The joy of salad — a clas­sic book from Lark­com re­vis­ited

Fiann Ó Nual­láin talks with the doyenne of or­ganic gar­den­ing on her ground-break­ing work’s re-is­sue

Irish Examiner - Property & Interiors - - In The Garden -

Ihad known of Joy Lark­com from my ear­li­est for­ays into gar­den­ing — a neighbour lent me one of her books when he’d seen me plant­ing alpine straw­ber­ries as a teenager. I first met her in per­son at a GIY gath­er­ing in Water­ford many years ago, it was just a brief in­tro­duc­tion be­fore we took or re­spec­tive places on the dif­fer­ent panel dis­cus­sions and I didn’t full get the op­por­tu­nity to thank her for her con­tri­bu­tion to my gar­den­ing life.full get the op­por­tu­nity to thank her for her con­tri­bu­tion to my gar­den­ing life.

In truth that con­tri­bu­tion was to ev­ery ed­i­ble gar­dener’s life alive and dig­ging since the 1980s — to the new crop of to­day. Most of what is com­mon­place in the veg patch to­day — from pop­u­lar pro­duc­tive prac­tices to the types of veg we grow — was built upon Joy’s own in­ves­ti­ga­tions and ex­per­i­ments.

For ex­am­ple the no­tion of in­ter­crop­ping – sow­ing a fast grow­ing crop (salad leaves or spring onions), be­tween the rows of slower grow­ing crops (cab­bage, kale, leeks, etc) was a method Joy ad­vo­cated. The stan­dard prac­tice in Bri­tain, Ire­land and sev­eral re­gions of Europe was to grow in rows well-spaced and wait for ma­tu­rity. With in­ter­crop­ping the fast crop would be har­vested long be­fore the slower one needed the room. This was rev­o­lu­tion­ary at the time – it not only meant a more pro­duc­tive gar­den (more crop di­ver­sity and more yield) but it made a more ef­fi­cient gar­dener – less weed­ing, eas­ier wa­ter­ing regimes etc.

Joy trav­elled the world look­ing for such in­ge­nious tech­niques and also for new flavours that she could in­tro­duce to her gar­den and later to her gar­den­ing col­umns and writ­ings. The first time I heard about the pos­si­bil­ity of grow­ing pak choi, tas­toi and mizuna was from Joy’s writ­ings. Joy was a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to the Gar­den­ers’ Chronicle and the RHS magazine and the au­thor of many books on veg­etable grow­ing — in­clud­ing Just Vege­tat­ing, Grow Your Own Veg­eta­bles, Ori­en­tal Veg­eta­bles and The Or­ganic Salad Gar­den. All not just ex­pert, but en­riched with a real gar­den­ers un­der­stand­ing and love for the top­ics.

Frances Lin­coln have just reis­sued The Salad Gar­den, first pub­lished in 1984 and in­stantly cel­e­brated as a tour de force on the sub­ject. I say reis­sued, but in fact, it is a fully re­vised and up­dated edi­tion and a must for the shelf of any pro­duc­tive gar­dener or week­end al­lot­menteer. A lot has changed since the eight­ies and this up­dated edi­tion con­sid­ers ur­ban gar­den­ing and a whole gen­er­a­tion of gar­den­ers with smaller spa­ces and fast passed lives, it em­pha­sises easy to mas­ter tech­niques and a range of crop va­ri­eties best suited to pa­tio con­tain­ers, win­dow boxes, and small raised beds – in­clud­ing, thanks to Joy’s eye, the new­est and most flavour­some treats for the palate.

I caught up with Joy this week and I asked her first about her first mem­ory of gar­den­ing.

“My first mem­ory of gar­den­ing is my Dad com­ing home on leave dur­ing the war and dig­ging up the field — we had to plant veg­eta­bles. My job was tak­ing the wire­worms to the hens! But in ret­ro­spect, I’m won­der­ing whether that was a dodge to give him a few child-free mo­ments.”

How did you start to write about gar­den­ing? “Writ­ing about gar­den­ing started long af­ter I had left Wye Col­lege with a BSC in Hor­ti­cul­ture, trav­elled to Thai­land and Canada work­ing as a teacher and li­brar­ian, and then later go­ing into in­dus­trial jour­nal­ism in the UK.

“It was the com­bi­na­tion of mar­riage, mov- ing to the coun­try­side and hav­ing our own place and a young fam­ily that started me writ­ing a column on gar­den news.”

The world knows you as one of Bri­tian’s lead­ing gar­den­ers but Cork and Ire­land claim you too. How did you come to set­tle in Ire­land? “My hus­band Don is Amer­i­can by birth and his fa­ther’s fam­ily were from Ne­nagh and em­i­grated to Canada dur­ing the famine. Ever since we met we had hol­i­days in Ire­land, and even con­sid­ered mar­ket gar­den­ing early in our mar­riage: all that sea­weed go­ing to waste on the west coast, and hardly a green veg­etable (bar cab­bage and kale) in any of the ho­tels or shops. But life took a dif­fer­ent course, and it wasn’t un­til our mid 60’s that we drew breath, in­ves­ti­gated the pos­si­bil­ity of re­tir­ing to Ire­land, came first of all to have a look in West Cork….. and to­tally fell in love with the place and the peo­ple.

“We have been ex­traor­di­nar­ily happy here. It even turns out that ances­tors of

Pic­ture: Des Barry

The gar­den of Joy Lark­com at Du­namore Farm house in West Cork. The no­tion of in­ter­crop­ping was a method she ad­vo­cated.

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