The curly-leaf and flat-leaf parsley varieties available at the grocery store are not the only options for an adventurous kitchen gardener. Parsley is a biennial plant grown as annuals in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 2 through 11, with varieties good for more than just garnish. Whatever the type you grow, parsley tends to die off in cold weather and, if plants survive, they produce flowers and seeds the second year. Parsley grows best in full sun exposure, which means six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day.
Common parsley (Petroselinum crispum) produces stems 8 to 14 inches tall topped with curly leaves. This variety of parsley is native to central and southern Europe and likes moist soil with good drainage. The dense clumps of curly leaves are edible raw or cooked. Dried stems that are ground up provide a green food coloring. Tea made from the leaves is high in vitamin C. This variety of parsley is commonly used as an ornamental garnish on plates in restaurants.
Italian flat-leaf parsley (Petroselinum neapolitanum) reaches 24 to 36 inches tall, which flop sometimes. This parsley attracts butterflies to the garden and prefers rich moist soil. Do not let this variety dry out. Italian parsley originates from Europe and the Mediterranean. This type grows best in cool summer climates. The flat serrated leaves develop a stronger sweeter flavor than the common parsley. The flavor makes this variety good for cooking. The leaves are used fresh or dried in potato, fish, stew and vegetable dishes.
Hamburg parsley (Petroselinum tuberosum) is commonly grown for its fleshy parsnip-like roots, which provides flavors for soup. The roots taste between celery and parsley with a little nutty flavor. The stems on this plant reach 24 inches tall forming clumps 12 inches wide. The leaves on this variety of parsley resemble ferns, and can be used like common and Italian parsley.
Japanese parsley (Cryptotaenia japonica) resembles Italian parsley, but originates in China and Japan. This plant grows as an evergreen perennial 39 inches tall and 24 inches wide in USDA zones 5 through 11. During the summer, white blossoms appear. This variety tastes a bit bitter and is commonly used in Asian cooking. The leaves and stems are eaten raw or cooked. The stems are used as a substitute for celery. This perennial adapts to most types of soil. Japanese parsley needs afternoon protection from direct sun exposure, since its leaves scorch in full sun.