I've been growing fennel for a couple of years without a lot of success. My farmer friends say you need to start it in February in a greenhouse and then set it out in spring. Since I don't have a greenhouse I've tried direct sowing it in March and it has done alright but never gets very big. I think it's really for cooler climates so by mid summer we've managed to harvest a few small bulbs and then it usually starts to bolt.
Accept this one here, which I harvested yesterday, a huge bulb, 7 months growing! Very tender and crisp with that wonderful anise flavor. We've enjoyed it sliced thinly into salads with our first fall beets the past two nights, very tasty.
A nice way to use the feathery tops and stalks-which tend to be tough and fibrous-is to lay them in a pile on a hot grill and then put a fillet of marinated fish on top of the fennel to grill it. The flavor of the fennel drifts up into and permeates the fish and makes a very delicious dish.