flowers to celebrate a Christian version of an old pagan festival just doesn’t appeal to you? You’re deep into religious denial? Perhaps you can express your utter distaste with a plant that is all Easter, yet not so soft and cuddly as a lily or a daffodil, a sort of gothic Easter plant, if you like: the crown of thorns (Euphorbia milii). It’s much like keeping a rat as a sign of your reject of society … only easier to keep and less likely to escape.

The plant bears the name crown of thorns well: it is truly nasty! Seriously spiky thorns cover its branches and you’d be more tempted to handle it with a bottle holder than with your bare hands. Yet, subversively, it bears stunning blooms that certainly catch the eye.

The common name refers, of course, to the woven crown of thorns placed on the head of Jesus before his crucifixion (thus strongly linking the plant to Easter). No one knows which thorny plant was actually used for this purpose, but many plants (Paliurus spina-christiGundelia tournefortiiKoeberlinia spinosa, etc.) have picked up the common name crown of thorns as a result. 

Well grown plants can bear dozens of flowers for months at a time. Photo: Anneli Salo, Wikimedia Commons.

The best known crown of thorns plant is the one discussed here: Euphorbia milii, a popular succulent houseplant in colder climates (hardiness zones 1–8) and a common outdoor shrub in arid tropical climates (zones 9–12). You may also know it as Christ plant or Christ thorn. 

In spite of these names, it was probably not the plant actually used to make Jesus’s crown of thorns, as it comes from Madagascar, not Israel, although there is some historical evidence suggesting in may have been introduced to the Middle East at just about the right time. 

The crown of thorn’s botanical name Euphorbia honors Euphorbus, Greek doctor to the King of Mauretania around the time of Christ. The epithet milii honors Baron Milius, who is said to have introduced this species to cultivation in France in 1821.


A mixture of colors of both regular and giant crown of thorns. Photo: http://www.worldofsucculents.com

The crown of thorns is a branching shrub up to 1.8 m (6 ft) tall (usually much smaller when grown as a houseplant) with extremely spiny gray stems. The broad oval fleshy leaves are mostly carried on new growth, leaving the lower stems bare. It’s usually grown for its attractive blooms, composed of two (sometimes more) colorful petal-like bracts that can last for months. The actual flowers in the center of the inflorescence are small and inconspicuous. The bracts are typically red or, more rarely, yellow in the wild, but there are all sorts of cultivars in a wide range of colors in culture—white, cream, pink, orange, bicolor, etc.—as well as dwarf varieties and cultivars with variegated foliage.

One of the many giant crown of thorn hybrids (Euphorbia lomi) with thick stems and larger flowers. Photo Ram-Man, gardensoline.com.au

There is also a common hybrid species with much larger flowers and leaves and a considerably thicker stem: E. lomi (E. milii E. lophogona). It’s sometimes called giant crown of thorns. Its blooms are particularly striking and come in an equally wide range of colors. The Somona hybrids are a group of cultivars from California with especially nice blooms while there is a horde of Thai hybrids often called Poysean hybrids, Poysean being the Thai word for I. milii. It’s generally less branching than the straight species and a bit of pruning may be needed to encourage it to produce more than one stem. 

When a crown of thorns is given good conditions, it can bloom at any time of year, although mostly in spring or summer. Some of the better cultivars will, if given top care, flower non-stop all year long. Under harsh conditions, notably extreme dryness, the crown of thorns may actually go dormant and not only stop flowering, but lose all of its leaves. When watered again, though, it will slowly come “back to life.” (Yes, a truly verifiable case of resurrection!)

The sticky sap of the crown of thorns is a toxic white latex. Don’t eat it and keep it out of your eyes and off your skin. Obviously, when working with this plant, it’s best to wear safety goggles and gloves. And keep this plant away from kids and pets!

Growing Crown of Thorns

Euphorbia milii ‘Variegated’ is a charming cultivar. Photo: tom-piergrossi.squarespace.com

It’s a very adaptable plant, but prefers full sun and well-drained soil. In hot climates, some protection from the midday sun is best. Although highly drought tolerant, it will nonetheless bloom best when kept moderately moist by regular watering. It will grow in just about any soil, from standard potting mixes indoors to poor rocky or sandy soils outdoors. It seems to get along fine with very little fertilizer, but you can apply some lightly during its main growing season, usually from early spring to early fall.

In dry tropical climates, it’s sometimes grown as a defensive hedge or to keep cattle out of fields. Certainly, cows won’t eat it, nor will deer or rabbits.

One thing the crown of thorns will not tolerate is cold. Even temperatures approaching freezing (35˚F/2˚C) can kill it. It’s best not to expose it to temperatures lower than 50 °F (10 °C).

The More the Nastier

You want to multiply your crown of thorns? You can theoretically grow it from seed, but that’s a slow and difficult process and germination is often poor. Plus, seedlings will likely not be like the mother plant. And good seed is hard to find! Be especially wary of web sites selling you multicolor crown of thorn seeds: they’re almost certainly scams.

Crown of thorns roots slowly but surely from stem cuttings. Photo: Nature Favour, http://www.youtube.com

However, you can readily grow crown of thorns from stem cuttings, best taken in spring or, failing that, summer. Water the plant a few days ahead so its stems are well hydrated.

Euphorbias of all kinds, including this one, tend to “bleed” white sap for a while after you cut them. This is not only alarming, but it weakens the cutting. To staunch the wound, spray it with cold water: this causes the sap to coagulate.

Next, apply rooting hormone to the wound (as the name suggests, it helps promote rooting) and insert it into a pot of barely moist soil. In fact, for a fuller final appearance, place three or more cuttings in each pot.  

Place the cuttings in a warm spot. They’ll need only moderate light and very little watering at first. When you see new growth appear, give them full sun and water more thoroughly to bring them into bloom.

Finding a Specimen

Crown of thorns. Photo: worldoffloweringplants.com

I don’t think you’ll have any trouble finding standard red crown of thorns plants: they’re widely available and sold in most garden centers. If you’re looking for special cultivars in a wider range of colors, though, you may need to find an on-line succulent nursery in your country. 

Crown of thorns: possibly the most irreverent Easter plant of all! And yet, behind those nastily spiny stems, it’s a charmer and certainly one of the easiest houseplants to get to bloom!

Houseplants: Should You Water From Above or Below?


That’s a question that has confused generations of owners of houseplants. Should you water from the top, that is, by pouring water on the surface of the potting mix and letting it percolate through the root ball, or is it better to water from the bottom, that is, by pouring water into the saucer and letting the plant “drink its fill?”

The answer is that both methods are perfectly acceptable and you can safely apply either method to almost any plant. There are only a few minor points to take note of … as explained below.

How to Water From the Top

Watering from the top is the most popular method. Photo: http://www.aliexpress.com

When the plant’s potting mix is dry to the touch, hold the spout of the watering can just over the soil and slowly pour tepid water over the mix so it soaks in slowly. (If you pour too fast, the pot can overflow.) When you see water begin to flow through the drainage hole underneath, stop.

If there is still water in the saucer 30 minutes later (and that doesn’t usually happen very often), empty the saucer.

The advantage of this method is that it helps to leach the soil of mineral salts that otherwise tend to accumulate over time in any potting soil. Even though this method helps leach the mix, it’s still wise to repot plants into fresh, uncontaminated soil every year or so.

How to Water From the Bottom

Watering by filling the saucer. Ill.: png.com & Claire Tourigny, from the book Les 1500 trucs du jardinier paresseux

In this method, pour tepid water into the saucer and let the plant soak it up. Often it does it so quite visibly: the water moves up in the potting mix almost as fast as you pour it into the saucer!

It is important not to underwater when you water from below! Pour enough to thoroughly soak the entire root ball. After a few minutes, go back and check things. If the saucer is completely drained, which means that the plant and the soil have absorbed all the water, that could still mean the plant didn’t get enough water. (Maybe it did, maybe it didn’t.) To be sure, pour in some more (probably less than the first time) and come back and check.

If there is still water in the saucer after 30 minutes, discard it.

The defect of this method is that it allows the mineral salts to migrate towards the top of the pot over time where, when they accumulate, they can harm the plant’s growth. On the other hand, unless your water is very hard, this effect is only going to be felt after a long time, probably several years. And the solution is simple enough: every now and then, water from the top to leach the potting soil.

Note that to be effective for any kind of watering, the saucer must be at least as wide as the top of the pot. For more information on this, read For a Green Thumb, Match Saucer Size to Pot Size.

Watering by Soaking

Yes, you can water plants by soaking them. Photo: http://www.gardenandhome.co.za.jpg

Soaking houseplants as a means of watering them rarely seems to be mentioned in books and web pages about houseplants, yet it’s a perfectly viable alternative to watering from above or below. And in some cases, it’s the best choice. It’s most often used for:

  • Plants in a hanging basket whose saucer is ridiculously small and thus inefficient;
  • Orchids and other plants growing in growing mixes so highly aerated that water runs right through without really moistening the particles and roots;
  • Plants with such a mass of roots that the potting soil is compressed and unable to retain moisture;
  • Plants that aren’t grown in pots (like those fixed to pieces of wood) such as air plants (Tillandsia).

That said, soaking can be used with any indoor plant.

In this method, fill the sink, a tray or a bucket with tepid water and set the pot into it, at least halfway to the plant’s rim (you can soak it fully, completely inundating the pot, but then the soil particles tend to float away.). Leave it to soak for 10 to 30 minutes so the plant and its potting mix will have time to absorb all the water they really need. Then, lift the pot, drain it well, then put the plant back in its usual place.

Exceptions Make the Rule

This may be touted at the “correct way to water” African violets, but in fact, you can water them from the top if you prefer. Ill.: http://www.hortzone.com

Some sources discourage watering from the top for certain plants, especially African violets (Saintpaulia) and cyclamens (Cyclamen persicum).

In the case of the African violet, the idea is to avoid staining the foliage, because any water inadvertently splashed onto the leaves during watering from the top may leave hard-to-remove white marks.

In the case of the cyclamen, the reasoning is different. It so happens this plant has a tuber that rises slightly above the potting mix and has a depression in the center. If you water from above, you risk filling this depression with water and that could lead to rot.

However, you can still water both these plants from the top if you want! Just be careful to direct the spout of the watering can onto the potting soil, near the rim of the pot, not on the foliage or the tuber. It’s as simple as that!

Watering: from the top, the bottom or by soaking: all are good choices. Just use the method that best suits your way of gardening.

Balcony Plant for 2019: Bay Laurel


Qualities such as fabulous green foliage and a stately appearance combined with a compact shape make bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), also known as sweet bay or simply laurel, a great addition to any balcony. The plant remains green all through the year with leathery, oval, dark green leaves with a lighter midvein.

Bay laurel is available in space-saving shapes (pillar, standard) which work well with the limited space available on a balcony. It can even be used to create a green hedge to hide a balustrade. And the leaves? They have a pleasant fragrance and can also be used in cooking, for this is the ever-popular bay leaf of Mediterranean cuisine.


Bay laurel is native to Asia Minor and the eastern part of the Mediterranean. The Romans then brought it to Western Europe. In the wild it grows to be a sizable shrub or even a medium-sized tree of up to 35 feet (10 meters) in height.


You can find bay laurels in many shapes and sizes created by selective pruning.

Don’t expect a wide range of varieties when buying bay laurel: usually only the ‘ordinary’ green-leaved variety is offered. However, there are a few cultivars with a different leaf color or shape: some with wavy, elongated, rounder or smaller leaves, others with golden or variegated ones. You’d be most likely to find these at nurseries specializing in herbs. 

Where there is a lot of choice is in terms of shape, because the plant is very suitable for topiary (ornamental pruning). Therefore, you can often find pyramid, cylinder, cube, cone and ball shapes, or treelike specimens with the trunks either straight and twisted.

Under ideal conditions, bay laurel produces umbels white flowers from its leaf axils that later become oval berries. However, don’t count on bloom or berries on your balcony, as it is a reluctant bloomer.

Tips for Buying a Bay Laurel

Bay laurels can give your balcony are welcoming effect.

• The pot size, height and shape of the bay laurel must be balanced and the plant should be well rooted. 

• Bay laurel grows very slowly. Don’t buy a small plant assuming it will reach the desired height any time soon. Instead, look for a strong plant that is already the right size and shape to meet your current needs. The high price that accompanies such specimens is justified by the years of care and pruning needed to produce them. 

• Smaller plants are sometimes included in mixed containers with other kitchen herbs such as thyme, rosemary and lavender.

• Make sure the plant is free of pests and diseases. Watch out especially for scale insects which also cause sooty mold, a black fungus that disfigures the leaves. 

Display Tips for Bay Laurel 

Bay laurel’s ability to brighten a balcony can be shown in an appealing way by creating a half-open balcony using a bistro table and chairs with a bay laurel hedge and a number of different shaped bay laurels in pots. Keep the decor muted—the plants’ best feature is its attractive green foliage. Including a rack with flowering herbs helps emphasize the culinary role of the leaves.

Care Tips 

Bay laurel pruned to form a small tree.
  • You can place bay laurel in full sunlight, but it also does well in partial shade.
  • Select a sturdy pot and heavy soil to stop it from blowing over.
  • Bay laurel likes to dry out slightly between waterings. Drooping young leaves indicate it’s too dry; it will quickly revive when you water it thoroughly. Yellowing leaves indicate too much water. Let the growing mix to dry almost completely before watering again.
  • Never leave the plant in standing water! If the pot it’s sold in has no drainage hole, drill one … or repot it into one that does.
  • Fertilize monthly from March through September using an all-purpose product applied at no more than ¼ of the recommended rate. Don’t fertilize in fall and winter, your bay laurel will be dormant or nearly so.
  • You can harvest leaves for cooking at any season, but go lightly. On young plants, take only a leaf or so at time.
  • Prune in June, clipping into shape with sharp, clean secateurs. Remember that it is the branches you should by pruning, not the leaves. You can also prune bay laurel lightly in December.
Bay laurel leaves (seen here with another herb, sage) are used in cooking.
  • Only where winters are mild (hardiness zones 8 to 10) can bay laurels stay on the balcony all winter. Even in zone 8, it’s wise to wrap the pot and lower stem in several layers of burlap and move it out of the wind for the off season.
  • Where temperature will drop below 23˚F (-5˚C), it’s best to move a container-grown bay laurel to a cool dark place such as a shed or, in truly cold climates, a lightly heated garage. Under those conditions, give it very little water, as it will be fully dormant. Just make sure to gradually acclimatize it to light and water again in spring.
  • Failing that, bay laurel makes a great winter houseplant. Since it will be dormant, you can place it in either sun or shade. Under the warm conditions found indoors, it will need moderate watering all winter.
  • Bay laurel does not like being repotted: once every 3 to 5 years should be sufficient. 

So, this summer, why not grow the balcony plant of the year, bay laurel, on your balcony? It may be just the plant you’re looking for!

Text and photos derived from a press release by Thejoyofplants.co.uk