Our rosemary has been yielding incredible spikes of icy blue flowers since early November, making it just another reason why it is climbing the charts of my must-have flowers. If you always thought of rosemary as a tasty herb for poultry or pork, you’d be correct — but once you start growing it, you really become aware of all it has to offer the landscape.
Perhaps no plant offers as much fragrance when touched or brushed against. Children who visit the garden for field trips are delighted with their olfactory experience. Not only is it a fixture in the herb garden but is used as a backdrop for seasonal color, like pansies, in much the same way you might use a dwarf conifer.
Rosemary prefers full sun in soil that is well-drained, and slightly acidic. Since it is native to the Mediterranean region it likes soil moisture slightly on the dry side. Like with most plants soil preparation improves your success. Add 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, like fine composted pine bark or humus with 1 pound of slow release 5-10-10 fertilizer, per 100 square feet 100 square feet of planting area.
Turn the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches and plant them at the same depth they are growing in their container. Rosemary is often sold in larger 1- and 2-gallon containers, which will give them some added cold protection if you are concerned. They are normally reliably hardy in zones 8-10 and I have had good luck in zone 7. In colder parts of zone 7 and if you are a zone 6 gambler then plant in a protected location or in containers that you can move as needed.
Though tough in the summer heat, it will need water until it gets established. They are not heavy feeders and most recommend feeding sparingly if at all. They make a great informal hedge and can be pruned after blooming to maintain desired size and shape. Christmas tree-shaped rosemary topiaries have become very popular showing up at garden centers in November.
In the herb garden, group rosemary with plants that like it dry, like artemisia, oregano and santolina. In the landscape it can reach 4 to 6 feet tall and therefore is a perfect partner with a wide variety of plants. While we used pansies as companions during the cool season, drought-tolerant flowers like All Around Purple gomphrena, New Gold lantana and Bombay Blue scaevola are some of my summer favorites.
Rosemary is exceptional in floral arrangements and tying in bows or bundles with salvias like the Mexican bush sage and a couple of fresh cinnamon sticks will make the kitchen become an aroma therapy retreat. Believe it or not, there are named selections of rosemary. Arp, Hardy Hill and Salem are known to exhibit a little extra cold-hardiness. If you want a picturesque variety for tumbling down a rock wall or ornate tub, look for Irene.
Rosemary comes from Latin meaning “dew of the sea” and is truly one of the best members of the mint family to include in the garden. It is also a culinary delight to use in the kitchen. Make sure you plant two or three this season.
Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus Ga., and author of “Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South” and the highly acclaimed “Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden.”