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Bay Trees: Past Uses, Present Trends

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2 years ago 3111 Views No comments

They say a picture paints a thousand words. But trees, shrubs and plants speak a simpler language; although these days, it can often seem like not many people are listening. The noble bay tree has played a prominent role in history, literature, religion and even medicine from Ancient Greek and Roman times onwards.

To the Victor, the Spoils

The laurel was said to symbolise courage, strength and victory, which is why it was often used in laurel wreaths presented to the winners of everything from poetry competitions to the early Olympic Games. Even now, this association lingers on, when winners of the Grand Prix motor racing are presented with laurel wreaths. In some parts of Italy, you'll see university students wearing laurel wreaths as they celebrate graduation, instead of the traditional mortar boards worn in the UK. The tradition lives on today in the UK in words like 'poet laureate' and 'baccalaureate'.

But what's the significance of placing bay trees beside doorways, usually in pairs? Yes, they look great and many people use them to frame an entrance or an exit stylishly. But there's also a deeper meaning – they're reputed to offer protection to the dwelling they grow by. Specifically, in Roman times, the laurel was thought to protect from lightning strikes - the Emperor Tiberius, apparently, always wore a laurel wreath when it rained for this very reason. Subsequently, doctors throughout the ages have used bay tree leaves not only to cure disease but also to ward illness off. We're not making any guarantees for these claims, but it can't harm to try, we suppose!

Portable gardening, anyone?

The symbolism behind the bay tree would therefore make it an ideal house-warming present. But small-scale shrubs and plants that can grow comfortably and attractively in pots are generally becoming increasingly desirable. One of the consequences of the housing crisis is that outdoor space is increasingly at a premium. People can afford less, which often means they compromise on garden space. It's becoming increasingly common to rent rather than to buy, and why spend money on a garden you don't own? And so the trend is moving towards 'portable' gardens. Pots and planters will add colour, texture and ambience to an outdoor space, but will take up less room. They can be moved with you if and when you move home. And they can be multi-functional: use them to frame an entrance, front or back, on a day-to-day basis, but move them around as necessary when entertaining outdoors. Bay trees are ideal for this kind of purpose, to add some instant Mediterranean glamour to any space, large or small. What's more, they are independent and hardy enough to withstand moving position, or even home, if you need to.

Spicing up life, Mediterranean-style

'Grow your own' is also in vogue right now. Why not supplement your herb garden with a bay tree? Remember that the leaves can be really bitter when fresh, so unlike many other herbs, it's best to dry them before you use them in your cookery. It's really easy to do. Simply select full-size leaves, preferably without any imperfections, and lay them on an absorbent paper towel, not overlapping each other. Store in a dark, well-ventilated place until dry – around a week usually does the trick. Place the dried leaves in an air-tight container and keep out of direct sunlight – and they should easily last for a year or so.

Overall, the versatile laurus nobilis is an enduring classic and one we're proud to offer for sale. If you keep its dark green foliage neatly clipped (you can use one of our frames if you're not confident doing it freehand, as it were), it'll make an attractive, welcoming feature for any home or garden. And as we've seen, it's a highly practical choice too!