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