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OUT AND ABOUTYard MD Rob Zimmer will be out and about at many local garden events during March. Stop by and see him at one of these locations. He will be conducting garden-themed presentations and available for questions.
»Winnebago Homebuilders Association Home Show at the Sunnyview Expo Center, Oshkosh, March 7-9. For more information, visit: www.whba.net/homeshows.html.
»The Tri-County Arena Home and Garden Show, Tri-County Arena, Neenah, March 22-24. For more information visit: www.tricountyarena.com/floor-events/home-garden.html.
»The Wisconsin State Master Gardener Conference at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel and Conference Center, Appleton, March 28-29. For more information, visit: www.ocmga.net.
Before you set about growing the same old varieties of fruits and vegetables in your garden this season, take some time to explore the seed aisles at your local garden center, the heirloom plant section for starter plants and online resources to find some of the most exciting, richly flavored, fun crops to try out this year.
Grow beyond the same old red tomatoes and beets, orange carrots and brown potatoes and explore a whole new array of brightly colored, nutritious and delicious crops that will forever change the way you see your backyard garden. Grow your own paint-by-number garden this year and your yard will be the talk of the town.
Interestingly, many gardeners have begun growing some of these amazingly beautiful crops for strictly ornamental purposes. You don’t have to like the taste of eggplant, for example, to grow a beautiful, shiny, colorful crop. Same with ornamental peppers, brightly colored herbs and more.
You can find these seeds at many local garden center or online. A great source for colorful vegetable seeds is Amazon. Others include Jung Seed Company, Seed Savers (www.seedsavers.org) and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.
If you aren’t brave enough to try growing these on your own just yet, be sure to visit your local farmers market all summer and fall where you can sample all of these, and many more colorful, exciting choices.
Grow a tomato rainbow
While most beginning gardeners, as well as grocery store shoppers, are used to tomatoes only in red, heirloom tomatoes and many new varieties come in all the colors of the rainbow. From pure white to near-black, tomatoes come in just about every shade imaginable, including bi-colors, stripes and spots.
One of the most beautiful of the newer tomatoes is Indigo Rose, a beautiful blackish-blue fruit with a sweet, rosy pink interior. Indigo Apple is a beautiful bright neon green, while heirloom Green Zebra mixes the color with mottled stripes and splotches. Another beautiful tomato with mottled fruit and a sweet flavor is the Pineapple tomato.
Among small and miniature tomatoes, Black Cherry tomato takes the classic red cherry to a whole new shade. And the beloved heirloom Yellow Pear is always a joy in the garden.
Eggplants in stripes and solids
If you’ve never grown eggplant, make this your year to give it a try. In addition to the classic, deep, shiny purple, there are eggplants available in yellow, pink, white and wine, along with many varieties that feature wonderfully striped fruits.
Eggplants also come in many unusual shapes and sizes, from the classic egg-shape to long, zucchini-like fruits and ball-shaped.
Even most big box stores now carry seed potatoes in many beautiful colors, including blues, reds, yellow, white and orange. Mix it up this growing season and try them all for wonderful and colorful painted potato garden.
Colorful potatoes make great chips and fries when sliced and baked or deep-fried. They also add a beautiful touch to just about any classic potato recipes.
Black and blue radishes
One of the most mysterious garden crops to grow is the unusual black radish. With its chalkboard black, skin and snow white interior and large size, at least for a radish, this is one cool root crop to grow at home. Other radishes are available in many other colors than red, including white, pink, purple, blue and several that feature “candy cane” flesh that is striped in red, pink and white.
Pretty in pink
One of the most sought after newer strains of blueberry isn’t. It’s pink. The unusual color is really the only difference, as the nutritious, healthy fruits carry the same flavor as their blue cousins. Pink blueberries grow great either right in the garden or in containers that can be sunk into the garden and wintered over.
For raspberry lovers, there are raspberries that come in pink as well, in addition to the classic red and black, as well as the sweet and unusual golden raspberry.
More than "greens"
Instead of the commonly grown varieties of green leaf or head lettuce, grow a colorful mixture of nutritious and delicious “greens” that aren’t.
Red lettuces come in many shapes, sizes and forms and make a great addition to a mixed salad. More and more, these are being grown for ornamental purposes, for their shiny, textured leaves and interesting shape.
Variegated horseradish is a striking plant in deep, blackish green and splashed white. Other than the eye-catching foliage, the plant is grown and harvested just like regular horseradish.
One of the most beautiful and versatile greens is the stunning Swiss Chard, with its brightly colored veins painted neon orange, red, pink, purple or white.
With its masses of dangling bright blue flowers, this herb is grown by many gardeners simply for its beauty in the garden. Borage is a great garden herb with many uses and can be found as seed or starter plants at most fine garden centers. In addition to its many uses in the kitchen, borage is a great crop for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden.
Other colorful herbs include the many types of basil, sages, oregano and mints.
Colorful melons, gourds, squash
Browse the seed aisles at your local garden center and you will find scores of colorful melons, squash and gourds to brighten your garden through summer and fall. Many of these make great vining plants that you can train over arbors, trellises, fences and ladders, where the brightly colored fruits can dangle freely like decorative ornaments in the garden. One of my favorites is Moon and Stars watermelon.
With its strawberry-like ears of miniature corn, this plant has become fairly easy to find at local garden centers. The deep reddish kernels and cobs make great fall decorations or a tasty popcorn treat.
There are many more varieties of colorful garden veggies and fruits to choose from, including brightly colored kale, golden beets, delicious sunflowers in every color and shape imaginable, peppers, sweet peas in purple and red, “green” beans in yellow, red, purple and stripes and so much more.
Rob Zimmer, Post-Crescent staff writer, writes YardMD every Friday. He can be reached at 920-419-3734 or yardmd@postcrescent. com; on Twitter @YardMD.