Mmmmmmm. Rosemary. This lovely herb has been revered for centuries for its taste and scent. Every herb garden should have at least one rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) plant. But this tasty treat doesn’t just belong in the herb garden – it has a place in borders and perennial gardens, too.

Flowering rosemary bush

In spring, rosemary plants are covered with pale blue flowers.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Rosemary flowers

While beautiful in the garden, rosemary’s flowers can’t be used in cooking.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Prostrate form rosemary

Plant a prostrate form of rosemary where it can spill over rock walls.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

Young rosemary plants

These young rosemary plants were grown from cuttings.

Photo Credit: Lane Greer

All rosemaries are evergreen, with narrow leaves that resemble very short pine needles. Most rosemaries have small blue flowers in spring. The so-called “upright forms” reach about 2 feet tall, although they can get as large as 6 feet. (Mine never do, since I’m constantly cutting them.) Most rosemary plants are hardy to Zone 8, although a couple of varieties can survive as far north as Zone 6b, but only if they’re given a sunny, well-drained, protected location and heavily mulched in winter.

While any rosemary can easily fit as a decorative plant in your flower bed or garden, there are several cultivars that are more ornamental than the species and will attract the attention of your neighbors. The best part is that all of these selections are edible.

All the forms below have blue flowers and are hardy to Zone 8 unless otherwise noted. The upright forms include:

  • ‘Arp’, which has lightly lemon-scented foliage, is reportedly the most hardy cultivar, surviving to Zone 6.
  • 'Madalene Hill', also know as ‘Hill Hardy’, which was discovered by the well-known herb grower Madalene Hill in Texas, is hardy to Zone 7.
  • ‘Logee Blue’ is preferred by many gardeners for its deep blue flowers, excellent flavor and vigorous growth habit.
  • ‘Miss Jessup’ has larger leaves than most and grows up to 6 feet.
  • ‘Tuscan Blue’ has larger flowers than most and gets 4 to 5 feet tall.
  • Prostrate forms such as ‘Irene’ and ‘Prostratus’ (also called “prostrate form”) grow about 2 feet tall but spread out for about 6 feet.
  • There are also cultivars that boast white flowers (‘Nancy Howard’) or pink flowers (‘Portuguese Pink’).

Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean, which has very dry summers, so this savory herb is very drought-tolerant. Just make sure to give it good drainage and lots of sun. Some of my very thoughtful neighbors have planted it around their mailbox, where the mail carrier appreciates it daily.

If you choose one of the spreading forms, plant it so the rosemary can cascade over low rock walls or concrete curbs – or next to a path where you’ll be brushing against the fragrant foliage. These plants are easy to maintain in containers, too, so you can move it close to the door and use it often.

To harvest it for cooking (which can be done any time of the year), simply cut stems long enough to ensure you have enough leaves for your recipe. Rosemary doesn’t store for more than a few days, so take only as much as you’ll need at one time. This herb is very amenable to pruning, so harvesting doesn’t damage it as long as you leave two-thirds of the plant intact.

Rosemary can be overwintered indoors, but it’s not easy since the plants need a lot of light. If you live north of USDA Hardiness zone 7, treat rosemary as an annual. It’s well-worth the few dollars you’ll spend every year to enjoy the fragrance both in the garden – and in your favorite recipes.