Rosemary in Italian Gardens

Useful Information on Growing Rosemary in your Garden

Rosemary, that great Italian culinary herb that is listed in every Italian recipe, an aromatic herb that is used in almost every dish from Scotland to Rome. How though, does one grow the stuff?

If you have ever created small herb garden, with the aim of using those herbs in Italian style cuisine, then you may have run in to some problems. "Why do my lavender, rosemary and Italian herbs always die on me?" is a phrase stated by many a frustrated housewife but is here to help!

Rosemary is one of the oldest and finest of all Italian culinary herbs. This wonderful herb dates back to the origins of Mediterranean culture itself. Athenaeus, the ancient Greek philosopher, was writing about rosemary along with other herbs in the 2nd century A.D.

Above: Athenaeus, the ancient Greek philosopher

The Etruscans, that fascinating race that forms the origins of modern day Tuscany, were already using rosemary as a stuffing for fish in around 300 B.C.

Above: An Etruscan fresco, found in Paganico, Tuscany

The Etruscans believed that rosemary was capable of warding off evil spirits and they would also use masses of the plant in their necropolis (communal tombs), when they buried their deceased.

Greek students in ancient Greece wore garlands made from rosemary branches to assist their memory. Greeks would also burn rosemary branches at funerals. In fact rosemary contains several physiological and mental stimulants. The 1-2.5% of essential oil present in the rosemary plant can also be used as a cure for respiratory ailments, renal colic, anxiety, depression and it can even stimulate hair growth in men!

The plant is as much a part of the Mediterranean as the people that have admired and utilized it's properties and the relationship between the two is extremely ancient and complex.

In a garden context the rosemary offers the gardener and designer a wonderful plant that resists poor, dry alkaline soils and revels in both bright sunshine and dappled shade. It provides an evergreen structure that will remain full and healthy for many years, if pruned correctly!

Pruning Rosemary Bushes

Like many other Mediterranean plants, the rosemary has it's own specific pruning time. Immediately after the first flowering in late May it's branches can be reduced as far as the last sign of green on the stem. However a general trim with garden shears will maintain a healthy shape and pruning after flowering will ensure the production of flowers for the following year. The younger stems tend to contain far less essential oil than stems of 1 year old or more, therefore the best stems for cooking are those that are slightly more mature. A rosemary plant that never receives a good prune will slowly become woody and less productive, so try to trim it each year.

Rosemary is also very useful in the ecological Italian garden as it is one of the best flowers for honey production. Honey made from the flowers of rosemary is of a superior quality to most other flowers- and the bees just love it!

Above and right: Rosemary flowers

Above: Bee hives and a common honey bee

Given the ease of cultivation, it's wonderful history and the ancient link that rosemary has with the way that human's have seasoned their food a plant of rosemary can always find a place in any Italian garden design.

By Jonathan Radford

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