Rosemary – Rosmarinus officinalis, if you’re on more formal terms with the most common variety of this highly aromatic herb – smells so Christmassy to me. You’d almost think that I cooked just one day in the year. Leaves from this hardy and woody shrub can be harvested all year round and I like it so much – roasted with potatoes, mainly – that it was the first herb I wanted to grow in my new garden. The fact it grows into a substantial, perennial, evergreen plant with dark, needle-like leaves and, in the spring, flowers that some swear are just as tasty, means it has secured a permanent place in front of the back door. Not least because it perseveres bravely when other, less hardy herbs have given up the ghost. If you’re still looking for reasons to bring it into your life, rosemary:
- Encourages bees and other pollinators
- Is evergreen and hardy
- Has edible leaves
- Produces purple-blue flowers in the spring (which are also edible)
- Is a versatile herb
- Grows in difficult soil with little maintenance
Growing Rosemary from Seed or Cuttings
Despite being extremely easy to care for, rosemary is rather difficult to grow from seed. If you fancy a challenge, you can throw a few bob Prince Charles’s way and buy rosemary seeds from Duchy Originals.
However, if you already have access to a rosemary plant then you can take softwood cuttings from a healthy specimen at any time from May to August. The plants will mature more quickly than their seed-grown counterparts and can be easily grown as follows:
- Using a sharp knife, take cuttings (from young shoots, torn off at stem level) of about 10cm
- Remove leaves from the lower 4cm and cut off the base of the stem just below a leaf node (i.e. from where you’ve removed a leaf)
- Dip stem ends in hormone rooting powder
- Fill pots with a gritty compost and insert the compost around the edges (or alternatively, individually in the modules of a seed tray
- Water and place in a shaded, sheltered area (or a propagator – though placing the pot in a plastic bag will retain the moisture equally well)
- A few weeks later, tip the pot over gently and inspect the roots of the soil. Once they’ve formed decent roots, carefully separate them
- Repot your rosemary seedlings in a loam-based compost, e,g. John Innes No. 2
- Water regularly – transfer to larger pots as they grow and plant out the following spring.
…or you can just buy a rosemary plant ready-grown!
Caring for Rosemary
I can say from experience that Rosemary is a remarkably hardy and tolerant plant, though it prefers full sun and well-drained soil and flowers in April, May and June. To ensure you have a plentiful supply of young, succulent leaves for culinary use you should gather the leaves regularly and prune plants each spring. Rosemary should be planted outside in April, and will grow well in containers, though you should use a large and deep pot as plants can grow tall and have long and deep roots. Plant in a potting compost with a handful of sand or grit and keep well watered throughout summer.