Even if it’s just a small bowl of leaves, I love to eat a salad almost every day of the year. I may not feel quite the same if I was restricted to a supermarket bag, but freshly picked spring salad is delicious.
There are so many flavours, textures and colours, no bowl need be the same. If you grow a range of varieties and put them together well, salad can be exciting – not just every bowl, but every mouthful is a different experience.
Producing baskets of food from the garden is all very well if you have tons of space, but I know this is increasingly rare. My daughters have both moved to the city and are keen to do a bit of grow-your-own. They’ve made me think hard about which are the best edible plants to grow to give the best value per centimetre.
Salads are a front-runner for this – many are brilliant for pots. I previously visited the glasshouses at West Dean Gardens in West Sussex, where they have an array of ornamental and delicious edibles lined up in terracotta pots and displayed on tiered plant theatres in one of the Victorian glasshouses. It’s quite a sight, beautiful crops of hardy herbs, salad leaves, dwarf kales and pea tips.
But it doesn’t need to be so grand. Polystyrene or wooden greengrocer boxes – or almost any pot outside your back door or on your brightest window ledge – will grow salad and herbs just as well. Before I accumulated so many terracotta pots, I used polystyrene boxes from the fishmonger.
With holes pierced through the bottom for drainage, they have a good depth and are insulated so, even more than terracotta, are ideal for cold-weather growing. Single varieties of salads and herbs, as well as mixes, work well in these.
Garden space or not, beautiful home-grown salads at this time of year are easily achieved; minimal TLC will give you plenty to play with in the March and April kitchen. Potted herbs and a good range of hardy winter salads have been grown by Anne Kelly, a West Dean gardener, every year for five years now. Her aim is to show what can be done in pots.
As Kelly says, seeing all these things at waist height or eye level helps one appreciate the plants’ individual beauty – and all plants are seed-grown, so this is a cheap and easy thing to do.