It’s a real treat to make a trip to the garden with basket in hand to pick fresh greens for a salad. I like to pick enough for just a day or two at a time so the greens are as crisp as possible. Are you planning to grow vegetables this season? Here’s an idea from the King’s Garden that challenges you to think “inside the box” when planting your lettuce patch. The “Salad Quilt” is a feature planned for the Children’s Garden that has been a visitor favorite in the past.
Start with a prepared seed bed (ours is 6 feet square), but you can modify the size to suit your needs. Bamboo stakes are perfect for laying out the perimeter and the lines that will form the “patches.” Each type of vegetable is planted in a 2’x2′ square. Leaving the stakes in place reinforces the geometric pattern. Sow thickly; you can thin the crop as they grow in and those unwanted seedlings will be the first harvest. Follow sowing directions on the individual packets; you want to use closer than recommended spacing for the best effect. Use an intensive gardening method where the center of one plant is the same distance from the centers of plants on all sides of it. However, plants should not be crowded to the point at which disease problems arise or competition causes stunting.
A variety of lettuces, plus spinach, chard, arugula, kale and other leafy greens were chosen for this year’s display. Be creative! Think leaf color, shape and texture when designing your quilt. The inspiration for me comes from Victorian-style carpet bedding where colorful foliage plants are spaced closely together form a picture. Frequent harvesting yields the tenderest leaves and keeps the look neat.
Your patchwork garden should produce regularly for weeks until the heat of summer takes hold. These greens are cool weather crops, meaning that they thrive in temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees but are intolerant of high summer temperatures. A second sowing in early August (for us northerners) is possible for late summer and fall harvesting. This can be a little tricky if the temperatures haven’t moderated, but picking salad greens in October is very rewarding! Another option is to sow a fall crop of beets and carrots in the space.
Be sure to visit the gardens early in the season to see our colorful quilt. The King’s Garden opens on Saturday, May 24th, and the tasty greens should be ready to be turned into delicious salads in the America’s Fort Café beginning in early June. Get ready to say bon appétit!
Heidi teRiele Karkoski
Director of Horticulture