Take a wander around your garden, or into your greenhouse and I could almost guarantee there are plants that have a direct memory of a friend or loved one. In my garden I have cuttings of my grandmother’s rosemary plant. That in itself is quite ironic because rosemary is associated with remembrance. So much so that rosemary stems picked at Highgrove and Balmoral were part of the funeral flowers on the Queen’s coffin in September.
My grandmother loved gardening. She was a gardener right to her core. Her garden was her pride and joy and it holds so many precious memories from my childhood. I loved her garden. I loved the way we could run all the way around her house; I’d never seen a detached house before. I relished picking the wild strawberries from around the garden and I remember helping gather the damsons from her prolific damson tree that was always dripping with fruit in autumn. Those purple fruits soon became damson wine bubbling away in demo johns for months in the kitchen. And I am very blessed because I have healthy cuttings from her rosemary plant. It doesn’t just remind me of her and her garden, it feels like I still have an essence of her in my garden. And in the same way I took cuttings from a rosemary plant growing in a dear friend’s garden just before he died. Again, it gives me a sense of connection to be able to grow a plant that he cherished, especially because he was a plantsman as well.
The smell of rosemary takes me somewhere; somewhere hot and sunny, but somewhere with a spicy rich smorgasbord of taste and flavour. It ignites my taste buds and transports me to far and distant shores. It’s clean, it’s zesty, it’s rich, its delicious and it picks me up and moves me. It feels like it quenches a hunger, satiates a desire and encapsulates a moment. It’s strong, it’s moody and it’s very very powerful. And of course it is. Rosemary is a powerful herb with medicinal, herbal and cosmetic powers some known and no doubt many unknown. A quick check with the ‘Herb Queen’s’ hard earned knowledge reminds me of its qualities. First its power as a memory boost, it’s associated with remembrance and has been used for centuries as a memory enhancer. And now there is scientific evidence that shows that it does indeed have memory boosting powers.
Rosemary for pollinators
One of my top plants for pollinators is rosemary. And that’s for a few reasons. First it often flowers over the winter and into spring and sometimes for months on end. These flowers are a vital source of nectar when forage is scarce, particularly for early emerging bumblebees. But also because it has many flowers in one place, making them fast food for pollinators and offering nectar rich flowers close together for efficient feeding. As always choose to grow organically to keep your pollinating pals safe from pesticides.
Rosemary and friends
Rosemary or Rosamarinus means Rose of the sea, the flowers look like sea spray catching the light. But the flowers are not just blue or mauve/blue; there are white flowering forms, varieties with blue flowers and even some with pink flowers. More recently rosemary has been reclassified as salvia. Both rosemary and salvias are members of the mint family (Lamiaceae) as are many of our garden herbs including mint (of course) but also thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil, sage, catnip lemon balm, sage and hyssop. I don’t think I will get used to calling it salvia. It’s such a different plant. An evergreen shrub that thrives in well-drained soil in a sunny position and especially in terracotta pots that hold their heat.
I like to move my potted rosemary, sorry, salvia, into the protected climes of the greenhouse for winter. That way I can keep picking fragrant stems and leaves through the winter and keep it safe and almost dry. I know rosemary hates being waterlogged and all my rosemary plants seem to like the extra TLC that the greenhouse affords. So my precious rosemary cuttings complete with their dear memories, my ginger rosemary and now my lovely pink rosemary (Majorca pink) are all safely housed under glass until spring is sprung.
They are all in good company because my lemon verbena and my favourite mints also spend winter inside the greenhouse where I can keep them frost free and free from snow. It seems to suit them and it does mean I can harvest a few sprigs of rosemary and mint when winter is at its hardest, and also for any festive feasts that need the power of their flavour and the magic of their presence.