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Laurus - Growing Guide
Bay tree, Sweet bay
These evergreen shrubs, which are often grown alongside the herb garden, because of the culinary use of their leaves, can actually grow on (without any pruning) into small conical shaped trees. They originate from Mediterranean countries (L. nobilis) and the Azores (L. azorica). Obviously the former is rather hardier than the latter.
In a woodland garden context we often use bay trees as an inner windbreak behind ilex oaks and Pinus insignis. When these larger trees develop they can let in the wind lower down. A thick hedge of L. nobilis serves to break this under-draft and is very effective. Certainly there may be a little leaf scorching and the odd snapped branch after a severe salty gale, but these plants can easily cope with this and reshoot sometimes from below some dieback. Cold drying easterly winds may present more of a problem to L. nobilis than salt laden westerlies. However, once or twice, we have seen odd plants caught out in a cold corner. Chop them back to live growth (even to ground level) and they will reshoot vigorously.
Laurus are not simply culinary bay trees. They have attractive large flowers with male and female flowers on different plants. The greenish yellow flowers of both L. nobilis and L. azorica are quite a spectacle in April as well as being aromatic and attractive to bees.
L. nobilis is a plant which can also be clipped and shaped into a standard pompom tree in a pot or as a low growing hedge. From topiary to formal hedging to windbreak this is a versatile plant in the garden.
L azorica, the Canary Island bay, has larger broader leaves and even bigger flowers. It is a record tree at Caerhays and grows to around 20ft with a 10-15ft spread. A little larger than L. nobilis perhaps. The flower clusters are larger and more impressive too as you can see in these photographs. If you live in a milder area or near the sea this may well be a specimen plant to try out for yourself.