Continuing with my goal of reading one of the unread gardening books on my shelf every month this year, I choose Salad Plants for Your Garden by Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix as my book for May. It has been in my possession for two years since I bought it in a charity shop; it was originally published in 1998.
The book begins by noting (as I did, earlier this year) that our understanding of the word ‘salad’ has evolved in the last few decades, from ‘lettuce, tomato, cucumber’ to something a bit more diverse. It doesn’t attempt to define what a salad is now (or was, in 1998).
According to the introduction:
“The purpose of this book is to present the keen amateur gardener-cum-gourmet with an interesting and fairly comprehensive selection of salad plants that can quite easily be grown in the garden and herb garden or, in many cases, in pots or on windowsills.”
Which made it all the more surprising when I turned the page and saw that it began with that undisputed salad stalwart… cabbage. Then kale, and broccoli – both well-known salad plants. Not.
The introduction continues to explain that the book is divided into five sections: leaves, roots and sprouts, fruits and beans, herbs and flowers. Although divided is a strong word; there are no section headings. You just cross the boundary from one section to the next without noticing. Especially as, within sections, the plants don’t seem to be laid out in any particular order.
The more well-known plants get a page or even two, mentioning some choice varieties as well as a short section on ‘planting help’. The less familiar species get a couple of paragraphs. These are more likely to concentrate on the origins of the plant (and the kind of environments in which it may be found growing wild) rather than how it might be used in a salad. In fact, the culinary notes are just a list of the ways in which you could use the plant (e.g. in salad, stir fries, soups, etc) rather than salad-specific notes. There are no recipes.
There aren’t any pictures of salads, either. There are plenty of pictures, all in colour, of plants and potagers. They look a bit dated, now.
So what you get, in effect, is some short growing advice on a selection of plants that you could grow in your veg patch and then use in a salad. Or not. Even the sections on edible flowers and sprouting seeds don’t really lift this out of the realm of general gardening advice.
At 96 pages, it’s a relatively short book – part of the Pan ‘Plant Chooser’ series. It’s not supposed to be an all-encompassing gardening manual, so it’s fine that it’s not. These days there’s a whole range of salad plants that it doesn’t include, but I’ll assume they weren’t around (or were very uncommon) in 1998. Even though Houttuynia gets a mention, as does Ice Plant (Mesembryanthemum cristallinum) – which I’d like to grow at some point, even though it hasn’t really caught on as a salad plant.
I would have liked to have seen, if not recipes, then at least some suggestions of how these various ingredients might come together to form a salad, and a focus of the culinary advice on salads rather than the general purpose approach.
As such, Salad Plants for Your Garden has failed to earn a permanent place on my bookshelf, and will soon begin its journey back into secondhand bookland, in search of a new owner.
Have you got this one on your shelf? What did you think?