By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 29 May 2016.
Seasonal greens – sow spinach
Seasonal greens are so good for us. Spinach is easy to grow and bursting with vitamins to restore energy and increase vitality. Eat the young, small leaves in salads. Cook the larger, older leaves for a lasagne layer, cannelloni filling or, as a tea time boost, top cooked leaves with a poached egg. May is nearly your last chance to sow for a summer crop. The right seeds sown now and into June can produce an autumn and winter crop.
Which spinach and which seed?
- Spinach – different varieties are on sale, some with red veined leaves, others with crinkly leaves. Choose the one you like, but read the packet to check it’s suited to sowing where you are and now.
- New Zealand spinach isn’t a real spinach. It’s bigger and bushier, prefers drier and poorer soils, needs less watering and lasts until the first frost, so it may be a better option in warmer rather than colder areas or for growing in a greenhouse.
- Perpetual spinach, Swiss chard or spinach beet are all similar in growth and flavour to spinach. Different varieties are on sale. These plants tend to last longer than true spinach, cope with poorer soil, drier and shadier places and cooler temperatures than spinach and, although they like water, they manage with less than spinach. They are good for autumn and winter crops (in cold areas crops may benefit from a fleece cover) and, at their best, are a great cut and come again crop.
All these lookalike spinach plants do best (and taste best) when grown in moist, well prepared soil that’s had lots of well rotted garden compost or leaf mould dug into it. Spinach likes a loose, deeper soil than Swiss chard or spinach beet, so be prepared to dig deep, while New Zealand spinach is the one to choose for warm and dry gardens.
Where, and how to sow spinach seeds? Firm the soil down and sow the seeds thinly, about 5cm apart, in rows about 20cm apart. Cover with soil, firm down and water with a sprinkler. These are plants best left to grow where they are sown (moving seedlings encourages them to flower), so take out overcrowded plants to use as salad leaves.
Leaves are ready to use when large enough for what you want them for! Cut, or remove, leaves carefully – it’s too easy to pull young plants up by mistake.
In dry and hot weather spinach may shoot up flower stalks (going to seed or bolting) so be ready to water your young plants.
Seasonal greens – free!
There are banks full of wild garlic (ramsons) in hedgerows, woods and gardens near me. I have fallen in love with this smelly plant, because the flowers are wonderful and because I discovered the River Cottage recipe for wild garlic pesto. I didn’t have one ingredient (pignuts) but the recipe worked well without. You might like to try it with pasta or as a dip for toast.
- 50g well washed wild garlic leaves
- 30g grated Parmesan cheese
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 80ml olive oil and a little more to cover the mix.
Whizz everything except the oil in a food processor for a few seconds, continue to whizz while slowly adding the olive oil through the funnel. Put the mixture in a jar, pour sufficient olive oil on top to cover the pesto, close the lid and store in the fridge for up to several weeks. Or – as I did – use it immediately.
A cousin of wild garlic, whose leaves we can also eat, is chives. Plant it now for summer salads.
Planning next year’s seasonal plants
Chives are a member of the allium genus. Its flowers are pretty but nothing compared to the ornamental alliums with fantastic heads that grace many gardens in June. Alliums of all types grow from bulbs best planted in autumn. Watch this space for a reminder to plant them. Meanwhile, look out for the stunning ornamental globes in parks and gardens: they are purple, pink or white, some with a ‘firework’ look, and in different heights. When you see them – make a note of which ones to buy.
Other flowers at their best now can inspire you for next year. Wisteria on the Isle of Wight has set me wondering how to find a home for one in my garden. Usually, wisteria climb up wires on house walls or over pergolas. They may be grown as small trees. The right pruning for the space is key, and this is a plant that really does need pruning, so I am reading up on it before I get too excited.
Nearer to home, and easier to find the right space for, euphorbia and geum are looking good. But the first roses spell (and smell of) summer and find me reaching for my garden chair… Enjoy yours!