Commentary

Travelogue: English Gardens Vol. II


Northern Wales is a scenic, mountainous paradise for hikers and bikers, with mimimal crowds even in July, and endless charming little hamlets. In the Conwy River Valley lies Bodnant Gardens, with plants from all over the world grown from seed and cuttings collected over a century ago on plant-hunting expeditions. Created by five generations of one family around a charming country estate, this 80-acre garden is superbly located, with spectacular views across toward Mt. Snowdonia. With expansive lawns and intimate corners, grand ponds and impressive terraces, a steep wooded valley and stream, as well as awe-inspiring plant collections, there are continually changing glorious displays of colour. The terraces make for striking views.

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Fennel

Fennel is a member of the Apiaceae (carrot or parsley family) and is related to cumin, dill, caraway and anise, all of which bear aromatic fruits that are commonly called seeds. It is native to southern Europe but is now naturalized in northern Europe, Australia and North America and is cultivated around the world. Most commercial fennel seed in the United States is imported from Egypt.

Description

A biennial or perennial, fennel sends up four or five smooth stalks, hollow but containing a white pith, and bearing feathery, finely divided linear foliage on clasping leafstalks; blooming in large, flat umbels of golden yellow flowers in late summer, which ripen to gray-brown seed. Plants can reach just under 6 feet in height, although F. vulgare subsp. vulgare var. azoricum, the vegetable fennel with the bulbous stalk base, is shorter, growing to only 2 feet.

Culture

Although fennel is a perennial or biennial to Zone 7, it may grow as an annual as far north as Zone 4, and F. vulgare subsp. vulgare var. azoricum is almost always grown as an annual. Sow fennel seed directly into the ground in spring when the ground is warm, and thin plants to 12-18 inches. Plants can also be propagated by division in spring. Fennel prefers moist but well-drained soil with a pH between 4.8 and 8.2. Florence fennel or finocchio (F. vulgare subsp. vulgare var. azoricum) can be hilled with soil as soon as the bottoms of the stalks have formed an egg-sized base; this will blanch the stalks as they grow. F. vulgare subsp. vulgare var. dulce, which is grown for it’s oil, is sometimes confused with F. vulgare subsp. vulgare var. azoricum but does not have finocchio’s thick leafstalk base. Do not plant fennel near dill, or hybrid plants of uncertain flavor will result. Fennel will self-seed and spread if seed heads are not cut after flowering. The leafstalk bases of the vegetable form, finocchio, can be harvested in early autumn or spring. Leaves can be harvested throughout the growing season, and seeds should be gathered from the seed head when ripe, for drying.


History & Uses

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