Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
September, 2009
Regional Report

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Sorrel is one of many great greens for adding zest and flavorful variety to your cool-season salad garden.

Add Flavor to Cool-Season Salads

Why is it that most restaurant salads consist of iceberg lettuce and tomato wedges with perhaps a little spinach and cucumber slices, or some red cabbage tossed in for color? Likewise many gardeners limit their salad gardening to lettuce each season. In fact there are a multitude of delicious leafy vegetables that can be added to salad mixes to add zest and flavor.

There are also some unique and very tasty greens that grow well in our southern gardens. I'd be willing to bet that if you'll try out some new salad greens this winter, there will be a few that will change your salads from now on. Flavor ranges from bitter to lemony to nutty to "it's hard to describe" can be found to mix in with the standard salad according to taste.

One such green for seasoning salads is arugula (also roquette or rocket). This richly flavored peppery green grows very well during the cool fall season and makes a great ingredient in a mixed salad. Harvest it while still young or it can get too strong and overpower your salad mix.

Oriental greens are a wide and largely unexplored source of new textures and flavors for our salads. I love several of the Chinese cabbages, which remind me of something between lettuce and cabbage. Chinese celery thrives here through cool and warm conditions. Unlike regular celery the petioles are very thin. Leaves and petioles can be chopped up and used sparingly to flavor salads and soups. Numerous other Oriental greens are also available that are well worth trying.

Greens have long been popular in Europe where gardeners have a taste for a much broader variety of flavors. Radicchio, a popular European veggie, is growing in popularity with American consumers. It can tend to be a bit too bitter for most palates but can be proportioned in a salad mix to add just the right zing.

Seed companies offer mesclun mixes (a mixture of salad greens harvested young) for various regions that also deserve a try, although not all species in a mix will thrive here. My personal experience in my southern garden has been that many of the mixes include some greens that don't grow well while others in the mix thrive and overcome them rest. I prefer to plant my mesclun mixes as separate ingredients and then mix them later to suite my tastes.

These are just a few of the many species of leafy greens for providing flavorful variety to our salad gardens.

Herbs such as dill, fennel, and basil can provide different and exciting flavors. They also make great additions to salad dressings. Chopped chives and green onion leaves add a rich flavor.

Several flowers are edible and make an interesting garnish to add color to salads. Nasturtiums, calendula petals, daylillies, and pansies are among your many options. Bloom will deteriorate if washed or allowed to get wet. Wait and add them to the salad after it is mixed just before serving.

Late September and October are prime time for planting many cool-season greens. Plant them in small amounts in successions so you'll always have a fresh batch ready for harvesting. Try a few new varieties in your garden this fall and winter. I'll bet you'll discover a few that you really love. Your home garden salads may never be the same!

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