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Monty Don tells you how to grow your own parsley

Pass the parsley: There’s no question in Monty Don’s mind that parsley is his favourite herb – and here he tells you how to grow your own

  • Monty Don says parsley is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and trace minerals
  • British gardening expert explains parsley thrives in well-drained but fertile soil
  • He also answers a selection of questions from Weekend Magazine readers 

Although I grew up with parsley used more as a garnish than something to be eaten seriously, I now regard it as a garden and kitchen essential. In fact, if I had to choose only one herb for the rest of my life I wouldn’t hesitate to plump for parsley – and now is a good time to sow the seeds.

Parsley as a garnish was always the curly-leafed kind but I now mainly grow flat-leafed parsley, which has a stronger flavour; I use it liberally with vegetables, in stews and soups, as part of salads and, with walnuts, as a delicious pesto for pasta or potatoes. 

It is also very good for you, rich in antioxidants, vitamins and trace minerals. It is one of my wonder foods.

British gardening expert Monty Don (pictured), shared his advice for growing parsley at home

Like basil, it has become commonplace for parsley to be sold, fresh, in pots in supermarkets with a cluster of vibrant seedlings. But this traduces its true potential because each of the wispy seedlings crammed into the pot is desperate for space. 

They are like battery hens, producing the goods but for a tiny period and under appalling conditions. 

Take a snip or two of your herb and the whole thing gives up the ghost, whereas one of the joys of growing your own at home is that you can be generous – a packet of seeds will give you dozens of plants that will supply a large bunch daily for months. 

ASK MONTY 

Q I planted wisteria two years ago but it has not grown more than an inch and hardly flowers. How can I help it?

Peter Pearce, Essex

A Wisteria are notoriously slow to get going. You can help a lot by ensuring it’s completely free from weeds or grass for a radius of at least 2ft, and mulch thickly with compost or manure. Also water well once a week if it’s dry.

Q I have amaryllis in full bloom. How do I keep the bulbs for next year?

Maureen Tutton, Bucks

A When the flower fades, cut the stem to 1in of the bulb and then place it where it will get maximum sunshine. Give it a liquid seaweed feed fortnightly. Then in September stop watering and move it to a cool, dark place to rest for 3-5 months. Repot into fresh compost and put in a warm, bright spot. Once leaves start to grow, water sparingly.

Q We’ve cut all the canes off and attempted to dig the root ball out to control a 20-year-old black bamboo but it’s invincible. What can we do?

Jean Castle, Greater Manchester

A Bamboos are essentially grasses. To contain them, cut all growth down to ground level and mow culms as they appear – they will weaken and eventually die off.

Write to Monty Don at Weekend, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email [email protected] Please include your full name and address. We regret Monty can’t reply to letters personally.

Homegrown parsley makes for large plants – a healthy parsley plant between three and nine months old should be 15-30cm tall, with bushy, edible foliage – that can be cut back two or three times with each harvest from each individual plant, providing more delicious growth than an entire mass-produced pot.

Parsley thrives in well-drained but fertile soil, with plenty of moisture, and also tolerates some shade. 

Because of this I’ve had more success using it as part of rotated planting among the vegetables than trying to fit it in with the needs of the herb garden, which is based around Mediterranean herbs with a desire for poor soil and maximum sunshine. 

Parsley is a biennial so produces its leaves in its first growing season and the flowering stem and seeds in the next. You therefore always need at least two batches on the go – one that’s just about to produce a mass of harvestable leaves as the other is about to put its energy into flowering.

It is a member of the carrot family and will develop a long tap root – not unlike a carrot – hence the cruelty of confining it to a small pot with dozens of fellow plants packed in with it. 

If it gets dry then it can throw up a flowering stem, which should be cut back to the base as soon as it appears.

Because it has the space to develop its true root system it will regrow a new flush of leaves again and again for the first nine months of its life until the urge to develop its flowers becomes overwhelming, at which point it has to be dug up and added to the compost heap. When you do this you will be astonished at the size of the root.

I make two or three sowings a year, ensuring a limitless supply right through the seasons. I always used to sow parsley directly where it was to grow and then thin it heavily, and this system still works – although it can be prey to slug attack.

 I now prefer to sow it in seed trays and transplant it into plugs. It needs warmth to germinate; we use a heated bench but a windowsill above a radiator works well. Once the seedlings emerge it will not need any extra heat. 

MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK: AUSTRIAN CLEMATIS (Clematis alpina) 

Monty said clematis alpinais is one of the first clematis to appear in his garden. Pictured:u00A0u2018Pamela Jackman'

Monty said clematis alpinais is one of the first clematis to appear in his garden. Pictured: ‘Pamela Jackman’

C. alpina is one of the first clematis to appear in any garden. It comes from the Alps and is completely hardy so makes a good climber for an exposed situation or an east wall. 

The best known alpina is probably ‘Francis Rivis’, also known as ‘Blue Giant’, but my own favourite is ‘Pamela Jackman’, which has deep blue flowers each spring.

 These flowers grow from the leaf axils (near where the leaf attaches to the stem) of the previous year’s growth so prune it after it has finished flowering and then only do so to contain it.

THIS WEEK’S JOB

Split snowdrops 

The quickest way to spread snowdrops is to lift and divide them. Dig up the largest clump and replant or leave half in situ. Split the rest into cup-sized clumps and replant in a new position, having first forked in garden compost. Water in well, and repeat annually.

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