I always appreciate a green Christmas. I have no sentimental attachment to white Christmases. The ones I remember from childhood were more likely to be gray, gloomy, drizzly and not too cold, but we didn't mind a bit.
The occasional snowfall was a short-lived treat, but as long as Father Christmas was able to get to our house to fill the pillowcase on the end of the bed with toys, sweets and books, that was all we needed.
I have three major Christmas trees in the house, as well as one for the birds on the front porch, but I always look for a rosemary clipped into the traditional pyramid.
I don't even try to create one for myself - my plants never grow tall enough to be shaped that way - but I look for one in the stores. This year, I had almost given up when I found a nice display of them in the grocery store. The scent and the sight were delightful.
Actually, the two rosemary plants I have in the herb bed by the back door are still alive and even growing. Some people are able to nurse them through the winter with some shelter and care, but I have never been successful in that. Maybe this is the year, if the weather stays mild.
I will pile leaves around the plants before significant snow comes, upturn a bushel basket over them, and hope for the best.
Rosemary has a wealth of legends, myths and stories attached, proving its popularity for hundreds of years past. One legend tells that Mary rested by a rosemary bush on her way to Egypt, and the flowers blooming there turned from white to blue as her cloak brushed by.
In addition to decorating with this versatile herb, especially at Christmas time, it has been used medicinally. It was reputed to strengthen the memory, cure nervous afflictions and even to restore youth.
Elixirs of rosemary extract were used along with tea and wine made from the branch tips to induce sleep and relieve headaches or stiff joints.
If you are keeping a plant in the house, be sure to keep it watered, but not flooded. Even one-time drying out will kill the plant, and no amount of watering will restore it. A sunny but drafty window is the ideal situation, and be sure to keep it away from registers or radiators.
The native habitat for rosemary is the Mediterranean coast, where it enjoys cool breezes, plenty of sunshine and fairly frequent rain.
In Italy and Greece, the bushes often grow to 6 feet high.
New plants can be started in the fall or spring by cuttings or layering. You can sow seeds, but germination is slow and uncertain.
For a cutting, just cut off the end of a branch 3 to 6 inches long with a sharp knife or pruners, strip away the lower third of leaves and stick the bare stem into a container of potting soil. Cover the pot with a plastic bag (raised so it does not contact the leaves) and open the bag every few days to prevent mold from building up.
As soon as cuttings show signs of growth, uncover them and keep in a sunny location until it is time to transplant them outside.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener
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