The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach – and the way to his stomach is through his vegetable patch… As I’ve said before, I don’t really bother growing onions or too many spuds: give me heaps of basil instead any day. Homemade pesto – made with great handfuls of basil and sweet, almost buttery young garlic fresh from the plot – is to my mind one of the biggest pleasures of gardening. Making pesto yourself costs a bomb if you buy those sad, expensive little supermarket packet of wilted leaves. Homemade, home-grown is the real deal. And now’s the time to get growing.
This super useful and tasty herb is very tender, so keep it indoors till June. I’m just sowing mine in the greenhouse now, but to get a head start I’ve bought a pot from the supermarket. If you split them up, these supermarket pots become great value for money.
Make sure it’s well watered, so the compost is damp throughout, then gently pull the rootball apart. Tease it in half first, then make progressively smaller pieces – but not too small as you’ll end up with no roots at all! I got four decent clumps from a medium size supermarket basil (although I could’ve definitely made more if I’d wanted to). Plant them in pots on a windowsill, in grow bags at the base of your tomato plants, or in greenhouse borders like I did.
Basil likes warmth and sunshine – don’t even bother trying it in the shade! Get conditions right and it’ll romp away. It comes in many many varieties, including purple-leafed, crinkly, Thai and cinnamon scented… however, the best one for cooking is the simple sweet or Genovese-type basil – it has what most of us in Britain recognise as the ‘classic’ basil flavour. Keep it well-watered and fed, and don’t forget to remove flower spikes as they appear – this keeps the plants producing lots of leaves.
Bring on July for the first harvests of garlic and basil – I can’t wait!