August has a way of revealing what is truly successful in my Virginia garden. If the plant can make it through this hot, humid summer, it is a winner in my book. Here are my winners for edibles this summer (click here for my previous article on successful flowers).
Prettiest Vegetable in the Garden
This year, the Burpee Confetti pepper wins the award for prettiest vegetable in my garden. The white and green foliage make this sweet pepper stand out as an ornamental. My plants are about 2 feet high and do not need staking. Although my plants are in the ground, I would recommend Confetti as a container plant because the foliage is so ornamental and the peppers are small enough but colorful. The 2-inch peppers change from green to cream to red. Combined with other edibles and annuals, Confetti could serve as the “thriller” in a container on the deck. Confetti is a snacking pepper, I can eat the entire pepper or slice it for the skillet. Try Confetti next year, you will be surprised at how well it grows and how good it looks and taste.
Most Prolific Vegetable in the Garden
I always grow a variety of tomatoes and this year Burpee’s Shimmer wins the award for most prolific tomato plant. Shimmer is an almond-shaped tomato with streaks of green, only about 1 1/2 inches long and 1-inch wide. Shimmer is a plum tomato, a type of paste tomato that is “meaty.” This particular cultivar is sweet too. In my family, we eat them as snacks–you can pop the entire tomato in your mouth–or cut up in green salads. My plants are about 4 feet tall and staked. They produce so much fruit I have to give them away to friends and colleagues. According to the Burpee website, one plant produces 300 to 350 fruit in a season and I believe it! The fruit are in clusters like grapes so it is easier to cut the cluster off, eat the ripe ones and let the unripe ones mature indoors.
Best New Introduction in the Garden
Another prolific plant this year has been the new Proven Winners Amazel basil. Amazel has two features: it is resistant to downy mildew and it is seed sterile. Downy mildew is a fungal disease that destroys the sweet basil plants, making them inedible. There is no cure and once infected the plant has to be removed and destroyed. My plant is quite large, about 2 feet tall and a foot wide. My other sweet basils are small but I have already cut them back for pesto. I have used some leaves in the kitchen but I have not cut the Amazel back yet because I wanted to see how it would perform during these hot, humid days. This is mid-August and I have not detected any disease.
Unlike other basils which have the sole purpose of flowering and setting seed to ensure survival of the species, Amazel is seed sterile so it does not put its energy into flowering and setting seed. This results in more leaves for a longer time. It actually can flower but will still keep on producing tasty leaves. I highly recommend this basil for both flavor and appearance. The plant is actually quite lush and could be effective as a “thriller” in a large container, surrounded by other herbs or edible flowers.
Most Unusual Edible in the Garden
A few years ago I tried growing roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa). The plant grew well in large containers but did not flower until very late in the season. Because it bloomed late, only a few of the red fat calyxes could be harvested and then, as a tender perennial, it died in the winter. The plant is about 3 to 4 feet tall and the yellow flowers are about 3-inches wide and look like okra flowers. After the flowers mature, they become enveloped by a large, red, fleshy calyxes. This is ornamental in itself but they are harvested for making tea (the prime ingredient in Red Zinger), jams, jellies, and candy.
This summer, I planted a variety called Thai Red from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. What a difference! These plants bloom much earlier, in the beginning of the summer, resulting in many calyxes. Now, mid-August, I have so many I have to start harvesting and drying them. I use them to make an herbal tea. I have read that they serve as a cranberry substitute so this year I will try using them in scones. Using the Thai Red variety really makes a difference. The plant is not common but it is easy to grow from seed. Next spring, purchase a pack of seed from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and grow it like a hibiscus plant, full sun, rich soil, plenty of water. Roselle is a great ornamental herb that stands out in a large container or can be grown in the ground.