This time of the year people flock to the nurseries and buy plants on impulse because the very thought of them sounds good. A good example of this is herbs. Everybody likes herbs, and it sounds so neat, so domestic, so close to nature to cook with fresh herbs. But if you are standing there in front of the nursery rack, looking at a wide assortment of herbs you might purchase to grow, harvest and use in your kitchen, what do you pick? Let me suggest one of the easiest and best for our area.
Rosemary- rich historical background, indispensable culinary and aromatic herb, good pot plant, good bonsai plant, evergreen, easily grown in Texas. All these things make this herb hard to dismiss. Yes, it would be hard for me to live without it.
Rosemary is in the Labiatea Family, along with other herbs like salvia, thyme, cat mint, ajuga, skull cap, lavender, and germander. Gertrude Jekyll, the famous English gardener, said it is from the “lipped tribe”. All the flowers “…have mouths you can pull open to look inside and a hanging, lower lip.” I’ve never thought about it before, but she is right. This brings me to one other nice thing that can be said about rosemary. Along with all its practical uses, among its attractive, evergreen foliage, it sports tiny, blue flowers that are, indeed, lipped.
Rosemary is one of those herbs that have been around for a long time. Native to the Mediterranean, it early on established itself in the hearts of European gardeners, and the name ”Dew of the Sea” was attached to it (“ros” latin for dew and “marinus” meaning sea). The monks who tended the walled monastery gardens of the Middle Ages grew this herb for culinary and medicinal use. It was a kitchen plant all over Europe. Scholars have accounts of it being grown in Canterbury in 1150AD. The young Queen Elizabeth I played in gardens well-planted with rosemary. Gardens like the ones around Hatfield House, the estate of the man who would later become so important in her life, Robert Cecil the first Earl of Salsbury. Rosemary has a rich history. It was a “strewing” herb which means it was scattered on the walks, pathways and halls of the great castles where its aromatic qualities hid the smelly nature of the dark and dank fortresses of the old continent.
Rosemary’s aromatic quality is famous. I suppose it has even functioned as a strewing herb in my life, not that I live in a dark, dank castle, but there have been many a day when I have spent long hours laboring in the garden yet have nevertheless come into the house smelling sweet because I had been trimming and clipping rosemary. Rosemary, by the way, likes to be trimmed and makes a good, informal, low hedge.
Rosemary is one of the major herbs with which my wife likes to cook. She uses it on pork, chicken, in stews and soups and likes to put finely chopped rosemary leaves in homemade, whole wheat bread.
This “old world” herb is easily grown right here in East Texas. There are a number of cultivars from which to choose, but one of the most famous was developed right here in Texas. This variety, “Arp”, is known for its cold hardiness. There are other varieties that are grown for the flower’s color. Some have pale pink flowers; others have very, very deep blue blooms which distinguish them from the native version.
Rosemary does well as a pot plant, for this reason it also does well as a bonsai. For many year, we have grown rosemary in a large pot outside our front door. This handy plant provides all the rosemary my wife could possibly use. Having freshly cut sprigs of rosemary easily at hand is simple luxury with which we have become accustomed. It is one of the plants that has worked itself into our lives.
Rosemary is a plant anyone can have and grow whether it’s grown in a full-fledged herb garden or in a pot set outside the apartment door.