Now that it’s finally cold enough to turn the oven on for dinner my secateurs are seeking out rosemary to roast with potatoes tossed with lemon, braise with beef and bacon, or nestle against a lamb shoulder given the long slow treatment.
The only consensus on flavour in rosemary is that the upright forms are better for cooking than the prostrate form, though nothing beats the lounger for crawling in a tangled fragrant mass over a hot wall. Otherwise, flavour seems to depend as much on conditions as anything. Rosemary likes it hot and dry and prefers frost and drought to humidity and soggy soils.
Consequently, in my humid patch rosemary is not long-lived and every few years it succumbs to a fungus and I start again in a different spot. Next time this happens I’m going to hunt up the variety called ‘Mozart’. This is much praised by nurserymen such as David Glen of Lambley Nursery, outside Ballart, who uses it as an edging along a broad brick path, and Chris Cuddy of Perenialle Plants at Canowindra, who both sell it mail order. ‘Mozart’ has richer blue flowers than the hardware store plant I’m currently growing, and much more of them. The glossy green leaves and flowers grow on strictly upright stems to about 90cm.
That sturdy uprightness of rosemary is valuable in the garden as a contrast to floppier, more filmy plants and it also looks good with succulents, which share the liking for hot dry conditions. Sydney garden designer Peter Fudge channelled a sort of Japanese aesthetic in his own front garden, planting rosemary in gravel alongside felty Kalanchoe tomentosum, succulent crassula and dark green mounds of dwarf Raphiolepis ‘Snow Maiden’. The rosemary is kept trimmed to form neat green-grey mounds. (Read more about Peter’s front garden here.)
Mickey Robertson at Glenmore House in Camden matches rosemary with other Mediterranean types such as lavender, santolina and perovskia, Russian sage, and it looks suitably rustic against the old farm buildings in the garden. Robertson also puts rosemary to use in her kitchen, where she bakes it with chestnut flower and pine nuts into a favourite cake.
To keep rosemary looking good it’s best to be mean – no water, no fertiliser, and plenty of cutting. Trim often and prune it back by about two-thirds every year after the flowering starts to wane. Use some of the prunings as propagation material: trim the tips, strip the bottom third of leaves and carefully firm into pots of potting mix. The resulting successes can be used as repeats around the garden, or kept as back-ups to replace old plants and those afflicted by sudden death.
Rosemary prunings not used for propagation or dinner needn’t go to waste. Food magazines use the stripped stems as skewers, which seems like a terrific idea but which I find is more trouble than it’s worth. Instead I allow all the bits to dry then use them as fragrant kindling in the fire pit or barbecue.
It’s time to
The Calyx is the new exhibition centre at the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney. It opens this weekend with Sweet Addiction: the Botanic Story of Chocolate. 10am-4pm. Adults, $15, children $8.
Plant seedlings close together in a sunny, fertile spot. Fertilise prodigiously for flowers into spring.
Plant a fruit tree
Unless you live in chilly parts of Sydney, choose a low-chill or tropical variety. ‘Anna’ apple could work. It was bred in Israel and fruits even in tropical Queensland. It will need a pollination partner, as well as protection from fruit fly. Expect mighty yields of apples around Christmas, three years after planting. More: daleysfruit.com.
Choose a chook
Don’t know your Australorps from your Orpingtons? The National Poultry Show is on this weekend, June 11-12 at the Sydney Showground, ticket $10 at the gate.