Decorative Salad Garden

The Potager, or decorative vegetable garden, was created in order to show off some of the new exotic vegetables being grown in France as far back as the 16th century. We now have a huge choice of salad plants that can be decoratively displayed to add colour and interest to the smallest space, and on the table they will provide a feast for the eye as well as for the palate.

Grown among the pavings

Remove some patio paving slabs, fill the spaces with well manured compost, then use them to grow salad vegetables and flowers. Extend this idea when laying new paving slabs and design the patio with spaces for growing plants. Grow vegetables in these spaces, where their colour, shape and texture can make them just as effective as flowers. Include some of the edible flowers such as Nasturtiums, Violets and Pansies.

Decorative Salad GardenSalad in a pot

Any type of pot that is suitable for growing flowering plants is also suitable for vegetables. Grow bags can be placed against a sunny patio wall and used for Runner Beans and Sugar Peas that will climb attractively up the wall if you give them support. Tomatoes, and the more exotic vegetables, such as Peppers and Aubergines, could grow well here too. Use groups of pots to grow some of the more decorative lettuces and cabbages on a patio or balcony, or grow a herb garden in a window-box.

A ladder garden

Create a narrow strip across the patio and fill with compost. Lay an old, rejected wooden ladder on the strip, then grow different vegetables in the spaces.

Vegetables among the flowers

Many vegetables will look very decorative grown together with flowers. Plant smaller herbs, curled-leaf and coloured lettuces in small pots at the edge of a group, put tomatoes and cucumbers in sunny spots and include some wild salad plants such as Salad Burnet and Dandelions (remove the flower heads to encourage leaf growth).

Salad plants need fertile soil, so add plenty of compost where they are to be grown and keep well watered. Take care when using chemical sprays on the plants, and avoid any that may be harmful if the plant is eaten.

A miniature potagerpotager

Divide up a small area with paths to form a pattern, then extend the pattern in the way you grow the vegetables, sowing them in groups in circles, semi-circles or triangles. Consider edging a group with lettuces, alternating red- and green-leafed varieties to provide an attractive contrast of colours.

Practical Tips

  • Salad plants need fertile and well drained soil. Give them compost or manure and a sunny position and they will provide you with succulent food.
  • Water well in dry periods, as leafy salad vegetables are made up largely of water.
  • Wind is damaging to salad plants so a sheltered patio is a perfect growing spot. Keep window-boxes for herbs.
  • Where possible grow vegetables in a different bed each year, returning them to their original position in four or five years. This helps to avoid a build-up of pests and diseases that can attack specific plants.

Plants to buy

  • Lettuces and endive
  • Cut and come again type (leaves can be cut from the plant as required): Red and Green Lollo, Red and Green Oak Leaf Salad Bowl, Marvel of Four Seasons.
  • Cos (long, narrow crisp-textured leaves): Rouge d’Hiver, Little Gem, Winter Density, (these varieties will overwinter for spring supplies).
  • Cabbage head (round heads with crisp leaves): Webbs Wonderful, Iceberg, Minetto, Tom Thumb (will supply well into autumn).
  • Butterheads (the standard round head lettuce): Magnet, Trotzkopf, Amanda Plus, Dandie.
  • Curly-leaved Endive (round, low heads with curled and fringed leaves): Frisee de Louviers, Frisee Fine de Rouen (summer and winter use).

Herbs for salads

  • Borage
  • Chives Dill
  • Fennel Lemon Balm
  • Sorrel Tarragon
  • Mint
  • Marjoram and Oregano

Flowers for flavour

(Only eat those that have not been treated with pesticides)

  • Borage
  • Pot Marigold
  • Day Lily varieties Hemerocallis fulva (orange) and Hemerocallis flava (yellow)
  • Geraniums — the scented varieties
  • Rose, peppermint, lemon, mint.
  • Lavender
  • Lobelia
  • Nasturtium
  • Pansy
  • Rose (scented varieties, petals only)
  • Violet

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