Bed 4: Artemisia Bed
Artemisias in the Sensory Garden by Dr John Twibell 2017
Why are we using a range of artemisias in the Sensory Garden?
As a genus Artemisia contains many species that have a wide variety of scents and flavours and, also, have a wide range of leaf forms and colours. The various species contain many interesting and unusual chemical compounds and many of them have been used for flavouring or for herbal uses.
Artemisia dracunculus and its cultivars gives us the tarragons used for flavouring meat and fish dishes. Try the taste test of the two forms grown here with a small portion of leaf if sufficient is available. Try the coarser Russian tarragon first and then taste the French form which you should find to have a much more delicate anise flavour. This plant is far less easy to grow and overwinter that the more vigorous Russian form.
Artemisia abrotanum (Southernwood), A. alba camphorate (Camphor southernwood) and A. absinthium (Wormwood) have been used as insect repellents and in drawers to keep clothes fresh, and the latter has been taken internally (in small quantities) to kill intestinal worms. Rub the leaves of these plants to discover the various different smells.
The herbal usefulness of these plants is confirmed by Artemisia annua which has been used for centuries in China to treat fevers and malaria. Investigation of this plants in the UK in the 1980s led to the discovery of the antimalarial drug artemisinin in the plant. The plant is now grown on a field scale to produce the drug which cannot be easily synthesised. Try smelling and tasting the leaves if the plant. It has a sweet smell which decries its bitter taste. Many artemisias have a biitter taste and were often used for bittering drinks.
Artemisia vulgaris (Mugwort) is a native plant that used to be used for bittering beer before hops were used. It used to be used as a stuffing for goose and its fresh growth was also eaten in spring. Similar species are still used as fresh spring growth in Japan.
Other plants are strongly scented. Try smelling the leaves of the silver A. californica. This has a lovely, sweet smell which is characteristic of the Californian sierras where it is prominent component of the local vegetation.
These plants have been supplied from the Plant Heritage National Collection of Artemisia which is held in a private garden here in Sidmouth. For more information about Artemisias or the National Collection scheme go to the websites of Plant Heritage or Devon Plant Heritage. If you wish to see a wider selection of Artemisias contact the National Collection Holder Dr John Twibell. The Collection contains over 300 different plants and is open by appointment: 01395 578689
Species/Cultivars planted here.
Artemisia abrotanum (Southernwood, Lads Love)
A.absinthium ‘Silver Ghost’ (a late flowering variety of Wormwood selected by John Twibell)
A. alba ‘Camphorata’ (camphor scented Southernwood)
A. annua (annual Wormwood, Sweet Annie, source of antimalarial drug Artemisinin)
A. californica (Californian sagebush)
A. dracunculus sativa (French tarragon)
A. ludoviciana ‘Silver Queen’ (cultivar of oriental beach wormwood)
A. stelleriana ‘Broughton Silver’ (cultivar of oriental beach wormwood)
A.vulgaris (Mugwort widespread northern plant from UK to Far East)
A. vulgaris ‘Oriental Limelight’ (a yellow variegated variety from China)
Several plants of the silver tree wormwood, Artemisia arborescens are amongst the plantings in Bed 1: the RHS Bed.