This popular and ubiquitous herb is native to southern Europe. Two kinds are grown, both with finely cut dark green foliage: curly- leafed and Italian flat-leafed. Leaves of both are used as a seasoning (both fresh and dried), and fresh sprigs and minced leaves are classic garnishes. Curly-leafed parsley is more often grown for its good looks; it makes a lush, deep green, 6- to 12-in.-high border or edging and also looks great when combined with other plants in containers. Italian flat-leafed parsley grows 23 ft. tall and is considered more flavorful.
Buy plants at garden centers or sow seeds directly in the gardenin spring in the Upper South, in fall or spring elsewhere. To speed germination, soak seeds in warm water for 24 hours before planting. (Even after soaking, they may not sprout for several weeks; according to an old story, they must first go to the devil and back.) Thin seedlings to 11 ft. apart for flat-leafed parsley, 68 in. apart for curly-leafed parsleyor space plants at these distances. Pick fresh leaves as needed, or dry them on a wire rack. Where plants are left to overwinter, they'll flower at the beginning of their second year, then set seed and die. Most gardeners simply set out new plants each year.
Be merciful if you spot large caterpillars with black, green, and yellow stripes munching on the leaves; these are the larvae of the stunning black swallowtail butterfly.