Wednesday 9 April 2014

A herb garden explained

I should be marking Year 7 projects. I've been meaning to do it all day, but procrastination has won again.

Yesterday I raided my Ma's garden, and adding to some herbs I had bought previously that week and some plants generously bought for me by my twin sister, Gemma, I made a herb garden. I was so happy. I only have a small pavement covered space at the back of my flat. I miss terribly my two great allotment fields in Bedfordshire. One day I am going to have an allotment again, or better still, a garden of my own. In the meantime, paradise has to spread its rays from terracotta in the yard, and it does so as if it were the sun shining after rain. Most of my 'lost time' today was time spent sitting and looking at my newly loved herbs and flowers.

Let me tell you about them. First, by the door in a macrame pot hanger I made (it keeps the '70's vibe), is trailing verbena, tumbelina and surfinia. Verbena, medievalists amongst you should know, wards off ghosts, goblins, vampires and other evils. It brings good fortune and is called the 'holy herb' for its gifts of healing, compassion, gentleness and love to the household. Tumbelina and Surfinia are both types of trailing petunias. I know of no great tales to tell of their significance, but their purples and pinks will be beautiful next to the gentle gold of the verbena flowers. Above these great specimens, also in the hanging baskets, are violas - the symbol of the ancient city of Athens and of constancy. The Romans made wine from their flowers, and later wound the blossoms into great garlands to cure hangovers, but I am not convinced that is either tasty or effective!

Next, in the pots, there are two Rosemary plants, one a bush planted into a blue strawberry planter, and the other standing tall in a terracotta urn. The flowers of the Rosemary bush were said to have been white until the Flight into Egypt, then the Blessed Virgin dried Christ's clothes upon the shrub and ever since they have been blue; or, perhaps, she cast her cloak over the bush and hid from passing Romans? Either way, Rosemary is said to ward off evil: a sprig under the bed cures bad dreams, a sprig in your bridal bouquet brings faithfulness and, a sprig on the doorstep keeps thieves at bay.

Thyme sits in the first large blue pot. It is an ancient symbol of courage and was worn sewn into the shirts of the Crusaders with this in mind. Marjoram, called 'joy of the mountains', grows next to it, a symbol of happiness in the home and life everlasting. Cats love it, and the medieval herbalists used it as a treatment against fleas. Actually, modern flea treatments use it too (not that I have a cat, or fleas!). I planted 'forgetmenots' in one of the terracotta pots that is decorated with the shell of St. James. I did this just because I am an old romantic, long more that anything to return to the Camino and hope I will never be forgotten in prayer by good old St. James. But, the forgetmenot has a history in folklore too: Somerset travellers would not leave the door without it, for it imbued them with fortitude for the road ahead.

Sage comes next with its' peculiar tale. Sage is a symbol of fertility and fecundity. It is said that where it grows daughters will be born to a family. It brings a spirit of rejuvenation and eternal youth, 'he that would live for aye, must eat sage in May'. In the pot next door Oregano lives, an ancient symbol of honour and happiness. Chives and flat leaved parsley grow in the same tall pot beyond that. Chives have a dual symbolism of dreams and practicality, the essence of their message being, 'why do you weep? Get up and live'; Parsley is another symbol of fertility, an aphrodisiac with many superstitions surrounding its' transplanting. It should only be moved on Good Friday, I read. I hope a Tuesday in Lent will do! Mint is the final herb, and according the folklore it invades every corner of household life. Where mint flourishes, so does love, health and happiness within the home. Plant it in pots though, for if it is out of control so is everything else!

There is one more pot, and in it are tiny trailing lobelia plants. Lobelia is used to 'call the butterflies', through it comes the rare, transitory beauty of the seasons. Lobelia is a symbol of 'the moment', and a call to appreciate each day as it comes, looking neither to the past nor the future.

So, there it is: my herb garden. It doesn't look much yet, but it will. And, if it reaps all the fruits of its' symbolism it will be the most amazing herb garden ever planted. I will use every herb in that garden, and will be sad when the season is over and I must let the plants sleep. In the meantime, I am going to make the most of it every day, and if that means a few hours are lost watching the plants grow, so be it.