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Brilliant Basil

Tender basil is the best summer herb and is as good in the garden as in the kitchen

Suitably perhaps for a plant with such rich bright, fragrant leaves, basil is a tender plant and will not survive winter frosts. So in Britain we grow it as an annual and this is the time to be sowing the seed.

Alternatively, if you have grown young seedlings in pots you can put the plants outside. Or, of course, you can opt for the easiest option and buy a plant, but make sure it looks as though it has only just started really sprouting.

This is also the time to appreciate what a wonderfully versatile plant this is. You can literally grow it anywhere: in a tray on the kitchen windowsill, in a window-box, a pot, or in your veg patch.

One tip - if you are growing it in a pot try and use one made of clay or terracotta not a plastic one. It likes daily watering, preferably in the morning or around midday so the soil has dried before the temperature drops at night.

Remember that basil is one of the most decorative herbs and so try and plant it to take advantage of this. The texture of the leaves makes them look varnished and their shade of green is totally mouth-watering. And they're not only green; you can get varieties with leaves in superb contrasting shades of purple. Some of the purple ones are called 'Dark Opal', 'Purple Ruffles' and 'Rubin'. A few different varieties of basil massed together in a group of pots look superb on a terrace, roof garden or patio: shut your eyes, inhale and you're in Italy.

Growing your own guarantees a constant fresh supply and basil will go on producing new growth and leaves until killed off by frost. For salads it is the perfect compliment to tomatoes: whole leaves of basil, sliced tomatoes and a covering of olive oil. You don't need anything else.

And of course it is the vital ingredient for one of the great Italian recipes: pesto sauce. Basil leaves, a clove of peeled garlic, a few pine nuts and walnuts, parmesan cheese, salt and olive oil, mixed in a blender. No wonder that the best variety of basil for cooking is called Genovese - from the home of pesto sauce, Genoa.


Articles reprinted with premission from Greenfingers.com



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