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The Review - THE GOOD LIFE
Published: 16 April 2009
Grow your own perfect salad days
Grow your own perfect salad days

There’s much more to lettuce than ‘pointless’ Icebergs, says Tom Moggach

IF you grow one crop this year, it’s got to be salad. Not those pointless Iceberg lettuces. I mean the zingy, interesting stuff – spicy mustards, feisty herbs, freckled lettuces – to mix into salads that are fit for a king.
They’re easy to grow, and don’t need much space. A sunny window box will do the trick. What’s more, those same leaves cost a bomb in the shops. Grow your own – you can’t get fresher.
For top tips, no one knows better than Charles Dowding, gardening guru and author of Salad Leaves for All Seasons, who grows dozens of weird and wonderful varieties on his farm in Somerset.
He’s hosting a free salad-growing masterclass in Hackney on Thursday, April 30, hot on the heels of a kitchen herb workshop in Kentish Town the night before. Details below.
In the meantime, here’s some sound advice to get growing:

Proper lettuces
In a nutshell, there are two ways to grow lettuce. You can aim for a firm, crunchy heart, harvesting the whole plant at once. Or simply pluck off the outer leaves every few weeks, letting the plant regrow – by far the easiest method.
Go for a mixture of varieties, such as Bronze Arrowhead Oakleaf, the trusty Little Gem or the frilly Reine des Glaces (

Other salad leaves
For a spicy hit, try Sky Rocket and mustards such as Green in Snow or Giant Red. These are also ideal sown in August for a late crop. Orache (, with its velvety leaves, is another winner.
Bull’s Blood Beet (, a type of beetroot, has attractive crimson leaves for salads. Edible flowers such as nasturtiums or calendula (marigolds) add a splash of colour. And don’t forget herbs such as dill, sorrel and coriander – all good to sow now.

Sowing salads
The seed tends to be tiny. So carefully sprinkle into moist, quality compost or soil and then cover with a very fine layer of compost. For a steady supply, sow every few weeks. Once growing, water them gently so you don’t disturb their roots. Lettuce seed hates hot weather, so sow now, not in the height of summer.

Growing in containers
With their shallow roots, salad crops are ideal for window boxes, pots, hanging baskets or any recycled container.
Place in your sunniest spot, away from any hiding places for the dreaded slugs.
The perfect salad
The ideal salad is a balance of textures, colours and flavours. If your leaves are a bit floppy, soak them in a sink of fresh water for an hour to perk them up.
With salad dressings, don’t be stingy on the salt. And dry your leaves thoroughly, perhaps with a salad spinner, before slapping it on.
Another trick is to let the dressing stand for 10 minutes or so before serving so the flavours can thoroughly mingle. Try this summery dressing recipe: whisk up equal quantities of orange juice and olive oil, then whisk in a dollop of white miso paste, available in health food and shops.
For more dressing and salad ideas, check out the brilliant blog of Sara Davies, a grower in east London (growingtales. And, of course, the website for Charles Dowding himself – a treasure trove of useful information (

• Funky Kitchen Herbs, Wednesday April 29, 7pm-8.30, Map Café, Kentish Town, NW5. £10, with herb plant sale

• Salad Leaves Masterclass with Charles Dowding, Thursday April 30, 7pm-8.30. Passing Clouds, Hackney Free. Booking essential: 020 7485 9262

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