Unique freaks: Oddball plants we plan to grow this year

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The experts here at Savvy Gardening love to grow unusual plants. Here’s a peek at some of the uniquely freaky plants we plan to include in our gardens.

Jessica says: I’m all about the freaky stuff in my garden, and there are few plants that fit in the “freaky” category as well as one known colloquially as “hairy balls.” Ascelpias physocarpa (aka Gomphocarpus physocarpus) is a member of the milkweed family, and it’s one weird plant. Also called goose plant, giant swan milkweed, balloon plant, and Oscar, this fast-growing annual is going to have a home in my garden for the first time this year.

Thriving in full sun to part shade, this milkweed is only hardy above zone 8. Here in my zone 6 garden, I will transplant the seedlings I’ve been growing indoors under lights out into the garden in a few weeks, after the danger of frost has passed. At maturity, the plant reaches 4 to 6 feet in height and bears sparse clusters of pendulous white and lavender flowers. After pollination, plump, lime-green hairy seed pods form. The species name of this plant is physocarpa which, in Greek, means “bladder fruit”. This milkweed, like many other members of this special family, is a favorite food source of monarch butterflies and their caterpillars. At the end of the season, I plan to collect my own seeds after the dried pods crack open so that I can grow this unique freak in my garden every year.

Ascelpias physocarpa

Ascelpias physocarpa

Tara says: Back in February, I took my winter-weary self to Niagara Seedy Saturday.  I bought a few seed packets from a couple of the tables, but when I got to the Anything Grows booth, I struck up a conversation with owners Alan Watts and Rick Weingarden, whom I’d only spoken with via Twitter. It’s always nice to finally meet social media friends in person! Anyway, as I was making my purchase, they gave me a packet of cucamelon seeds from Jamie Wong’s Homegrown Revolution line for Suttons Seeds to try.  That was the weirdest thing that I think I’m growing this year. But when we decided to do this post, Niki had mentioned she might chat about her Mexican sour gherkins. Then I realized cucamelons and these sour gherkins are one and the same. Luckily Niki is growing more than one oddball plant, so she agreed to “tradesies.”

I can’t wait to see how my cucamelons turn out – and how they taste! Apparently the fruit of these vigorous pest- and drought-resistant climbers look like grape-sized mini watermelons, but taste like cucumbers with a hint of sourness.

I'll admit these aren't my seedlings - they're Niki's. Mine are a bit smaller!

I’ll admit these aren’t my seedlings – they’re Niki’s. Mine are a bit smaller!

Niki says: Yes, I live in eastern Canada and yes, I am growing cotton. It’s not because I’m a glutton for punishment, but rather because it’s so much fun to experiment with unusual crops. So when I found myself perusing the seed racks in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange booth at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA last September, I ‘accidentally’ bought a packet of Erlene’s Green Cotton (Hello – GREEN cotton!)

Admittedly, cotton is a long season crop, needing about 130 days to reach maturity, but in my short season garden I will use a mini hoop tunnel to shelter the plants for a few additional weeks in autumn. I will also grow a few of the seedlings as container plants, bringing them indoors before the first frost and continuing to grow them as houseplants in a sunny window. With any luck, the butter yellow flowers will appear after about 45 days, followed by the bolls, about 90 days later. Fingers crossed!

A cotton seedling. The main image of this post is of a cotton flower!

A cotton seedling. The main image of this post is of a cotton flower!

What oddball plants are you growing?

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2 Responses to Unique freaks: Oddball plants we plan to grow this year

  1. Jai Roberts says:

    Castor been plants produce a lot of seeds. If you let it go to seed you may find a lot of these plants next year in your garden whether you want them or not. In the tropics we have to constantly cut them down or they will take over everything.

    • savvygardening says:

      Thanks for the tip Jai! It will be interesting to see if it re-seeds in zone 4B.. we’ll keep you posted!

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