Asparagus and parsley are beautiful companion plants. Both begin low to the bare ground in the early spring, yet grow 3-4 feet tall with lovely foliage. After the asparagus harvest is over, the spears feather out into light green ferns that contrast nicely with the dark green chittering look of parsley. I like planting my asparagus bed with space leaving room for the parsley here and there.
There are several varieties of parsley touted by different gardeners, and not all grow as tall as my asparagus. I grow the Italian flat leaf plant for its height and its robust flavor. I love the flavor it adds to soup or stock, and with this plant there is always a good supply on hand. The younger stems and leaves are better for most culinary purposes, but older ones can be nice for stock.
At maturity, the parsley flowers in umbels. Small florets branch off from a main stem to form an “umbrella” shape, hence its name. The parsley family of flowers used to be know as Umbelliferae, as is dill, fennel, Queen Anne’s Lace, carrot, parsnip, and Angelica.The most poisonous plant in North America, water hemlock, is also a member of this group. Most Umbelliferae have hollow stems, and children have died, innocently using the water hemlock stems as straws or whistles. However, the umbels of the edible members of this family (now called Apiaceae ) are of value to the gardener in both beauty and ability to attract beneficial insects.
The flowers are quite attractive to pollinators. Small bees and tiny wasps hover about them, dispensing pollen from flower to flower in return for the nectar the plants offer. Some of the tiniest wasps parasitise aphids and white cabbage butterfly caterpillars by laying their eggs inside the pest’s body. The pest dies, and the new beneficial adult that emerges will drink more nectar, pollinate more of the plants we like, and look for more aphids to destroy. The larvae of many still other insects attracted to flower umbels are also voracious eaters of aphids and other pests. There is one voracious eating caterpillar I do like to see in the garden, however- the black swallowtail. Parsley is a host plant for this lovely butterfly. Just plant a few extra and be prepared to be amazed at how fast the larvae grow (and how fast they eat the parsley!).
Parsley is a good companion plant for growing tomatoes, corn, peppers, peas, and roses as well as my beloved asparagus. It is said that parsley planted near rose bushes will create sweeter scented roses. This may be myth, but might be fun to try.
Parsley is full of many vitamins and minerals. One cup of parsley will suffice for 100% of the daily RDA for vitamin C. It would be easy to partake of this amount in a tasty helping of parsley pesto or a tabbouleh dish. Parsley tea is sometimes used by women with menstrual disorders, to bring on menstruation. For similar reasons, pregnant women should avoid eating large amounts of parsley. Repeat, avoid large amounts. The amount used to flavor soup or stew or a marinade won’t harm although a pregnant woman may wish to stick with the usual basil pesto until birth. Although considering the number of women who try the parsley tea trick for inducing labor to no avail, even that might be a moot idea.
Parsley has a reputation for being difficult to germinate. It is slow to germinate, but does come up well and thrives with other plants under grow lights. I have not needed to try the soak-seeds-in-warm water trick that many gardeners use, but perhaps those gardeners grow more parsley plants than me. The bulk of what I use comes naturally from the previous plants reseeding themselves. Parsley is a biennial, meaning it does not flower and set seed until the second year of life. It is good to have a mix of first and second year plants in the garden. First year is best for culinary use, but the pretty umbels bloom the second year. In addition to attracting pollinators, they create a tremendous number of seeds. Goldfinches like them, but there are always enough for my garden’s needs, too.