The Kitchen Garden

Pot ’o Green

Light up your early spring

By Jan Leitschuh

What’s prettier than a pot of pansies, satisfies our primal March longing for St. Paddy’s Day green, and is edible too?

’Tis the leafy stuff! Frilly, lacy, colored, savoyed or freckled greens.

It’s the cusp of spring. Sure, and isn’t it time you scratched that grand gardening itch and treated yourself to a salad greens planter?

Granted, “prettier than pansies” is a wee stretch, but pansies won’t shake off their winter doldrums and hit their glory days until later in the month. Don’t we just need some fierce vernal cheerfulness? Cheaper than a bouquet of flowers, a greens tub or planter can light up your springtime front-step pots or window boxes.

Most spring greens such as spinach, various cheerfully hi-colored lettuces, kale, arugula, candy-stemmed chards, collards and more — herbs such as parsley or mint, even broccoli, onions or cauliflower — are moving onto the shelves of local plant vendors. Available in 4- or 6-packs, the greens are well-started and offer instant gratification and useful design elements.

Those of you with a patch of good ground can skip all the container folderal and save some money by buying a seed packet or two. Till up the spot, add lots of compost (or well-aged manure — most greens are heavy feeders) and sprinkle your seeds. Pat them into the soil with the flat of your hand and keep lightly watered if the rains don’t fall.

You should have greens o’plenty in your cutting garden in April. May the rows rise up to meet ye!

However, not everyone is blessed with that grand patch of good ground, and why should you miss out on one of the oldest rites of spring? Mix lots of mature compost into the soil of your planting vessel. A premixed potting soil with fertilizer included will surely bring the luck of the Irish.

As long as it has good drainage and holds an adequate amount of soil, the container doesn’t much matter, does it?

Humble or classy? You can spark up a fancy glazed ceramic pot for the front step, populate a wooden window box, stuff a whisky barrel half, hide a lined laundry basket among some small shrubs, or just use some larger black plastic planting pots.

Just mind the three aspects of good container design: thriller, filler and spiller.

Your thriller element will offer some height and an upright element to catch the eye, won’t it now? Pick a tall, strong-leaved and substantial plant such as dark green dinosaur kale to anchor your salad pot or planter. A twig framework anchored in the middle might support springtime’s garden candy, edible-podded sugar snap peas.

Another vertical option might be a tall trio of rainbow Swiss chard, with its candy-colored stalks. Romaine or certain young collard plants might work, if you can find them. Onion and garlic greens give a similar upright effect.

The middle layer, or “filler,” is your workhorse. Stuff in plants of nutritious spinach, lettuce and spicy arugula. So many pretty lettuces to choose from! Pinch off a few leaves to fill out your salad or green smoothie.

Another option — add in the different textures of herbs that favor spring temperatures. Dark green parsley is a perfect companion, handsome set against the frilly lime greens and burgundies of lettuces, and useful in cooking. Mints and cilantro also do well in the spring before the days heat up.

The “spiller” layer that softens the pot edges and drapes over the side will be a little harder to find for a springtime pot. Perennial herbs such as thyme droop nicely but are barely leafing out. Edible flowers like nasturtiums might work. You could deploy a small pot of ivy for its draping effect, and let it grow in situ for your summer pot creation.

When the temperatures heat up, greens tend to go gagging about the place and turn bitter, switching from the vegetative to the reproductive stage. Diehard gardeners might permit this and save the seeds (or allow for a less-reliable self-sowing). The small yellow flowers on stalks have their own delicate beauty.

But it’s perfectly fine if you pull out the spent greens and toss them on the compost heap. Then plant yourself a summer tomato, a bell pepper — or go full floral for your summer display. Until then, sláinte!  PS

Jan Leitschuh is a local gardener, avid eater of fresh produce and co-founder of Sandhills Farm to Table.

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