Some weeks ago, as I was pulling away at labyrinthine ground elder roots (a satisfying task if ever there was one), Right-But-One Neighbour drifted up holding out a piece of paper and said, ‘This lady is giving away some herbs. Do give her a ring, she might let you have some.’
In urgent need of plants for the shaded area that I was at that very moment vacating of ground elder, I gratefully took the contact details and got in touch with the lady, mainly in the hope of getting my hands on some mint. I was in luck, and duly found myself invited to visit one of the nicest houses and gardens in Morningside by the delightful, herb-obsessed Grace. She took me all over her large garden, one half of which was a veritable jungle of herbs in beds and pots all over the place, and she was glad to be getting rid of some as they were self-seeding like mad.
‘I have thirty-two types of mint,’ she told me. She tried to list them as we went round: ‘Banana mint, pineapple mint, Moroccan mint, apple mint, peppermint, orange mint, lemon mint, spearmint, ginger mint, chocolate mint, curly mint…’
She pulled up handfuls of herbs and stuck them roughly into pots of dry soil. ‘You’ll lose some; par for the course,’ she said. ‘Just come back for more. And if you move house, just come back for more.’
She, her husband and I sat outside on their terrace, drinking cups of tea and iced water respectively; it was a glorious day. We found she knew my sister (everyone seems to know my sister), and that we hailed from the same English county. Her husband worked as a trainer for people in my profession. She showed me her sitting room, which was crammed with books on herbs and on gardening in general. I came away with two bags of wilting spearmint, lemon balm, tansy, golden marjoram, salad burnett, lovage, and chives, and the thought that gardening people are, more often than not, good eggs.
She was wrong: I didn’t lose a single plant. Each one is surviving, somewhat miraculously given the recent dry weather. At the edge of our wild patch are lemon balm, spearmint, peppermint, and tansy. The golden marjoram is planted in a sunny spot below the white lilac tree, and the rest are potted up on the table.