The Bay, Laurus nobilis, is almost the perfect standard tree with its lustrous, dark green foliage that responds so well when clipped into neat, dense balls.
An elegant sight, it is an essential plant in any cottage or more formal, contemporary garden. It becomes a feature in its own right, classically placed in twos, flanking a path, doorway or entrance or when used as a focal point to draw the eye.
It is also an essential plant in the herb border with its leathery, sweetly aromatic leaves a delicious addition to many soups and stews. Clusters of delicate, yellow flowers appear in spring and are loved by the bees; on female plants, these are followed by black, shiny berries in the autumn.
Slow growing, bay copes well in containers and these are helpful in colder climates where these frost hardy plants can be easily moved in harsher weather. Plants are particularly vulnerable to frost damage when young so always move to a more sheltered spot or wrap in fleece.
Best in full sun or partial shade, bay likes a fertile, moist but well drained soil and a sheltered spot, away from cold winds. Keep plants well watered in the warmer months of the growing season, especially plants grown in containers but take care not to over water these plants in winter. Feed with slow release fertiliser in spring.
Sweet bay is fantastic in the winter garden, particularly in its standard form and in combination with topiary box, when its shape and outline come into their own as the bones of the garden come to the fore. Use it to frame your door or gateway and string with fairy lights for a festive welcome over the next few weeks.