After months of looking at empty garden plots with a prevailing mud-brown colour scheme, it was such a joy to plant some greenery which has brought some much-needed structure and colour to the garden. I also now have four fantastic students from the University of Birmingham working with me on the garden as part of a Liberal Arts & Sciences project I am running, who are helping to bring the garden to life.
The beds have been lined with box and we’ve planted lavender along the front border, which is looking very modest now, but will spread out in front of the box hedging as it grows to give a stepped effect. Like box, lavender is an evergreen, which will keep its silvery hue even in the dull winter months, and when its spikes of violet flowers appear in summer, their beautiful, distinctive scent will create a welcoming wall of perfume for visitors to walk through as they enter the garden.The name Lavandula comes from the Latin lavare ‘to wash’, as it was used to scent bath water and it was used by the Romans, as it is today, for its floral scent in perfumes and oils, and was also used for its medicinal and therapeutic properties.
We’ve also planted lilium candidum (Madonna lily) bulbs in the ornamental flower beds. Like lavender, this was a plant which was highly prized in antiquity and even grown in greenhouses to ensure availability all year round. Its strong, sweet fragrance made it a popular flower for use in oils and perfumes and ancient writers emphasised its medical attributes, listing numerous remedies that could be derived from both flower and bulb.
In narratives from Metamorphoses & Fasti Ovid depicts Persephone, daughter of the goddess Demeter, picking these brilliant white lilies when she is abducted and taken to the underworld by Hades:
‘Proserpina, Ceres daughter, was there in the woodland, happily picking bunches of violets and pure white lilies’
– Metamorphoses 5.394
‘Abundant roses are gathered, and there are nameless flowers too. She herself gathers delicate saffron and white lilies’
– Fasti 4.443
An ancient fresco from the House of the Golden Bracelet in Pompeii depicts such lilies in bloom:
It’s so exciting to see the garden take shape after all the work undertaken in the winter to implement the hard landscaping elements and create the plots. The rest of the plants for the garden have been ordered and will be planted soon, so the garden will continue to transform over the next couple of months and start to bloom come the spring!