Planting an Apothecary Garden
Throughout Europe's Dark Ages, no decent monastery could fail to plant an apothecary garden filled with plants the monks could administer as preventatives and remedies for a variety of ills and ailments. Although medicine was thoroughly in the dark ages as well, many of these plants had true healing properties. Today, Eastern and alternative medicines enjoy immense popularity, and many drugs used by the Western world are, in fact, derived from many simple garden plants once used by medieval apothecaries. The subsequent article provides tips to install your own apothecary garden for true medieval charm and function.
Most medicinal plants and herbs are quite easy to grow and thrive under adequate conditions. Plants gardeners should consider for an apothecary garden include common fennel, Apothecary's Rose, rue, valerian, English lavender, sage, horehound, comfrey, lemon balm, sweet marjoram, thyme, betony, spearmint, peppermint and pot marigold. These medicinal plants may help to relieve many well-known ailments such as the common cold, arthritis pain, gout flair up, insect bites, rashes, etc. While they should not replace your healthcare provider when it comes to serious health issues, they do provide considerable relief for many conditions and their healing properties are well established.
Arranging your plantings for easy maintenance is important, but there are several ways to plant for an attractive appearance. Simple rectangular rows may flank a chalice well, for an added medieval feature or something as simple as a sundial or birdbath. Medicinal plants and herbs may be easily grown in containers, but also make excellent borders in many landscapes. They may also serve to add garden decoration to a plain fence or garden wall. Plant the tallest species against the wall and gradually fan out with low-to-ground plantings.
Most of these plants will do all right even if the soil is poor so long as there is adequate drainage. When beginning your apothecary garden from scratch, dig it to beyond a depth of 12 inches. Incorporate peat moss or compost to improve the soil and provide for food aeration. If your garden's drainage is poor, add perlite granules to the soil. To give your medicinal plants a healthy start, consider adding a layer of organic fertilizer.
It is also a good idea to do a bit of research about the plants you want to grow in your apothecary garden. For example, it may be useful to know that if you need to watch your blood pressure, garlic has been known to reduce it - plus it adds its characteristic zing to many recipes. Yarrow has been used as an astringent for oily skin. Lemon verbena is soothing for indigestion sufferers. Angelica was traditionally used to relieve coughs. Chamomile is known to relieve menstrual cramps and the leaves of pot marigold have been used to treat bee stings. Medicinal plants may be used to relieve these and hundreds of other common ailments.
Ornamenting your apothecary garden will add considerable medieval appeal to the garden. The use of stone in the garden is an old practice that enjoys contemporary use for its durability and function. Use river rocks to serve as edgings for your plant beds or purchase more decorative stonework edgings done in a gothic design. You certainly don't have to live in a castle to incorporate these gothic features, but they do lend themselves to Tudor styles or simple rustic settings.
For gardeners who like a challenge, consider planting your medicinal plants in a medieval maze or labyrinth. This is an interesting way to landscape and also provides that medieval look. A simple rustic fountain or well makes a great focal point for this feature, but a stone statue, benches, topiary or small pavilion make for enchanting centerpieces as well. An apothecary garden would generally have a dipping well for watering ease, so it makes perfect sense to install this type of water feature in your garden for collecting rain water.
A necessary garden ornament may simply be dividers or markers to separate plantings. Consider small statues - gargoyles for instance - or even plain stone animals to act as garden markers. Small rock formations or carved stone tiles also lend themselves to the medieval design. Installing permanent stone garden furniture and a stone patio also adds to the old-world allure of the garden. If you are quite enthusiastic about the look of your apothecary garden, consider installing a small moat around a small gothic structure like you specially designed gazebo or create a small castle playhouse for the children.
Installing an apothecary garden is as easy as planting an herb garden, and often many of the same plants are used. However, while herbs are fantastic for their culinary uses, medicinal plants have even greater benefits as they can help you to feel better, and thus, enjoy your garden throughout the growing season.