Do you have a hard time keeping basil looking good in summer? Well, rest assured that even without regular irrigation my ‘Siam Queen’ looked beautiful alongside my puckered, yellow and straggly garden-variety sweet basil. We've been too busy shopping for a new house (yes, we're moving!) to give the apartment vegetable garden much attention, so it was a pleasant surprise to see ‘Siam Queen’ soldier through the summer drought, heat and heavy rains.
Readers of my blog already know how pleased I was with okra this summer, but I instead chose the ‘Siam Queen’ basil as ‘My Favorite New Plant this Year’ because it’s just the all-around perfect perennial for any garden.
You can plant the bushy ‘Siam Queen’ as if it was an annual (perennial in warmer zones) or you could grow it as an unusually attractive herb in your edible garden. This royal plant appreciates moist soil and occasional pruning, but still puts on an amazing show even if you don't have the time to keep it watered or remove the spent blooms. I've seen two-foot tall plants in better maintained gardens, but in my own neglected veggie patch it has filled out to a respectable one-foot tall clump of dense and fragrant foliage.
I should probably add that butterflies love Thai basil, as evidenced by these gratuitous photos of a gulf fritillary getting its pollination on. I just stood there with my iPhone and snapped shots as it traveled from basil to basil. Which basil did my fritillary friend prefer? The ‘Siam Queen’ of course.
|Okay, you got me. The gulf fritillary is enjoying a sweet basil in this shot. Butterflies like variety.|
As if its visual appeal wasn't enough, ‘Siam Queen’ also has a great licorice flavor and aroma. I enjoy the leaves right off of the plant while gardening, as the pungent and spicy flavor lingers in my mouth and helps stave off hunger. I have yet to test this out on anyone, but I’m pretty sure that it freshens my breath too. Once I manage to make it to the kitchen, it makes an interesting substitute for sweet basil and lends a mild anise flavor to spaghetti sauces. According to Jil Norman’s tome ‘Herbs and Spices’, Thai basil and other Asian basils combine well with chili, cilantro, galangal, garlic, ginger, kaffir lime, krachai, lemongrass, tamarind and turmeric. I’m a little ashamed to say that I've been too busy this summer to put it to use in Asian spring rolls and soups, but I’ll have plenty of time until the first frost.
Few herbs have such a rich history as basil, and the sweet basil we usually use in recipes is only part of the story. Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora) is called bai horapa in Thailand, where it and its ancestors have grown for 3000 years. The so-called sweet basil that we use in Italian food made its way to the Mediterranean early enough that the ancient Greek scholar Theophrastus’ included it in his text called ‘Enquiry into Plants’, and it likely hitched a ride from India following the conquests of Alexander the Great. If Alex had truly lived up to his name, maybe he would have taken some cuttings of other basils while he was there! But the more pungent varieties eventually made their way overseas for use in Asian cuisine and in 1997, ‘Siam Queen’ was awarded the AAS Vegetable award for its outstanding qualities in the garden and kitchen.
Plant ‘Siam Queen’ one to two feet apart in well drained soil where it receives full sun. Keep the soil moist, fertilize occasionally and pinch out spent blooms for the biggest and bushiest plants, or just let it do its thing and water/feed/prune whenever you get around to it. Plants may be added to the landscape in spring or summer throughout most of the country, or from spring through fall in zones 9-11. If you can’t wait until next year, ‘Siam Queen’s purple flowers and stems are a wonderful addition to container gardens for edible fall arrangements.
Eight Other Plants that Worked
Click on the links to read more about eight more excellent summer plants from gardens across the country.
Solenostemon scutellariodes 'Kong Jr.'
Gardenia jasminoides 'Jubilation'
Sedum mexicanum 'Lemon Ball'
Stokesia laevis 'Peachie's Pick'
Coreopsis 'Center Stage'
What was your favorite plant this summer? Be sure to tell me all about it in the comments!