Kim Stoddart’s choices
At this exciting time of year, with increasing germination rates as the daylight hours lengthen and the soil warms, my thoughts quickly turn to the vast array of salads that can easily and productively now be grown. Pick and come again varieties are always a personal favourite. You get more leaf for less effort, and they can keep on growing / be harvested for longer than a compact variety such as iceberg, which also requires fairly exacting growing conditions. For me, a summer salad just isn’t complete without an exciting, colourful array of leaves and herby, floral edible additions. It takes salad eating onto a whole other level of enjoyment, leaving childhood memories of bland, boring leaves firmly behind. With ease of growing and maximum culinary potential in mind, here’s my pick of the most reliable (and indeed delicious) leaves to grow:
An incredibly easy, fast-growing, widely available variety which comes in a choice of red or green leaf. I wouldn’t be without it.
This Italian classic comes in a vibrant, frilly red.
Cos / Romaine
These tall leaves, most commonly known as a staple of Caesar salad have a lovely crisp texture and flavour that makes them an excellent addition. They are widely available to buy.
I named my gardening school after this delightfully punchy little salad leaf, I like it so much. Sure, it bolts given the first opportunity, but then that’s just an excuse to eat the pretty little white flowers it produces and sow some more.
A taste of summer as far as I’m concerned, and therefore a summer salad bowl must. If you find it hard to germinate, try buying in a supermarket herb pot, gently separate the roots and plant out the many basil seedlings therein about your plot.
Vietnamese Coriander/ Coriander
Coriander has a tendency to bolt quickly so requires repeated sowings to enjoy its delicate citrusy flavour. Vietnamese Coriander, on the other hand, is a relation to the Japanese knotweed and is hardy as hell, much easier to grow and equally delicious.
I love the taste of fennel bulb, but the feathery fronds of the leaf are most enjoyed chopped finely for added aniseed flavour and texture.
Another veg patch stalwart in my opinion, with many culinary uses. Chive is a slight thug – keen to spread itself out given half the chance – but when cut back rigorously, it can be kept in check. It’s well worth the effort for the delicious oniony stems and beautiful purple flowers that are guaranteed to impress.
This vitamin-C-packed herb is used in my house at each and every opportunity and its flatleaf or curly leaves work well cut chopped small and sprinkled in with salad.
Useful as a companion plant on your veg patch, the edible leaves and pretty red flowers have an almost peppery flavour that can help jazz up a dish no end. They will self-seed and spread with abandon once established on your plot, but it’s an incredibly useful plant which is also good for the intestinal health of your poultry to boot, so do remember to pass some on!
This hardy perennial leaf has a fabulous, tangy flavour which works well in salad, as well as many other dishes.
Used widely across Europe, this plant is also easily grown in the UK and produces lovely robust leaves which are ideal as a colourful (and flavoursome) addition to salad. Do let some grow on and flower whilst you’re at it, as the resulting delicate little blue flowers are divine. It’s harder to buy in the UK, so worth noting that Real Seeds sell Trieste Sweet which is ideal as a pick and come again salad leaf. Their Magenta Magic Orach and Bianca Riccia da Taglio salad Endive are also worth trying. www.realseeds.co.uk
Pick and come again varieties are always a personal favourite.
Planting out salad bowl INSET: Italian lettuce seeds
Chive flowers look delightful
Just picked salad leaves
A chicory flower head