GAR­DEN­ING

With lawns to mow and let­tuces to sow, May is a busy month in the gar­den, says Sue Bradley

Living France - - CONTENTS -

Sue Bradley re­veals what to do in the gar­den in May, plus an Open Gar­den in Lot-et-Garonne

May is here and the warmer weather means it’s a great time to let rip with pack­ets of let­tuce seeds. Some gar­den­ers will have al­ready got a head start by sow­ing under cover in or­der to bring on part-grown plants to trans­fer out­side later on.

But by now it’s pos­si­ble to put seeds directly in moist soil ready for bumper crops of salad leaves in the months to come. The op­ti­mum tem­per­a­ture for ger­mi­na­tion for most let­tuce seed is around 15°C, al­though some cul­ti­vars are known to sprout in cooler con­di­tions.

Sow ev­ery two weeks for a suc­ces­sion of let­tuces that can ei­ther be har­vested all in one go or plucked ‘cut-and-come-again’ style for just a hand­ful of leaves as needed.

Some gar­den­ers like to grow let­tuces in rows while oth­ers use them as or­na­men­tal ad­di­tions to potagers.

They can be used as ‘fill-in’ crops be­tween longer-ma­tur­ing roots such as parsnips or carrots and are so flex­i­ble that they can even be brought on in con­tain­ers or win­dow boxes.

Once a grow­ing space has been iden­ti­fied, the ques­tion then is which let­tuces to sow.

We’re all fa­mil­iar with the likes of ‘Cos’, ‘Lit­tle Gem’ and ‘Lollo Rosso’, but these are just the tip of the ice­berg – no pun in­tended – when it comes to the huge choice that’s avail­able.

Loose-leaf let­tuces are fast grow­ing, colour­ful and have open heads that make ‘cut-and-come-again’ crop­ping es­pe­cially easy. They in­clude red and green ‘oak leaf’ types, such as the French heir­loom va­ri­eties ‘Feuille de Chêne Rouge’ and ‘Feuille de Chêne.’

But­ter­heads get their name from their soft and sweet ‘melt-in-the-mouth’ leaves and are well suited to be­ing grown in spring and early au­tumn. Among their num­ber are the French cul­ti­vars ‘Merveille des Qu­a­tre Saisons’, which has green leaves tinged with red or bronze, and ‘Ap­pia Laitue’, with its green fo­liage. ‘Tom Thumb’ is small but per­fectly formed, while ‘All Year Round’ is great for suc­ces­sional sow­ings.

‘Cos’, known as ‘Ro­maine’ in France, have up­right heads, crunchy leaves, firm midribs and a slightly stronger flavour. This staple of the Cae­sar salad in­cludes ‘Lit­tle Gem’, one of the ear­li­est let­tuces to ma­ture, and ‘Nyams’.

Crisp­heads, or ice­bergs, have crunchy leaves and firm white hearts. They in­clude the old English cul­ti­var ‘Webbs Won­der­ful’, along with the bolt-re­sis­tant French ‘Reines des Glaces’, also known as ‘Ice Queen’, and ‘Salade de Russie’, which was in­tro­duced from Rus­sia to­wards the end of the 19th cen­tury.

If the prospect of choos­ing just one or two cul­ti­vars is too re­strict­ing, opt for a mixed packet, the let­tuce from which will trump su­per­mar­ket salad bags ev­ery time.

When it comes to pests, slugs are one of the worst men­aces when grow­ing let­tuce, al­though these can be con­trolled us­ing pel­lets, or, for or­ganic gar­den­ers, beer traps, cop­per tape, grit or ne­ma­todes.

Al­ter­na­tively, grow let­tuce in pots un­til a rea­son­able size be­fore plant­ing out to give them a fight­ing chance against the mol­luscs.

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