Spring in the gardens: Rosemary and potatoes

Spring is finally here, when gardeners start looking from their kitchens to their gardens to see what they can contribute to the grill this year. In the Heirloom Garden of the National Museum of American History, the rosemary is blooming profusely with delicate blue flowers nestled into fragrant trailing stems. This prostrate rosemary seems to just be waiting for grilling season and the potatoes we’re starting to plant in the Victory Garden.

Smithsonian Rosemary Blooms in Planter1

Did you know? Potatoes are part of our edible heritage from the Americas, originating in Peru, where hundreds of early varieties are still grown. Once thought by Europeans to be poisonous because they are in the nightshade family, potatoes are now the fourth most important crop in the world, according to the United Nations. However, the tubers can make some people sick if they become green after being exposed to too much light.

The potatoes we are planting this year are said to stem from the 1700s, when Spanish ships may have taken them up the western coast from South America to the Makah Indians of the Northwest coastal area of Neah Bay, Washington.  Solanum tuberosum subsp. andigenum ‘Ozette Fingerling’ is a long, irregular potato with yellowish skin and flesh.

Smithsonian American History garden Potatoes

We received an order of these golden potatoes in a box this spring and kept them in a dark and cool location. Then we sliced them into two or three pieces, each with at least two or three eyes. We allowed them to sit for a few days, then lightly buried the pieces in a garden furrow or hole, leaving most of the soil to the side. As the plants shoot up, we will continue to add the extra soil around the stems to get more layers of tubers. Baby potatoes will be ready to dig up and grill in midsummer.

Smithsonian Victory Garden potato plants

Grilling Time! A Recipe for Rosemary Potatoes
Toss diced grilled potatoes with olive oil and fresh rosemary and a dash of salt and pepper for a great side dish for any grilled meats. Use fresh rosemary in your potato salads throughout the summer, or add it to a barbeque rub for your next outdoor get-together.

Erin Clark is a horticulturist at Smithsonian Gardens.