Gardening Magazine

Trying Some Unusual Plants

By Mwillis
Normally I grow fairly conventional plants - usually ones that we definitely like eating and would like to have lots of. However, I do occasionally branch out and try something different. I tried Yard-Long beans (failed miserably in cold wet Summer). I tried Cucumelons (we didn't enjoy the taste). I tried Tomatillos (got a huge crop, but felt the veg was a bit uninspiring). This year I am trying not one, but THREE types of veg that I have never grown before.
The first of these is the Chinese Artichoke, aka Crosnes. This plant produces a mass of small knobbly tubers, somewhat reminiscent of Oca. Wikipedia says rather pessimistically "While the plant is easy to grow, the tubers are small, convoluted, and indented, so they are considered very tedious and difficult to clean properly." Last Autumn a friend gave me a few small tubers and I stuck them in a 30cm pot, where they spent the Winter outdoors. In early Spring they sprouted and now look like this:
Trying some unusual plants
I think there are 3 separate plants there, though it is hard to be sure. I'm not likely to get much of a crop from such a small pot, so I will probably just "re-cycle" any tubers they produce this year, and grow them on in the hope of increasing my stock. I can't show you any tubers (for obvious reasons), so the best I can do is show you a close-up of the leaves. They look a bit like Nettles, I think.
Trying some unusual plants
Having tasted some of the tubers (courtesy of the donor friend), I can say that they are pleasantly nutty - a bit like a Water Chestnut - with a firm crunchy texture even when cooked. They are never likely to displace the potato in my growing-plan, but as a curiosity they have potential!
Newcomer No.2 is New Zealand Spinach, Tetragonia tetragonioides. I've mentioned this before, in the context of my Courtmoor plot. The couple who own the plot have told me that they used to grow this vegetable and liked it, but had crop failures last year and the year before. I assess then that I should be able to earn some Brownie Points if I can successfully raise some this year!
Tetragonia is not actually related to "proper" Spinach. It just looks a bit like it, and is used in similar ways. The plants supposedly grow into bushes about 3 feet tall, and you crop them by repeatedly picking off the tips of the shoots. It is frost-tender, so mustn't be planted too soon and will not last into the cold weather of Autumn. I'd better get shaping... I sowed 15 "seeds", but soon discovered that each one of these is actually a cluster of seeds which produces several little plants.
Trying some unusual plants
Once the little plants were big enough, I pricked them out into separate pots, in which they are now growing nicely.
Trying some unusual plants
I potted-up 18 plants, but there are lots more left, so I suspect I'll soon be offering them around amongst my gardening friends.
Trying some unusual plants
I have never tried New Zealand Spinach (in fact I don't think I've ever even seen it), but it sounds like a vegetable I would enjoy, so I'm hoping it will do well for me.
The final member of the trio is Huauzontle, Chenopodium nuttalliae, aka Aztec Broccoli, a member of the Amaranth family. Again, this is something quite unfamiliar to me, and it will be interesting to see how it performs. Until a friend gave me some seeds for this vegetable at an informal seed-swap, I had no knowledge of it at all, so I had to look it up. One good resource I found is the Real Seed Catalogue. They describe in detail how it is grown and cooked. Apparently you pick the tips of the flowering shoots, a bit like Purple Sprouting Broccoli. One attractive characteristic of this vegetable is that it holds its texture well when cooked, and doesn't go completely soft as Spinach does.
Aztec Broccoli is another Summer-only plant; one for sowing in late April or early May, and it will be killed off by the Autumn frosts. It must be a fast-growing plant though, because it can allegedly reach 5ft tall. I can't demonstrate this because mine has only recently germinated and is currently about an inch tall:
Trying some unusual plants
I had somehow expected the seedlings to be green, but I suppose I should have seen this clue on the Real Seeds website: "The leaves go red as nights cool, looking very pretty." It has been very cool at night here just recently, so maybe that's the reason...
Trying some unusual plants
Well, those are my experimental plants for this year. What are you growing that's different?

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