This summer we tested four new basil varieties against four of our favorites. That was a lot of basil! It was a grueling process (ha-ha) and as a result, we have many pints of pesto in the freezer for winter use.
Basil is a hot weather crop, so its planting season is over, but you can use this trial to help guide you as seed catalogs begin to fill you mailbox. So many choices, here’s what worked for us:
Tested varieties in 2015
Renee Shepherd was so generous to send us packets of Aurelia, Mrs. Burns Lemon, and Profuma di Genova to test out in our Southern California garden. The names alone are enticing, and the thought of growing more open pollinated varieties was thrilling.
Aurelia – a new introduction for 2015, Renee seeks out basil from the best growers in Italy. We found this basil to be prolific and satisfying to grow. We tried it both in the ground and in a Woolly Pocket and both did well. Tall stems, plenty of leaf production, tasty leaves.
Profuma di Genova – a very traditional-looking basil that grew well in our test garden. Medium-to-large leaves, with vigorous growth. Classic basil flavor.
Mrs. Burns Lemon – Renee asked us to grow her Mrs. Burns side by side with the Native Seed Search’s (NSS) Mrs. Burns lemon basil. NNS is the original source for Mrs. Burns, as it was grown and saved from the garden of Barney Tillman Burns, one of the founders of Native Seed Search. We were curious to see how they differed, and boy did they!
Renee’s Mrs. Burns turned out to look very much like other basils growing in the yard. The flavor is predominantly basil with lemony overtones. The leaf is much thicker, more traditional, glossy and darker in color than NSS Mrs. Burns.
Native Seed Search’s Mrs. Burns Lemon – on the other hand, has delicate leaves that are translucent and light with tiny, purple flower buds. The flavor of basil is almost non-existent. It’s more like lemon verbena than basil. An entirely different plant. For shear novelty, I love this variety and will most likely include it in my garden every year. If you are looking for more basil than lemon, stick to Renee’s.
Repeats from Years Past
We have favorite basils we carve out space for each year, no matter what. Some did well this year, others didn’t like the intense heat. Here’s what we found:
Purple Opal – we grow this in both our Test Garden and in the community garden plot. The batch in the test garden did well, while the community garden plot sample did not thrive. Sandy, dry soil is obviously not the ideal growing condition for this plant. The Test Garden sample had morning shade (from neighboring tomato plants) and afternoon sun, and did much better.
Salad Leaf – this is our absolute favorite basil and we thank Renee’s Garden Seeds for it. Giant savoyed leaves make the best pesto ever. Not bitter, long-lasting in the garden and just darn beautiful. It did much better than its predecessor Lettuce Leaf…
Lettuce Leaf – We used to love this lettuce until we met Salad Leaf. Now it’s just an ordinary basil around here. This year it didn’t thrive. The plant stayed small most of the season, though it did produce healthy looking leaves. Just not many of them. Maybe next year we’ll have more success.
Genovese – Last but not least, the classic basil that most of us have grown. This year it was slow-growing, so we didn’t yield much from this plant. In fact, that’s the entire plant above! Perhaps it was too crowded behind our trial Fish Pepper that did so well. This Genovese was healthy, though, and is one of the better tasting basils around.
Choosing which basil to grow is like choosing a favorite child. Try them all and discover which works best in your climate. We’ll probably give them all another try next year…if there’s room.