NOTES FROM REGIONAL HERB GARDENERS

ROUND ROBIN


| December/January 2004


ODE TO A GARDEN CLASSIC

Jo Ann Gardner

WESTPORT, New York — Margaret E. Brownlow wrote the now-classic Herbs & The Fragrant Garden. It was published in 1957 by the Herb Farm in Kent, England, with which she had been associated since at least the 1930s. My husband Jigs discovered the book on an English booklist shortly after its publication. He was interested in growing herbs but knew very little about them and at the time there wasn’t much information available in our part of the world (seeds had to be ordered from Thompson & Morgan in England, not New Jersey!). Clothbound and illustrated with the author’s own colored line drawings, the book was invaluable, and remains so for me today. In it is everything an herb lover would want to know, from herb lore and history to practical information on garden design, growing, harvesting and using herbs. There is, besides, the author’s great interest in fragrance, which in the English climate could be enjoyed year-round outdoors.

In an early chapter she lists the fragrant plants that bloom from January to the following December — including not only herbs, but scented bulbs, perennials, shrubs and vines. “It is entirely appropriate,” she wrote, “that scented plants and the herb garden should be considered together.” Later, in the portrait section, she grouped aromatic shrubs together and gave detailed information on each plant’s special scent, its place in the garden and tips for propagation. This perspective broadens “the herb garden” to include a variety of plants of differing habits, colors and forms.

Who but Margaret Brownlow would consider flowering raspberry’s place in the herb garden? I am a devotee of this rangy native shrub (Rubus odoratus). Our first summer in the Adirondacks I discovered that although our property was virtually devoid of flowering plants, a single blooming flowering raspberry lured hummingbirds to our woodsy backyard.

The author tells us she wrote the book because she was tired of answering questions about an herb’s identity or use. It became impossible to answer every query on the subject, so she set about filling the vacuum that existed then for contemporary works on herbs. Brownlow’s experiences at the Herb Farm (a commercial venture where herbs were planted and harvested on a relatively large scale) gave her precise knowledge based on her own experiences working in the field.

With my garden now asleep, I can afford to smile at the difference between Brownlow’s unsentimental approach to harvesting lavender by the sack and my inability to cut a single stalk from one low mound of ‘Hidcote’. I was so taken with the beauty of the thrusting straight stems of purple flowers showing off against a wayward black-eyed Susan. It is fascinating to read her advice for drying half of a ton of fresh herbs, a process not for the faint-hearted.





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