12 Unusual Plants to Grow this Summer

Sometimes, complacency can be comforting – many are consoled by the knowledge that each day is going to be pretty much the same, like a nondescript attaché that can be bought at most department stores.

But some of us crave the fancier things in life, whether it be lavishly bizarre or downright decadent.  

Lesser-known vegetables usually remain within purview of indie restaurants and are seldom available to the public. But for the enterprising gardener, many of these vegetables can be grown at home, preferably in raised garden beds. This season, try growing those interesting and unusual vegetables for an exotic twist to your cuisine. 

1. Scarlet Runner Beans  

In the US, scarlet runner beans are commonly grown as ornamentals, but in the UK, their brightly colored pods are considered edible. Prized for their crimson blooms and magical, swirly purple pods that can be substituted for currency in another realm, scarlet runner beans easily transform barren spots into eye-catching displays of color. They’re fast growing, so it’s recommended that you contain their rambunctious vines with a trellis. If you’re growing runner beans as a food crop, look for varieties that are listed as vegetables, as the produce will likely be greater.  

2. Dragon Fruit  

Dragon fruit’s status as a superfood, as well as its Instagrammable appearance, make it one of the ‘new-age’ fruits that flourish in the age of the iPhone. Now, ambitious gardeners can grow this fruit, which is actually a cactus, in their own garden with the help of Vego’s Dragon Fruit planter. A one-of-a-kind system, its interlocking wheels make it easy to relocate plants while its wicking cells ensure that your dragon fruit will never dry out.  

3. Indigo Rose Tomatoes  

Get an extra boost of anthocyanins with the indigo rose tomato, whose pigmented, dark flesh would be perfect for a goth garden. When they first mature, the fruit is an intense shade of purple-black – the color of supervillainy – but then lighten to a deep mahogany as they ripen. Bred to withstand drought, indigo rose tomatoes still benefit from an organic layer of mulch and regular watering. Tomatoes are ready to harvest when the underside turns red and are soft to the touch (squeeze gently). 

4. Egyptian Walking Onions  

Sometimes the best course of action is to keep walking. The Egyptian walking onion, which does not have this option, compensates by growing gnarled stalks that resemble Medusa’s serpents. A hardy perennial, they produce small, shallot-like bulbs (called bulbils) with a spicy, onion flavor. The stalks can be eaten as well and are often diced like green onions. Plant in summer or fall, before the first frost. The bulbs that are left on the stalks have a tendency to ‘wander’ – dropping to the ground and thus propagating its spread.  

5. Watermelon Radishes         

Watermelon radishes are an heirloom cultivar of Chinese daikon radishes. Sow seeds in late summer or early fall, when the heats start to wind down. Unlike the plain white daikon or the usual ratty radishes, they retain a cutesy appearance that is evident in their watermelon-colored flesh and stout, rotund bodies. 

6. Quick Snack Cucumbers      

Are you one of those people who enjoy relaxing walks to the fridge? Quick snack cucumbers are designed for those who enjoy life in the slow lane. True to its name, Kitchen Minis™ Quick Snack Cucumber seedlings can be grown in the comfort of your home, ensuring tasty, bite-sized cucumbers within a matter of weeks. Even though they’re compact, they’ll still benefit from some sort of trellising.   

7. Peruvian Purple Potatoes         

Hailing from the Andean Mountain Highlands, this fingerling variety of potato is sure to garner attention at any dinner party. What sets Peruvian purple potatoes apart is their intense purple flesh, a startling indigo that resembles grape jelly amethyst geodes. Like normal potatoes, their application is far-flung: boiling, mashing, and frying it will all lead to delicious results.   

8. Glass Gem Corn 

The translucent kernels of the glass gem corn resemble beautiful Japanese seed beads, though their provenance is far more local – they were cultivated in the 80s by a part-Cherokee farmer. Plant them in the ground once soil temperatures are least 65°F (mid-May to mid-June). Though they may look like Jelly beans, they are designed to be popped and taste like regular popcorn.  

9. Kohlrabi   

Kohlrabi is one of those vegetables that gardeners either hate with a passion or embrace wholeheartedly. At any rate, its stigma as a poverty food can make some epicureans reluctant to try it, but its relatively compact appearance and easy care requirements makes it redeemable in certain vegetable patches. Its taste is akin to broccoli stems, but with a sweeter, more peppery profile. A fast-growing vegetable, it can be sown periodically for multiple harvests. 

10. Patisson Golden Marbre Scallop Squash 

This unique summer squash takes on the French tradition of long, flamboyant titles and a tendency towards whimsy. Its bright yellow fruit, shaped like yellow saucers, are ideal for squash bowls. It produces a productive yield and can double as a winter squash. With its sweet, tender flesh and signature scallop appearance, it’s sure to bring joy to the garden and beyond. 

11. Saffron Crocus  

It seems surprising that a spice so coveted in the Near East comes from the Christic crocus, a flower that has long been associated with Easter. But it’s true – the luxurious spice is derived from the autumn crocus, or Crocus sativus. While it’s unlikely you’ll obtain enough saffron yields to cultivate it commercially, it can be a fun challenge to try. Make sure to obtain saffron bulbs from a reputable company (winter-blooming varieties are toxic).     

12. Kumquat   

The kumquat is a funky sounding type of citrus that is native to China. Kumquat is typically grown in zones 8 – 10, though they can be grown in planters that can be rolled inside in cooler climates. Possessing a sweet, tangy taste that will refresh your taste buds, they are typically used in desserts: Asian teas, marmalades, and condiments. 


  • Carole Diehl

    How do I get the cage on my tomato planter to stay together once the weight of the plant gets heavy! Have been trying for quite awhile to get it stabilized but it won’t support anything and when I get one side together the other side pops out. Almost tempted to glue it together but then I will need to replace it next year! Very unhappy with this expensive setup!!

  • C L LEE

    Good article

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