The pungent, resinous, perennial, evergreen shrub Rosemarinus officinalis, commonly called rosemary, does well on a rocky slope.They don’t particularly like heavy soils and they can do without lots of water. Expect them to get 2’ high and 3’ or more broad.
Their leaves are thick and leathery needles that provide an attractive background for their small blue or pink flowers. Since the plant has Mediterranean origins, you will need to bring it inside if the weather drops much below 20 degrees – keep it in a pot and bury the pot in the ground during the summer if you get cold winters. Here in northern California I plant them in the ground (Zone 9). They make a great ground cover.
Keep the fertilizer to a minimum.
Rosemary is easy to harvest (Gorizia is my favorite culinary variety) – just take a pinch of needles and place them in your pasta sauce. My Sicilian Nana often sent me out into the backyard to collect sprigs for a chicken roast or for her pasta sauce. I like a lot; why not find out how much you like?
The rosemary also makes a nearly indestructible bonsai – it prefers a cascading style or a windswept style. Even if it looks bad, it looks good. It recovers well from abuse. In fact, the scrub’s tendency to rebranch and spread will keep you regularly nipping at that fresh growth. Keep an eye on how the main and lateral branches look; that is where the shape and character of your rosemary bonsai will develop. Plant in a tall urn-like pot for the cascading look and in a broad low pot for the more controlled bonsai look.


and, I just picked up a new gardening book (I am a bit of a fiend on books) called Keshiki Bonsai by Kenji Kobayashi (The Easy, Modern Way to Create Miniature Landscapes). He specializes in small bonsai. I like the idea of bonsai being accessible to the Everyman – myself included – the idea of inadvertently destroying a 15 year old bonsai is just too much for me. But it doesn’t have to be that way; Mr. Kobayashi presents a way to create very attractive table bonsai – and if one of them goes south, then make another. I am trying something very similar, but I would like to use more native trees and shrubs. And the bonsai I want are larger specimens – even if they are still accessible. The first plants I thought of were the rosemary and the japanese maple. Both grow well here in our zone 9 area.
Keshiki Bonsai also relies heavily on moss and having seen his examples, I also think that moss is a must have around the base of your bonsai. I am not sure what local mosses might serve and I will get back to you on that.
Of course, you don’t have to go all special and bonsai on the poor rosemary, it will make quite the display without your help – just remember that rosemary can really look good in the right setting, in a pot or as a ground cover.
Another time I will explain the process we use at Milewide to get a rosemary bonsai up to speed, but it involves getting the “trunk” right.