Our rosemary has been yielding incredible spikes of icy blue flowers since early November, just one more 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're missing what it has to offer in 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. Besides being a fixture in the herb garden, it can be a backdrop for seasonal flowers, 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. Because it is native to the Mediterranean region, it likes soil moisture slightly on the dry side. 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 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 containers. Rosemary is often sold in 1- and 2-gallon containers that 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. If you are a Zone 6 gambler, plant in a protected location or in containers that you can move as needed.
Although 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. 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 when tying it in bows or bundles with salvias like the Mexican bush sage. Together with a couple of fresh cinnamon sticks, it will make the kitchen 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, whose name comes from Latin meaning "dew of the sea," is truly one of the best members of the mint family to include in the garden. 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 "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden." Contact him at gardenguy2000aol.com.