Herby Leaf Salad

Summer Herby Salad

As a rule I used to be not that keen on salads.  Maybe that's because the Saturday evening salads of my childhood days in London were limp lettuce, tomato, cucumber from the street market, with the addition of salad cream.   It took me well into my adult life to overcome the trauma but the result is that I prefer a more interesting salad than the one on my parents' tea table.

At the moment I'm generally eating a herby salad.  It's tasty and the beauty of it is that it is very easy to grow.  Five plants can provide a lot of interest to a salad; mint, lemon balm, chives, fennel, and lemon sorrel.   These are all perennials and need virtually no horticultural skills.  I think a good idea is to establish 2 or 3 patches of each of these in the garden.  You can then rotate your picking.  They might be good candidates to fill those troublesome spots in the garden where nothing else seems to thrive.


Another obvious thing to do is to grow some of these under cover in cloches, polytunnel or greenhouse.  This will extend the season enormously.  Remember - next to no horticultural skill required.  Don't forget that these herbs are supposed to have significant health benefits.

Other useful additions are parsley and chervil.  These need a bit more care growing from seed but both of these can be available throughout the winter if you sow them at the right time and give them a bit of cover.  I generally grow a flat leaf parsley for salads - might be called French parsley or Italian parsley.  I like to be able to eat it by the handful, not as some pathetic garnish.


All these herbs are so flavoursome that you actually need something more bland to provide some bulk.   You could try growing traditional lettuce of some variety.  They say it takes 90 days to grow a lettuce.  Another option is to grow some ' salad leaves'.   These are generally a mixture of quick growing leafy plants packaged together by the seed companies.  Cultivation is very easy but remember that they shouldn't be allowed to get too hot or dry.  At midsummer under the fierce Devon sun they even like some shade.  It doesn't take a lot of ground to provide salad leaves for a household but the one thing to have to do is to keep sowing in succession throughout the summer and beyond.   Maybe sow once a fortnight.


Another option is to grow some spinach.  This is tasty and will keep providing more young leaves as you pick the older ones.  If you wanted to be really lazy then why not get the perennial herbs going and just buy a crispy lettuce from the shops.  You will still save yourself a lot of money compared to buy the fancy plastic bag supermarket salad and have a much better result - and no food miles.

A 'premium' addition to this summer herby salad is what the Americans call ' cilantro' and you might know it as leaf coriander.  The best varieties of cilantro produce a good volume of leaf that you can keep picking. I'm going to grow loads so that I can freeze some.  It's also ideal for adding to a coconut/lime/chilli/garlic/ginger curry.

I like to have a dressing with the salad and generally make mine from olive oil, cider vinegar, Greek oregano, ground black pepper and Dijon mustard.  I suppose some might add salt or sugar to this.  Experiment to your own taste innit.  If I'm lazy or hurried at present then I might have a salad in pitta bread.  It's what I call 'fast food' - add meat, bacon, smoked fish or cheese perhaps if you like. After all, we are all individuals. Yum.  It's enough to make me worried that I'm getting too many vitamins.  A glass or two of home-made cider might provide a good balance.

Flea Beetle

Can't have a gardening blog without mentioning some of the pests of the garden.  Flea Beetle is a pest that my plants suffer from.  It attacks young plants of the brassica (cabbage) family.  This includes mustards, mizuna and rocket that I grow for salads. Symptoms are the small holes in the leaves of the plants. Growth of the plants is affected but they probably won't die.  Remedy is difficult because you can't catch the little beasties.  It is difficult to  control them organically. They are particularly damaging to plants stressed because of dry weather.


Effectively this stops me growing swedes and turnips from seed.  Other plants such as kale, broccoli, mizuna I am transplanting into the ground.  The plants will survive as long as I make sure they are healthy enough when transplanted.  Generally this means that they should be fairly big when transplanted and they should be kept well watered.

Important Books - #2 - 'Organic Gardening' by Lawrence D. Hills


A little while ago I was wondering what the recommended ingredients were for a sweet and sour sauce.  I pulled down from the bookshelf the modestly titled 'Complete Chinese Cookbook' by Kenneth Lo.  It quickly answered my question about the sauce.  I was taken aback by the graininess of the paper in this 1974 book.  There were no photos of the 'celebrity' author smugly having a beach barbeque with his 'mates'.  No photos at all and no supermarket endorsements. How can this work as a book?

The gardening equivalent of Ken Lo's book is 'Organic Gardening' by Lawrence D Hills, 1977. 

It does what it says on the cover.  There are sections on the 'theory' of organic gardening - covering compost, leafmould, manure and peat, fertilisers, crop rotations and so on.  Then there is a description of how to grow each crop, along with notes on their deficiencies, diseases and pests.  The authors' enthusiasm, commitment and character shine through in the book. He founded the Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic) , which became the largest body of organic gardeners in the world.  The home page of the Garden Organic website says

"Your garden is your own little patch of the world to look after. Most gardens are quite small, but there are 15 million of them in the UK. If all of these gardens were cared for organically, it would create a much better environment - for our families, plants and wildlife."

I was certainly carrying this book around when I got my first allotment.  Little did I know how important some of L D Hill's pioneering ideas, such as seed libraries, would be.