No herb garden is complete without Basil, with powerfully scented leaves a staple of so many lovely summer dishes.
Basil is a tender herb and needs a warm spot. It is best to grow Basil in the greenhouse or indoors until the summer picks up (if it does) and then find a warm sheltered spot on the patio is ideal. Basil is very tender and cannot be left outside over winter. Even if it is chilly, the leaves will discolour and develop light brown patches and tend to curl. Because Basil is so tender and likes it warm, I tend to keep it inside in the house or in a greenhouse until summer fully arrives.
Basil germinates easily from seed. To grow Basil from seed, just sprinkle 2/3 seeds into a small pot and create a mini propagator by covering the pot with a poly bag and securing with an elastic band. I also place a small pea stick or twig in the pot to hold the poly bag away from the plant. Fill the pot with good quality compost, mist with a water spray and cover the seed lightly with compost. Cover with the bag and seal and it will germinate easily within a few days if placed somewhere warm, such as a windowsill or greenhouse. (Video how to make a homemade propagator.) As soon as the seedlings appear, take off the polythene bag and grow on ensuring the plant does not dry out. Once it has reached a decent size and has good roots, which will take a few weeks, pot on into a larger pot and it is ready to provide you with pickings all summer long. You can make several sowings during late spring and early summer to ensure a supply all summer.
Just as easy to germinate and grow, and requiring very similar conditions, is Thai Basil, image above right, the traditional basil used in curries and Thai dishes. Thai basil has a distinct taste, aniseed in flavour, and is a great addition to Asian and Thai dishes. It is no more difficult than ordinary Basil to grow from seed, and it needs the same warm sheltered conditions. Thai Basil has the benefit of attractive purple flowers, although these are best removed rather than admired, because flowering will cause the plant to set seed and stop growing.
There are quite a few different types of Basil to choose from depending on your cooking requirements. Sweet Basil is the most widely grown, a good variety is 'Genovese'. Thai Basil 'Siam Queen' is widely sold and has lovely pink purples flowers. Greek Basil has much smaller compact leaves, and whilst there are several red/purple varieties, 'Purple Ruffles' is very attractive and could be planted in flower beds with it's lovely ruffled leaves.
It is important when growing Basil to keep removing its flowers, otherwise the plant will stop its production of leaves and come to a stop.