|Armenian cucumber at Monticello|
|West India Gherkin at Monticello|
Another reason for trying new plants has to do with the principal purpose of our demonstration garden, all of it and not just the vegetable part: to show what plants grow well in Maryland, specifically in Montgomery County, and to teach visitors something about how to grow them and why. You can visit our garden to learn why native plants work well in your landscape, why it's important to attract pollinators, and which vegetables will be most likely to survive stresses and make it to your kitchen. Some of the "exotics" are prime examples of what does well here, including a lot of tropical perennials that prosper as annuals in our nearly tropical summers. Malabar spinach is one of these.
As our climate changes, with warmer temperatures and more extreme weather events such as droughts and heavy rains, we're going to need to be flexible about what we grow in our gardens (and I think more of us are going to be depending in part on growing our own food). The plants and varieties that have been tried-and-true, the ones our grandparents grew, may continue to be reliable or they may fail to produce as well as they once did. In the demo garden and at home, I'm going to continue to experiment and stretch boundaries, to find out which new hybrids, which old heirlooms, which vegetables from the other side of the globe do the best and produce the most reliable, nutritious and delicious food. I'll make mistakes (okay, pepino melons just do not grow to maturity here, though I'll try again in ten years or so) but with the help of lots of other people I'll make some discoveries and pass them on.
There are other reasons to grow certain food plants. I am all for the idea of making food gardens pretty so we can enjoy them and might be allowed to put them in our front yards, and the larger a palette that we have to design from the better. Some vegetables appeal more to children and may help them toward healthier diets. Sometimes you don't want a multicultural garden; you want a garden that expresses pride in one heritage or culture: depth rather than breadth. And of course small gardens force some choices, and make growers want to stick to what they know will work. But unless you have a specific reason to limit what you grow - why not try something you haven't grown before? It might turn into your new tried-and-true!