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Robust and rugged rosemary.


One of the most versatile of all herbs, rosemary can be used in a variety of ways in both garden and kitchen. Gardeners cherish it for its many landscape uses--from tall, narrow screens to picturesque spreading ground-covers to little potted trees that bring their pungent fragrance onto patios or decks. Cooks use it to flavor barbecued meats, vinegars, and sauces.

But rosemary's greatest attribute is its toughness. This rugged perennial, native to the Mediterranean region, tolerates a wide range of growing conditions; it endures both hot sun and cool ocean spray and survives temperatures down to around 15 |degrees~. Rosemary also tolerates drought, but it welcomes some supplemental water.

Most types of rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) fall into one of two categories: upright or prostrate. Some have straight branches, others arch or undulate. Among the uprights, you'll find some with basal growth forming an attractive "skirt." Types with branches touching the ground root as they spread.

Leaf color varies. The needlelike leaves are usually green on top and grayish white beneath; the shade of green changes slightly through the year. One rosemary has green-and-gold variegated foliage, but horticulturists tend to agree it looks more diseased than attractive.

Flowers come mostly in shades of blue, but novel pink and white varieties exist as well. All fade as they age. Peak bloom is in late winter or early spring, with flowers intermittently through the year. Flowers attract bees.


Rosemary's primary requirements are sun and well-drained soil; given these, it is practically trouble-free.

Plants grow at a moderate pace and can live for decades; the ones on page 61 are about 15 years old. Too much fertilizer and water result in rank, shorter-lived plants.

Shape young rosemary plants by tip-pruning. On older plants, cut back branches; when spring bloom is over, make cuts in green wood only.


You can harvest leaves for cooking anytime, although some growers say leaves are most flavorful just before the plant flowers. Consider planting rosemary near the barbecue so you can toss plant sprigs over the coals to flavor food as it cooks. Or use rosemary branches dipped in sauce to baste grilled food.

Carole Saville, food and garden writer and garden designer, makes rosemary-flavored vinegar. Since blossoms impart a more subtle rosemary flavor than whole sprigs do, she steeps a 2-inch layer of fresh blossoms in a 12-inch-deep bottle of white wine vinegar; once the vinegar assumes a subtle flavor, she strains the infusion.

Rosemary: 10 good choices

Rosemary variety names and plant characteristics are often confused. Descriptions below are based on the collective experience of four California nurseries that specialize in Mediterranean plants; all agree on these plant names.

* An asterisk indicates varieties most favored by these experts for appearance and performance.

Prostrate kinds for low ground covers

These eventually spread 4 to 8 feet or more.

* 'Corsican Prostrate'. Billowing, with arching branches to 2 feet high; dark blue flowers. Prominent undersides of leaves give plant a silver-blue cast.

'Huntington Carpet'. Billowing, with arching branches 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet high; light to medium blue flowers; dull, light green leaves. Not as showy as 'Corsican Prostrate' or 'Ken Taylor'. Slower, more compact than 'Prostratus'.

'Prostratus'. Ground-hugging to 2 1/2 feet high; cascading; light to medium blue flowers; dull green leaves. (Plants sold as 'Prostratus' vary widely. Plants currently sold as 'Lockwood de Forest' may be 'Prostratus'.)

Semiupright kinds for ground covers

* 'Collingwood Ingram' (also called 'Benenden Blue' and 'Ingramii'). Vertical stems to 5 feet with basal branches sprawling outward and arching upward; spreads to 6 feet or more; showy in bloom, with rich medium to dark blue flowers.

* 'Ken Taylor'. Similar to 'Collingwood Ingram', with vertical stems to 3 feet and looser habit; showy in bloom, with bright lavender-blue flowers; dark green leaves.

Upright kinds for hedges

'Albus'. Bushy to 3 feet tall and wide; white flowers.

'Blue Spire'. Very erect; 4 to 6 feet tall, equal width; no basal growth; medium to dark blue flowers.

'Majorca Pink'. Vase-shaped; 3 to 5 feet tall and to 6 feet wide; lavender-pink flowers; short, dull green leaves; opens in center as it grows; grown for unusual flower color.

'Miss Jessop's Upright'. Five to 8 feet tall, spreading 4 feet; multistemmed; branches arch and dip when 2 to 3 feet long; medium to medium-dark blue flowers; rich olive leaves are longer and wider than on others; not a dense grower.

* 'Tuscan Blue'. Erect to 6 feet or more with basal branching; 4 to 5 feet wide; radiant dark blue flowers are larger than others; dusty olive leaves on stems.
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Author:Ocone, Lynn
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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