A new decade, a new season, a new garden. We have come to the time of year when vegetable gardeners’ hopes run highest, our dreams often enhanced by the promise of new varieties. The right new varieties can give you an edge against diseases, short seasons or limited space, plus it’s fun to grow things that are simply different. Here are a dozen new possibilities...
Beans for Bees
Beans have gotten a boost from increased interest in bee conservation, and many gardeners grow runner beans for their flowers alone. The dwarf peach-and-white ‘Hestia’ runner bean (main image at top of page) can be grown in containers, and blooms for weeks if the young pods are kept picked. You might want to make two plantings, a few weeks apart, to keep the show going all summer.
I’m hooked on petite French filet beans, which are delicious fresh, frozen or pickled, and compact dwarf varieties are easy to protect from deer. Several excellent varieties are available with green pods (‘Crockett’, ‘Mascotte’ ) or purple ones (‘Velour’), and now there is ‘Borsolino’ (inset at top of page a disease resistant yellow dwarf filet to bring buttery colour to this year’s harvest.
Easy to Grow Baby Broccoli
Broccoli has gotten smaller in recent years, with more gardeners discovering easy-to-grow baby broccoli, also called broccolini or tenderstem broccoli. The long, thin spears of varieties like ‘Inspiration’ (UK) or ‘Aspabroc’ (US) keep coming for weeks, and the plants’ open growth habits provide far fewer places for caterpillars to hide.
Ornamental Lettuce Varieties
Lettuce varieties called French crisp or Batavian types give home gardeners their best shot at crisp heads, so they are tremendously rewarding to grow. The red-tipped leaves of ‘Canasta’ and ‘Relay’ make the plants top choices to use as edible ornamentals, suitable for growing in spring and autumn.
Basil has been under siege worldwide from new strains of downy mildew, first identified in 2011, which covers leaf undersides with grayish fuzz. Last year, all of my basil battled downy mildew, and only dark-leaved ‘Red Rubin’ and vegetatively-propagated ‘Amazel’ survived. To avoid a repeat of this herbal horror, I’m looking at ‘Prospera’, a seed-sown Genovese basil with high resistance to downy mildew and fusarium wilt.
Disease Resistant Pumpkins and Squashes
Summer squash used to be a carefree crop in my garden, but for the last two years powdery mildew has been a terrible problem. To gain the upper hand, I’ve decided to set aside my heritage varieties for a couple of years and grow disease-resistant hybrids instead. Among courgettes, compact ‘Astia’ is often successful grown in containers, or I might try ‘Mexicana’, a smaller-fruited courgette known for its flavour and top tier disease resistance.
With winter squash and pumpkins, I like varieties of Cucurbita moschata because they are resistant to squash vine borers (a troublesome pest in the US), but they do get powdery mildew. As a temporary replacement for my beloved but susceptible Long Island Cheese Pumpkins, I’m betting on ‘Autumn Frost’ to help with my powdery mildew problem.
My tomatoes are always a mix of heritage and hybrid varieties, and it’s great to see the indomitable ‘Green Zebra’ open-pollinated variety being offered by more seed companies everywhere. Striped Roma types are coming on strong, too, represented by little ‘Shimmer’ (UK) and ‘Red Torch’, which won an All-America Selections award in 2019.
Late blight has not visited my tomatoes for several years, but I always prepare for it by growing at least one variety with strong late blight resistance. Some have come up short on flavour, but I’m optimistic about ‘Mountain Rouge’, which was created by crossing ‘Pink Brandywine’ with a disease-resistant parent developed at North Carolina State University.
I’m out of room and never even mentioned peppers or potatoes, but you get the idea. Whether it’s a colourful carrot or peppery rocket, grow a few new-to-you varieties offered by your favourite seed companies this year. The best gardens are lavishly laced with the thrill of discovery.