I normally have such rotten luck with basil – rotting, wilting, keeling over at who knows what – that this year I spread the risk. Rather than rely on the famously stroppy sweet basil for all my basil needs, I tried out a few others. Expecting the usual death and destruction, I sowed about 30 plugs with Greek basil in the greenhouse, much more than I need. Greek basil is a much sturdier thing than sweet, much smaller leaves, and it forms a little well-behaved mound. The taste is stronger, less er…sweet, but it still skips off into the sunset hand in hand with any tomato you throw its way. Well every one of those seeds germinated and has grown into a handsome little plant.
In addition I got a few plug plants of a Thai basil, ‘Siam Queen’ a little while ago. These have grown brilliantly and make a lovely little plant with dark stems and much more emphatically shaped leaves, and a strong aniseed flavour behind the basil, and I used them recently as the herb element in some very tasty Vietnamese summer rolls (recipe here: http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/tv-show-recipes/gordons-great-escape-recipes/vietnamese-summer-rolls). As if all that weren’t basily enough, my head was turned by this variegated ‘hardy’ basil at Hampton Court Flower Show. By hardy I think it means ‘a bit tougher than the usual’, and being hardy isn’t that handy anyway, it being an annual, but still, I am going to put it in the greenhouse and look forward to harvesting basil leaves into winter.
On top of all this my sweet basil has – you’ve guessed it – done brilliantly, whether as a result of the sunny and warm weather at the beginning of the year, or the fact I have been remembering to close my greenhouse at night I don’t know, but it’s growing for all the world as if it is a normal, easily pleased herb. We’re not going to be short of middle-class ketchup this year.