Arp Rosemary, the Real Story

Arp and Hill Hardy rosemary

I've long wondered how 'Arp' rosemary got its name, and I admit I always thought it an odd choice for a plant name. While visiting Festival Hill a couple of weeks ago, I was pleased to share breakfast with Gwen Barclay and Henry Flowers. Gwen, as many of you remember, is the daughter of the late Madalene Hill (whose incredible rosemary collection resides at Festival Hill). Henry Flowers it the horticulturalist and over-all plant genius at Festival Hill and began his work under Madalene's supervision. (If you want to know more, you can read the tribute I wrote about Madalene on my earlier blog, here.
Henry Flowers, Horticulturist at Festival Hill

Gwen Barclay, chef, musician and herbalist.

Gwen made a reference to Arp rosemary, how there were a lot of the plants sold during the plant sale that weekend and that the Herb Society of America was intending to plant a commemorative plaque in Arp.

"You mean Arp is a place?" I asked.

So I got the whole story, directly from Gwen and Henry. Gwen and her mother have cousins in Arp, Texas, southeast of Tyler. One Christmas they were visiting their cousins and Madalene noticed a very robust rosemary, in full bloom, in front of an abandoned house nearby. It was unusual for a rosemary to be covered with blue-lavender flowers at Christmas time. Madalene inquired of her cousins and the neighbors if anyone knew who owned the old, neglected (and empty) house. No one knew anything about the owner.

Madalene borrowed a knife and made several cuttings from the very prolific rosemary and took them home with her to root. Over the next few years she shared the cuttings with several people, including the late Tom DeBaggio. He began propagating the now named, 'Arp' rosemary for his retail nursery. (You can read more about Tom and his amazing story of dealing with Alzheimer's disease on his nursery website here; you will also find lots of stories about him on National Public Radio, the Washington Post, etc. if you Google his name).

Hill Hardy rosemary

One day Tom noticed that one rosemary stood out as different from among the dozens of trays of Arp rosemary cuttings and he separated it out and grew it on, propagating more. That rosemary was more gray and fine-leafed than the Arp rosemary which appeared to be its parent. Over time Tom discovered the grayer rosemary to be equally or even more hardy than the original Arp, and he dubbed it, 'Hill's Hardy' rosemary, in honor of Madalene Hill who had first brought it to him.

Thanks to my Garmin navigator, Arp wasn't difficult to find.

Since I had Arp rosemary with me, and now knew the real story of the origins of both these exceptional rosemaries, and since I was already heading toward Tyler, TX from Round Top/Festival Hill, I decided I should definitely drive to Arp, TX and see where this amazing rosemary came from.
That's my pot of 'Arp' rosemary, standing proudly in front of the Arp welcome sign.

(Madalene had found, in later years, the name of owner of the property, and learned the rosemary had come to Arp from "somewhere up in Oklahoma," but no one knew anything else about its origins). The Herb Society of America is slated to erect the plaque in Arp, sometime this coming summer.

That's 'Arp' on the left, 'Hill Hardy' on the right. Some nurseries list 'Hill Hardy' as 'Hill's Hardy' rosemary, which I believe is correct. Both are outstanding rosemaries to grow and use.
 So there is the story of the origins of a this particularly good, and hardy rosemary and it's cousin, 'Hill Hardy.' The rosemary itself is likely more famous than the little town it came from, but you can't miss the sign if you drive through.


Terra said...

That is a nice story about the origin of that rosemary. I wonder where in Arp the plaque will be placed.

--KC said...

I love this story!!! Thanks for sharing it.

vermontflowerfarm@outlook.com said...

Hi Jim; Enjoyed your story about Arp rosemary. Just wish there was one hardy enough for zone 4. We still have 4 feet of snow around the house so gardening remains a dream.
George Africa
The Vermont Gardener

Rhonda D. said...

Loved this, Jim! I never knew the story of Arp and it's origins...or that it was a geographical location ;-) Thanks for a great history lesson and photos.