Sunday, 1 July 2012

Sage advice

Some years ago I planted a number of lavenders with the intention to create a 'river of lavender' in my front garden. My sister, an archaeologist, made annual trips to Jordan between 1998-2006 to restore one of the temples at Petra and remarked on a garden high above the Siq where lavender was grown and appeared to tumble over the cliff edge. If I find the photo she sent I'll add it to this post.

We may be only 90ft above sea level here but I imagined the lavender weaving its way through other plants. Only one survived; the rest shrivelled into non-existence, dwindling over time. The couple of purple sages I planted at the same time stomped all over the remains. Several years on I now have a 'river of sage' - not quite the same, but attractive in its own way! For years I disliked the dried blood smell of sage even in stuffing and have only recently come to appreciate it. Now I have so much of it I suppose.

Purple sage with periwinkle and crocosmia 'Lucifer' - you can't see the other plants it weaves through (a lot)
The botanical name Salvia derives from the Latin salvere ("to feel well and healthy, health, heal"), the verb related to salus (health, well-being, prosperity or salvation); referring to the herb's healing properties. The common modern English name sage derives from Middle English sawge, which like the botanical name, stems from salvere.

Having dug out an elderly sage bush, long past its useful life, from the raised bed I planted some more, including the common green-leaved sage, the purple one and the multicoloured variety 'Icterina' as I knew they would thrive. Here is the lovely Icterina, a couple of months on, between spearmint and chives. I have been trying to find beauty and cleaning products that contain sage - any ideas?
Salvia officinalis 'Icterina'
Here is a poorly looking one, but with a nice label (Hackney City Farm)
Herbs in New Cross Gate
Opposite New Cross Gate station is the Hobgoblin pub and Dig This Nursery. I stopped at the traffic lights long enough to read the list of herbs on sale and will definitely be paying a visit. They seem to stock lots of different varieties - what a change from the likes of Homebase/B&Q and garden centres like Ruxley Manor and Phoebe's. I've noticed a gradual narrowing of choice to larger (and more expensive) pots and less variety and it doesn't seem that long ago that I could pick up small pots of feverfew and lady's mantle for £1.50. At that price it doesn't matter that much if it turns up its toes; at £7.99 you not only have to make a bigger hole but I would feel precisely £6.49 more pain if it then upped and died.

Dig This Nursery in New Cross Gate
Out of interest I popped in this morning and picked up 6 pots of herbs for a tenner. That's more like it. 2 x elecampane (Inula helenium), 2 x lovage (Levisticum officinale) 1 x borage (Borago officinalis) - time for a Pimms! - and 1 x winter savory (Satureja montana). No summer savory unfortunately, but there was tree spinach which looked very interesting. I wonder if it's the same as the 'spinach' you get in Greece... another time.

The savorys are interesting, winter is perennial and summer an annual. Like many herbs they belong to the Lamiaecae family and both are considered to be an antidote to flatulence.
The 'curry' plant, Helichrysum italicum
I've grown the curry plant on and off for years. It smells more like curry powder than what I would call curry and is found in the Corsican maquis where it is more shrubby, along with several very pungent and beautiful herbs and plants. Our wet climate often makes it leggy and flop over.


  1. A sage post. DYSWIDT?

    I wanted to try Dig This in New Cross, they got in touch about a seed giveaway they were planning called 'Happy Seeds', Im not sure if it ever happened.
    This is an offshoot of a nursery in Welling, and its pleasure to support them. Mihaly the Hungarian horticulturalist who own it has a great story.

    Sage is the fastest growing thing in my garden. Ive taken a lot of cuttings. Mint and the lavender are doing great too.

  2. That's me all over - sage, although most of the time I feel like Cassandra! I had to look that acronym? mnemonic? up, by the way. It (the plant) likes south London.

    I guess Mihaly was the guy I met this morning? he seems very knowledgeable. I said I would put the photos on this blog, so if you're in touch with him let him know! There is a kids' section on Dig This website with the happy seeds in very bright packets. It sort of emerged out of the side of the pub some time ago but I didn't take much notice of it, thinking it was a temporary flower/summer bedding place.