Growing basil in the garden? It’s a good idea to snip off any flowers that develop to encourage your plants to keep producing leaves. But don’t turf them out. Display them in a vase in your kitchen. These cute herb posies, from Better Homes and Gardens, are visually as well as aromatically satisfying.
Varieties to grow
Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is the most commonly grown basil in our gardens, but there are many different cultivars, as well as several related species. Each has its own characteristic leaf colour which, depending on the cultivar, could be green, purple or reddish, with a hint of lemon, cinnamon or anise flavouring.
‘Sweet Genovese’ is a broad-leafed, fine-flavoured Italian type commonly used for making pesto. It’s one of the most popular of all cultivars, with its leaves often growing more than 7cm long. ‘Lettuce Leaf’ is another giant cultivar, with crinkled leaves up to 10cm long. It’s extremely prolific, with a strong flavour, so it’s another fine contender for pesto.
Cinnamon basil has a distinctive cinnamon taste while ‘Mrs Burns Lemon’ has a strong citrus flavour.
For dark-leafed varieties, try ‘Dark Opal’, which has stunning red-purple foliage that is equally useful in the garden as in the kitchen, or the new ‘Amethyst Improved’, from Kings Seeds, whose foliage looks almost black.
Thai basil, which carries sweet anise overtones, is the variety used extensively in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine.
In the garden
Basil’s greatest need is warmth. It won’t grow where temperatures drop below 10˚C, and a dip below 4˚C will kill plants. Plant in full sun, in free-draining soil that’s been enriched with compost. In very hot spots, a little midday shade is beneficial.
Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged and feed occasionally with liquid fertiliser. Pick leaves regularly to encourage fresh new growth and continuously pinch off the growing tip to prevent flower production, which will slow down leaf growth.
If your plants become leggy and stop producing, cut back by a third and feed plants to stimulate new growth.