No herb garden is complete without Basil, powerfully scented leaves a staple of so many lovely summer dishes. Basil is very easy to grow, and all it wants, as you may expect, is a warm spot. 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 it will sulk, it likes it warm so keep inside or in a greenhouse until summer fully arrives.
It is however, easy to grow 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 very 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 window sill or greenhouse. 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. I cook with a lot of basil and make several sowings during late spring and early 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 tastes lovely and adds a really good flavour to cooking importing a slightly aniseed flavour. Seeds can be purchased in most garden centers and just like it's cousin, it is easy to grow from seed and needs the same warm sheltered conditions. It has the benefit of attractive purple flowers although these are best removed than admired because flowering will cause the plant to set its 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 a number of red/purple varieties, 'Purple Ruffles' is very attractive and could be planted in flower beds with it's lovely ruffled leaves.