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Discovering the Gallipoli Rosemary

Anzac Day, the day we honour and remember all those who have served our country in wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.

There are two plants that have particular importance on this day – rosemary, and the red poppy, commonly known as the Flanders poppy.

Discovering the Gallipoli Rosemary - Photo 2

Rosemary is native to the shores of the Mediterranean. It was growing profusely on the peninsula at Gallipoli when the ANZAC troops landed there in April 1915. Rosemary has been a symbol of fidelity and remembrance since ancient Greek and Roman times, so it is only natural that it has become an important part of ANZAC commemorations. In normal years, when we hold ANZAC Day ceremonies, you will notice rosemary sprigs being worn by participants, and rosemary plants growing in the gardens at the war memorials.

This is a shrub that will last for years, providing beautiful fragrant foliage that can be used in many ways. While most varieties have blue flowers, there are also pink and white flowering forms. Bees love the flowers regardless of the colour.  The leaves are quite small and needle-like, and very rich in fragrant oils. There are varieties like ‘Tuscan Blue’ that will grow up to 1.5m tall, with straight, upright stems providing a strong structural element in a garden bed. There are shorter shrubby types, useful for hedging, and there are other lower-growing forms including sprawling types that are ideal as a groundcover or for spilling over pots or garden walls and pathways.

There is one variety – Gallipoli Rosemary – that deserves particular mention. It has been grown from a small plant that was dug up and brought back to Australia by a soldier who was wounded at Anzac Cove. The soldier was repatriated to the Army Hospital at Keswick, and the rosemary was planted in the hospital grounds. For decades small sprigs of this rosemary were worn to honour the fallen on Anzac and Armistice days. After the Repatriation Hospital was established during WW2 at Daw Park in South Australia, cuttings were taken and it was grown into a hedge on the hospital grounds.  This history was discovered by David Lawry, Founder of the Avenues of Honour Project which aims to honour with a tree the memory of every individual who has fallen in the service of Australia. In the late 1980s he was working as a landscaper, removing part of the hedge during renovations, and the hospital gardener told him of its origin. Worried that it might all be lost, he took cuttings and kept a number of them growing in his nursery to conserve the plant for posterity. This same plant material is now propagated commercially, and royalties from sales are donated to the Avenues of Honour project.

Discovering the Gallipoli Rosemary - Photo 1

Rosemary grows well in a sunny, well-drained position in a pot or in the ground. It’s pretty tolerant of just about anything, including mild frost. It doesn’t need much attention, but you can prune it to shape if you want. It can sometimes develop powdery mildew on the leaves if they stay too wet for too long, so avoid overhead watering.

When you are harvesting the leaves, make sure you snip a sprig from the tip of the branch, rather than stripping the leaves from the stem. This will produce a much neater plant; if you just pull the individual leaves away, it will look untidy and the stem will often wither and die. The stems are quite tough and will be damaged if you try to just break them off, so use scissors or secateurs to make a nice, clean cut.

Rosemary is said to have many health benefits, including improving memory, increasing concentration, relieving stress and pain, freshening breath, enhancing skin and hair, and soothing intestinal disturbances, as well as helping to repel insects. It is also said to be anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory. And it tastes great. The flavour and aroma of fresh rosemary can lift a simple dish to a whole new level. Every garden should have at least one rosemary plant growing somewhere.

This article was written by Maree from Eden at Byron for Byron News

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