Novelty edibles are a great way to inject excitement into your edible garden. The entire process, from selecting, to growing, to harvesting the plant, is rife with anticipation. What will the plant look like? What will the fruit look like? What will the fruit taste like? How will it combine with other foods? Basically, you're taking yourself on an extended growing/culinary adventure full of discovery and sensory stimulation. And hopefully, you're taking your kids, spouse, and friends along with you.
These seven edibles are all visually fascinating and incredibly flavorful. "Acquiring a taste" for them is not necessary; they are widely considered to be delicious. None of them require fancy or unfamiliar preparations either, and yet they will elevate your meals to a gourmet status. Most of them can be enjoyed raw without any processing whatsoever.
Always an important factor for us Northern gardeners is plant performance. These edibles all have short maturity times and can be grown in containers or in the ground,
If you want something extra special in your garden this spring, consider the novelty recommendations below. Whether you're a child or not, these curiously beautiful edibles will engage your imagination and tantalize your taste buds.
'Aunt Molly's' Ground Cherries
Definitely try ground cherries (aka cape gooseberries, husk cherries, golden berries) if you like sweet, tart and zesty fruit flavours. In terms of texture. biting into one of these marble-sized fruits is similar to biting into a grape. The flesh is firm and juicy and the skin is thin.
Ground cherry fruits are each encased in a papery husk. When the fruit ripens, it drops to the ground.
Raw ground cherries right off the plant are delicious, but they can also be used to make fresh fruit salads, smoothies, pies, muffins, and jams.
Click here to read more about ground cherries.
'Beer Friend' Soybeans
You're likely familiar with store-bought or restaurant-served edamame beans, but you probably didn't know that you could grow them here in the North. Beer Friend soybean comes with glowing reviews - it is an early and productive variety, and the beans are considered to have an excellent taste and texture. As the name implies, this variety is the perfect accompaniment to beer.
Soybeans are simple to prepare. Boil fresh pods in salted water for 3-4 minutes, drain, and season with salt. Soybeans are usually eaten as an appetizer or snack.
Click here to read more about Beer Friend soybeans.
'Rainbow Blend' Carrots
Rainbow Blend carrots is mixture of the Atomic Red, Bambino, Cosmic Purple, Lunar White, and Solar Yellow variety carrots. Each color tastes slightly different but they are all equally delicious.
This all-purpose carrot blend is excellent for eating raw, roasted, steamed, or adding to stews and soups.
Click here to read more about Rainbow Blend Carrots.
'Chocolate Cherry' Tomato
Chocolate Cherry is an intriguing heirloom cherry type tomato. This variety produces an abundance of 1" dark burgundy fruits that are extremely flavourful. We grew this tomato last year and it's definitely a keeper.
Chocolate Cherry is an indeterminate type tomato. Be prepared stake or cage the plant, as it grows rather large (4-6 feet high).
Click here to read more about Chocolate Cherry tomatoes.
'Red Meat' Radish
On the outside, Red Meat radish is creamy white with green shoulders. On the inside, it is an unexpectedly vibrant fuchsia color. I personally prefer to think of this radish by its other, more appetizing name: watermelon radish.
Watermelon radish is smooth, exceptionally mild, and sweet. Harvest the radishes when they are 2-4" in diameter. Use the radishes on salads or as plate garnishes.
This radish is most often recommended for late summer sowing due to its tendency to bolt. However, I'm interested to try how a spring sowing will turn out, seeing as much of the available culture information usually applies to warmer climates. I will report back the results of this experiment.
Click here to read more about Red Meat radish.
'Purple Vienna' Kohlrabi
Purple Vienna kohlrabi, or any kohlrabi for that matter, looks like something from the science fiction movie. Don't be misled by its alien appearance - kohlrabi has a mild flavour that pleases even the pickiest vegetable eaters.
Both the fleshy, purple globe and the tender central leaves of kohlrabi can be eaten raw or cooked. In taste and texture, raw kohlrabi is similar to water chestnuts. Raw kohlrabi tastes great on its own or with dip. Steaming, boiling, or stir-frying kohlrabi enhances its turnip flavour.
Ensure kohlrabi is harvested when it reaches about 2" in diameter. If it gets any bigger, it tends to go dry and fibrous. Slightly oversized kohlrabi is palatable if cooked but forget about eating it raw.
Click here for more information on Purple Vienna kohlrabi.
Golden Beets are another heirloom vegetable experiencing a popularity resurgence, and for good reason. These gorgeous, jewel-toned beets are delicious edible art. Golden beets do not bleed like their red counterparts, and so they combine well with other vegetables such as parsnip and potatoes.
These beets are sweet, crispy, and mild. Don't overlook the beet tops either, as they are also very tasty.
Eat the tops in salads or cook as you would spinach. Prepare the beet root by roasting, steaming, or pickling.
Click here for more information on golden beets.
Expand your gardening repertoire this spring and experiment with novelty edibles. You'll have fun, learn a few things along the way, and enjoy gourmet produce.
If you've got kids, introducing novelty vegetables is a ripe opportunity to grow a gardener. Get the kids involved in the planting, growing, and harvesting process. Chances are, they'll be interested in eating the bounty too.
In recent years, hardy hydrangeas have become one of the most popular flowering shrubs and it's easy to understand why. Hydrangeas are showy, versatile, adaptable, and easy to maintain.
You can't really ask much more of a shrub, can you?
Plant breeders have invested millions into developing new hardy hydrangea varieties over the last decade. Every season, it seems that a few more varieties are brought to market, giving the home gardener ever more options. But which one is best for you?
The hydrangeas that do overwinter well here are the panicle type (hydrangea paniculata) and smooth type (hydrangea arborescens).
Panicle hydrangeas are said to have cone-shaped flowers, but I only partially agree with that description. I would say that the cone shape may be very distinct or very vague, depending on the variety. Flower size also ranges greatly.
Smooth hydrangeas have broader, dome-shaped flowers. Flower size is more consistent (about 6-12" in diameter) between varieties.
With regard to flower colour, hardy hydrangeas are endless shades of white, pink, and lime. As the flowers age, they often take on changing tones and/or different colors.
Hardy hydrangea flower color is unaffected by the soil's pH level.
Panicle hydrangeas have reddish, woody, sturdy stems, whereas smooth hydrangeas have green, flexible, relatively soft stems. This is because panicle hydrangeas regrow on previous season's growth and smooth hydrangeas grow anew from the ground each year.
Panicle hydrangea leaves also tend to be darker green and more leathery; smooth hydrangea leaves are lighter green and softer.
A major difference between panicle and smooth hydrangeas is their pruning requirements.
Panicle hydrangeas only need only a light annual trimming of the branch tips. (The exception to this is if you have an old panicle hydrangea that is not blooming well any more. In that case, the hydrangea will need "motivation" to bloom again. Just cut back a few of the oldest stems as low to the ground as possible in early spring.)
Smooth hydrangeas need a hard annual pruning in early spring, Cut back all stems to about
3-6" from ground level. For this reason, smooth hydrangeas are the better choice if your desired planting site is subject to heavy winter snow loads.
A mature hardy hydrangea can be as little as 3' x 3' or as large as 10' x 10', depending on the variety.
As demonstrated in the photo gallery below, hydrangeas can be planted as:
Note - Tree hydrangeas are simply hydrangea shrubs trained into a tree form. This process takes several years of selective pruning. If you have the patience, any hydrangea can be trained into a tree (otherwise, ready-made tree hydrangeas are available.)
Planting and Growing Information
Hydrangeas are easy to grow but they do need moist soil. Hydrangeas resent being dry and they will show it. If you prepare your soil properly, add mulch around the shrub base, and water deeply but infrequently, your hydrangea should thrive.
Different hydrangea varieties tolerate varying degrees of shade. Generally speaking, hydrangeas are adaptable to sites that receive a minimum of 3 hours of sun daily.
Since hydrangeas flower prolifically, fertilizing is a good idea. For the first year, only use bone meal and transplant fertilizer. After that, apply a slow-release fertilizer yearly to maximize flower production.
I've yet to meet a hydrangea that I didn't like, but here is a broad sampling of the available varieties:
Hydrangea Paniculata 'Bombshell'
Bombshell is a dense and tidy little hydrangea, maturing to about 3' high and wide.
Invincibelle Spirit is a medium sized hydrangea, eventually reaching 3-4' high and wide.
$1 is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for every Invincibelle Spirit hydrangea sold.
Hydrangea Arborescens 'Incrediball'
Incrediball is the new and improved version of 'Annabelle'. (Annabelle was discovered in Anna, Illinois in 1910.) Though lovely, Annabelle's blossoms tend to flop, giving the plant a messy appearance. Should a heavy rainstorm strike an Annabelle, it looks more like a tornado touched down on it.
On the contrary, Incrediball has remarkably stiff, strong stems to keep the flowers upright. And the kicker is, Incrediball's flowers are even bigger, reaching up to 12" in diameter! The flowers open lime green, turn white when fully open, and then revert back to lime green.
Incrediball grows 4-5' high and wide.
Hydrangea Paniculata 'Little Lime'
Little Lime is my latest hydrangea infatuation. We had a beautiful display of them at our front entrance last season and I couldn't keep my eyes off of them. On several occasions, I got close to admire their mesmerizing, artfully colored blossoms.
Little Lime has dense flower clusters, ranging from white to lime to pink, and everything in between. It is highly productive in terms of flowering.
Little Lime is a dwarf hydrangea, topping out at about 3' high and wide.
Hydrangea Paniculata 'Quick Fire'
Quick Fire is a valuable variety because it starts blooming one month earlier than any of the other hardy hydrangeas.
Quick Fire has a loose and airy flower shape. The blossoms emerge white, turn to pink, and eventually deepen to a cherry red.
Quick Fire is one of the largest hydrangeas, maturing to 6-8' high and wide.
Hydrangea Paniculata 'Fire Light'
2014 was only the first year we grew Fire Light. However, its unique flower color and shape makes it worthy of mentioning.
Like most pink hydrangeas, Fire Light flowers start out white and darken to a rich pink color. The flower panicles have a particularly distinct, dramatic shape.
Fire Light grows anywhere from 5-6' high and wide.
Hardy hydrangeas are exceptional flowering shrubs for our area. If you see a hardy hydrangea variety that I don't mention here, give it a try anyway. Chances are you will love it.
Check out the Proven Winners website to preview many more hydrangeas, including ones that will be released in 2016. I can't wait to try them all!
My education in gardening began at 13, when I started working at our family-operated garden centres. Truth be told, I wasn't always thrilled to be sweating away my weekends in the greenhouse. However, I did become undeniably interested in the vast world of plants, and my summer job eventually transformed into a lifelong passion.