All parts of a fennel plant taste sweetly of anise. The dill-like leaves may be brewed into a herb tea or minced into dressings, dips and sauces, while the raw texture of the bulb is both juicy and crunchy, perfect sliced thinly into salads or in larger chunks with bell peppers, carrots and cucumbers on a tray of veggies and dip. Quartered and cooked in a sauce, mixed with other veggies or simmered with seafood, fennel adds a subtle sweetness.
Even though fennel will stand for some weeks in the fall garden, the bulbs are at their tender best, like many other vegetables, when harvested on the smaller side, about the diameter of a closed fist. Pull up the entire plant and trim away roots and leafy tops, or cut the bulbs at ground level. Peel away an outer layer or two—these coarser parts along with the tops add flavour to soups and stocks—and you are left with a delicious easy-to-grow vegetable that may well become a fixture in your late summer garden.
The flowers of many umbelliferous plants—lovage, parsley, dill, fennel—are an important food source for small parasitic wasps, one of the garden’s beneficial insects. You may also see large green-and-black striped caterpillars munching on fennel foliage: leave them be and they’ll metamorphose into lovely swallowtail butterflies.