Saturday, July 24, 2010

African Blue Basil Performs

B. emailed his confession: “My garden looks terrible – too hot to go out and work!”

I had to agree, it is too hot, and truth be told my own home garden looks terrible for the same reason. With the thermometer poking out over the 105 degree mark on the back fence all week, I have been loathe to even try anything out there other than picking squash each morning after breakfast.

Today, though, I tried to go out and do a brief moment of hand to hand combat with the crab grass that had sprung up near the AC unit. What had been a few tiny sprouts last week was now threatening to clog the vents of cooling fan. Still, I kept thinking of the phrase mad dogs and Englishmen… ten minutes in blistering heat and I thought for sure I’d faint. And the bits of tenacious crab grass which refused to be pulled out easily seemed to be waving somewhat smugly in the hot breeze as I retreated towards the back door.

On the way in, however, my attention was captured by the African blue basil. Right now, with the heat and humidity so awful that the going out the back door feels like walking into the oven, that basil looks resplendent. The purple bracts of flowers reach in all directions, and the bees seem to find its nectar irresistible. As I stood watching in the cicada-sizzled heat I counted more than fifteen on the plant in my daughter’s garden.

Along the side in my own herb row, the same species was so lovely I just had to stop on my way inside and pull my hand along the stem, just of the pleasure of the scent that it released into my palm.

Nothing smells as summer-ish as basil, but African blue is new to us this year. My daughter picked it out at the garden center because she liked the pretty, delicate coloring on the leaves. I’m glad for her sense of planting adventure; I probably would’ve gone on planting Sweet Genovese for the rest of my life and would have never known the pleasures of this lovely pollinator-attracting form.

The taste of this basil form is a bit tangier and spicier than the Italian forms of the same herb, but not so much that it becomes overpowering. We’ve made three rounds of pesto so far this month, and two of them included the African Blue in the mix with Sweet Genovese. The taste is nice and stays authentic to the idea of what pesto should be; no funky harshness creeps into overpower or compete with the garlic. My husband thinks the leaves would also be pretty on top of a salad, but we have yet to try that idea in real life.

But truly, it is the bees that make this plant the most worthwhile, especially for an urban wildlife gardener, like me. The little winged creatures flit from flower to flower and then onward to our veggie plants from sunrise to sunset without ceasing. Because a single individual plant only takes up about one square foot of the garden, it would be nice in any sunny DC garden, even those without veggies or other herbs. Unlike other basil types, this one does not need constant pruning in order to stay lovely because it doesn't go to seed. Its lovely purple flowers and indigo-edged foliage are really refreshing to the eye, especially on a hot day when not much else outside is.

No comments: