Grow basil

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Grow your own basilBasil’s best friend may be tomato, but its equally at home in pesto and pistou or on pizza and pasta. It’s a fine summer herb to plant now if you haven’t already.

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 red, 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 as equally useful in the garden as in the kitchen, or the new ‘Amethyst Improved’, whose foliage looks almost black.

Thai basil, which carries sweet anise overtones, is the variety used extensively in Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. All these varieties are available from Kings Seeds.

In the garden

Basil’s greatest need is warmth. It won’t grow where temperatures drop below 10deg C, and a dip below 4deg C will kill plants. Position 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.

Jane Wrigglesworth

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