A potted bay tree is one of those timeless mediterranean garden features, like boxwood hedging, crunchy gravel underfoot, or urns planted with agaves.
Image found here.
Its leaves are useful for cooking just about anything that simmers. Laurus nobilis becomes a very large tree in zone 10, so keeping it contained also serves to control its ultimate size. What tempted me into undertaking the grindingly slow task of growing a bay standard from twig to tree was the added promise of those golden leaves in the variety ‘Aureus.’
It hasn’t been easy. Over the years, I’ve come very close to composting this little tree, mail-ordered from Dan Hinkley’s Heronswood nursery aeons ago as a tiny rooted twig. This is the first summer the tree’s leaves are uniformly golden. The previous decade or so of its life the leaves were ugly, mottled, sickish looking, neither gold nor green. I assumed full sun was the problem and tried dappled shade for it in the afternoon. The bay grew in size, the canopy filled out in the classic standard, if not actual lollipop shape, and I continued to use the leaves in the kitchen. But this winter I’d had enough of the malingerer and pulled off every last, disgusting leaf, keeping them al for cooking, of course. Flavor has been consistently good. The little tree surprisingly rewarded me this spring with the glimmering, goldeny, aureate leaves I’d always envisioned. I plucked one of its leaves just the other night to simmer with a pot of lentils.
The ‘Waverly’ salvia has spilled onto the bricks and engulfed the pot, which is now too heavy to move to try for a less chaotic photo. The little tree is almost 5’9″ in height, including the pot. Not quite a full lollipop canopy yet, and it needs more limbing up. But it just might get moved to a prime location where it can be fully appreciated now that it seems to have shaken off its awkward juvenile growth phase. I had started to crowd the bay and ruin its lines with odds and ends, a Crithmum maritimum, the vine Manettia cordifolia, which I’ll happily move elsewhere now that the bay seems to be on its way.
The moral being, by all means, grow a standard bay tree, but don’t torment yourself with ‘Aureus,’ unless you’re drawn to plants that puzzle you with their needs.