Summer vegetable gardening is a joy in so many ways. Getting your hands in the dirt, seeing rows of lovely squashes, pots of herbs on the patio. But one of the greatest delights in summer (and spring and fall) gardening is having a ready-to-pick salad garden right outside the door.
If we’re not careful though, the garden can get too crowded. We often plan out the season’s vegetable garden without a thought to daily salad lunches. That is a great loss to all the season’s meals. With a well grown salad garden close to the house, you could be eating a variety of salads with joy!
Planning it All Out
Let’s get started. A salad garden is a simple and delicious way to jump into gardening. It’s also a fantastic, intimate garden for those of us with sprawling beds of produce destined for winter storage.
Salad gardens are also fun and easy to tend. They’re cozy little plots of greens and vegetables grown close together. You can take a basked out into this type of garden and pick an entire meal in minutes.
Lay out your salad garden like an old-world kitchen garden. Or, for apartment dwellers, set up a Parisian balcony full of tender radishes and arugula.
The most important thing to remember while designing your salad garden is to keep it accessible and casually attractive. Imagine it as a space that welcomes—and feeds—hungry harvesters.
Salad Garden Greens
The base of all great green salads is, of course, the greens themselves. There’s are an abundance of different green varieties to choose from, and the choice depends on your personal preferences.
Do you like the comfortable familiarity of iceburg and romaine lettuce salads with tomatoes and cucumbers? Do you plan to use your garden primarily as a base for a obb salad? If so, you may want to focus on growing solid, simple lettuces.
Sow lettuce seeds every two weeks for a continuous harvest. Note that when it comes to lettuce, a variety of types can be planted close together. For example, plant red leaf and green leaf lettuces interchangeably to add color to the greens’ bed.
Lettuces like moist, well-drained soil. Avoid too much sunlight, which can cause the plants to bolt early. Plant your lettuces in dappled sunlight or partial shade, and water regularly.
Spinach, Kale, and Chard
Is your salad garden is doing double duty as a smoothie garden? Do you favor hearty salads that can handle a little seared salmon? Then these greens are for you.
Spinach, kale, and swiss chard are loose-leaved, deeply nutritious greens. They’re easy to grow, and are consistent producers that outlast many other greens. Many kale varieties keep producing abundantly all autumn and even well into winter.
Kale does get a bad reputation with some people as a tough plant with a bitter taste. Those people have probably never tasted red Russian kale.
This tender, mild kale is delicious cooked as well as raw. Its larger leaves retain that velvety “baby kale” texture, and it pairs gorgeously with apples, bacon, and pecans to make the most delicious autumnal salad ever tasted.
If you’re uncertain about kale, try the red Russian variety as mentioned above. Kale, spinach, and chard can all be direct sown into moist, well drained soil. Like lettuce, they also enjoy dappled sunlight.
Sometimes, the old standbys just aren’t what you’re looking for! Whether you’re hoping to make head lettuces or dark, leafy greens the base of your salad, throwing something exciting in the greens bed is a great idea.
Arugula, tatsoi, chrysanthemum greens, and peppery mizuna can be delicious additions to your salad garden. These unique greens can really add interest to your salads, or turn breakfasts into fresh, garden-based meals. Try topping a bed of just-picked arugula with grapefruit slices and sunny-side-up egg. Tuck a handful of chrysanthemum greens in a sandwich with radishes, cream cheese, red onion, and cucumber.
These greens are interesting, varied, and beautiful. Like lettuce, plant them every two weeks for continuous harvesting. They’ll be happy in the partial sun, alongside your romaine and chard.
Beyond the Base
Greens aren’t the only vegetables in you salad garden. Anything from peaches to parsnips can top a salad: the choice is yours. If you’re a beginner, try some of these great, easy-to-grow options:
Radishes are a classic salad vegetable! Easy to grow in the right conditions and delicious, radishes make every salad a little bit better.
Plant your radishes in early to mid spring. The soil should be cool, but not cold. Radishes like poor soil with good drainage. If the soil is too rich they’ll give you sad little roots and huge bunches of greens.
Try French breakfast radishes and harvest the greens as a spicy addition to any salad mix.
Cucumber are a delicious salad topping, and add such a fresh crunch to any basic green salad. They’re also fantastic sliced thinly and sprinkled with vinegar, salt, and dill. Add some thinly sliced radishes to the mix and you have a easy, interesting, and fresh pickle recipe to brighten up any meal.
These vegetables are easy to trellis as well! You can grow them in small spaces like balconies and side gardens by training them to grow up walls and bean poles.
Start seeds indoors about 4-6 weeks before your last predicted frost. When the weather is warm and frost-free, transplant young cucumber plants into a sunny garden spot. Plenty of water and rich, well drained soil are ideal for cucumbers, so avoid having them share a bed with your radishes.
Try National Pickling Pickler or Lucky Dance cucumbers for awesome flavor and consistent yields.
Tomatoes are a summertime favorite on salads, in sandwiches, and just to eat fresh off the vine. There’s also a huge variety of tomato cultivars to choose from. From paste tomatoes to beefsteaks, you can pick a perfect tomato for each intention. In your salad garden, I recommend cherry tomatoes.
These tomatoes are small, flavorful little bursts of summer. They also tend to produce higher yields of small fruit. These tomatoes don’t need to be sliced before perching atop your salad.
In northern climates, it’s often easiest to buy tomato seedlings. You can start them from seed, but if you do so, start them early. Many gardens plant tomato seeds in a warm house in February.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders. They need nutrient-dense soil and as much sunlight as possible. A well-manured bed is ideal. If you have access to cow or goat manure, mix in a 1:1 ratio with your soil for optimum growth.
We love Sungold cherry tomatoes for their bright, sunny fruit and intense flavor. Indigo Cherry Drops are another dramatic option with a sweet but mild flavor.
I love carrots on my salads. They’re pretty, fresh, and mild. Carrots tone back strong flavor and compliment less forward ones. They’re healthy, satisfying, and are the perfect summer snack for kids. My children munch on carrots all season long. Dipped in hummus or almond butter, they’re pretty much ideal.
Carrots are also very easy to grow. Plant seeds under just a shallow layer of soil 3-4 weeks before your last expected frost. Keep the bed moist while your seeds are germinating.
They need loose, soft soil to grow well. Rocky or tight-packed soil will stunt them. Avoid nitrogen-heavy soil, which will give you bushy carrot tops and spindly roots. Many gardeners find that carrots and radishes grow well together.
Danvers half-long is a great variety for rocky soil. Or try the amazing productive St. Valery carrot for consistently fantastic yields.
All of my favorite salads have flowers in them. If you’ve never tried edible flowers, let this be the year.
Edible flowers are a fantastic way of beautifying your salad garden with bright blooms. They add flavor and personality to salads and attract bees and hummingbirds to your yard.
Many edible flowers, like nasturtiums and violets, can be tucked in pots around your garden. They’re perfect for the balcony gardener. These smaller plants can be brought indoors as the weather cools to liven up winter meals as well.
Other edible flowers such as bee balm and roses need a lot of space. Plant them in large containers on your patio or in the ground.
Pansies are one of the most popular edible flowers. With a delicate flavor and colorful petals, pansies are great cupcake toppers. Try candying them like violets by dipping whole pansies in egg whites and then sugar.
Nasturtiums have a light, spicy flavor. They’re perfect in crunchy, green salads and make a vibrant infused vinegar. Just steep a handful of nasturtium blossoms in white vinegar for a week before straining the flowers out.
A Season of Salads
I’ve only touched on a few of the vegetables you can grow in your salad garden. The truth is, a salad garden is just a garden that’s full of your favorite veggies.
If summer squash spears or borage flowers are on the list, plant them! If you’re a huge fan of roasted beet salads with goat cheese and walnuts (and really, who isn’t?), plant all the beets instead.
It’s important to plant a salad garden that makes you want to mix up salads every day. As such, design your garden around your personal tastes. Then, tuck a little table and a few chairs out there as well, because let’s face it—you’re never going to want to leave.