THE ABSENTEE GARDENERS
By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins
My adventures in basildom all began when Lise gave me a cutting from a new basil she was testing for PanAmerican Seed. The stalks had densely layered leaves with a fantastic aroma, accompanied by great tasting leaves. Alas, because it was still in the testing stage, it wasn’t available to the public.
It made me look at basil with a new eye. My experience with planting basil wasn’t great, as the larger it grows, the tougher the leaves become — and then in July it has an urgency to put out as many flowers as it can. The leaves on a flowering basil have a diminished taste; the advantage of the basil that Lise was testing was that it was slow to flower.
The genus Ocimum consists of more than 30 species originating from the tropical and semi-tropical regions of Africa, Asia and South and Central America. Most of the culinary herbs belong to O. basilicum, including Thai, purple, lemon, lettuce leaf (aka Italian basil), bush basils. Two of these, the Genovese and Napoletano basils, are excellent choices for pesto.
Lemon basil, O. americanum, is native to Africa and Asia, despite its name. Greek basil, O. obovatum, is the basil herb companies use for dried basil. A relatively new basil, O. citriodorum, is a standard ingredient in Laotian and Indonesian dishes and is thought to be a hybrid, resulting from a marriage between O. basilicum and O. americanum.
Is your head spinning yet? I haven’t even mentioned purple basil, holy basil, Thai basil, Italian large leaf basil and lettuce leaf basil. Relax, as you will probably find your choice of different basils is relatively slim. Just remember that you want “sweet basil” for your pesto and to accompany your summer tomatoes.
And then, much to my joy, I happened to spy Lise’s tower basil in the January issue of “The American Gardener.” Under the title of “Garden Trends and New Plants for 2020,” the author Rita Pelczar (“who gardens in the mountains of North Carolina”) listed Everleaf™ Emerald Towers. At last Lise’s basil now had a name.
Not only is Everleaf Emerald Towers (unlike many basils) a handsome addition to the garden, its columnar shape means it can fit right into the sunny perennial border. Its growth pattern, with leaves piled on top of leaves, captures the eye so I can see planting it every three to four feet in the perennial border to add continuity. Its width is minimal, just 8-12 inches so it’s very easy to slip it into the border between plants.
Ah, you’re asking yourself, “Do I really need that much basil?” Perhaps not, but its intense flavor doesn’t peter out and best of all, because it’s very slow to flower, the flavor will remain in the leaves throughout the summer.
The bad news is that you may not be able to find it at the farmers markets this year. The good news is that seeds are readily available from a myriad of sources. Sow indoors at least six weeks before your last frost date. When the seedlings have three pairs of leaves and the weather is consistently 65 degrees, put them outside to harden up before planting them in a sunny location.
Consider growing this basil in a pot but do not choose one that is too large as wet soil simply causes root rot. It would make a handsome addition on the summer patio.
This is an elegant basil that is almost perfect. It’s reluctant to flower, it’s incredibly flavorful, it’s wonderfully fragrant — and it’s good looking. What more do you want? Order some seeds, plant them indoors, nurture them, transfer them to the garden, and sit back and enjoy. And then thank Lise.
Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email: firstname.lastname@example.org