Gardens Grow More Colorful
Yellow beets and blue potatoes sprout beside `heirloom' plants and gourmet herbs. PLOTS THICKEN
THE greening of America is changing into a flowering of many colors - especially in the vegetable patch. Beets are not necessarily red. Carrots are often white rather than orange. Gardeners are swapping seeds for such unusual foods as British telegraph cucumbers, pac choi, Mizuna mustard, and Romanesco broccoli.Skip to next paragraph
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Even as it gets more upscale, the process of growing things is becoming demystified. Almost anyone can grow arugula or basil in a flower pot. Today's hybrid seeds germinate quickly, and premixed soil comes in handy plastic bags.
This year, 29 million households have home vegetable gardens, and the number is increasing, says Charles Scott, president of the National Gardening Association in Burlington, Vt. The reasons he sees: concern over chemicals and pesticides in commercial farming. People are also growing their own food for taste and freshness and to obtain special varieties not available in local markets. Cost, on the other hand, is not a big factor.
``The swing in home vegetable growing seems to be away from the common garden-variety,'' says Steve Frowhine, a horticulturist with W. Atlee Burpee & Co. in Warminster, Penn. ``The trend is for specialty and gourmet vegetables and fruits,'' he says.
Joan Murphy, a local gardener, is growing yellow raspberries, bright red Swiss chard, and yellow beets in her community plot in the Fenway gardens here.
``Colors give you a variety of serving,'' she explains. ``Yellow beets, for example, can be garnished with parsley, and may taste the same, but the green parsley looks prettier than on red beets.''
Pearl Franks, another Fenway gardener, grows white cucumbers to mix with her red onions for pickles she'll make in the fall.
Blue potatoes, red lettuces, and garnet and white radicchio are popular, as are white eggplant, red okra, Asian pears, purple beans, purple broccoli, and white strawberries.
Supermarkets, farmers' markets, and specialty stores offer some of these new foods, but this year's figures show that much of today's fresh produce comes from the small garden plots of the United States.
The American Community Gardening Association estimates that 90,000 acres of urban land are cultivated by community food gardeners throughout the nation.
In Seattle, the P-Patch Gardening Program is the biggest all-organic community program in the country. Some 25,000 Seattle residents grow at least $200,000 worth of organic produce in 23 gardens.
Of all vegetables, salad greens are the most popular, according to Renee Shepherd of Felton, Calif. Ms. Shepherd owns a mail-order firm that sells seeds from Italy, France, and Holland.
``More people are into salad gardens than anything else,'' she says. Her customers are growing lettuces of unusual colors and textures - radicchio, arugula, sorrel, red romaine, red oakleaf, and red mustard greens are some of the choices. ``The flavors are exciting and different,'' says Shepherd.
``The range of tastes of the American palate has become wider and more sophisticated as people discriminate between the slightly sharp and subtly bitter flavors of dandelion, arugula, sorrel, and rapini,'' she adds.