Leafy greens can be grown with flowers as ornamentals, they all need a fresh look. Here are 10 leafy vegetables which have received the coveted AGM.
H1 – H7 indicates the new RHS hardiness ratings
Full details of hardiness ratings (510kb pdf)
This popular and dependable spinach is ideal for a long crop of tasty leaves full of goodness. Sow at any time from early February to the end of August, to crop from May to the end of October. The bright, mid green, spear-shaped leaves can be used in exactly the same way as other spinach and the plants stand well without bolting (flowering), usually for far longer than annual spinach. Hardier than the chards, so valuable in cold areas. H4.
Grow spinach beet with children
A superb spinach receiving its AGM for both spring and for summer sowing after recent Wisley trials. The dark to medium green, rounded, slightly blistered leaves are held upright and bulk up well and plants can be cropped early while still small or left to develop into more substantial plants. ‘Emilia’ has the additional valuable feature of being resistant to 10 different types of downy mildew, a disease which can quickly wipe out the crop. H2
This British-bred pak choi gained its AGM after the Wisley trial in 2010 and was noted for its short and compact growth - an ideal size for the kitchen – together with its good heart, its prolific production of tender leaves and stems, and the fact that it stands well and rarely bolts. ‘Summer Breeze’ germinates well, and is also resistant to bacterial soft rot and white rust. Grows well even in our summers. H3.
The bright fresh red heads of ‘Lollo Rossa’ are relatively open and never build into hearts, the new leaves open greenish yellow in the centre and mature to that invaluable bright colouring. And, in keeping with this selection, try ‘Lollo Rossa’ stir-fried, or in soup. Sow from February to August, for cropping at various sizes from May to October or even November depending on the weather. Extend the season by growing in a cold tunnel. H2.
The bright, prettily cut and curled foliage looks good in the garden and is a valuable bitter addition to salads. If the taste is a little too bitter for you, sauté it gently (don’t overdo it), or use it for soup. ‘Wallone’ is unusually vigorous and makes an especially large plant, it can be grown naturally and can also be blanched: simply upturn a dinner plate over the centre of the plant. It can also be used for baby greens. H3.
How to grow endive
Chicory (radicchio) ‘Palla Rossa’
Another one of those veggies that has moved from the speciality greengrocer, to the supermarket to the allotment – although 30 years ago it was also used in Kew’s spring bedding, with dark blue Iris histrioides ‘Major’, as I recall. Deeply bronzed heads look great in the garden, strip away the outer leaves for a burgundy and white heart. Simmer in a little milk if the bitterness is too much for you, or oil well and cook on the barbecue. H4.
How to grow chicory
Curly kale (borecole) 'Reflex'
‘Reflex’ is an impressive curly green kale, its fresh, rich and slightly bluish colouring is very attractive in the garden and tasty and nutritious on the table. Sown from April onwards, it has the additional advantage of a very long harvest window, extending into spring from a summer sowing, and even in the coldest conditions the foliage retains its colouring well. Each individual plant produces an exceptional crop so you need fewer plants compared with older varieties. H5.
One of my favourite ornamental vegetables, the super-curly reddish purple foliage looks wonderful for many months at a stretch and steams well in the kitchen too. It produces new leaves over a very long period. Sow from April to June for planting from May to July and cropping from September through the winter; or sow even earlier for use as a summer foliage plant, although early-sown plants may need staking in winter. One of the best of all ornamental vegetables. H5.
This invaluable mixture now contains plants with stems in yellow, gold, orange, pink, violet, green, white, and red plus a few with stripes. The foliage on the paler types tends to be green, that of plants with darker stems tends towards bronze tints. When intended for ornamental combinations seedlings can be selected for stem colour when quite young and grown on individually so you can clear exactly which colour is being planted where. Also good as baby leaves. H3.
This is a classic combination of quality as both an edible and an ornamental. Those upright white stems are bright enough to use with flowers – in a container, perhaps, with low calibrachoas. But both the noticeably broad stems and the shiny rich green foliage have fine eating qualities; it’s best to cook the parts separately as the stems need more cooking than the leaves. Steam the stems or sauté them in a little butter; cook the leafy parts like spinach.
Grow chard with children
Grow your own colourful chard in a pot
RHS advice on how to grow chard