Documents: Special Interest: In The Kitchen:

Greens Can Jump-Start a Drab Corner
by Joyce Schillen
November 7, 1999

(I don't make up these headlines, folks. They have someone at the newspaper who does nothing but make up headlines. Sometimes they don't quite fit.)

Greens aren’t always green these days. Edible plants grown for their leaves, greens are tasty, yes. They pack a nutritional wallop, yes. But green? Not necessarily.

Consider Five-Color Silverbeet Swiss chard, available from the Seed Savers Exchange (319-382-5872). Once offered by other seed companies under the name “Rainbow Chard,” this heritage plant grows into pink, red, white, yellow and orange beauties that feed the eye as well as the stomach.

Unfortunately for people with small gardens, all five colors are not present on the same plant. Instead, plants develop stalks and ribs in one of the five colors, topped off with dark green leaves. You’ll have to grow a number of plants to get the full range of colors.

Don’t let that stop you, though. Five-color chard is only one of several greens that can be used as ornamentals in the garden as well as being grown for food. Whether planted in a traditional vegetable garden or intermixed among flowers and shrubs, greens can do a standup job of standing out in the garden.

In addition to five-color chard there are numerous varieties of greens that are tinged with other colors that add to the eye appeal of their pleasant shapes.

Many greens grow best when the weather is not blistering hot, so spring and fall are the most favorable times. Sow seeds from April through mid-July. You can nurse greens through the dog days of summer by providing afternoon shade and a cool-down spray of water during mid-afternoon.

Some greens persist during mild winters, providing year-round freshness on the table and year-round color in the garden.

•Swiss chard: These handsome plants are related to beets. Sturdy stalks topped with large, shiny and crinkled leaves grow in an upright fountain shape to about 24 inches tall. Serve chard steamed or stir-fried in place of spinach. Harvest individual leaves, allowing the plant to produce new leaves throughout the growing season.

•Arugula (also called rocket, roquette, and Italian cress) is a vastly underutilized green. Tender, young leaves add a peppery bite to salads; older leaves are downright hot.

The oval, bright green leaves look like a cross between radish and dandelion leaves. Left unharvested to develop masses of simple, white flowers, these plants can reach two feet tall. They make a lovely border plant that attracts beneficial insects.

•Lettuce: Open any seed catalog and you are likely to find dozens of varieties for the home garden. They include iceberg, butterhead, crisphead, romaine and leaf lettuces, which grow into a myriad of sensuous shapes. Lettuce forms the base of any brilliant salad intended to hit the spot in summertime. Unfortunately, lettuce can become bitter when our summers turn intense. Read seed catalog descriptions to locate varieties that have been bred to grow in hot weather. In general, lettuces that are dark green or with red or bronze coloration hold up better to heat than lighter green varieties.

•Orach, or mountain spinach, is a hot-weather substitute for regular spinach that was a staple in American gardens a century ago. This mild-tasting plant that can be eaten fresh or cooked can grow quite tall — up to six feet tall — if not pinched back or harvested regularly. Both red and green varieties produce dramatic seed heads that look great in dried arrangements.

•Radicchio: The decidedly bitter taste of this plant is not for everyone. Its attraction for me lies in its lovely reddish-purple and white coloration, reminiscent of red cabbage but with distinct zones of red and white. Come to think of it, though, I think I’ll stick with the red cabbage.

•Other greens include spinach, endive, cress, chicory, Asian greens such as perilla and mizuna, mache (corn salad), kale, various mustards, and even purslane and dandelion, which are considered weeds when found growing on their own.

Copyright 1997 Joyce Schillen


Joyce Schillen (So. Oregon, Zone 8)


Author of "The Growing Season" (ISBN 0-936738-12-x)

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