Parsley is an ideal herb for containers, it even likes living on the kitchen windowsill, as long as it is watered, fed and cut. Curly parsley can look very ornamental as an edging to a large pot of nasturtiums. It can also be grown in hanging baskets (keep well watered) window boxes (give it some shade in high summer) and containers.
Don’t grow in those “Parsley Pots” – the one with six holes around the side… parsley likes moisture and these containers dry out too fast, the holes in the side are small and make it difficult to water and the parsley has too big a tap root to be happy!
Soil Preparation: Parsley is a hungry plant it likes a good deep soil, not too light and not acidic. Feed the chosen site well in the autumn with well rotted manure. If you wish to harvest parsley all year round, prepare two different sites. For summer supplies, a western or eastern border is ideal because the plant needs moisture and prefers a little shade. For winter supplies a more sheltered spot will be needed in a sunny position.
Sowing: Can be sown all year round. In cool climates, to ensure a succession of plants, sow seedlings under cover only in plug trays or pots. Avoid seed trays because as with any umbelliferae, it hates being transferred. Cover with perlite. If you have a heated propagator, a temperature of 18°C (65°F) with speed up germination. Germination takes 2 to 3 weeks with bottom heat and 4 to 6 weeks without heat.
When the seedlings are large enough and the temperature has started to rise (about mid spring) plant out in containers or a prepared garden bed, 15cm (6in) apart. Direct sow seeds thinly, in drills 30 to 45cm (12 to 18in) apart and about 3cm (1in) deep. Keep the soil moist at all times otherwise the seed will not germinate. As soon as the seedlings are large enough, thin to 8cm (3in) apart and then to 15cm (6in) apart. If at any time the leaves turn a little yellow, cut back to encourage new growth and feed with a liquid fertilizer.
Cultivation: Seed grown plants are ready to harvest in 12 to 14 weeks when about 15cm (6in) tall. Harvest whole stems 2cm above the soil to encourage new growth. At the first sign of flower heads appearing, remove them if you wish to continue harvesting the leaves. Remember to water well during hot weather.
Propagation: You can cut and dry the leaves remaining at the end of the season or leave the plants in the ground and try to get more use from the plants the following spring. Although parsley is biennial, most people find the leaves too bitter the second year and the flower stalks will grow surprisingly fast. However, they may hold you over until your new crop is mature enough to harvest.
Harvesting: Pick leaves during the first year for fresh use or for freezing (by far the best method of preserving parsley. Fresh cut parsley should be wrapped in damp kitchen paper, placed in a perforated bag and stored in the fridge. It will last for up to 3 days. Alternatively, treat like a bunch of flowers and put in a glass of water in the fridge, covering the leaves with a plastic bag and changing the water every two days - it can last for up to a week this way. Dried parsley should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. It will keep its potency.
Substitutions: 1 tsp dried parsley = 1 tbsp fresh parsley; curly parsley OR Italian parsley OR chervil OR celery tops OR cilantro
Pests and Disease: Slugs love young parsley plants, do what you can to protect the crop!. There is a fungus with may attack the leaves. It produces first brown then white spots. If this occurs the whole stock should be destroyed. Get some fresh seed.
Culinary Uses: The leaves are used in a variety of recipes from hot casserole dishes to cold entree salads, and can be used either freshly cut or dried and ground. The seed is also used as spice. In Europe it is part of bouquet garni, a bundle of fresh herbs used to flavor stocks, soups, and sauces. It is also a remedy for bad breath.
Bouquet Garni: Tie together with a string or wrap in cheesecloth: 4 sprigs fresh parsley, 1 sprig thyme and 1 bay leaf. Add other herbs as you wish.
Companion Plants: Asparagus, Tomato and Basil.
Nomenclature: Herb meaning - Parsley - lasting pleasure and energy. Having originated in Iran ("Pars"), it thus acquired its European name.
Legend: This herb was dedicated by the Greeks to Persephone, goddess of the underworld, and used to decorate tombs to please her as she guided the souls of the dead to the underworld. It was believed to have energy-giving powers, so was taken by athletes to improve their performance. At one time superstition held that only pregnant women or witches could grow parsley. These days no such cultural restrictions prevent the rest of us from growing this plant.