Herb gardening from past to present. The book starts by telling about herbal gardens in history, how they featured in monasteries and the private courtyards of wealthy ladies in medieval days, how their style and use changed through the times, ending up to the state of gardening in more modern times. The included illustrations taken from ancient manuscripts and paintings are lovely. Traditional and historical ways the herbs have been incorporated into cooking, used for scents, as dying materials or for health are all mentioned, with suggestions and many cautions- as a lot of ancient herbs are highly toxic or their original medicinal use is no longer recommended. Many are named just because they are pretty or have interesting properties- like curiously shaped seeds. There is also information on how to grow the herbs, whether from seed or cuttings, and care for them. Really though much of the book is about building a garden- how to design and plan it, how to lay paths and construct benches, walls, arbors or a trellis, with many ideas for an attractive or practical arrangement. I garnered some new ideas on what an herbal bed in my own garden could look like (for example, I might do well to separate my perennial herbs that like richer, damp soil- the lemon balm, sorrel and perpetual onions- from those that like it dry and lean- the lavender, sage and winter savory- and mix grit or broken stone into the latter). There’s helpful lists grouping herbs by the soil type they prefer, or sun/shade exposure, by color or height. And more extensive lists by use- herbs for medicines, for dying fabrics, for a scented garden or kitchen use. Many many plants are named that I know little about- with enticing hints at their growing habits and textures. The photos are a tad disappointing- often slightly grainy, not clear enough focus to actually see the individual plants well, though they do give you a good impression how the herbs look together in various garden styles. The twenty-five page glossary lists a bounty of herbs, with useful details on them, but scant pictures.
I took notes- especially listing plants that I want to look up, to visualize better, and see if they’d be nice in my own garden- their usefulness or attraction being hinted at in the text just enough to spark my curiosity. Also things that took me by surprise, such as the author’s note that salad burnet can grow up to 36″ (mine never was more than six), and that dill reaches up to five feet! Though this picture indicates that as well- when I first saw it in the historical section of the book, I thought the people were just of exaggerated proportion in a quaint fashion but no- I think the dill really was that tall!In my garden, it’s never grown more than a foot or two! I realized soon that the author is from the UK, so the climate she cultivated herbs in was different. Perhaps that is part of it.