Kitchen Gar­den Si­mon Cour­tauld

SI­MON COUR­TAULD

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

FEN­NEL

I have never grown finoc­chio – or Florence fen­nel – hav­ing been told some years ago by a hor­ti­cul­tural friend that it is a veg­etable of south­ern Europe and needs a Mediter­ranean cli­mate to be pro­duced suc­cess­fully.

This is not en­tirely true: pos­si­bly be­cause we have just en­joyed a par­tic­u­larly hot sum­mer, I have been buy­ing fen­nel grown in Kent, per­fectly formed and with a firm, bul­bous base.

The rea­son for as­so­ci­at­ing fen­nel with the cap­i­tal city of Tus­cany, and for us­ing the name finoc­chio also as a deroga­tory term for a gay man, is ob­scure. But the grow­ing of fen­nel should not be left to the Ital­ians. A free-drain­ing soil (clay is not re­ally suit­able), sun and wa­ter are all im­por­tant, and seeds should be sown di­rectly into the ground be­tween May and Au­gust.

Fen­nel has a ten­dency to bolt, which can best be avoided by a late sow­ing, thin­ning out the plants and very reg­u­lar wa­ter­ing. Amigo and Cantino are two va­ri­eties said to be re­sis­tant to bolt­ing. As the bulbs be­gin to swell, they should be earthed up to blanch them and pro­tect them from early frosts.

I do grow Florence’s cousin, herb fen­nel, which has green or bronze fo­liage and, once planted, will grow pro­lif­i­cally and self-seed else­where in the gar­den. This sum­mer, I have had sev­eral stems with small yel­low flow­ers, grow­ing to a height of 7ft in a bed of mar­jo­ram, and an­other rogue plant po­si­tioned it­self at­trac­tively next to some red dahlias.

Hav­ing planted some herb fen­nel in a ter­ra­cotta pot a cou­ple of years ago, I now re­alise that I shall never be able to get the plants out of the pot un­less – which is quite likely – the pot cracks un­der pres­sure from the fen­nel stems, which are firmly wedged in and have rooted through the base of the pot.

How­ever, the stalks can be cut and stuffed into the cav­ity of a red mul­let or sea bass, while the seeds are tra­di­tion­ally used in the mak­ing of gripe wa­ter, which we may re­mem­ber giv­ing to our in­fant chil­dren.

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