Don’t forget to remember rosemary *

Bay Trail, frontage road, and Interstate 80
My wife and I were taking a standard exercise walk along a section of the Bay Trail in Berkeley and I could not help but note the various plantings that had been done as part of creating this pathway. A number of plants had obviously not stood up to the constant wind, salt spray, and lack of irrigation or consistent care, testified by their corpses ‘decorating’ the edge of the walkway (note in the photo above, courtesy of Google Earth).

But there were several grouping that did seem to be surviving in spite of these harsh conditions. One species among the successful was Rosmarinus officinalis, the common rosemary. In one particular area, prone to blowing dust from a nearby area used to dump/store/move landfill, the rosemary look at first to be among the casualties until a closer look revealed new blue flowers opening through the caked mud coating each leaf and stem!

As long as I’ve been gardening, I’ve noticed rosemary plants would usually be among those plant remaining when a garden was left and neglected. Rosemary flower, by Manuel Ramos of Flickr Once established, this tough shrub seems more than happy to take our longer-than-the-Mediterranean summer dry period (about 6 months) and is generally unfussy about soil (except for sodden muck). A true workhorse.

Unfortunately, most of the time there are only a few cultivars planted – ubiquitously with deep blue flowers and good green foliage. As a species, Rosmarinus officinalis is one of the most variable in form, color, and eventual size. It is a real shame that we do not see more of this variety in gardens here in California, though many types are available through herb specialists and adventurous growers.

Rosemaries in Olivier's trial garden

Our friend, Olivier Filippi, in the south of France, runs a nursery devoted to all manner of Mediterranean native and mediterranean climate adapted species, and he collects rosemaries enthusiastically. The photo above is a mere handful of cultivars he grows in his trial garden. Note their compact shapes – this is only in part a characteristic of each cultivar’s habit – because he does not believe in watering (I mean, at all! ever!), all his plants grow more slowly and compact than they do in irrigated gardens, and they live longer and have better color/fragrance.

I especially like the white flowered plant in this shot (on the left; apparently from the Costa Brava in Spain). Also note the yellow-green foliage form – this is ‘Joyce de Baggio’ which I gave him from my garden in Oakland. There are many more type Olivier grows, some virtually flat growing, others enormously tall like yews! I find a grouping of various contrasting rosemary plants so interesting in a garden!

* “There’s rosemary; that’s for remembrance.
Pray, love, remember.”
~Shakespeare, Hamlet

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2 Responses to “Don’t forget to remember rosemary *”


  1. 1 Mark Delepine 23 September, 2010 at 02:25

    I’ve always admired it as a spiller over walls. Wasn’t aware there was so much variability. I suppose the popularity of deep blue flowering plants is owing to the relative scarcity of flowers in that color generally. It is nice to see it with a little space around it.

  2. 2 Louisa 23 September, 2010 at 05:19

    I’ve planted Rosmarinus ‘Lady in White’ from Native Sons. I love the white flowers which almost ‘sparkle’ against the dark foliage. I am told it grows about 2 feet tall by 3 feet wide – can’t wait until mine mature to that size!


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A blog by Seán A. O'Hara

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