Rosemary is pretty in the garden, delicious in the kitchen
Rosemary is an herb that is as beautiful in the garden or container as it is useful in the home. It has silvery, needlelike foliage and small blue, pink or white flowers.
Where it is hardy -- in much warmer climates than ours -- it grows into a large evergreen shrub. In our Midwestern gardens, rosemary remains considerably smaller. Most varieties grow no more than 2 feet tall and wide. Here, it is either treated as an annual, sentenced to the compost bin at the end of the season, or brought inside to a sunny window for the winter.
To grow rosemary, three conditions must be met: a site with full sun, soil with excellent drainage and good air circulation.
Don't water plants until the soil is dry. They develop root rot if the soil is kept too moist. If rosemary is planted in pots, make sure they have plenty of drainage holes and fill them with a light, good quality potting mix without fertilizer or water-holding crystals.
Rosemary rarely requires fertilizer. If a plant has been overwintered indoors, it may benefit from a spring feeding of fish emulsion. Overwintered plants should also be repotted into slightly larger pots and pruned to remove any dead stems and to shape.
There are several varieties of rosemary. Some are mounding, others grow upright and some creep. Common rosemary (Rosemary officinalis) grows in an upright rounded mound and displays pale blue flowers.
Arp has an upright habit and is often chosen for its exceptional winter hardiness. Its foliage is also grayer than most other cultivars. Tuscan Blue boasts rich dark blue flowers on an upright plant. Both Arp and Tuscan Blue are suitable to train into topiaries.
Creeping rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis var. prostratus) grows outward, perfect for tumbling over the edges of large pots, softening the edges of a garden path or draping over rock walls.
Deer, rabbits and other garden marauders rarely bother rosemary, but butterflies and other pollinators are attracted to its flowers. It is relatively pest- and disease-free in the garden but can be prone to assault by powdery mildew, aphids and spider mites when overwintered indoors. Giving the plant as much sunshine and air circulation as possible will limit these.
Harvest rosemary any time, but its oils are their strongest just before flowering. Rosemary has a pungent flavor so use it sparingly at first if you haven't cooked with it before. And, the flavor intensifies when it is dried or frozen.
Crush the leaves to sprinkle on all kinds of meat and poultry. Add them to potato dishes, soups or stews, and bake them into cakes and breads. Mix them into oil, butter and spreads.
Rosemary can also be used in sachets and potpourri. Save a few stems to throw in the fireplace to fill the house with its pine-scented perfume in winter. Throw a sprig or two in a dresser drawer to repel moths. You can even toss some in the tub for a revitalizing soak.
Rosemary is known as the herb of remembrance, symbolizing friendship and loyalty. If you have yet to grow it in your herb garden or use it in your culinary exploits, it's time you made friends with rosemary.
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist, garden writer and speaker. She blogs at gardenwithdiana.com.