Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2001
Regional Report

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Viola blooms beautify a landscape as well as a salad bowl. Add pizzazz to your cool season salads with a garnish of edible blooms.

Spice Up Your Cool Season Salads

Our American palates are used to salads consisting of iceberg lettuce and tomato wedges. So our cool season gardens are traditionally very limited in terms of fresh greens, with few venturing beyond lettuce, spinach and perhaps a bit of red cabbage to color the mix. However, there are many other delicious greens that can be added to salad mixes to really spice up our meals.

Selections to Suit Your Taste

Not everyone has the same tastes when it comes to fresh or cooked greens. Would you run me out of the south if I confessed that I can't stand cooked collards, turnip greens or mustard greens?! Likewise there are several of the fresh salad greens that are a bit too much for my palate -- especially the bitter ones. There are also several that are superb. 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. Greens with flavors ranging 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.

Many years ago I discovered Arugula (also Roquette or Rocket). This tangy/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 a salad mix.

Oriental Greens

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 to flavor salads and soups. Numerous other Oriental greens are also 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.

Mesclun Mixes

Seed companies offer mesclun mixes for various regions. These mixes of different greens, which should be harvested when small and tender, are worth a try, although not all species in a mix will thrive here in the south. My personal experience is that some species in the mix don't grow well while others tend to take over. I prefer to plant the various species separately, and then mix them later to suite my tastes.

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

Some Bloomin' Good Additions

Several flowers are edible and make an interesting garnish to add color to salads. Nasturtiums, calendula petals, daylilies, violas 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. I should also point out that it is wise to avoid any blooms from flowers that have been treated with pesticides.

Experiment To Find Your Favorites

Try a few new greens in your plantings. Plant them in small amounts in successions so you'll always have a fresh batch ready for harvesting. Experiment to find out what grows best for you and what you like best. Remember that the salad should be balanced with strong and mild textures and flavors. Start slowly, adding one or two new ingredients at a time.

Fall is prime time for planting many cool season greens. Try a few new varieties in you 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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