Remember the Rosemary

rosemaryI don't know how anyone can manage without rosemary in their garden. I know I can't, and yet that's exactly the situation I've found myself in for the last three years, having lost one plant after another (and a decent sized rosemary isn't the cheapest to buy in a garden centre!). We use rosemary all the time in our house (and we don't even eat meat) which means that every time I want to cook with it, I have to run 700 metres down the road to my neighbour who has, to my on-going frustration, no trouble growing an entire hedge of the stuff!
So, what was I doing that was so wrong? For a start, I was planting the rosemary in far too damp a situation. It has the prettiest of blue flowers so I plonked mine in the middle of the flower bed, a nicely dryish spot in summer, but a real damp posse in winter. Being a frequent traveller to the Mediterranean, where rosemary thrives and can often be found growing wild, you'd think I would have realised that this aromatic plant really doesn't enjoy wet feet at any stage of its life. No wonder mine died within months rather than the 33 years ( the length of the earthly life of Christ) that it is traditionally said to last.

The second mistake I made, where rosemary is concerned, is that (at considerable expense) I kept replacing my lost plants with ones bought from the garden centre. Not so much a mistake, I suppose, but, considering rosemary's willingness to grow from pieces, I could easily have established enough young plants to grow my own hedge without spending a cent. I've made up for lost time, however, because last summer (the best time to take rosemary cuttings) I snipped a good few 20 centimetre-long pieces from my neighbour's plant (making sure each piece included a leaf tip) stripped off a third of the leaves, and then pushed a good third of the cutting into crumbly, damp (but not wet) compost. I left the pots outside during the winter, propped up on bricks to ensure good drainage and, hey presto, every one of them has developed roots.

I'm aiming for a rosemary hedge, having chosen the upright form of the plant in favour of the prostrate rosemary, which is an excellent ground cover on dry banks. I like the upright form as it lifts off the ground a plant that will be included in my cooking. It also has longer and, in my opinion, more succulent leaves. And there is always the opportunity to shape the flexible branches into an interesting 'topiary'. Whichever variety of rosemary you choose, your plant will still yield up the same delicious flavour and should continue to grow, without a great deal of care or attention, for many years (though, with the upright varieties, you will have to cut back some growth after three or four years to avoid the development of a bare, woody centre).
If you think that you can do without a rosemary in your garden, the recipe below may well have you changing your mind!

Rosemary and Potato Soup

This is my favourite soup recipe. It's so easy to prepare and, although it is at its best having been left in the fridge for a day, it's still fantastic fresh from the pot. The quantity below serves 2-3.

Ingredients
4 tsp. olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 medium chopped onion
400 mls water
2 dessertspoons tomato concentrate
6 fresh (or 1 can chopped) tomatoes (remove skins if you wish)
3 medium sized unpeeled and diced potatoes (agria are best)
1 tsp. sugar
a good handful of fresh rosemary leaves tied in a muslin bag

Method

  • In a pot, sauté onion and garlic in olive oil until soft but not browned.
  • Add all other ingredients and simmer until potato is tender.
  • Remove the muslin bag of rosemary and discard.
  • Crush (do not mash) the potato with the back of a spoon.
  • Simmer again for 10 minutes, and serve with a garnish of fresh rosemary leaves.

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