WASHINGTON -- There is no happier marriage in the garden than that of basil and tomato.
Consider the pair: Both worship the sun and thrive in rich, well-drained soil high in organic matter but not too high in nitrogen. Both like the same amount of moisture (an inch or so per week). They share a cheerful, easygoing disposition, susceptible to few ailments. Both are annuals, which means they have the same life span. Both come in numerous forms, subtleties of flavor and size.
Best of all, their flavor -- together, alone and combined with other foods -- carries all the essence of summer concentrated in a single leaf or fruit.
If there is room this summer for only two plants, basil and tomato is the couple to invite.
The two are unrelated -- basil is a member of the mint family, tomatoes belong to the nightshade clan -- but they share a love of warm soil and summer's heat.
A mature tomato can climb to eight feet, basil just to three, but this is no mismatch: Basils placed strategically among the taller tomatoes look attractive and give the vines some breathing space.
But not all tomatoes are towering specimens. Better Bush is a fine variety of tomato that gets to about four feet in height with a thick, trunklike main stem and a cascading growth habit that recalls a Christmas tree in shape.
Tomatoes borne on Better Bush are four or five inches in diameter. A pair of these in a raised bed, flanked by four basil plants -- one on each side of each tomato plant -- would take up about the same amount of space as the average dining-room table.
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