Many of the selections below are attractive as well as tasty. So if you have no space for a vegetable garden, slip a few salad plants in among the flowers
Sometimes the oldie is still the goodie and that’s the case with ‘Gardener’s Delight’ tomato. It may not have the disease resistance of more recently introduced varieties, it may not be as early. But many gardeners still maintain that it has the best flavour of all and it also carries up to 21 bright red fruits on each truss. Its adaptability is also in its favour: grow it in a cold greenhouse or tunnel, or outside in the open garden.
Again, ‘White Lisbon’ is a longtime favourite salad onion, and won AGMs in 1993 and 2004. But ‘Guardsman’ is a more recently introduced British bred variety which combines a lack of pungency with minimal bulbing so the stems stay more or less straight and also have a sweeter flavour. ‘Guardsman’ also features an unusually strong root system, attractive bluish foliage and unlike some it crops well in autumn as well as earlier in the season.
Many gardeners grow ‘Cherry Bell’ or ‘Scarlet Globe’ as their round radish; they’re well-established varieties and indeed both were awarded AGMs back in 1990s. But they’ve now been outclassed by more modern varieties and did not receive awards in the most recent trial in 2008. One that did gain an AGM is ‘Rudolph’. Completely without a pithy centre, the skin is bright red and each root about an inch/2.5cm long and a little wider.
Another increasingly popular, and beautifully coloured, salad crop with tight, solid heads – and in the case of ‘Palla Rossa’ the colour of the heart is gorgeous: rich burgundy red with a white midrib and a white base to each leaf. The heart of each head is very firm and brings a little crunch as well as colour and flavour to the salad bowl. From a sowing towards the end of May, the crop was at its peak during August.
Salad potatoes are specially developed for eating cold and ‘Annabelle’ has been recognised as one of the finest, gaining AGMs in 2003 and again in 2007. Producing medium-sized, oval tubers with yellow skins and yellow waxy flesh with a good texture. It keeps its shape well when cooked and the flavour is good. Expect each plant to produce 18-36 tubers, with a combined weight of 0.8-1.8kg (1.8-4lb), depending on how well you grow them.
This is the classic small lettuce that received AGMs in 1990, 1999 and 2007, so has been of consistently high quality for more than 20 years. Said to be a cross between a cos lettuce and a cabbage lettuce, it makes small, rather tight yellow hearts about 10-12cm (4-5in) across with mid-green, slightly blistered leaves. It has a distinctive, sweet flavour and is ideal for small families and even for individual portions with little for the compost heap.
Awards of Garden Merit have been given right across the range of lettuce types, including varieties like ‘Bijou’ which is so colourful it could be grown as a bedding plant. 'Glistens. Very red and glittery. Beautiful' – so said the assessors. With its frilly, blistered outer leaves and good heart this is a variety that looks as good as it tastes and can be sown from early spring into summer. It’s also relatively small, and slow to bolt.
Increasingly popular as a salad vegetable frisée endive, with its attractively dissected and curled leaves, this is easy to grow and suffers from few pests or diseases. ‘Wallone’ proved especially vigorous and developed into large plants; it would suit cut-and-come-again production as well as growing to maturity when it lasts well. Sowing in June produced mid to dark-green heads that lasted into the autumn; sowing earlier proved less successful. Can also be easily blanched.
Many people shy away from growing cucumbers, but here’s one that’s special. The crop is huge - in the trial in a polytunnel an average of 67 fruits per plant were produced between late June and late August. Is that enough for you? But the fruits are short, 17-20cm (7-8in), so each is used before it goes off, and they’re sweet, juicy and smooth skinned. ‘Zeina’ is suitable for growing in a cold greenhouse, tunnel or outside.
Chard ‘Bright Lights’ has stems in six different colours - cream, magenta, orange, pink, red and yellow. The orange and magenta have bronzed leaves and the others have green leaves. Sow in blocks or wide rows, cut with sharp scissors and leave to regrow. Cut the leaves when just a few inches high; the young leaves are tasty, highly nutritious and very colourful. A few plants can also be left to mature.