Home & Garden

Going exotic in summer vegetable garden

Just because the tomatoes stopped producing and the cilantro went to seed long ago doesn’t mean we can’t grow edibles in the summer in South Florida. In fact, there’s lots we can grow in the dead of summer. The key is looking to parts of the world with similar climates — very hot, humid and rainy summers. Surely some edible plants have evolved to live in such conditions.

Of course, many have, says Todd Walton, Fairchild’s Edible Garden and Fruit Pavilion manager. Quite a few plants that are suited to growing right through all that our summer can throw at them will yield excellent fruit and vegetables. Here are some of his suggestions for successful summer veggie gardening:

Seminole pumpkin Cucurbita moschata
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Everglades tomato Solanum pimpinellifolium
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Now for the more exotic approach: Many of these plants may be new to you — most are new to me — but they are currently growing beautifully in Fairchild’s Edible Garden.

Okinawa spinach Gynura bicolor

Katuk Sauropus androgynous

Shiso Perilla frutescens

Cranberry hibiscus
Hibiscus acetosella

Sissoo spinach Alternanthera sissoo

Cuban oregano Plectranthus amboinicus Plectranthus

Some other summer plants Walton recommends include just about any mint, for example peppermint ( Mentha × piperita), chocolate mint ( Mentha × piperita f. citrata ‘Chocolate’) or spearmint ( Mentha spicata); herbs like rosemary ( Rosmarinus officinalis) and Thai basil ( Ocimum basilicum); root vegetables ginger ( Zingiber officinale) and turmeric ( Curcuma longa); various perennial varieties of habaneros and cayenne peppers; and okra ( Abelmoschus esculentus), particularly a cultivar called “burgundy,” which he notes is “red and rich in antioxidants.”

Or you can get ambitious and grow moringa ( Moringa oleifera), which Walton notes is one of the world’s most nutrient-dense plants and can “be grown as a big tree [or] also be grown as an annual, and leaves can be harvested in just 45 days.”

Clearly it is time to unlearn the temperate version of summer gardens. We need to look to the tropics, and forget some of what we may have brought from the north. Visit the Edible Garden at Fairchild, where you can visit many of these plants and talk to our staff about growing them for yourself.

Kenneth Setzer is writer and editor at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

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