A designer once told me she never plants rosemary in her garden because it’s too common. Huh?
Of course, everyone has a right to their own opinion, but not planting something just because it’s common?
Personally, I happen to LOVE rosemary in the garden and incorporate it into as many designs as I can.
Whether it’s the upright ‘Tuscan Blue,’ mid-size ‘Mozart’ (in the photo, left) or the groundcover ‘Prostratus’ (and everything in between,) I can’t get enough of this plant.
It’s an especially treasured plant for those of us who share our gardens with marauding deer, rabbits, and gophers, as the highly aromatic leaves tend to repel them.
At the same time, because of its long bloom time, it’s a bee magnet (mason bees, honey bees, and bumblebees) as well as hummingbirds, and butterflies.
Anything that thrives in my blistering hot garden with very little supplemental water is a welcome addition any time!
Rosemary is fast-growing, too, which means there will always be enough on hand to grab a generous amount for recipes.
One of my favorite things to do is strip off the leaves of a thick stem of ‘Tuscan Blue’ or ‘Barbeque’ rosemary and use it as a shish kebab skewer.
I thought it might be helpful to not only talk about some of my favorite varieties but to show different ways rosemary can be used in the garden.
After all, it’s one thing to look at beautiful up-close shots of rosemary flowers, but it’s another thing to see a full-grown specimen in the garden and how it’s used.
Front of the border
My all-time favorite rosemary variety is ‘Mozart,’ and my advice is to grab a few whenever you see them available in the nursery.
One reason is the color – holy cow! It has one of the darkest and vibrant blue colors I’ve seen and is such a welcome sight in late winter. I took this photo just this morning, March 6th, and it’s been blooming for a few weeks now!
‘Mozart’s’ dimensions are what also make it a treasure in the garden, growing to a mid-sized 2 ½ x 4’.
I find this size is perfect for gently spreading to fill a space while still providing a bit of ‘bulk’.
I use it near the front of the border, as you can see in this part of my garden, where it butts up against my driveway.
‘Chef’s Choice’ (a Sunset introduction) is another variety with even tidier dimensions, growing to about 18” x18”.
In my last garden, I had it tucked at the front of my small vegetable bed, as you can see in this photo.
I only wish it had been blooming at the time, but alas it wasn’t.
This variety has an exceptionally high oil content in its foliage, making it a fantastic choice to use in cooking.
If you can’t find ‘Chef’s Choice’, ‘Boule’ is another variety that grows to 2’x2’.
The ubiquitous ‘Prostratus’ (or Creeping Rosemary) is even lower growing, just 1’x 5’ wide, making it ideal for draping over walls.
One of my long-time clients has several varieties of rosemary in her garden, including the creeping rosemary that gently grows over her garden’s walls.
Even though r. prostratus is one of the most common varieties of all, that doesn’t mean it isn’t stunning in the right scenarios. In the example, below, I’ve used the blue flowers of the Creeping Rosemary to create the illusion of a waterfall near my client’s pool.
Middle of the border
Taller varieties that grow with an upright form, like ‘Ken Taylor’ (4’x3’ wide), are ideal for the middle layer of a garden.
‘Majorca Pink’ (left) is another upright variety with pink flowers (a nice alternative to all the shades of blue out there,) which grows to 3-4’ x 3’wide.
In Pasadena’s Arlington Garden, an upright form of rosemary is pruned to create a perfect middle layer placed behind the boxwood border.
I just love this low-water combination of boxwood, rosemary, and the maroon cordyline in the container.
Years ago, while visiting Sunset Magazine’s former headquarters in Menlo Park, I couldn’t stop photographing the inner courtyard’s rosemary hedge in full bloom.
Kept at a manageable 5-foot height, it’s the perfect low maintenance, drought-tolerant, and evergreen backdrop for a seating area.
Back of the border
When left unpruned, ‘Tuscan Blue’ can grow upwards of 6’ tall, making it a stunning backdrop that fills a space with its soothing green foliage.
At Cornerstone’s ‘Garden of Contrast,’ created by James van Sweden and Sheila Brady, a swath of rosemary (which, I think is ‘Tuscan Blue’) gently embraces the agave americanas.
Along a similar vein, I’ve used ‘Tuscan Blue’ to grow around and gently cradle my client’s decorative olive jar.
In my client’s garden, we’ve combined the low-growing ‘Prostratus’ and the taller ‘Tuscan Blue’ for a dynamic, bullet-proof combination.
As an added bonus, the shades of blue are different on each of the two varieties, providing long-lasting, colorful contrast.
Rosemary plants do surprisingly well in containers, just as long as they’re fast draining. All varieties of rosemary hate ‘wet feet,’ so it’s crucial the soil quickly drains.
For at least 15 years, I’ve had this rosemary growing in this pot.
I originally found it on the sale table at Rogers Reynolds nursery (anyone remember that Menlo Park gem?)
It was only an 18”-tall topiary that had a severe lean to it and was a little sickly looking, so for $10 I took it home to see if I could revive it.
15-years later, it’s over 5’ tall and never fails to be the first to bloom with pale blue flowers, often starting in late January.
This is another container that I’ve placed at the very end of my awkward ‘carport’ garden.
I’ve had the beautiful copper container for years (from H. Potter), and it’s been home to a ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary.
This particular area of my garden gets unrelenting summer sun, which means whatever I planted in there would have to be bullet-proof as the container dries out quickly.
Rosemary was a perfect choice.
At the foot of the container is a teucrium cossonii, which also requires very little water and is happy with the little bit that drains from the bottom of the container.
The teucrium begins blooming just as the rosemary finishes, providing an additional three months of flowers.
I think the #1 reason I love rosemary plants so much is for their abundance of early spring flowers, signaling the end of winter.
Dark blue, light blue, pink, and even white – seeing masses of tiny, fragrant flowers on a late winter day is a sight to behold.
Banning rosemary from the garden just because it’s common? No way!
With so many varieties on the market these days, I’m sure I’m missing out on a few, so please share any of your favorites with us!
P.S. I’ve had some readers ask about cold-hardy varieties and it seems there’s a few selections that are hardy down to Zone 5 – hooray! Click here to read the article.
The important thing to remember is to make sure they have fast draining soil as they HATE to sit with wet and soggy roots. Mix in plenty of small gravel, or better yet pumice (here’s an article about pumice, if interested.)