Take a leap: plant something new this year

The garden catalogs are filling mailboxes, seed racks at the garden center are festooned with bright, colorful packets and many gardeners are planning and dreaming of the garden year ahead. These are the signs that winter is nearly over, and just in the nick of time, too. This little glimpse of spring is what rescues many a-gardener from the abyss of winter gloom.

As you peruse the various and sundry garden catalogs, websites and seed racks available to you, plan to take a leap this year and grow something new and exciting. What better way to celebrate leap year than to take a leap in the garden?

Whether it is something brand new on the horticultural market or something that you’ve just never grown before, give it a try. And while you’re at it, why not grow something that is both tasty and attractive? Here are a few things that I have tried recently and think you should, too.

Artichokes are an interesting looking plant. Not only could they go in the vegetable garden, but they can also find a place in the landscape as well. The tall plants boast spiky, silver-green leaves that add an interesting color to the garden. The artichokes are actually large flower buds that sit atop long stems.

The ‘Tavor’ artichokes growing at the MG demo garden at the State Fair of WV.

Artichokes are thistles, just like the ones you see growing wild. If you don’t harvest them when they are immature, they go on to bloom out into an attractive purple thistle flower. In protected areas (or if you mulch well), artichokes can grow here as perennials. Because some varieties don’t produce flower buds in their first year, you may want to consider a variety that produces in the first year just in case it gets killed out by winter cold. One such variety is ‘Tavor’, which was on display at the Master Gardener demo garden at the State Fair of West Virginia last year (see photo)


Malabar climbing spinach in my garden.

Malabar Climbing Spinach is another odd one, but one you’ve likely never heard of. I tried this one last year and immediately fell in love. It is another that works well in both the vegetable garden and in the landscape. This plant grows as a very long, attractive succulent vine. The leaves are edible and taste a lot like spinach. They are best consumed raw, as we didn’t really care for the texture of them once they were cooked. The leaves are dark green and the vines a beautiful red color. The magic happens when the plants produce prolific lavender flowers and dark purple berries. The plant is absolutely beautiful and would look good growing along a fence. I grew it on arches along the pathway in my garden.

Quinoa is hot in the natural foods section of the grocery store and on plates in restaurants right now. It is a pseudo grain, meaning that we cook it like rice but it is not from the grain family. Since it has become so popular here, it has become expensive and hard to
come by in South America, where it is a staple

Quinoa (in the back) and love-lies-bleeding amaranth (foreground) at the MG demo garden.

crop. The seed that is cooked comes from the seed head of a tall, attractive plant in the spinach family. If you’ve ever seen the flower celosia, with its colorful frilly blooms, imagine it blown up to four to six feet tall. The colorful flowers make this a great plant for the landscape and for cut flowers. Aside from the seeds being edible, the leaves are as well (and some sources say it isn’t eaten by deer). The flowers come in a variety of colors — from white and yellow to orange, red and fuchsia. Just remember that you have to wash the seeds when you harvest them — they produce a natural detergent that make them bitter. Quinoa is closely related to amaranth, which is often grown as a flower in many gardens (and is also edible).


I do hope that you’ll consider taking a leap and consider incorporating these tasty, beautiful plants into either your vegetable garden or even your landscape. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a new favorite. At the very least, you’ll have some fun along the way.

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