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September 12, 2006 > Rosemary for Remembrance

Rosemary for Remembrance

by Pat Kite

Today, in my unending quest to fill difficult sunny spots, I bought two six packs of Rosemary.  Admittedly, given that the packs were unlabeled, my hope is that I bought prostate, or ground cover rosemary.  Sunset garden book proclaims, "Rosemary's Greatest Attribute: Its Toughness." Rosemarinus officinalis is said to tolerate hot sun and poor soil. We have plenty of that around here. I won't proclaim "good drainage," given clay soil, but two out of three isn't bad.  Like all fervent gardeners, I am eternally optimistic. I go into a hardware store for a light bulb and come out with $37 worth of plants. The only light bulb that departs is the one in my brain.

Rosemary is supposed to help that sort of thing. Since ancient Roman and Greek times, Rosemary was thought to improve memory. Greek students twined it in their hair before examinations. The Romans crowned their guests with it at banquets. During funeral ceremonies, it was carried by attendants, and then thrown onto graves, a way of promising the departed they would not be forgotten. Rosemary was also planted near tombs. The plant's aroma was believed to preserve dead bodies and the long-lasting green leaves were an emblem of eternity. Even in some areas of Britain today, rosemary wreaths are placed on soldiers' graves so all will remember their heroic deeds.

Rosemary has long been part of a bridal bouquet. Placing small springs into a bouquet meant the marriage would be happy. Planted in front of a home, lore has it "Where rosemary flourishes, the lady rules."

Aside from a beauty bathing potion to keep one "lusty, lively, youthful and youngly," Rosemary was also rumored to have an ability to make old folks young again. In a long ago fable, an ancient Queen suffering from gout wasn't happy about her dancing days being over. So, "Of rosmaryn she took six pownde, and grounde it well into a stownde." Apparently she dumped this stuff in her bath water and sloshed in it three times a day. After some time the story goes, she looked so great; she went out searching for a husband.

There are several varieties of Rosemary, from those at spreading ground cover size to six feet high. The taller ones, as "Tuscan Blue," make a nice border hedge. Tiny leaves are dark green and have a pleasant aroma. Small violet-blue flowers appear amply in the spring, winter, and sometimes even in the fall. There's also a more seldom found "Majorca Pink" with lavender pink flowers on a 3-foot high shrub. And "Corsican Prostrate," at only 15 inches high with dark blue flowers. Do check the height description on the label, as names for Rosemary at garden centers tend to be creative.

Rosemary is relatively drought tolerant once it takes hold, and you don't have to do much to keep it healthy. If you choose, give a sprig or two to a friend.  It's supposed to bring success...hopefully. It makes me happy.

Pat Kite, gardener.

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