(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on December 22, 2008. We hope you enjoy it as we count down to Christmas.)
Rosemary is a culinary, potpourri and tea herb with a pungent, piney aroma. Traditionally known as the herb of remembrance, rosemary grows as a sturdy, bushy, evergreen plant with piney-looking, needle shaped leaves. It's easy to see why some clever gardener began pruning rosemaries into cone shapes and selling them at Christmas time. One would make a nice gift for someone who has mentioned that they love to cook with rosemary. A rosemary could be a cute substitute tree for an apartment dweller or lovely seasonal greenery for your home or office. Rosemary trees are simple to decorate in a variety of styles. You'll find many choices as you shop creatively to festoon your plant.
Buy a rosemary
Christmas tree rosemaries are sold at nurseries, at big stores with nursery departments, and even at some grocery stores. Online shopping is another option. This year, $11 got me a ten- to twelve-inch tall rosemary bush in a tall, six-inch wide glossy plastic pot. There was a larger (one and a half gallon pot) size offered at that store as well, and other local sources sold their rosemaries in different pots. All were bushy, deep green, and healthy looking. I chose two, selecting the fullest, most uniformly shaped specimens. I also tipped them sideways to see if excess water poured out of the pot. (Standing water in the pot is very hazardous to rosemary root health.) To hold my rosemaries at home, I found my brightest but coolest indoor site. In warmer zones, you can keep it outside. Chilly weather is all right, but don't expose potted rosemary to any more cold than brief overnight frost. Any non-draining cover pot should be removed so you can monitor the plant's watering.
The same store that sold the rosemary might also sell Christmas decor. Look for ornaments or trims there designed for tiny trees. A few dollars worth of trims will cover these small trees, or you can go all out with glorious gilded and glittery gewgaws. Your personal touch will make this gift even more special, and the choices multiply when you look outside the Christmas ornament display. Visit your friendly neighborhood, (okay, local giant mega-chain) craft store. You'll be surprised at what you can find for your tree when you think creatively. Here are some suggestions for your craft store browsing:
Metallic berries on wire, various sizes and colors
Statice, real or artificial
Dried flowers or berries
Ribbon and ribbon roses
Floral picks of tiny gifts or fruits
Light strings sold for "village" sets
Tiny jingle bells
Artificial greenery, variegated
Floral picks offer a selection of shiny round beads on wire in various colors and sizes. These can be pulled apart to create tiny round ornaments, on wire that can be formed into a hook. Choose from red shades, gold or silver ,white or crystal, blue, purple or pink. You may use a bunch or two of white statice, real or artificial. Clip it into small clusters and tuck them in for a snow-frosted effect. Would your recipient enjoy the kitschy charm of sparkly pom poms and minute jingle bells, strung on or glued to a ribbon? Craft stores may sell packages of tiny ornaments and trims for those miniature fake trees. I picked up a string of imitation lights, but could have gotten tiny bead or star garland. The "Christmas village" section displayed charming electric light sets with lights just slightly bigger than a pinhead. Stroll through the dried flower aisle and develop an all-natural theme of small seed pods and dried flowers.
Keep in mind that the rosemary has fairly dense twigs, so you won't have a lot of open space to fill. The effect is one of a solid greenery to dress up by draped or tucked-in trims rather than with hanging ornaments.
An angel or a star for the top?
A real Christmas tree would have something special on the top and so can your rosemary. Shop the ready-made decor for something small and light. You could look for, or make, a beaded ornament star, a wooden star or angel on a wire, or a pipe-cleaner star. Another fancy look is the use of a full ribbon bow at the top of the tree with streamers coming down the sides. Half-inch wide ribbon will look large on this small scale tree.
Ready to decorate
I've chosen red and white beads, artificial statice, a garland and tiny bells and candy canes. These wired beads have been taped together. Pull them apart and make miniature ornaments on wire hooks. Plastic statice can be pulled or cut apart into little bunches; the bunches get tucked in between the dense rosemary branches. Garlands and ribbons can be draped around the plant. Allow five or six yards in length to circle the bush several times. Items on a wire or stick can be inserted into the foliage of the rosemary as if it was a big hunk of floral foam. You can hook the end of the wire to help it catch. The tree is surprisingly sturdy once trimmed. The specimen I decorated and photographed here survived a good test shaking. Nothing fell off, and the nursery pot it was grown in fits securely in its decor cover pot as well.
Ooohs and aaahs, and after
Time to present your plant. It'll travel well and won't faint at a brief cold exposure in transit, unlike tender poinsettias. Your recipient can place the rosemary anywhere inside, in areas experiencing nightly frost or freeze, or outside in a warm climate. The chef-giftee may steal fresh snips of the herb for cooking and the plant won't suffer. A bright, cool location and frequent yet light watering will keep the rosemary in best form. Rosemary is a slightly tender perennial for the sunny garden. This gift plant, having already withstood the stresses of life on the road, should not be planted outside unless it's going into warm, well drained soil in a frost-free location. For long term indoor care, remove any non-draining pot and use a dish under the plant. Continue cautious watering, as the rosemary needs consistently moist soil without standing water. I must warn you that even with the best care, quite a few of these bushes die before spring. Offering a guarantee, (you provide a replacement plant in spring) might be thoughtful, if the new owner will really want rosemary for the garden.
What makes a decorated rosemary a good gift? Rosemary has sensory, culinary and sentimental appeal. A live plant is always special and your creative input and personal touch will make it unique. I hope I've shown you a creative, satisfying, affordable, or extravagant, gift option for somebody special on your list.
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References and credits
Many thanks to fellow subscribers at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Forum, who gave me valuable feedback on this idea and article. Thanks!
A number of Dave's Garden members have commented on rosemary. Read what they say about Rosmarinus officinalis in PlantFiles.
Fern Marshall Bradley and Barbara W. Ellis, eds. Rodale's All-New Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. Emmaus, Rodale Press, 1992. The "Herbs" entry in this book has lots of information about growing and using rosemary and other herbs.
All photographs taken by and property of the author. Article designed in Mozilla/Firefox.