We’re serious gardeners around here, but we like to have fun in the garden, too. Every year we try to plant at least one thing just for fun. Sometimes the challenge is keeping it to just one or two. There are just so many fun possibilities. Each year we try something different. Sometimes my choices surprise me and we add them to my list of must-plants.
We began planting scarlet runner beans for their beautiful bright red flowers. But then we discovered that the beans are edible. They’ve become one of our favorites, so scarlet runners get some extra garden space these days.
Scarlet runner bean blossoms add color and encourage pollinators to the garden. Photo by Carole Coates
Growing our own popcorn sounded fun, too, and the grandchildren got a kick out of discovering that popcorn really did grow on cornstalks. Our crop wasn’t a resounding success since the growing season here is so short, so this was a one-year crop. But it was fun while it lasted.
A bigger success was our attempt at growing field corn. We opted for the painted mountain variety, and we weren’t sorry. This corn is so gorgeous we’d grow it just for the pleasure of looking at it, but it’s so much more. We bought a simple grinder and grind our corn into meal. It gives our cornbread an interesting texture and color. Guests never say no to a second helping of my prize-winning cornbread when it’s made with home-grown painted mountain corn.
Painted Mountain corn is simply gorgeous and is a tasty way to eat cornbread. Photo by Carole Coates
One of our first just-for-fun crops was Egyptian Walking Onions. With their alien-like tentacles, they make me laugh. I always take a few extra minutes to sit on our garden bench and look at them. What makes them even more fun is that if you leave a few in the garden, the tentacles droop to the ground and the bulblets that grow from them plant themselves. They literally “walk” across the garden, so if you decide to give them a try, plant them where you have room for them to spread.
Egyptian walking onions are always good for a garden smile. Photo by Carole Coates
Other edibles that have a fun quality include pumpkins (so many types and colors—for sheer weirdness I like the warty ones), tromboncino squash (they can be treated as either summer or winter squash, and they’re quite the garden conversation piece), cucamelons (tiny cukes with a citrus kick and so prolific you can keep your addicted friends well-supplied throughout the season).
Part of me hates to waste any garden real estate on plants we can’t eat, but the other part can’t resist their exotic nature. Long season gourds almost never make it to maturity in our gardening zone, but we keep trying. Their flowers are fabulous, and we get a kick out of all the gourd colors and shapes. My favorite so far is the swan gourd, which, when all goes well have a long neck that curves at the top just like a swan’s head. It took an extra year for them to get completely dry. Then we shellacked them and put them on display in our home.
Pumpkin-on-a-stick is actually in the eggplant family, but the small fruits that grow all along its stem look like miniature pumpkins. For a dramatic floral display, add a stem or two of dried pumpkin-on-a-stick. But watch out—their stems are full of prickly thorns. They’re no fun to handle.
Add some flair to your garden with pumpkin-on-a-stick. Photo by Carole Coates
Perhaps my favorite plant in this category—so far at least—is love lies bleeding. It’s a variety of amaranth, and its grain is edible. But we found trying to harvest the tiny grain to be far too tedious without much to show for the effort. Who cares? With its deep pink dreadlock flowers, it’s worth every square inch of space it uses for the sheer joy it brings.
Love-lies-bleeding adds a burst of pizzazz to any garden. Photo by Carole Coates
Experimenting with a few just-for-fun plants has definitely enriched our gardening experience, adding beauty, conversation topics, laughter, and sometimes new taste sensations to our daily garden chores. We’ll keep at it.
Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts by following this link: http://www.motherearthnews.com/search?tags=“Carole%20Coates”. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.
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