Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

How can you make the most of parsley?

Parsley is a very popular herb – and while this is undoubtedly due to a combination of factors, its use in a wide range of culinary dishes and low maintenance when growing are key. 

It is native to the central Mediterranean region, although it has become naturalised throughout most of the rest of Europe. Its Latin binomial name is Petroselinum crispum – and this is derived from a combination of Old English, Old French and Medieval Latin terms. 

When it comes to cultivating the herb, a greenhouse could provide the ideal environment. It generally does best in moist and well-drained soil – and certainly benefits from plenty of exposure to sunlight. 

Often grown from seed, it performs best at a temperature between 22 and 30 degrees C. Germination is a relatively slow process, usually taking between four and six weeks. The plants are typically kept around ten cm apart from one another if they are grown from leaf crop, while root crops need twice as much space – best kept 20 cm apart in order to allow for plenty of root development. 

Former presenter of television magazine show Gardeners' World and garden writer Alys Fowler said that some people can be very snobbish about parsley. In an article for UK national newspaper the Guardian, she suggested that this is generally due to preferential differences between certain varieties of the herb. 

She claimed Italian flat-leaved options are superior in flavour and texture to the curly moss form, but claimed that she would happily settle for the latter – particularly in colder winter conditions. 

The expert acknowledged there can be some difficulties growing flat-leaved parsley in colder winter conditions. She described the plant as being very tender – and therefore easily susceptible to the dangers posed by hard frost. However, Ms Fowler stated that a very sheltered spot and a little extra protection should be enough to see it survive. 

"This winter, however, I found myself without either form and relied on Hamburg parsley to keep me in leaves," she commented, adding: "Hamburg (Petroselinum crispum var tuberosum) is parsley that masquerades as a parsnip (or carrot). It has flat leaves on top and a dense, rather dry white root beneath that can be harvested from September onwards as a root vegetable. 

"You can't pick leaves all summer and expect a thick root to harvest in autumn, but once your plant has rooted up, you can treat it as a dual-purpose plant for winter use," Ms Fowler continued, warning would-be growers that they may be in for a long wait when growing parsley, as it is very slow to germinate. "It is easier to raise any parsley on a windowsill," she said – and this means it might be the ideal option for greenhouse growers. 

Ms Fowler noted that pouring boiling water over the seed drill before sowing can sometimes negate the risks posed by a cold snap for those who insist on germinating outdoors – going on to strongly advise against overcrowding.