IHAVE BEEN AT THIS GARDENING THING LONG ENOUGH to know what I like, I told my indecisive self the other day as I sat, overwhelmed, surrounded by far too many seed catalogs. I don’t have to try everything anymore—I’m allowed to play some favorites, right, and make some snap decisions? With kale and chard and mesclun mix and a few other key greens, at least, I need not browse or comparison-shop, because I like these:
CHARD: ‘Bright Lights’ may be the beauty-contest winner, with runner-up going to ‘Rhubarb’ or ‘Ruby Red,’ as it is variously called. But I’ll forego the flash and just sow ‘Argentata’ from here on out, I think. A prolific and durable grower, ‘Argentata’ gets to as much as 3 feet tall (2ish in less fertile conditions) and produces lots and lots of giant leaves with gleaming thick white midribs. Apparently this heirloom goes by another name in Italy, ‘Bionda á Costa,’ where it is also a favorite. Fedco has my favorite chard, and many others.
KALE: Kale is one of my dietary mainstays, an ingredient in many soups here and a frequent side dish (both things are true about the the chard as well). Last year, I grew four kinds, but I won’t again, especially not the frilly ‘Winterbor’ type or its lookalikes (above left), my un-favorite (though productive and cold-hardy). I simply don’t like its texture, so I am giving my kale real estate to the heirloom I still call ‘Ragged Jack’ (now listed as ‘Red Russian’ in catalogs, young foliage above right), with its purple-tinged oak-shaped leaves. I’m also partial to ‘Lacinato’ (also called ‘Nero di Toscana’ or ‘Dinosaur’ kale or just Tuscan kale, with its narrow, very dark foliage, below). Hudson Valley Seed Library has both my favorite kales, and more.
MESCLUN AND BRAISING MIXES: I think Johnny’s has the world beat on these, and as many times as I stray elsewhere out of curiosity, I keep coming back for two in particular: Spicy Mesclun for the salad bowl (includes mizuna, arugula, endive, mustard and tatsoi with mild red lettuces) and their Braising Mix for light cooking. The flavorful blend contains various Asian greens plus kale.
ARUGULA is my idea of a salad essential, and the spicier the better. That’s why I like the “wild” kinds like ‘Sylvetta’ with the yellow flowers (not white), a tipoff that you’re not getting Eruca sativa at all (the species of the common salad kind) but a species of Diplotaxis. I swear this plant rebounds from frost after frost, it’s so tough—its only drawbacks being a much smaller, deeply cut leaf and slower growth. If you really like that intense arugula taste, a little of this goes a long way, though. Territorial Seed has both kinds.
PARSLEY: The choice of Parsley is a cinch, too; make mine ‘Giant of Italy’ or ‘Gigante’ parsley and that it is—shrubby plants with oversized leaves of robust flavor (top photo). Even a few of them in the garden provide more than I can eat in a season, and I make parsley pesto for cooking (above) and also freeze parsley in rolls as I explained in this post.
SORREL: I keep forgetting to grow Sorrel, Rumex acetosa, technically cold-hardy enough to be a perennial–but cut the leaves continually when they are young for best enjoyment of its lemony flavor. You can also grow sorrel as a biennial, sowing a fresh bit every year and digging out the old plants. Why did I ever forget this one, which used to be in every year’s garden here? The Well-Sweep Herb Farm catalog has an astonishing five sorrels for sale (note: unless you order a paper copy it’s in a PDF, and they are listed botanically under Rumex).
Now that the easy stuff’s decided, it’s back to the pile of catalogs I go. I don’t mind getting lost in pumpkins and tomatoes and beans—and a sexy new thing or two—and maybe I can finally focus now that the field’s a bit narrower.
Do you have some no-brainers, varieties you always order, whose competition you simply don’t care to hear about? Which are your “sure things”?