Octogenarian Joy Larkcom is a gardening icon in the UK. For years she has made television and radio appearances, written popular books and articles, and lectured on gardening. Her updated book on growing salad gardens is the culmination of a lifetime of gardening and providing popular gardening advice. Her book focuses both on the selection of plants and the practical requirements for growing a kitchen garden or potager. Larkcom further provides innovative ideas for making salads.
Larkcom calls her gardens potagers. The term potager comes from the French for a kitchen garden. Literally, it is place where vegetables are grown for soup, but Larkcom prefers to create her kitchen gardens for making salads. She further defines a potager as “any vegetable plot which has been artistically designed, making it a place of intrinsic beauty.” To her, these plots include spaces with walls, trellises, seating, containers and in ground planting. All of these are used to achieve striking visual effects by mixing plant varieties, structures and colours in one location. Vegetables are also chosen for flavour and colour, and planted in patterns that both add visual interest and maximize production.
Larkcom’s plant recommendations, which form the bulk of the book, will inspire backyard and market gardeners to try some new vegetables or new varieties of garden staples. She recommends many plants that she has discovered in her extensive travels. Her longest chapter covers a large variety of leafy greens which go far beyond the lettuces that readers might see in a typical English garden. There are also chapters on brassicas; oriental greens; stems and stalks; fruiting vegetables; the onion family; root vegetables; and finishing touches. The latter includes herbs, flowers, wild plants and weeds. She also discusses growing micro greens and includes a chapter with innovative suggestions for salad making.
Despite her focus on selecting plants and using artistic growing practices, Larkcom’s other extensive chapter addresses gardening practicalities. Here, she outlines planting and digging methods, composting, seed saving and storage and garden covers for both heat preservation and insect protection. She emphasizes the importance of planning gardens that maximize production throughout the planting season, which spans the entire year in most of Great Britain.
This book is beautifully illustrated. There are colour drawings of most of the recommended vegetables. As well, colour photographs show some of the potagers she has created. Illustrations show how to create attractive garden layouts, dig in compost, and use protective structures such as cold frames, and hoop and green houses.
I enjoyed this well written book because the author introduces many unfamiliar varieties of plants that we don’t often find in most Canadian garden stores. Many, however, may be available or there may be similar types available from more specialized seed sellers.
New gardeners might find names of recommended plants somewhat confusing as the names used in North America may be different from those used in the UK. For example, in the chapter on brassicas, Larkcom recommends six varieties of kale, three of which I grow: black kale which I know as Lacinato or dinosaur kale; curly kale which I know as Scotch kale; and Russian kale. She also mentions three kale varieties unfamiliar to me which include a red curly kale and two types of thin-leaved kale. I found a similar mix of familiar, unfamiliar and differently named plants in her recommendations of other species of plants such as lettuces, rockets (which we more often know as arugula) and cucumbers.
The plants Larkcom recommends for growing in an English winter most likely would not survive winters in most parts of Canada but would likely be suitable for warmer seasons or growing in greenhouses or similar structures. Despite the climate differences, home gardeners who read this book will find many new ideas for growing salad vegetables that will suit their gardens. Market gardeners may likewise find new varieties of produce to offer to their customers.
This is a great book for gaining insight into the wide range of plants that can be grown to make interesting salads and beautiful kitchen gardens. Much of Larcom’s practical advice on gardening methods will be of interest both to new gardeners and those aspiring to improve their gardening skills.
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