Whether you want to start a garden homage to Prince or revel in one of the hottest landscape and floral shades going, think purple when picking plants this season. And don't despair that the days of growing cool-weather purple crops such as cabbage, lettuces and kohlrabi have passed. The trend is still going strong.
Plus, there are plenty of other solid choices — most of them heat-hearty and ready for planting, and a few you can even grow in containers. Best of all, you can enjoy the royal color in your garden or use them to add groovy hues to your dinner plate, indoor centerpieces or flower arrangements. Here are four fine choices to get you started. Peace out with purple, people!
Where to find: The plants are a bit cantankerous and grow from seed, so it's best to pick up plant varieties, including Little Fingers, from local Pike Nursery Outlets or Black Beauty. You can find other full-size eggplants from home stores, nurseries, or even hardware stores. The Asian varieties, like Ichiban, with their slender fruit, are probably best for those new to eggplant growing, since they produce more quickly, says Alpharetta Pike Nurser assistant manager Christine Flood. They're also small enough for large containers.
Growing tips: 50-80 days
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Keep in mind that they are nightshades, which means they need lots of rich soil to produce. Additionally, Flood says, "Bugs love 'em." While flea beetles primarily do cosmetic damage, you may need an organic spray containing pyrethin or neem oil to control others.
What to do with the produce: Gone are the days of salting and draining slices of eggplant at great length. Most current varieties have the bitterness bred out, so think stir fries, quick simmer sauces, and even pickles and veggie fritters.
2. Purple beans
Where to find: Beans are strictly a direct-sow crop, and not many local outlets sell the seeds. You may be lucky enough to pick up a Ferry Morse packet of Royal Burgundy seeds at a home store. However, turn to heirloom or regional seed catalogs for lots of picks. One that's perfect for taste is the Seed Savers Exchange's Purple Royalty Pod bush bean seed. Bred at the University of New Hampshire, its origin dates back to the 1950s, and it produces bright purple, string-less pods. It also has purple foliage and flowers.
Growing tips: 55 days
Purple bush beans are best for newbie gardeners and edible landscaping. Unlike the pole varieties, they won't need staking and take less time to produce. The nice thing about growing beans in general is that they don't require super rich soil. To maximize your harvest, plant seeds every two weeks up until about early August, and pick the beans when they are under 5 inches.
If you're mostly into their gorgeous purple foliage and blooms, it's a great idea to simply grow a few of the bush beans in containers with nasturtiums or marigolds.
What to do with the produce: Eat the most slender pods raw. For cooking, steam, stir fry, blanch and freeze like any other bean. One thing that's wild, though: most purple pod beans turn green when cooked.
3. Purple tomatillos
Where to find: It's a bit late in the season to start these Mexican tomato kin from seed (it takes about 4 weeks), but that's only one option. Pick up plants from local nurseries including Farmer D Organics. The leaves should be tinged with purple.
Growing tips: 70-90 days
This is a fast-growing plant that will grow well in poorer soils and thrive in rich, well-drained soil. It also needs cages. Pick the fruit when its husks fill out, dry and split.
Alabama-based Bonnie Plants, which supplies tomatillos to big box home stores and some hardware stores locally, provides these tips with its online and store reference growing instructions: "You will need two or more tomatillo plants for the blooms to be pollinated and fruit to be produced. You can set plants deep like you would a tomato, burying nearly 2/3 of the plant. Be sure to store tomatillos in their husks for 2 to 3 weeks in a paper bag in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator. Tomatillos can be frozen by peeling the husk, rinsing and drying the fruit, and placing them whole in freezer bags. Double bagging is a good idea to prevent freezer burn."
What to do with the produce: Larger and sweeter than green types, purple tomatillos are great cooked in salsas, sauces and even mini faux versions of fried green (er, better make that fried purple) tomatoes.
4. Purple bell peppers
Where to find them: Some Pike Nursery outlets have the plants, such as the popular Pepper Pinot Noir. You can also turn to the Seed Savers Exchange, Park Seed, or other online catalogs for seeds for a crop that will carry you into September.
Growing tips: 65-70 days
Keep in mind that bell peppers need neutral soil, so use potting soil for the containers or pre-packaged garden soil for garden plot plants, says Flood. As they grow and begin to produce blooms and young fruit, the plants require more nutrition, so consider digging a bit of mushroom or hen compost into the soil about 4 or 6 inches from the plant's base. And, be patient. "All bell peppers start out green. You have to leave the green peppers on the plant long enough for them to turn from green to red or orange, or, in this case, purple!"
What to do with the produce: Use these the same way you would any other bell pepper. And if you want to recall the purple days of summer in the winter, can a few jars of marinated purple pepper goodness.