Parsley is a great veg garden plant, and very easy to grow. It continues cropping for almost a whole year from a Spring sowing, and can take pretty much anything the British weather can throw at it. It’s very cold hardy and is surprisingly drought tolerant once established. If you have the space you can even let it flower in its second year – carry on picking leaves and the flowers are very attractive to beneficial insects. Curly parsley is particularly attractive used as a border round a veg, or even flower bed.
It’s a much neglected vegetable. I say vegetable rather than herb to try and get across how versatile it is: our kitchen at Sheepdrove love curly parsley as a bright green, tasty garnish on just about everything, it is delicious in a mixed leaf salad to add flavour, or in tabouleh , the Middle Eastern salad mixed with tomato, cracked wheat and onion dressed with olive oil and lemon. Parsley makes a great addition to watercress soup or in a thick sauce for gnocchi or pasta, in a German style green sauce or salsa verde, or even in dumplings…
The health benefits of eating plenty of parsley are well recognised too, it rich in antioxidants, vitamins and iron. If like me you love loads of garlic but not the taste lingering for hours, chewing a few parsley leaves neutralises it almost instantly – if you don’t believe me, try it.
Parsley is a biennial plant in the carrot family, and needs to be started from seed. There are two main types, curly and flat leaved, the latter being stronger in flavour and often preferred for culinary use. In central Europe ‘turnip rooted’ or Hamburg parsley is grown for its roots which are anything from the size of a carrot to a parsnip.
Growing from seed
Perceived wisdom has it that it is slow and unreliable to germinate, but that’s not something I’ve found. If you can be bothered save your own seed, you should find that it germinates faster and more reliably than bought seed.
Sow seeds directly 5-8mm deep in a well prepared seed bed in Spring or Summer in their final position, and keep moist until seedlings emerge. Alternatively sow seeds in small modules in fine compost and plant out once the roots begin to fill the module, keeping moist until established. Any reasonable garden soil will be fine, and it isn’t a hungry crop so doesn’t particularly need anything added (although compost is always good for the soil)! In very dry weather extra water will help growth, but isn’t strictly necessary.
Once plants are large and vigorous you can harvest by cutting all the leaves off the plant and letting it regrow, or take individual leaves from the outside of the plant as needed. This takes a longer, but if you only have space for a few plants it will ensure a more continuous crop, which you’ll need now you know how tasty, healthy and versatile it is!