By SCMG Steven Hightower
The botanical name Rosmarinus is derived from the old Latin for 'dew of the sea'; this may refer to its dew-like flowers and the fact that it frequently grows near the sea. Rosemary was valued by the ancients of many cultures as a sacred and medicinal plant. The Greeks burnt rosemary at shrines, and to the Romans it was symbolic of loyalty and remembrance. It’s often carried in wedding bouquets as a sign of fidelity. In the Middle Ages people wore garlands of rosemary for good luck and to protect them from evil spirits and dark magic. Sprigs of rosemary were placed under pillows at night to ward off nightmares. The French burned it as incense in cathedrals. It was also thought to help protect against plague and other infectious diseases.
Rosemary is an evergreen woody perennial, which comes in quite a number of
Most rosemary has small tubular blue flowers that range from almost sky blue (‘Blue Spires’) to the deepest azure (‘Santa Barbara’)—mine mostly start in late fall and last until spring. A very few types have white or pink flowers. The prostrate forms are low and spreading, and are perfect for planting on a rock wall or terrace, where the foliage cascades down the face, looking like the hanging gardens of Babylon. It’s a habitat plant, and attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Sometimes I pass a mature plant in full bloom, and it’s buzzing like a machine with happy bees.
Rosemary can be let go like a wild plant to reach in all directions with its twisting branches, or pruned to stay more compact. Generally, it should not be pruned hard back into the wood, but a couple of years ago, some three-year old plants in pots had gotten a bit leggy and sparse (due to an irrigation system failure) and She Who Prunes Way Hard cut them way back into the wood, with only a bit of greenery left. They were back full and lush in a year.
Propagate Rosemary from cuttings of the twisted wood of non-flowering branches in early summer, or layer established low branches by scooping a shallow trench, burying the branch, and putting a rock over it to keep it from springing up. There should be enough roots on the new plant in about 6-8 weeks to detach and transplant it.
Rosemary is both a shrub and a culinary herb. It is quite strong as the latter, but is useful in many recipes—classically with lamb—and a few stems make great herbal decoration for dishes. When you have a bush or two right out the kitchen door, it’s easy to step out and snip a few sprigs.
Popular upright forms include 'Collingwood Ingram' (2-3 ft), 'Blue Spires' (to 3-4 ft), 'Tuscan Blue' (to 5-6 ft) and Herb Cottage (to 2-3 ft). Popular mounding or trailing forms include Prostrata (1-2 ft x 4-6 ft), 'Huntington Carpet' (1-1.5 ft x 4-8 ft) and ‘Irene’ (1-2 ft x 4 ft.).