At first, veggies and herbs that taste delicious and add visual punch to your garden might sound too good to be true—sort of like calorie-free chocolate. Who would've guessed?
But it's a fact that a number of vegetable and herb varieties can please both eye and palate.
From frilly herbs to white eggplants to black peppers, here are 10 easy-to-grow plants that'll make a monochromatic green garden seem so yesterday.
Red Russian Kale
(Brassica oleracea 'Red Russian,' grown as an annual)
This heirloom sports velvety, grayish-green, 2- to 3-foot-tall leaves with purple stems. They look a lot like huge, ruffled oak leaves, darkening to purple after frost as well as turning sweeter in flavor. Direct-sow four to five weeks before the last frost and continue to sow seeds every couple of weeks to produce a continuous harvest. You also can sow them in summer and harvest in fall.
Days to maturity: 60.
Suggested recipe: Steamed Kale»
Cherokee Chocolate Tomato
(Lycopersicon esculentum 'Cherokee Chocolate,' annual)
BLTs, anyone? These red-and-brown beauties, named for their chocolate-colored shoulders, grow up to 4 inches wide and weigh in anywhere from 10 ounces to a pound. Their firm, juicy, tart-sweet flesh is great for slicing. Start seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last frost date; plant transplants outdoors after the last frost.
Days to maturity: 80.
Papaya Pear Squash
(Cucurbita pepo 'Papaya Pear,' annual)
This All-America Selection produces lightbulb-shaped yellow squash on semi-bushy plants throughout the growing season. Pick the squash when they measure 3 inches long and wide to encourage plants to set more squash. Direct-sow after the last frost.
Days to maturity: 42.
(Fragaria x ananassa 'Pink Panda,' Zones 3 to 9)
This sprawling ground cover bears bright-pink flowers and an occasional crop of edible berries. Evergreen to semi-evergreen plants grow 5 inches high and spread to 24 inches wide. Sold in small pots rather than as seeds, they can be planted in sunny to partly shady sites once the soil is workable. Plants can be trained to trail from window boxes and hanging planters.
Bright Lights Swiss Chard
(Beta vulgaris subsp. cicla var. flavescens 'Bright Lights,' annual)
This All-America Selection brings rainbow hues to vegetable gardens and flower borders. Growing up to 20 inches tall, Bright Lights produces large, mild-flavored leaves on thick yellow, red, orange, gold and white stems. To harvest, cut the largest outer leaves when 8 to 12 inches tall, about 2 inches from the crown, to encourage new leaf growth. Direct-sow into garden after last frost.
Days to maturity: 60.
Suggested recipe: Swiss Chard Bean Soup»
(Solanum melongena 'Gretel,' annual)
This All-America Selection produces clusters of white eggplants on 3-foot-high plants. Harvest the mild-flavored fruits when they're 3 to 4 inches long. Start seeds indoors eight to nine weeks before planting outdoors. Eggplants are susceptible to cold, so don't plant outdoors until the soil is warm and there's no more danger of frost.
Days to maturity from transplant: 55.
Purple Ruffles Basil
(Ocimum basilicum 'Purple Ruffles,' annual)
Sporting frilly, flavorful purple leaves, this herb grows about 18 inches high and wide and is a good choice for containers, to edge vegetable gardens or to mix in a sunny perennial or annual border. Start seeds early indoors; basil is very cold-tender, so wait until after the last frost to put plants (or direct-sow seed) in the garden.
Days to maturity: 85.
(Lactuca sativa 'Freckles,' annual)
This heirloom romaine lettuce features bright-green leaves splashed with crimson speckles. Crisp, buttery-flavored leaves grow 6 to 12 inches high but can be harvested as baby greens, too. A cool-weather veggie, its seeds and transplants can be placed in gardens as soon as soil is workable in early spring. Start seeds indoors four weeks before transplanting outside. Sow seeds every two weeks through summer for successive harvests.
Days to maturity: 70.
Scarlet Runner Bean
(Phaseolus coccineus, Zones 7 to 11; annual in colder areas)
Lovely scarlet flowers on vines that grow up to 20 feet tall attract both hummingbirds and butterflies. Plants bear 6- to 12-inch pods that hold scarlet-black beans. You can eat the tender young pods right off the vine—delicious!—or cook them. Vines require a trellis, arbor, fence or tepee. Direct-sow into garden after frost.
Days to maturity: 70.
(Capsicum annuum 'Black Pearl,' 'Calico,' 'Chilly Chili,' 'Explosive Ember,' 'Medusa,' 'Sangria' and 'Super Chili'; hardy in Zones 9 to 11, but treated as annuals elsewhere)
Compact ornamental pepper varieties, growing 6 to 20 inches high and 6 to 18 inches wide, are ideal for small gardens, hanging baskets and containers. Unlike their kin, which hang beneath foliage, ornamental plants produce upright clusters of peppers that face the sky. Sow seeds in fertile, well-draining soil and full-sun location about 1/4 inch deep and 1 inch apart. As fruits ripen, a single plant may sport three or four different peppers shading from yellow to orange, red, purple or brown. Pick often; the more you harvest, the more fruit the plants will produce.
Days to maturity: 70 to 90.
Source: Ann Wilson, Birds & Blooms "Grow Veggies for Less"