In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
October, 2003
Regional Report

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'Siam Queen' Thai basil has purple flowers and stems that contrast with its bright green leaves.

Time for Basil

It's cool-season planting time, and every gardener I know is itching to dig after our seemingly endless summer. All sorts of veggies, flowers, and herbs can be sown now. One of my favorite cool-season herbs is basil. It's easy to grow, great to cook with, and the plants add aroma and vibrant green and purple colors to the garden.

Green Basils
'Genovese' or 'Italian' are probably the most familiar green basils, used in pestos and tomato based sauces. Seek out some of the other basil flavors and scents to perk up your culinary experiments. 'Siam Queen' Thai basil was an All America Selection in 1997. Purple flowers and stems contrast with bright green leaves. The flowers form a tight cluster, unlike the taller flower spikes of other basils. It has an intense anise flavor and is used extensively in Thai and Southeast Asian cooking. The plant is gorgeous in the garden, even if you don't like to cook!

Lemon or lime basils add a citrus zest to the mix, and there are several varieties available. Mrs. Burns' Famous Lemon Basil is a good choice for southwestern gardens. This variety has been growing in New Mexico for 60 years and was collected and made available by Native Seeds/SEARCH, a non-profit dedicated to plant diversity. It has a particularly intense lemon flavor.

'Sweet Dani Lemon' is another AAS winner, high in essential oils. Cinnamon or clove basils are intensely fragrant, and their "dessert-like" aromas make a tasty cup of tea.

Purple Basils
Deeply colored purple basils give off a sheen that adds a rich accent to the herb garden. 'Purple Ruffles' has, of course, ruffly leaves, but most of the purple basil varieties display an attractive crinkly texture. The purple leaves of 'Dark Opal' have a somewhat coppery hue. 'African Blue' has purple leaf veins, flowers and stems, whereas the rest of the plant is green.

Basil grows well in containers, so if space is limited, tuck a green, purple, and Thai basil into a pot for an eyecatching display. When in flower, basils attract pollinating bees to the garden, which will help your tomatoes and peppers set fruit.


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