Spring Update - The Antes Garden
With the arrival of May and 80-degree daily high temperatures there was no question that spring had finally come to stay. The early garden crops were all planted in April, many of them later than normal due to the unaccustomed cold and extended winter season. But, nature has a way of evening things out, and the burst of really warm weather brought even the most reluctant plants and trees out of their dormancy.
The perennials in the perimeter garden beds are all reveling in their exuberant spring growth; all but the Saffron Crocus that was luxuriantly green throughout the long winter and is just now entering into its period of dormancy, only to burst into new growth again in the fall with its sought after stigmas when the rest of the garden will be either dying or going dormant. Perennials are well adapted to shed their cold intolerant, aboveground, growth while hoarding their stored energy below ground awaiting the arrival of more temperate conditions. With an already established root system perennials can burst forth with rampant growth as soon as conditions permit. Annuals, starting from seed, need a longer period to reach their maturity, although many varieties of greens and radishes grow quickly and are ready for first tastes in little more than a month from planting.
A largely unknown perennial, but one that always surprises visitors to the Antes garden, is Lovage, Levisticum oficinale. With flower stalks growing to more than five feet in height and with long, hollow stems, Lovage is another of the garden plants included in Emperor Charlemagne’s 812 AD edict to the Germanic provinces described in the April 2015 Newsletter. A versatile plant with medicinal properties ascribed to it from ancient times, the young leaves and stems can be used in salads, soups, and stews. The root, dried and grated, can also be used as a spice for soups and stews. A tea brewed from the stems and leaves is reportedly a carminative (alleviating stomach gas and flatulence), an antiseptic, and a diuretic. The seeds are used as a spice, similar to fennel, or celery seed, especially in winter soups and stews.
With leaves similar to those of celery and parsley, and tasting somewhat like celery, Lovage has a more distinct, more biting flavor. The hollow stems were used as straws to imbibe water and milk in cases of sore mouth or throat, perhaps combining its physical property as a conduit with its supposed medicinal properties. Pleasant tasting when young and tender, the leaves and stems become very bitter as they age and begin to yellow. To avoid this and to prolong the period of fresh growth the plant needs to be cut back to within 2 or 3 inches of the ground whereupon it will begin growth anew. To assure a constant supply of fresh, young growth Lovage can be grown in three clumps that are cut back in rotation. The first is cut back at the end of June, the second in August, and the third is allowed to go to seed. In succeeding years the order of rotation is similarly rotated among the clumps.
The German (and dialect) name, Liebschteckel, literally, love stick, as well as the English name conjure up aphrodisiacal properties that don’t seem to exist and are fairly modern in origin. The original Latin name more than likely attributed the herb to the province of Levisticum, originally Ligurium, in north western Italy, where the plant was said to have originated. The name, like the name of the province itself, through subsequent language modifications and translations resulted in the current misnomer evident in most European languages.
This spring we have had a small but extremely dedicated group of volunteers working in the garden. We are always looking for more help, and with more people we could expand the range of what we grow. If you think you might like to get involved please stop by the garden on any Tuesday evening or give us a call (215-234-4119), or an e-mail (email@example.com). Or just stop by to see what we are doing. You may find working in an 18th century kitchen garden infectious.
Bill and Jacquelyn Daley
Keywords: saffron, crocus, perennial, annuals, lovage, medicinal, fennel, celery, parsley, liebschteckel