Updated: Nov 22, 2021
Growing winter salad is one of the easiest types of food you can grow - if you're prepared to be a little unconventional!
If we were growing in a traditional way, there are loads of species of salad plant you can grow that will overwinter here in the UK, especially if you're able to provide some kind of protection from the cold. However, for many growers without the luxury of a greenhouse, the alternative of growing under fleece is a bit of a fiddle in the wind and rain of autumn and winter and it means buying in rolls of synthetic sheeting that tends to need replacing every year or so, so this isn't a brilliant option from an environmental point of view.
Fortunately, there is another way, and happily, it's one that requires very little work! The secret is to plan for your flower beds to include both edible flowers and perennial salad leaves.
The edible flowers in the salad bowl above are all very mild tasting, with a great lettucy texture. The orange flower is a calendula marigold. You can eat the whole flower, or just pull off the petals and scatter them in. The plant produces a mass of flowers year round and will self seed around the garden readily. It can be kept neat by cutting back finished stems in the summer and allowing the plant to regrow from near the base. There are many different varieties of calendula, all in different shades of orange, yellow and cream, so pick a variety to suit your colour scheme. Calendula marigolds are short-lived perennials and will flower right through the winter.
The blue star-shaped flowers in my bowl are borage - another self seeding plant that will get quite large and so is good near the back of a sunny border. They are annual plants and will die back in the cold of winter, but right now in November, they're still going strong. Their blues will be replaced by violas in the depth of winter. These sweet little flowers are commonly used as winter bedding plants. Grow enough of them and you can spare a few for the salad bowl too!
While all these flowers are lovely, every salad bowl needs a good base of salad leaves. The bulk of those included above are also growing in my flower beds, as a mix of perennial and self seeded plants. One of the most successful plants for me, has been wild rocket, which produces a fresh flush of leaves in the autumn and winter year after year. The plant flowers in summer and must be cut back at this point to lengthen its lifespan, as well as to encourage it to produce the lush, green growth you need for your salad bowl.
Lamb's lettuce is also a favourite. This is an annual plant that germinates in the late summer and autumn, giving beautiful, mild salad leaves in autumn, winter and spring, before going to seed. So long as you allow at least one plant to grow out and produce flowers and seed, you will be rewarded with another winter full of salad later in the year.
So have a go at setting up your own salad-producing flower beds and let me know how you get on! If you'd like any help, as ever, get in touch and I'll see what I can do, from chatting through planting options to making up full planting plans.