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A gardener planting seeds in his kitchen garden.

Create an unusual edible garden with these five vegetables

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With summer luring us into our gardens, why not use your green fingers to create a kitchen garden? We discover delicious plants that don’t require much fuss and add great flavour to dishes.

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, sales of seeds and compost reportedly soared by some 250%, not only due to people having been cooped up at home and looking for new interests, but also because growing fresh food in your garden encourages a healthier diet and ensures you know exactly what you’re eating — plus, it can save you money.

Once you’ve found your plot or got your hands on some pots that make great planting vessels, the next question is what you should grow, other than the ubiquitous tomato plant and the scraggly left-over basil from the supermarket?

Two hands digging up the soil in a kitchen garden.
Photo by Sandie Clarke

Paul Nicolaides, managing director of Ecospaces, a sustainable landscaping company, says: “Conventional annual crops are very labour intensive and use up a lot of fossil fuels. Hence the crops I suggest are either a perennial or a tree. These need little care and once planted will keep producing food for many years.”

Here are five of his favourite plants to grow in your edible garden.

How to plant Sorrel

This is a hybrid of a herb and a vegetable, from the Polygonaceae or knotweed family, whose cousins are buckwheat and rhubarb. Sorrel is a vigorous perennial plant native to Europe, but also well-known in Vietnamese cuisine. It has large, attractive leaves, which can be chopped up for marinades or salad dressings, or just torn to be added to stir-fries, adding a little pizzazz with its slightly tart and fresh flavour. “The leaves have a bit of a lemony taste and are great in salads,” Paul adds.

Add a Linden tree to your garden

If you have enough space, then planting a tree is a good idea as it’s not only good for the planet, but it’s a great feature in any garden. The Linden tree’s heart-shaped young leaves are famously edible and perfect for salads. The Linden tree, genus Tilia, has long been known for its medicinal uses, and the flowers are loved by bees, hence the tree’s alternative moniker, honey tree. But the flowers are also edible for humans and can be sprinkled on salads, adding a sweet flavour, or dried to use for a relaxing tea, such as chamomile.

How to grow Mashua

This plant (Tropaeolum tuberosum) has pretty orange flowers and grows a small potato-like crop underground. The stubby little tubers are tasty, with a hint of aniseed and pepper, but you can increase their sweetness by freezing them after cooking and reheating them. Mashua doesn’t need much attention, but likes long hours of daylight.

A Cardoon - the artichoke thistle - blooming in a pot.
Cardoon. Photo by Brittney Strange
Create Indian-inspired dishes with Cardoon

Known in Latin as Cynara cardunculus, Cardoon is also called the artichoke thistle. The fleshy stems can be cooked in a variety of ways and are popular in Italian cuisine. But these do take a bit of preparation in the kitchen. Once the tough ridges of the stems are peeled off and the stems soaked, they can be fried in batter and sprinkled with parmesan. Alternatively, eat them raw (after soaking) dipped in anchovy sauce.

Enjoy Turkish rocket in salads

This is a robust, hardy perennial called Bunias orientalis, which has young sprouting florets that can be used like purple-sprouting broccoli. The stems are prepared like asparagus and edible all year round. Its a vibrant green color and its mid-season flowers are beautiful. This plant is easy to grow and extremely versatile, with plenty of recipes it can be used in. Turkish rocket is also known to be one of the most disease, pest and stress resistant plants. However it can be hard to remove from a plot, so it would be worth thinking about it before planting.

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