With sowing season approaching, it’s time to take a look at last year’s Wisley trial of endive. This trial was also grown at the RHS gardens at Hyde Hall in Essex and Rosemoor in Devon.
Endives may not be top of the list of salad crops or stir fry crops, but their texture and flavour make them invaluable. There are two types: curly or frisée endive has slender curly outer leaves, while escarole has broad leaves and is less bitter. Both types are traditionally blanched to reduce their bitterness.
Both types were grown in the trial, sixteen varieties in all, and they were all sown both in April to crop in July, and again in June to crop in September. The first sowing received a ferocious battering from hail in early June but recovered promptly. Many of the plants from the April sowing ran to seed quite quickly, at all three sites, but while this would be a problem for commercial growers home gardeners could still harvest individual leaves. The other cultural issue was how to cover them for blanching.
The plants became too hot under black fleece, the easiest option, and tended to rot. Upturned plastic pots, secured by a cane through a drainage hole, were more successful. Upturned clay pots were better still but few home gardeners have access to enough sufficiently large clay pots. It was suggested that the plants could also be blanched simply by tying the leaves loosely together with twine. Visiting Joy Larkcom’s garden some years ago, I noticed that she blanched her endive using large upturned white dinner plates. It seemed to work well.
Six varieties were given an Award of Garden Merit. The five frisée types to receive AGMs, with comments from the panel, were:
‘Despa’: “Heads are dense, but not hearting… Very little bolting.”
‘Frenzy’ (above, click to enlarge): “Heads are dense, but not hearting… grown for the high class restaurant trade.”
‘Kentucky’: “Intermediate frisée. Very productive, large heads. Blanches well.”
‘Plantation’: “Large frame, frisée type with broad leaves and very thin petioles (leaf stems). Very little tip-burn.”
‘Wallone’: “Vigorous, large-framed frisée type. Stands well.”
The one escarole type to receive the AGM was ‘Natacha’: “Heads are quite loose and non-hearting. Attractive escarole type. Not bolting. Strong flavour. Not prone to tip-burn.”
It’s also worth noting that it was voted to remove the AGM given to ‘Glory’ in 2002 as it suffered badly from tip-burn and had been superseded.
Sources of seed vary from season, check the Royal Horticultural Society's leaflet Award of Garden Merit Vegetables, currently being updated, for stockists.
This leaflet is available online.