Tuesday, July 28, 2009


My husband and I designed and donated this  Ornamental Herb Garden to our parish:  Historical St. John's, Richmond, VA.......the church is on the National, State and City registers of Historic sites.  We had the garden installed by our friend Steve Cline, Landscaper/artist.  This is the 3rd garden we have given to historic places  in Virginia.  A real pleasure!  St. John's Church, where Patrick Henry made his famous speech .."Give me liberty or give me death" is the 2nd most visited historical site in the city of Richmond, the State Capitol being the lst.....the Capitol was designed by Thomas Jefferson.

The 8’ x 14’ garden is divided into two Rectangles; the smaller one is defined by ENGLISH BOXWOOD.

Surrounding the sundial in the middle of the smaller rectangle are Catmint/Catnip and Germander.

GERMANDER was much beloved by GEORGE WASHINGTON, who used it in his garden at Mount Vernon.   It is also called Poor Mans Boxwood as it can be trained into a small shrub. Germander was once used as a cure for gout.

CATMINT/CATNIP is planted in memory of CHARLIE THE CHURCH CAT, a Siamese who would greet visitors, and often made his way into church during a service. He also liked to sun himself on the flat tombstones.   He had his own trust fund established by a former owner who moved to Europe.  Charlie was loved by the Parishioners, and is buried on the Church grounds. Catnip is much favored as a medicinal tea for babies in many parts of the world.

THYME… the creeping variety was selected to form a green carpet in the smaller rectangle. The word “thyme” is derived from the Greek meaning incense or to fumigate, and thyme was probably so named because of its clean aroma.  This herb came to our shores with the earliest settlers.

LAVENDER, an English Hidcote variety, has been planted around the perimeter of the larger rectangle.  Lavender is used for potpourris and sachets.  The shrubby plants are indigenous to mountainous regions of both Eastern and Western Europe, where they are cultivated as commercial crops for distillation of their fragrant oil.

ROSEMARY has been planted at the corners of the larger rectangle.  It is one of the best loved herbs and probably has more tradition associated with it than any other herb in Western civilization.  “Rosemary, that’s for remembrance” are oft-quoted words from Shakespeare.  Greek scholars wore rosemary garlands to stimulate the memory. Garlands of rosemary were used as a symbol of fidelity for lovers and the plants were gathered into wedding bouquets and bridal wreaths.  The herbal branches were also used at funerals. 

(A bit of Virginia Lore:   It is said that the Rosemary herb was brought to Virginia and specifically Princess Anne County-now the City of Virginia Beach-by the WITCH OF PUNGO in the early 18th century.  It seems that Grace Sherwood known as the Witch of Pungo was jailed and one dark night, she slipped through the keyhole of her prison door and flew to England in an egg shell and returned with seeds of the Rosemary!!!!!!!!!.)

CHIVES:  two onion chive plants are planted at the rear of the larger rectangle.  Their lovely lavender-pink globelike flowers are useful as garnishes and are especially effective when floated in clear soup.  The chives were planted for use in the Parish Hall kitchen.

LAMB’S EAR: the two plants at the front of the garden in the larger rectangle have felty-white leaves, as soft as a lamb’s ear.  This plant is said to act like a styptic pencil in stopping the blood flow of minor cuts and nicks.

The leaves were used during the CIVIL WAR to help stem the flow of blood of wounded soldiers.  Surrounding historic St. Johns parish are many remaining buildings that were used as hospitals or prisons during the Civil War.

COSTMARY:  Four of these plants are located in the larger rectangle near the larger Boxwood.   Costmary in medieval times was used as a strewing herb to cover odors, as well as a flavoring for ale.   Later, in Colonial times, costmary leaves were used as bookmarks, mostly in Bibles and hymnals, giving it another name: BIBLE LEAF.  It seems that during long church services the parishioners would take a refreshing whiff or sometimes chew on the leaf.

Please note:  Much of the information (some verbatim) is from SOUTHERN HERB GROWING by Madalene Hill & Gwen Barclay with Jean Hardy.

We recommend this book as a must’ for Southern herb gardeners.

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