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The Herb Oval

The Herb Oval, designed and planted in 1981, features a Magic Garden, a Kitchen Garden, and an Apothecary, all surrounding the central Armillary. The armillary sphere was given to Maple Hill by Lucy and George Keyes in 1986, and it is accented by a ground cover of small stones and the ornamental Strawberry “Lipstick.” The central bed of the Oval features Thyme varieties. Thyme is an essential ingredient in bouquet garni and is highly regarded by bee-keepers as bee pasture, producing delicate fragrant honey.

The Magic Garden – The herbs in this bed are traditionally associated with protection from harm: Madonna Lily and Lady’s Mantle, name for the Virgin Mary; Angelica (panacea for all ills, protects against evil); Chamomile (healing); Rue (protects eyesight, power of second sight); Tansy (preserves the dead, gives immortality); Sage (longevity); Basil (divine essence, powerful protector, and in Mexico believed to magnetize money). Garlic protects against vampires; Chives wards off evil spirits and drives demons away. Parsley, on the other hand, has been associated with the Devil. Dill was once used in love potions, and Chervil was regarded as an elixir of youth.

The Kitchen Garden – These are the traditional kitchen herbs used to flavor soups, stews, and bread, as well as leafy green “sallets,” such as sorrel and parsley, that helped prevent scurvy long before our need for vitamin C was understood. Grow two plants of lovage, one for green leaves, the second for flavorful seeds. Hops has been used since ancient times for flavoring beer. The Hops vines on the trellis have been chewed up by caterpillars of colorful Angelwing butterflies.

Within the Kitchen Garden are the fragrant Scented Geraniums, belonging to the genus Pelargonium. Brought to England from South Africa centuries ago, the numberous species have been much hybridized. In the fall, when frost threatens, the gardeners root cuttings to winter over indoors as starts for next summer’s garden display.

The Apothecary – Before they had a convenient corner drug store, homemakers used many herbs medicinally: Senna (laxative), Lemon Balm (diuretic), Lavender and Costmary (aromatherapy), Mother wort (eases childbirthd, stimulates lactation), Foxglove (heart stimulant), Wormwood (to expel worms), Valerian (to sooth fretfulness), Lady’s Mantle (to staunch bleeding), Aloe ver (to treat burns), St. John’s-Wort (against depression), Feverfew (for headache), Mints (to aid digestion), Soapwort (for hygiene), Costmary (for colds, cramps, bee stings), Bee Balm (against nausea and flatulence), Good King Henry (for skin sores), Santolina (to expel worms, cleanse kidneys), Achilles/Yarrow (toothache, aids digestion, rashes), Hyssop (for wounds, bruises), Catmint (for cold and fever relief, bruises), Oregano (toothache, stomachache, tea for coughs).

Champion of multiple uses, Chamomile has been grown to treat acne, anxiety, appetite, arthritis, backache, burns, and scalds, dandruff, depression, diarrhea, earache, eczema, fevers, hay fever, headache, herpes, indigestion, insomnia, itching skin, nerves, sedative, ulcers, vomiting, infected wounds.

The large flannel-textured leaves of Mullein have served as wash cloths.

Some plants in these gardens were used for dying fabrics before the invention of modern chemical dyes: Dyer’s Chamomile, Yarrow, Tansy, and Hops for yellow, Woad (leaves for blue), Yellow Bedstraw (roots for red), St. John’s-Wort for gold, rust, or mauve, and Yellow Flag Iris (roots for black) As a note: The Yellow Flag Iris, or Fleur de Lis, symbol of France, has become a major nuisance where introduced into the Concord River drainage.

Photo by Debra Gracy.