Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Basils for Taste and Ornament

Of course basil (Ocimum sp.) has a long culinary history with both edible leaves and flowers.  Fresh basil is a wonderful commodity for the home cook and the dried version of this herb pales in comparison to the fresh flavor.  My wife grows plenty of standard Genovese-type sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) in containers just outside the back door for quick and ready access.  We removed (or deadhead) any flower stalks that appear to thwart seed production and encourage more foliar growth.  Basil can and should be abused for culinary purposes but there are many varieties that also offer significant ornamental interest.  The 'Crimson King' variety above along with all the other maroon-leaf varieties can be very showy annuals in bedding schemes as well as being used for culinary purposes.  The photo below was taken at Olbrich Botanical Garden (Madison, WI) many years ago and I'm still smitten with the use of maroon basils throughout this colorful "spiral".  Our Spring Plant Sale (May 10th and 11th, pre-sale for RBG members on May 9th, 9 am - 4 pm daily) usually carries a dozen or so varieties of basil (Ocimum sp.) but many years ago, we grew a collection of over 70 varieties.  The variability in taste, color and form of these various species and varieties was truly amazing.  The culinary program at the local Blackhawk Technical College utilized much of the fresh cut basil which was a great usage.  Many of the Thai-type basils (see 'Magical Michael' and 'Siam Queen' below) have not only a different flavor but have showy flower clusters that rival any bedding plant.  We have included basils in every "ornamental edible" collection that we've created over the past decade.  They are true ornamental edibles and will thrive in the sunny border or container.  See below for just a couple to consider (and come to the plant sale in May!)

There was a very light snow all day today but it didn't amount to much on the ground.  Pat headed out in the gardens to bring back more lights and later spent time processing lights and displays inside.  Patrea was in to help with some clerical work (much appreciated) and also met with Janice and later painted.  Steve S. put a coat of primer on four garden elements that will be painted later.  Janice had multiple meetings and research today and later worked with the Chestnut House volunteers in the afternoon.  The gang created some wonderful Thank You cards that we will utilize in the near future.  Kris K. popped by for a meeting regarding some ideas for youth education out in the gardens and we also saw Maury (errands, thanks!), Chuck (recycling, thanks!), Cindy B. and many others.  I'm off the next two days but will blog as time allows. 

dark-leaved basil with sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas)
dark-leaved basil in a tropical composition
dark-leaved basil with coleus (Solenostemon)
'Sweet Petra Dark'
'Magical Michael'
'Siam Queen'
Ocimum hybrida 'African Blue'
'Dark Opal'
'Red Lettuce Leaf'
Ocimum sanctum (green and red mix) - Holy basil
variegated columnar Greek basil (Ocimum x citriodorum 'Pesto Perpetuo') - note the ovoid form
same as above
'Pesto Perpetuo' used as a repetitive upright element
'Pesto Perpetuo' as an accent
'Aristotle' compact basil (Ocimum basilicum) - yes, that's the cool form!
'Pluto' compact basil (Ocimum basilicum)

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