Sunday, August 17, 2008

Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum', Bronze Fennel

Fennel has an interesting Olympics association in that the ancient Greek word Marathon means fennel. (in Latin marathrum means fennel)
Part of the myth and legend of the battle of Marathon fought on a fennel field against the Persians in 490 BC , has the Athenian athlete Pheidippides run the first "marathon" with news of battle victory holding of course a sprig of fennel.
Much later the poet Robert Browning alluded to this legend in his stirring poem "Pheidippides" which was published in 1879.
This poem could well have lent some credence towards the inauguration of the marathon race at the first modern Olympics in 1896.
History aside, the bronze form of fennel makes a fine garden plant ,though it should be remembered that the plain green form is something of a roadside weed.
The tan and rich brown foliage of bronze fennel is the perfect foil for bright flowered perennials such as Rudbeckia, Cannas and Daylilies or in combination with roses such as the apricot coloured 'Just Joey' or the coffee shaded 'Julia's rose.
The added bonus is that it is a useful kitchen herb. The cut stems and foliage add a subtle flavour when used to line a baking dish when cooking a whole fish.
The Italians use the other fennel ,the bulb one (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum) which is often called aniseed in both salads and hot dishes.
They also use fennel seed in the salami finocciona and for the liqueur fenouillette.

2017 update: Not sure why I didn't include a photo. I still grow it sometimes and it looks best in winter and early spring

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