Fennel, A Surprising Ornamental From The Kitchen Garden

I started growing fennel in my front yard because I liked the ferny purple foliage of the variety Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’. Little did I know its habits and properties since it wasn’t a plant I had grown in the vegetable garden. Now that it is more familiar, it is time to share it with you.

I was surprised to find:

  • That it is perennial in my Zone 5 garden
  • How difficult its roots are to dislodge, once established
  • How freely it seeds

Another thing I found when growing it for ornamental purposes is that the bulbous root is not very big, which is explained with growing information on the plant.

full fennel plant

Full-length fennel plant

How Fennel Looks

[The Look]
A tall upright plant, 4 to 5 feet or more in height, with ferny foliage and umbel flowers, it looks remarkably like Dill, which is a close relation. The ‘Purpureum’, or ‘Nigra’ has green to bronzy stems and purple bronze foliage, with a chartreuse tinged yellow flower. Very pretty and not at all heavy looking like many purple leaved plants.

How Fennel Is To Be Grown For The Table

[Garden Guide]
My lack of success to grow an edible bulb of fennel was due to the variety I was growing and not my conditions as I had supposed. The Florence fennel, or Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum group are the varieties to plant for the delectable root vegetable. When braised in a little chicken broth it is very tasty.

Bronze Fennel

Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’ bloom

My chosen variety is the bronze leaved or “purple” fennel, which is a delicious and pretty addition to salads and gives good seed production for the anise flavored seeds.

Sun: 6 hours or more, daily
Moisture: moderate to dry
Soils: prefers loose and gritty, but added humus will loosen clay

Cross pollinates with dill to which it is closely related. Not desirable.

Good growing practices:

  • Remove seedheads to harvest and prevent invasive tendencies
  • Don’t grow in proximity to dill
  • Keep soils loose, add humus

Companion planting practices suggest that fennel is poor for tomatoes and suppresses their growth. There are a number of plants that have properties labeled “allelopathicbiochemicals that influence the growth, survival, and reproduction of other organisms“, and fennel is one of them, although good for treating some human maladies.

Above the lower plants it towers, The Fennel with its yellow flowers; And in an earlier age than ours Was gifted with the wondrous powers Lost vision to restore. -Longfellow

Good in These Garden Styles

Makes an excellent Cottage Garden plant. Quite at home in the Kitchen Garden, and of course, the Herb Garden.

Fennel has been known and used since ancient times for food and medicine

[Fun Facts]
Fennel is a medicinal herb, containing anethole. It is used for flatulence, increase of milk production, experimentally to treat glaucoma, and in powder form to repel fleas. (A 12th century English Herbal advised “Plant fennel near your kennel”)

History and facts of fennel’s medicinal use.

Eastern Black Swallowtail caterpillar likes to feed on fennel, find out more about butterfly plants.

Grow a Butterfly Garden

Additional resources on fennel
BBC fennel profile, BBC Top Ten Perennial
How To Grow Fennel
Fennel experience

purple fennel foliage

The fennel fine leaved foliage

Excellent resource books on herbs

Complete Herbs Book   Growing Herbs   Cooking with Herbs
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