as seeds and they are easy to start off and easy to grow. Most of the tastiest varieties and cultivars belong to the species Ocimum basilicum. Several varieties have hints of the flavours of other plants and most of these are varieties of the common Sweet or Genovese basil. Cinnamon basil (O. basilicum ‘Cinnamon’), several varieties of lemon basil including O. b. Mrs. Burn’s Lemon, lime basil (O. b. Lime) and liquorice basil (O.b.Liquorice) all belong to this group, as do the purple leaved varieties such as O.b. Purpurenscens and O. b. Purple Ruffles. Even the large leaved ‘lettuce leaved’ basil O.b.Crispum belongs to this group despite it’s very different appearance, while at the other end of the scale O.b. Minimum has tiny leaves and grows in a dense bush.
Sadly, African Blue is sterile and is unable to set seed . Plants are always in great demand, so if you come across a specimen in a specialist nursery it is well worth snapping up. Once you have found a plant it is easy to grow and easy to propagate from softwood cuttings. As with all basils, it is frost tender and will need to be lifted and stored inside over winter, with those softwood cuttings providing extra insurance for repeating the show the following year. Given a spot on a sunny windowsill or in a sheltered, nourishing, sunny spot in the garden all the basils will repay you with colour and flavour for months on end. Basil will even flourish under LED lights indoors. As with so many other annuals, if given a consistently warm, bright spot, and regular pinching out of
This last one is the variety that goes by the common name of Greek basil or Globe basil. It’s tiny leaves are highly flavoured and very aromatic. All of the varieties display subtle differences in their flavours, but are particularly different in their appearance. The purple basils are particularly pleasing as a contrast plant in a potager or edible flower garden and they add a lovely splash of colour to salads. The often delicate differences in the flavours of some of these varieties - the lemons and limes, for instance - are best appreciated when they are used as flavourings in drinks and salads. Lemon and lime basils make wonderful additions to a fruit cup and have become an essential ingredient in many cocktails, and liquorice basil is perfect as a garnish in eastern dishes or wherever the flavour of anise is welcome. Some of the very prettiest, and perhaps the most worthwhile basils to grow if space is at a premium, are the spicy varieties such as Thai basil, Siam Queen, Horapha Rue and Lavender Spires. These varieties stand out in the flower and herb gardens, but are at their very best in pots where their leaves and beautiful flowers can be fully appreciated. Once you have experimented with all the different flavours and flowers of the truly edible basils, it will be difficult to resist the delight of the African Blue or Camphor basil. This is a real stunner in the garden and what it loses in flavour, it gains enormously in beauty. African Blue is larger than most other varieties, growing to a generous 75 cm height, with its purple-blue spires reaching a further 10cm above that. This giant among the basils is a perennial and can be grown in a generous pot which is sunk in the ground through the summer and then lifted and overwintered indoors.
the growing tips and removal of any flowers, basil will continue to be productive for much longer than it’s natural one year life cycle. The trick to encouraging it to keep on putting its energy into producing a constant supply of new leaves is to prevent it from flowering and setting seed. If however, you are growing some of the varieties that are grown for their flowers, allowing stems to grow on to maturity is essential, even if it is only at the end of the season. Basil is native to India and North Africa and this is reflected in its need for warmth. In warmer climates many species of basil are perennials but in the UK they will be cut down by the gentlest of frosts. To grow a gourmet basil bed outside, start seedlings off indoors and transplant them outside when the soil is properly warm in the spring and if you are feeling particularly generous give the young plants a little shelter in the form of a cloche. Toward the end of the season, before even a hint of the first frost, dig up your favourites and transplant them into pots to overwinter indoors where they will keep on providing you with colour and flavour long into the winter months. www.countrygardener.co.uk
Images left to right: Transplanting supermarket basil; Greek basil; basil pesto
The August 2019 issue of Cornwall Country Gardener Magazine