LANSING, New York—During these cold, gray days, I like to think of my colorful enclosed garden containing the most brilliant orange, yellow, and scarlet flowers I can raise from seed or buy from nurseries. Reflecting back on last summer’s star performers, I realized that my garden provided more surprises than usual. Some amaranths, for example, members of a genus that I had always disliked, became one of my favorite additions.
Amaranthus caudatus ‘Hopi Red Dye’ is a stunning upright plant with smooth burgundy leaves and many tall, tapered spikes of dark red plumes. It’s true that these inflorescences, consisting of billions of fuzzy little blossoms, are reminiscent of chenille, but what beautiful plants they are! They make all the flaming flowers around them look like the components of a stained-glass window.
No less surprising, I became an enthusiastic grower and consumer of arugula. Not much for looks, it resembles a wispy dandelion, but it does have a distinctive flavor that’s hard to capture with words. The leaves taste rich, almost meaty, and somewhat piquant, although not as hot as a red pepper. I put a few arugula leaves on salads, omelettes, or pizzas. They are also especially good on sliced tomatoes drizzled in olive oil and perilla vinegar, which I make by stuffing a jar with perilla leaves and pouring Japanese rice vinegar over them.
My arugula—also called rocket or roquette—is most likely Eruca vesicaria. Its leaves are long, slender, and deeply incised, almost fernlike, and the small, sweet-tasting flowers are a delicate yellow-white.
Like many other gardeners, I’m enjoying going over the new garden books and plant and seed catalogs as the wintry winds blow around the house. I can hardly wait to see what surprises my garden holds in store for me next year.