Our monthly herb picks for this year will focus on a variety of familiar culinary herbs. Some, like parsley, are such old friends that we overlook a few of their culinary uses. Others, like rosemary, occur in numerous varieties, some better for the cooking pot than others.
Remember that October 1 is New Year’s Day for herbs — many, if not most, of the featured herbs this year will take kindly to a cool season transplanting. If you are interested in the herbs listed for July and August, putting oﬀ transplanting until October might be a good idea.
In the centuries-old cultural and literary history of herbs, rosemary stands very tall indeed. Its numerous upright and prostrate cultivars have served aromatic, medicinal, decorative, and culinary purposes for many centuries, and in multiple regions of the world.
An outstanding overview of rosemary, with a focus on varieties successful in our area, is included in Southern Herb Growing. Written by Madalene Hill and Gwen Barkley, the superb and timeless essay makes it worthwhile to search out a copy of their out-of-print classic.
Rosemaries are divided into upright and prostrate varieties, and new hybrids frequently come into the herb market. One very popular culinary variety, christened ‘Arp’ by Hill for the East Texas town where she discovered it, is especially valued for its excellent ﬂavor as well as a cold-hardiness much appreciated as far north as Washington, D.C.. Other upright varieties such as Hill Hardy, Tuscan Blue, Spice Islands, and Gorizia also oﬀer beauty, ease of cultivation, and culinary value to a collection of home-grown herbs.
Prostrate varieties are generally considered less ﬂavorful than their upright cousins, but they add a generous mound of green to gray-green foliage with blue blooms to the garden. “Blue Lady” is especially noted for beautiful foliage and especially intense blue ﬂowers that are often at their most proliﬁc in Zone 8’s December.
Rosemary is susceptible to very few problems. Slow-growing from seed but widely available in pots, its numerous varieties can be planted virtually year round. Make sure to provide excellent drainage wherever planted. Full sun is ideal, but in our climate, rosemaries will tolerate a considerable amount of high shade. If planting in mid-summer, a layer of mulch will help keep the soil cool and give the young plant’s roots a chance. Include a handful of Arbor Gate Blend fertilizer when planting, and repeat at roughly 6month intervals.
Maintenance of established rosemary plants of any variety involves frequent light pruning. When neglected, upright and prostrate cultivars alike will develop very woody stems which probably won’t recover from the hard pruning often attempted to improve the shrubby herb’s shape.
For culinary uses, cut tender light green stems and remove the leaves. Cut them with scissors or a knife to mix into your recipe. Or leave whole to swish through liquid such as stock or sauce. A small bundle tied together makes an eﬀective brush for barbecue or grilled meats and vegetables. Using rosemary often will help keep the plant in shape, while adding richness and interest to many recipes.