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Plant of the Month: Basil

Pesto Perpetuo & Boxwood

Basils ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ and ‘Boxwood’

Both Jimmy Turner and Leslie Finical Halleck have asked Neil if they could write about these exciting new basil varieties for our readers. Here’s Jimmy’s article. Watch the May/June issue of GARDENS magazine for a longer piece on basils by Leslie.

Latin name: Ocimum basilicum citriodorum ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ and Ocimum basilicum ‘Boxwood’
Common name: Basil ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ and Basil ‘Boxwood’
Flowers: Not showy
Mature height: ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ 3 ft.; ‘Boxwood’ 18 in.
Hardiness: Summer annual
Soil: Well-drained
Exposure: Full sun 
Water usage: Medium
Sources: Local nurseries

I love basil. I love the smell and the taste of it — and with the introduction of these two new varieties, I can now say I really like the look of it. If you have ever grown basil, you know that most varieties aren’t really that beautiful or constrained. Especially in small yards or patios, the larger-leafed basils can really take over. 

Basil ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ is the first variegated basil. Until you smell the spicy foliage, you might not even recognize it as a basil plant. With bright green leaves bordered in light cream and pale green, these thick, columnar, upright plants are the perfect complement to smaller gardens and containers. The plants will eventually reach 30 to 36 inches at the end of the season, but never get much more than 1 foot across. This variety is fast enough growing, however, to produce more than enough leaves for beauty and for pesto! This variety has typical sweet basil flavor with just a hint more lemon than usual.

Basil ‘Boxwood’ is aptly named. It’s a basil plant that looks like a perfectly trimmed boxwood plant. This petite variety will quickly form 12- to 16-inch perfect globes of bright green foliage. It tastes and smells just like large-leafed Italian sweet basil, but its leaf is no bigger than the nail on your pinky. I love this variety planted solo in terra cotta pots, or used to make a faux parterre in the summer border. Last year I saw a wonderful planting of a bed of nothing but basils. Large-leaved ‘Geneva’ was encircled by ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ and then bordered with a perfect row of ‘Boxwood’ basils. 

Both of these new varieties have one thing in common with other basils — they are exceptionally easy to grow. Give them full sun, well-drained soil, and regular watering, and they will quickly grow to full size. I’d grow both of these even if I didn’t love to cook with them. Tough enough to handle our Texas summers, look good and taste great! That’s three pluses from these plants — what more could you ask?