California Bay

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California bay is not Grecian bay.

Because of the common name, California bay, Umbellularia californica, sometimes substitutes for Grecian bay. The two are actually very different. Grecian bay is a culinary herb that grows as a compact tree. California bay has a distinctively pungent flavor that is objectionably strong for most culinary applications. It grows fast to thirty feet tall, and gets a hundred feet tall in shady forests.

Because it gets so big and messy, California bay is not so popular for planting into home gardens. However, because it is native, it sometimes self sows into landscapes. Some mature trees live within gardens that developed around them. California bay can work well in spacious landscapes, with plants that do not mind its shade and leaf litter. Annuals and seedlings dislike the leaf litter.

Old forest trees make the impression than California bay typically develops an awkward and lanky form. That is only because they do what they must to compete for sunlight. Well exposed trees, although lofty as they mature, are more densely structured. Some have a few big trunks, with checked gray bark. Old trees are likely to develop distended basal burl growth known as a lignotuber.

Culinary Herbs With Landscape Appeal

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Culinary herbs work well within landscapes.`

Vegetables grow mostly in designated vegetable gardens because they are not appealing enough for the rest of the landscape. Flowers for cutting might grow in designated cutting gardens, from which they are not missed after harvest. Culinary herbs can grow in herb gardens for the same reasons. Some might not be very pretty. After harvest, some might be too shabby for the landscape.

Of course, such perceptions are debatable. Home gardens are casual and customized. If Swiss chard, artichoke and other vegetables can grow in front yard landscapes, then culinary herbs can too. In fact, some already do. Rosemary, thyme, lavender and a few other culinary herbs happen to be popular for landscapes because they are so appealing and practical. There is a slight catch.

Culinary cultivars of herbs are distinct from landscape cultivars. Trailing rosemary is a landscape cultivar with sprawling growth that works well as a resilient ground cover. Another cultivar exhibits more sculptural upright growth. Both are well flavored. However, neither is as richly flavored as culinary cultivars of the same species. Yet, culinary cultivars are not so remarkable for landscaping.

Most of us are satisfied with landscape cultivars of rosemary for culinary application. Alternatively, culinary cultivars, which are rare in nurseries and landscapes, can adapt to landscape functions. Cultivars of culinary rosemary happen to make nice low and mounding hedging. Infrequent shearing or selective pruning does not constantly deprive it of too much of its more flavorful new foliage.

The same applies to several herbs that have both culinary and landscape applications. Compromise might be in order.

Incidentally, two culinary herbs, Grecian bay and bronze fennel, are presently quite trendy. Grecian bay or sweet bay (which is not California bay) is a very popular potted plant. In the ground, it can grow into a midsized tree. Bronze fennel is supposedly comparable to common fennel, but with sepia toned foliage. Chive, parsley and borage all work nicely with mixed perennials and annuals.

Rose Hips

P91117Chopped dried rose hips can be purchased from a supermarket in town that stocks an impressive variety of useful bulk herbs. They are used as a dietary supplement and remedy for several minor ailments. Although most of the copious vitamin C they contain while fresh is ruined by drying and storage, they are still popularly used as a remedy or preventative for colds and flu.

It would be reasonable to assume that the rose hips that are available in markets would be from a species that has been cultivated and developed for a few centuries. After all, rose hips have been used as an herbal supplement for a very long time. Surprisingly, those that are available in the local market here are from the common and native California wild rose, Rosa californica.

That means that those that grow wild on the outskirts of the landscapes here produce the same rose hips that can be purchased in markets. There are only a few others species of wild rose that grow wild in California, and even fewer that are endemic locally. Those in the picture were actually planted into a landscape composed of natives, but are thought to be Rosa californica.

I normally leave these rose hips for the birds; but because the birds take all my cotoneaster berries, I am not too worried bout them getting enough to eat. I left the rose hips that are pretty where they can be seen, but took quite a few that were out of view on the backside of a riparian thicket of rose bramble. I do not yet know what to do with them, but will figure that out later.

Once dried, these rose hips will be easily pulverized into coarse and seedy ‘grounds’ that can be added to blends of herbal tea.P91117+

Herbs Are For All Seasons

70823thumbThere are only four seasons in which to grow herbs, but herbs are used for all sorts of seasonings. Most herbs are aromatic evergreen foliage. Some might be flowers, flower buds, stems, bark, seeds, roots or really any plant part. Those with the strongest flavors might be classified as spices. Herbs are used for culinary purposes. Many might be used medicinally. Some just smell pretty.

Most herbs are best fresh, like mint, chive, cilantro and parsley. Bay leaf and lavender are herbs that are more commonly used dried rather than fresh. Sage, rosemary and oregano can be used either dried or fresh, depending on the desired effect. Yet, for many of us, dried herbs are used merely because of convenience. They are available when their fresh versions are out of season.

Many gardening texts suggest that herbs that need to be dried should be collected and dried about now. That is true in the sense that most happen to be ready about now. Some might have been better earlier in the year. A few might need to mature a bit more. There are probably many that get collected and dried when it is convenient for us, or when overgrown plants need to be pruned.

Vegetative rosemary stems should be collected before they bloom again. Obviously, that might not be right now. It blooms in random phases. The trick is to catch it between phases. Lavender flowers get collected as they finish bloom. Oregano is an odd one, since the vertical stems with flower buds on top get cut for drying while the sprawling growth on the ground is good for fresh use.

Because rosemary is available throughout the year, it is not often dried. Even while in full bloom, there is plenty of foliage to go around. When it gets dried, it is probably because the dried flavor is preferred for a specific recipe. Other herbs are likely to be dried because they are not available during part of the year. Many herbs are annuals or perennials that die back through the winter. Drying the last bits of cilantro may not seem like a good idea now, but might be useful in winter.