The middle of March heralds the return of the red heads to the salad palette and it is great to see them back. Over the winter the low light levels result in the red lettuce leaves fading to muted brown and even the red frills mustard settles to a gentle maroon. There are little excuses of colour here and there with the ruby chard, the red stemmed radish and similar red stemmed dandelions but even they are shadows of their summer selves and they are really just a tease.
But with the Spring Equinox on the horizon and the competition between daylight and darkness finally tipping in our favour, the colours start flooding back into the leaves and they literally zing with vibrancy. I like to reassure myself that my three years at art college were not a complete waste of time in the fact that I know my way around a colour wheel. Green and red appearing on opposite sides of the wheel makes them visually complimentary - a fact that old mother natures works repeatedly to her advantage.
The real Rhiannas of the red headed salad world are the chicories and in particular Treviso and Radicchio. It doesn't really matter if you love or loathe the bitter taste of these chicories, there is something about their vivid appearance in a bowl of salad which harmonises the whole and makes the salad look fresher and more alive. This Treviso has overwintered in our polytunnels beautifully and the radicchio outside are regrowing stubby little babies around their crowns. I am going to relish these over the next few weeks because the warm weather will inevitably make them bolt and we will then have a hiatus until they appear back in our salad bowls in late summer. (Radicchio and other chicories react to the lengthening summer days and will bolt if they are sown more than a couple of weeks before the summer solstice. After that time they will happily grow and fatten to give us luscious luminosity in our salads all the way through to winter).