Mother Earth Living

Garden Spaces: Plant a Salad Bowl Garden

Start cool-season greens, vegetables and herbs early for fresh spring salads.
By Kathleen Halloran
December/January 2007
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Illustration by Gayle Ford

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• Design Plans:  Grow These Herbs For Your Salad Bowl Garden 

A garden that can provide at least part of a meal every day of its season — and still look pretty — is a useful one indeed. This Salad Bowl Garden does just that. Who says vegetables have to be planted in rows? This tossed salad bed celebrates the beauty of these plants in their own right. The garden is a delightful mix of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers in the center, and a frilly fringe of lettuces around the edge.

This little round garden, which can mound up out of a lawn or wherever you have a sunny space, is an annual bed you must prepare in early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. First sow the cool-season vegetables — the lettuces, spinach, cilantro and carrots. To get a jump on the season, set up growlights indoors or use nursery-grown starts for parsley, which is a slow germinator, red cabbage and the onion sets, which you’ll harvest as scallions. Add the tender basil plants after the frostfree date.

When the heat of high summer comes on, the lettuces, spinach and cilantro will bolt and be done, but the edible flowers can take over the bed and keep it looking good. Add in a six-pack or two of other annual flowers as bare spots occur.

The Spice of Life

To me, the perfect salad must have a mix of greens with different colors, textures and tastes. Grow many varieties. Try lettuces in shades of green, red and bronze, some with smooth leaves, others ruffled and frizzy. Also plant bitter salad greens like curly endive and arugula. Edible flowers add color and interest to the garden bed, just as they do to the salad bowl. Some are more than just garnish: Nasturtium, both its leaves and flowers, adds a peppery zip, and the blossoms of the rough-looking borage plant are a pleasant ping in the mouth. The spinach, onion, red cabbage and carrots boost any salad’s nutritional content into high gear. Start cool-season greens, vegetables and herbs early for fresh spring salads.

It’s easy to find seed packets that contain blends of different lettuces, often called mesclun, if you don’t want to mix your own. If you plan to harvest leaves individually rather than whole heads, you can situate the plants closer together and they will stay attractive longer.

A Family Project

This salad garden is a great project to do with children, not only to introduce them to the joys of gardening and harvesting, but also to spark interest in the salads that come to the table. With the variety presented here, every salad can be different, each bowl an adventure. Eating a salad with every dinner meal is a healthy habit to instill at a young age, and working on this bed is a good time to tuck in some lessons about the importance of growing organically. The taste and variety of salad greens fresh from the garden is so much better than store-bought! Put a child in charge of picking the leaves, carefully washing them and spinning them dry, then tearing the leaves into the salad bowl. Be sure that everything in the garden bed is edible.

Kathleen Halloran is a freelance writer and editor, living and gardening in beautiful Austin, Texas.

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