Humans have always loved novelty. And now, thanks to the internet, you can buy seeds from all over the world. With a few clicks, you could be growing some rather strange and impressive food in your garden!
We have always been obsessed with food. For example, the famous Silk Road in Asia sprung up simply because people were intrigued by new flavours and intense tastes. Merchants got rich supplying markets across the world with new tastes like cinnamon, pepper, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, as well as a wide range of other goods. With that in mind, a new industry has sprung up selling seeds of exotic or heritage plants, for the everyday gardener to grow in their back yard. Some of these novel fruits will make you wonder if they have been dropped here by aliens. Here are some of our favourites that you can order online and experiment with right now.
ZAPOTEC RUFFLED TOMATO
This spectacular scalloped tomato is found in the dry mountains of Mexico. It’s grown by the Zapotec Indians of the Mexican state of Oaxaca, who lived there before the Spanish invasion of the Aztec Empire in 1590. This tomato is sweet tasting, very ornamental, and it loves dry heat, so this is one for your greenhouse or polytunnel. Zapotec’s ruffled shape makes scalloped slices very pretty on the plate, and can be hollowed out and stuffed – this is a chef’s tomato.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/prt7q8
INDIGO ROSE BLACK TOMATO
This is a brand-new tomato released out of Oregon State University. It is one of the first known tomatoes producing a true purple-blue, almost black colour. The remarkable fruits contain anthocyanin, the natural purple pigment in eggplants. The fruits ripen to dark purple in direct sunlight, so this is another for the greenhouse or polytunnel. Their insides are red, with a typical tomato flavour.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/L27UGJ
AZTEC BLACK CORN
Black Aztec Corn is an ancient heirloom that was cultivated 2000 years ago, long before Columbus showed up to South America. They start out snow white and are very good for eating fresh. As they mature, they turn purple-black and make a sweet, beautiful blue corn meal.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/Q87gZt
You can now grow organic heirloom carrots that are the colour of the rainbow. This particular blend contains four different varieties of carrot seeds: lunar white carrots, solar yellow carrots, cosmic purple carrots and atomic red carrots. With names and colours like that, your garden will be out of this world, and so will your salads.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/TiikBT
SPACESHIP SQUASH – YUGOSLAVIAN FINGER FRUIT
This Yugoslavian- heirloom goofy-looking summer squash tastes much like normal squash, except it’s white and has crazy fingers that make it look like it is from outer space. Want your kids to eat their vegetables? Feed them Spaceship Squash. The fruit are quite attractive and can be displayed like gourds when mature. Easy to grow, this is a great way to get kids into the garden. They’ll be growing spaceships in 90-100 days.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/P7vqnB
PRICKLY CATERPILLAR BEAN
If you have kids (or a sense of humour), this strange little bean belongs in your garden. An old French heirloom, Prickly Caterpillar Bean makes curly seed pods that look like your salad has been invaded. Caterpillar Beans were grown in the 1880s as a curiosity, usually to surprise unsuspecting dinner guests. They are not likely to be eaten (they’re very prickly), but they are harmless and quite amusing. The low-growing plants make a pretty ground cover with yellow blooms. This little annual grows in sun or shade, any soil. It’s guaranteed to be the best conversation piece in your garden. Buy seeds at: goo.gl/c1csiJ
This is a bright, striped honeydew, bearing small fruit on compact vines, perfect for small gardens and balconies, and it grows in the shade. This small heirloom melon is grown in the Punjab region of India. The fruit are delightfully fragrant and taste like a ripe honeydew. Plus they look like beach balls and are a hit at farmer’s markets. Each vine produces 6 to 9 melons in a short season. They can be planted only a few feet apart, seem to appreciate a trellis, and do better in partial shade than full sun. Unripe melons can be picked after first frost and will ripen in storage. Seeds are rare in our hemisphere. So you can grow more to share.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/mn3qs3
This Japanese heirloom plant, called the chocolate vine, is hardy in cold weather, and it blooms in the sun or shade. It’s a good climber with fragrant blooms and sweet purple fruit. In its native Japan, it grows wild in the forest. In late spring, chocolate-pink blossoms bloom in clusters against delicate lacy foliage. In fall, fat lavender fruit appear. They’re incredibly sweet, even more impressive than the flowers, and are usually made into jelly. It is also known as Akebia, and it thrives in dappled sun or full shade. It isn’t fussy about soil, though it prefers even moisture. Evergreen in mild winters, it loses its leaves in cold climates, but the twining woody branches are handsome even when bare. If you want to grow fruit, you’ll need to grow both Akebia quinata and Akebia trifoliata. Buy seeds at: goo.gl/pChw8o
MINI EGGPLANT LITTLE FINGERS
Little Fingers are tiny Asian eggplants that are ready to pick when they’re the size of your pinkie. Their sweet, delicate flavour is perfect for stir-fries. If you let them grow longer, they still taste sweet and delicate. These minis grow in clusters on small plants that are perfect in containers and small enough for a balcony garden. One plant will produce heaps of little eggplants. Start eggplants when the weather has already warmed the soil. You’ll be harvesting these cuties in only 68 days. Buy seeds at: goo.gl/mBkvkT
Mouse Melon is a tiny cucumber relation that looks like a doll-sized watermelon. A long-lost heirloom, it was grown by the Incas and has only recently been rediscovered. It’s easy to grow, highly productive, and super fun to eat. Mouse Melons have a sweet cucumber flavour with a tangy twist. They make crunchy snacks, add zip to salads and are great for pickling. Kids love to eat them right off the vine. The charming vines have delicate leaves and flowers, pretty enough to grow in a hanging basket. They produce generous yields. If you grow for a farmer’s markets, this will stop traffic.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/ik1Pbn
JAPANESE WHITE EGGPLANTS
This sweet Japanese heirloom plant is tender, tasty, and extra productive. Fruits are perfect for stir-frying and grilling. White eggplants remain white at maturity and can be harvested small or left on the vine to grow large. Eggplants got their name because they used to come in one colour – white. Those original white eggplants are now very trendy – smaller than the purple and more tender. They’re a standout at farmers’ markets and easy to grow.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/fLrQ3Q
PURPLE PODDED PEAS
This Dutch heirloom is a favourite in mainland Europe for making tasty pea soup. The flowers are bright pink and the pods are purple, which look very pretty in the garden. Pick them early for some jazzy show peas (very showy in salads) or use the mature peas for tasty soup. They have a rich creamy flavour. Kids love crazy vegetables and will eat these right off the vine. This unusual heirloom dates back hundreds of years in Europe and is quite popular in Northern Europe and Canada. It does especially well in cool climates. Perfect for autumn planting.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/Gqgbvo
Hedgehog Cucumbers look like small, prickly, striped gourds. They’re native to South Africa, where they were once pickled and preserved. Perennial vines produce hundreds of silly, spiny, striped fruits the size of a kumquat. The fruits start out light green with dark stripes, then ripen to a cream colour with purple stripes. They look very cool in a bowl. Vines grow about 180cms tall, are perennial in warm climates and tough annuals elsewhere. In Africa they grow naturally on steep rocky slopes and sand dunes, survive ungodly heat and drought, but don’t mind being watered and look prettier when grown in some shade. Carefree and prolific, one vine can produce a hundred little hedgehogs.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/6ibq5Q
BERKELEY TIE DYE PINK TOMATO
The Berkeley Tie Dye Pink Tomato was carefully developed by a tomato breeder in Berkeley. It’s too new to be an heirloom, but it is spectacular to look at and monumentally delicious. The hefty fruits are zapped with orange and electric green stripes and they’re equally flashy inside. Compact plants are vigorous, early to bear, and well adapted to almost all climates. The medium-sized fruits have orange, red and lime-green stripes. It’s not an overly productive tomato, but worth growing for its flavour and beauty.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/frqFcu
BLACK HUNGARIAN SWEET PEPPER
The black Hungarian sweet pepper is a glossy black fruit the shape of a Jalapeno, with the same smoky flavour but half of the heat. Prefer a gentle pepper? Pick them when they’re black. For feisty chilies, let them ripen bright red. You get the best of both worlds on one plant. The gorgeous plants grow 90cms tall with purple blooms. Shiny purple peppers ripen bright red against the dark foliage. Even if you didn’t eat peppers, this one would be worth growing for its looks, and they look amazing in a mixed border.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/kw3um1
BRAZILIAN ORANGE EGGPLANT
The Brazilian orange eggplant is worth growing just for its beauty. The scarlet fruits are the size of an egg and each plant produces loads of them. Plants grow to 150cms and do just fine in containers or your garden. They need rich soil, full sun, regular water, are very easy to grow. This plant comes from West Africa, where it is sometimes called “garden egg.” It’s widely grown in Brazil, where it is known as jiló. The fruit ripens to orange-red, but is usually picked while it is green and sweet. Grill it, stuff it, add it to stews, or just put it in a bowl and admire it. This is a beauty. Buy seeds at: goo.gl/ASogFR
You’ve grown green beans, red beans, even very long beans, but you’ve probably never seen this curly cowpea. The pods twist and spiral around like a pretzel. They’re delicious, productive and highly entertaining. The young pods make great snap peas, the tender young leaves are delicious cooked, and mature beans can be dried, soaked and cooked like any black-eyed pea. They have an excellent walnutty flavour and are very nutritious. They thrive in poor soil, and are great for small gardens. They’re natural climbers, and don’t take up much space in the garden.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/9gfgTH
This fancy Asian heirloom is dazzling gourmet cooks everywhere. Outside, it looks like a white turnip with green shoulders. Slice it open and you’ll find a magenta centre as pretty as stained glass. So gorgeous it doesn’t even have to taste good, the watermelon radish is sweet, delicious and gets milder as it matures. An Asian classic for centuries, it’s spectacular as an appetiser, garnish or sliced in salads and can be stir-fried. Before foodies discovered it, the watermelon radish was a well-kept secret. It is a cool weather vegetable, will mature in 29 days, but can stay in the ground a long time without becoming woody. Its flowers are edible, too. Plant seeds in early spring or autumn. Buy seeds at: goo.gl/WspGKr
Radishes are almost too easy to grow. They sprout in a few days and are ready to harvest in 3 weeks. Perfect inspiration for kid gardeners (even if they don’t eat them). This is a colourful mix that will please everyone. You can scatter them most anywhere in your garden, between flowers, in the veggie bed, in a container. They prefer cool weather, thrive in any decent soil with some sunshine, are perfect for your spring or autumn garden. Radishes are tasty, nutritious, pretty in a salad, and entertaining for kids. Let them do the planting and harvesting. Who knows? They might just eat one.
Buy seeds at: goo.gl/CnZuQC