The Year Among Herbs
This was taken in the wonderful garden at Poyntzfield this summer – one of the highlights of a busy, fascinating and frustrating year of Half a Hundred Herbs. There were the three gardens I visited in the summer – Culross, in Fife, Poyntzfield, near Cromarty, and the Secret Herb Garden on the outskirts of Edinburgh, all full of scent and colour and inspiration.
There was the Herb Society which I rejoined in June. When I was last a member, this seemed to be a backwater for romantic amateurs and unreconstructed hippies, but it is now a more grounded mix of botanists, medical herbalists, cooks, gardeners, academics and folklorists. There are more events, a wider membership and a lively news network, not to mention a quarterly journal full of well-written articles and information, and I’m getting a lot for my subscription.
As I went through the year, I moved from a feeling of despair about the standard of writing about herbs, to discovering some fascinating historical research, beautiful illustrations and soundly based practical information about growing and using them. Some really excellent books have come my way, and I’ll be adding a bibliography to the Half a Hundred Herbs page over the Christmas period. Blogs have emerged that go beyond the gossipy journal, the sales pitch or the cut and paste vignette. As well as Whispering Earth which I mentioned here, I’ve come across two. The first is written by Renee Davis, and though it isn’t very active, the articles are current, well-researched and relevant. You can find it at http://www.goldrootherbs.com/
and then there is the excellent blog on the JustBotanics site, written by Debs Cook, well-written, thorough, and with lots of useful links. You will find it here: http://www.justbotanics.co.uk/blog/.
I’ve had a really interesting time growing, propagating and harvesting the herbs in my garden. I’ve succeeded with bergamot and chamomile for the first time, propagated horehound, hyssop, and mullein, and managed to get hold of the genuine orris plant, scented leaf geraniums and a new mint – which is still shedding its own distinct fragrance round the greenhouse.
Two small scale projects I’m thrilled to have tried are the chamomile lawn – a mere six feet by three, so far! and the knot garden, which is barely four inches high just now, but which has established good roots, and should get away early next spring.
Next year this blog will be focussing more on the different ways of using herbs. I have my eye on recipes for herb salt and pepper, flavoured vinegars, candied angelica and seeds for flavouring bread and cakes. And I’ll be thinking of how our use of herbs affects our relationship to the earth, to nature, our senses, our health and our food; how we acquire transmit and value knowledge, how we use them to reflect our values, create political and economic practices and express our creativity, traditions and tribal allegiances. It’s a big intellectual burden for a bunch of small green plants, but herbs can take it!