Her Outdoors: salad leaves and flowers

Jane Merrick

The people who had my plot before me created an intricate design, like an old-fashioned potager, that I have tried to stick to. I’ll admit it would have been easier to get a wheelbarrow down a central path with equal-sized beds either side. But this maze-like design makes it look bigger and is also more fun (sort of) for weeding.

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The allotment begins with one path (in need of a trim!) down the middle - then divides into a maze halfway down

Staring at my asparagus beds the other day (I have set aside two beds for the crowns, and as they are in the first year of growing they are doing very little) I wondered whether I had wasted too much space on this demanding crop. Yes, in three years I will have (hopefully) armfuls of spears that would cost a fortune in the shops, and ones that taste much better than those that are commercially-grown. But that’s if they get that far – a few spindly spikes have come up so far, which makes me worry they have rotted in all that rain we had over the winter.

At the same time, I have an awful lot of seeds to sow and even less space in which to sow them. Every bed is either planted with something or waiting for the next crop. So, feeling a little despairing at the sparse asparagus, I looked down and realised I was standing on quite a wide path that was taking up quite a lot of space – about a metre wide and three and a half metres long. The side paths only need to accommodate my wellies, rather than be wide enough for a wheelbarrow,  so I decided to turn over three-quarters of the width of the path to a brand new bed.

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The new bed for salad leaves - with tiny seedlings starting to come through

Such excitement! At last, a space in which to sow Oriental salad leaves and spring onions. They don’t need tonnes of space because they’re not like the hearting lettuces. Thanks to my over-enthusiastic ordering from seed companies in the winter, and also to my desire to try new crops, I have about 20 different types of salad seeds. Sowing one metre long row each, around six rows every fortnight, should mean I have baby leaves from about six weeks and successively into autumn. As the rows are only a foot wide, I (hopefully) won’t get a glut.

Unlike most lettuces, the tougher leaves like Pak Choi and rocket are not as tasty to slugs and so don’t need to be pampered into existence, but they still to be watched. I put netting over the bed to keep the birds off. Here is what I sowed: Pak Choi ‘Joi Choi’ from Kings Seeds – the RHS says it is slow to bolt and has good frost resistance, meaning it can be grown well into autumn and (in mild London) winter; Pak Choi ‘Yuushou’ from DT Brown – an F1 variety that can also be sown all year round, is slow to bolt; Perilla Red, also known as Japanese Basil or Shiso ‘Akajiso’ – a leaf with a gentle spice flavour, I got mine from DT Brown;  Tatsoi, also from DT Brown, which is similar to Pak Choi; and finally Rocket ‘Speedy’ which is self-explanatory and came up in a few days. The Rocket can bolt easily, particularly with the kind of heat we’ve had this week, so needs to be kept an eye on as we go into the summer.

This week has been perfect allotment weather – steaming heat one day, rain the next. Everything is growing rapidly now, including the grass and weeds. The autumn and winter cabbages are looking strong – and have withstood the slugs:

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Plants of Brussels sprouts, kale and cabbages which will be ready late autumn

The peas, however, have been a bit of a disaster – most of the plants are weak and spindly, despite me digging in well-rotted manure into the soil before sowing and transplanting – here is one healthy plant:

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Only one of dozens of pea plants have grown well

But, happily, the broad beans – that I started off in root-trainers last October – have been fantastic and the plants are now more than 5ft high:

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Broad Beans on the back right of the picture

Which gave us our first broad bean harvest this week:

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First crop of broad beans ready for shelling

Which we had with some baby spinach, thinly-sliced radish and the flowers of Naples Onion (Allium neapolitanum) with a lemon and olive oil dressing (a salad made by my Dad). Meanwhile, on the steps the blueberries are starting to look like blueberries…!

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and the lovely pink flowers of Allium unifolium (also known as American onion), which can also be used in salads but I prefer to keep them looking graceful on the doorstep:

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Gorgeous Allium unifolium

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  • davdos

    Darling, you’ve just eaten the funeral wreath.

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