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The Constant and Enduring Appeal of the Bay Tree

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2 years ago 3693 Views No comments

One of the more enduringly popular shrubs in our experience is the bay tree (or laurus nobilis, to give it the formal name) – an evergreen which is literally timeless in its appeal. It's been a classic since Ancient Greek times, perhaps even longer. In recent years, we've seen an increasing trend towards giving them to friends or loved ones as gifts, individually or in pairs, to commemorate birthdays, weddings or anniversaries; or even as house-warming presents. But why is it so well thought of?

The Laurel is Hardy

Back in the mists of time, when the climate was more humid, laurel forests spread rampantly throughout the Mediterranean basin. However, they fell victim to climate change (it's somehow reassuring to know we're not the only ones). Luckily, the shrub was hardy enough for it not to have died out completely: today, tiny remnants of these vast forests still exist in Europe and Asia. However, in our gardens here in the UK, these slender, graceful trees will usually thrive, even with minimal care and attention.

A lot of people don't consider themselves to be gardeners, or green-fingered, in any way. But that is the beauty of the bay tree. It can be bought ready grown and is relatively easy to maintain. It will grow up to 7.5m (23ft) in the ground unless clipped; but it is equally as happy confined to the right-sized pot. It doesn't ask much of life: while it prefers full sun or partial shade, it can withstand temperatures as low as -5oC (23oF), or even lower if it's placed in a sheltered position or planted in the ground.

Cutting corners…

If you want the bay trees in your garden to grow as naturally as possible, then there is no need to prune them as long as you have enough room. However, most people nowadays are won over by the decorative effect of topiary. If this is your aim, you can buy shrubs ready-shaped and subsequently, a regular trim will help keep them looking good. You'll find your shrub will benefit most from a vigorous pruning twice yearly – April and August is generally considered best. The spring 'haircut' can be as severe as is necessary to remove any brown leaves caused by winter frosts or wind burn - and also to remove any untidy growth. The August chop comes towards the end of the growing season, so you're setting the standard before the tree falls dormant for the winter, hopefully leaving you with fresh, green foliage to brighten up the gloomy winter months. The odd stray branch that fails to conform can, of course, be tidied up as and when necessary between prunings.

Topiary for Tree Trunks

If you'd like to add a 'twist' to your garden decor, one thing you will see a lot of on our website and in garden centres alike is a range of twisted stem specimens. These often appeal to people with a sense of fun, or who want something a little bit quirky in their garden. How is this effect achieved? It's quite simple when you know what you're doing. When the saplings are still young and pliable, the soft trunk is gently trained into a spiral shape by winding it around a small support. As the tree grows, it naturally keeps the shape, even when the support is removed at a later date. Pure magic! The double corkscrew effect is slightly trickier to achieve, as it takes two young trees, planted extremely close together. As they grow, the young stems are twisted round each other to achieve the desired effect. They obligingly continue to grow this way in future.

Next time, find out more about the bay tree, from myth to modern-day, practical applications.