The latest edition of Joy Larkcom’s classic, The Salad Garden, has been sitting on my ‘to review’ pile for some weeks now. It’s not that I didn’t want to read it – I did read it. It’s just that it’s extremely dense, in the sense that it contains a lot of useful information about a lot of useful plants. It’s not a book you can read quickly, digest, and move on from. It’s a reference manual that will be part of your collection for years. Forever, probably.
In the introduction, Larkcom talks a little bit about her salad-growing history, including the tour of Europe she and her family embarked on. Then we’re straight into the plants – divided into Leafy Salad Plants, Brassica tribe, Oriental greens, Stems and Stalks, Fruiting vegetables, the Onion family, root vegetables and Finishing Touches.
“An enormous range of plants can be used in salads, from familiar garden vegetables to wild plants and weeds. As space is limited, lesser known plants have priority in The Salad Garden.”
There are plenty of less common plants to read about. In Mild-flavoured greens you’ll find Leaf amaranth, Orache, Texsel greens, Salad rape, Tree spinach, Alfalfa, Winter purslane, Iceplant, February orchid, Summer purslane and Corn salad. In Strong-flavoured leaves Larkcom explores Land cress, Chrysanthemum greens, Rocket and wild rocket, Turkish rocket, Garden cress, Watercress, Sorrel, Salsola, White mustard, Dandelion and Fenugreek.
Finishing touches is all about the herbs and edible flowers that can enliven salads, and includes a large section on weeds and wild plants.
The back third or so of the book is the gardening information – site, soil, watering, etc. It has some very salad-specific sections, including a chart of species that can be grown as cut-and-come again crops, and information about seed sprouting. Then there are a few pages of recipes – both for dressings and for salads. The recipe section is the least comprehensive, and has no photos, but then this is not a recipe book. At the end there are appendices, with further reading, suppliers and a year-round saladini (baby leaf mixed salad).
So you’re covered from plot to plate. You’d need an enormous garden to grow all of the plants, most of which have uses outside of salads, but if you want to develop a salad-rich garden, then this is the book to guide you on your way! As Larkcom says:
“Approach salad growing in a spirit of adventure and enquiry. Every garden is unique, and there are few rights and wrongs in gardening. Be prepared to experiment; don’t be bound by rules! Do, however, keep detailed records. Your own notes on sowing times, varieties grown, quantities sown, methods used and harvesting times will eventually become far and away the best guide in producing salads for your household.”
I was provided with a review copy of the book by the publisher, Frances Lincoln. The Salad Garden is a paperback with an RRP of £1.99, but it’s currently available from Hive (for example) for £12.39.