Friday, May 27, 2011

The Odyssey of the Rosemary

(Thank you, Gardening-4-Life, for giving me the inspiration for today's post.)

Sometimes I really envy zone 7 and zone 8 gardeners.  They can grow so much that we can't here in upstate NY.  Plants such as camellias, one of my favorite flower.  And, they can grow plants outdoors all year that we have to take in, or plant as annuals.  Things such as paperwhites.  Dahlias. And rosemary.

To grow rosemary in upstate NY you have to have a strong back, and a good sense of weather timing.  Let me explain....

In the late 1980's (I forget the exact year), we went somewhere and saw rosemary plants for sale.  At that time, it was not that common to find herbs for sale, at least around here.  We bought two plants.

Our local neighborhood groundhog quickly took care of one of the plants.  But the other one thrived.

Problem:  we knew the plant wouldn't survive the fall.  So come fall, dear spouse potted up the plant and brought it inside.  Little did he know of the odyssey he was embarking on.

Rosemary is not that easy to grow indoors (it tends to get too dry) so the first quest was to find out how to keep it moist, but not too moist. And, we had to find a sunny place for it.  At that time, we didn't have any nice sunny windows.  So spouse had to rig up a lighting system.  All for one little plant.  But spouse loves to use rosemary in his cooking.

That winter was a type of hopscotch.  If it warmed up, the plant went out.  If it was cooling off the plant went back in.  Out, in.  Out, in.  A lot more in than out, because our winters tend to be very snowy, cold-and long.  But we noticed that the plant looked better if it could spend even a few hours outside.  We knew, though, that it wouldn't survive much of a frost.

The plant made it, and the next year it went back into the ground once danger of frost was past. (For us, that's usually early to mid May.)

Then in the fall, back into a (larger) pot, and back indoors when our first frost threatened to hit in October.

Sometimes, when we brought the plant in, spouse would accidentally knock off a branch.   One time, (this was before the Internet, so we couldn't just run to our computers and look stuff like this up) spouse got the idea to put the sprig in water and see what happened.  To his delight, it grew roots.  He potted it, and now we had two plants. And then three.

Over the years, the original rosemary plant got larger and larger.  It bloomed, beautiful little purple flowers.  Its trunk was like wood, gnarled, like a large bonsai. There were some close calls with cold weather.  Spouse experimented with various types of overwintering.  For some years, he used the basement (with a grow light).  As our son grew older we had the use of a former bedroom, and the plant did better there.

The plant got larger and larger.  Fortunately spouse is very strong and (unlike me) a strong back.  It was no problem to transport the matriarch rosemary plant in and out.

The years passed.  The babies were adults now, in large pots, too.  And the matriarch kept going.

Finally, a couple of years ago, the unthinkable happened.  We left the plants out and it got down to about 28 degrees.  The younger plants were frostbit, but we were able to nurse them back to health.

It was too late for the matriarch.

Almost the entire plant died.  One little branch survived, but it was obvious the plant wasn't going to make it. Spouse finally clipped off the last little branch and put it in water.

The matriarch lived, we think, about 18 years.  The oldest "child" now is about 18 years old, too.

We still have the matriarch in our back yard.  Last year, a volunteer tomato plant sprouted near it and grew up using the dead rosemary as support.  We tied it to the gnarled trunk.  The frost came, the tomato plant died, and we left the pot out for the winter.

This spring, it's still out there.  Spouse has taken a couple of clippings of it still fragrant trunk for special BBQ's. He intends to continue to use it until it's gone.

A fitting end to a special plant.


  1. What a beautiful and poignant tale. Living in the Berkshires (Western Mass) I know the trials of trying to get Rosemary to survive. I do have friends who has several Rosemary plants inside their home. Interestingly the plants have never been outside, rarely get watered and should have died the "death of a thousand abuses" years ago. Instead they appear to thrive. Ironically the wife in this couple is named Rosemary and I sometimes wonder if that's why. It is almost as if the plants are saying that they will not fail her!

    1. Rosemary is an amazing plant - but we have managed to kill some, not from neglect, but for other reasons. Oh well. It's three years later and we are still growing the children of our matriarch plant.

  2. Wow! Alana, what a tale! You and your hubby are hardcore rosemary lovers to go to so much trouble for a plant. And it rewarded you! I am inspired to grow a massive rosemary plant, myself, but now I see why I've never been particularly successful: I've never been that doting of my rosemary plant, and inevitably it will perish and I'll have to buy rosemary again for my rosemary-olive bread. But this tale is inspiring!

    1. Thank you for sharing this post on Facebook, Amy! And, just so you know, I've based today's post on this post - thank YOU for the inspiration!


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