Variegated Vegetables

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

Pepper ‘Tricolor Variegata’ late July and mid Oct 05

I think one of the reasons I took so long to catch on to growing vegetables is that the whole process seemed so serious. All those complicated crop-rotation plans, harvest-date calculations, and problem-solving charts seemed like way too much paperwork and worry. And let’s face it: When you’re used to growing ornamentals, most common vegetable plants aren’t all that much to look at. But if you’re willing to do some hunting, you can find some really outlandish-looking edibles, and it’s hard to take wildly variegated vegetables at all seriously.Hot peppers are a gold mine for gardeners seeking good-looking plants. Even the green-leaved ones can be pretty for their fruits, but the purple-leaved varieties are even showier, and the variegates are equally eye-catching. The photo at the top of this post shows ‘Tricolor Variegata’ (also sold as ‘Trifetti’), with green-, white-and-purple leaves and deep purple fruits that mature to bright red. Heirloom ‘Fish’, shown below, has somewhat larger green leaves splashed with varying amounts of white. Its larger green fruits are also striped with cream, gradually ripening to dark-striped orange and then to solid red. To be honest, I’ve never actually tried eating either of these, but I gather that the fruits of ‘Tricolor Variegata’ are quite hot, while those of ‘Fish’ are somewhat milder. Both are worth trying even just as ornamentals; they grow equally well in the garden and in containers. Underwood Gardens is one source that sells both ‘Tricolor Variegata’ and ‘Fish’.

Pepper ‘Fish’ mid August 05

Tomato ‘Variegata’ June 24 06And if you’re going to grow variegated peppers, then of course you must have variegated tomatoes as well. The foliage effect of ‘Variegata’ is evident from the seedling stage and stays quite showy until midsummer. The variegation then mostly disappears with hot weather but returns with the cooler temperatures of fall. I’ve tasted the relatively small fruits and wasn’t impressed with the flavor, though I’ve read that other gardeners think they’re great, so I’ll leave that for you to decide if you try growing it. I haven’t deliberately planted ‘Variegata’ for the last two years, but it keeps coming back from self-sown seed, so I let a few plants stay here and there, just because they’re so neat-looking. You can finally buy seeds of ‘Variegata’ through the Seed Savers Exchange.

Tomato ‘Variegata’ mid July and early August 05

Watermelon ‘Moon and Stars’ early Aug 05And for dessert? How about ‘Moon and Stars’ watermelon? Just look at that awesome yellow-speckled foliage! The fruits are dotted with yellow spots of varying sizes (hence the variety name), usually much more prominently than the one shown here. It’s getting easier to find the seed of generic ‘Moon and Stars’-type melons through mainstream seed sellers, and specialty suppliers offer several different strains, varying in the shape, size, and flesh color of the fruits. Seed Savers Exchange, for instance, offers Cherokee Strain, with pink-flesh, elongated fruits; Van Doren Strain, with pink-fleshed, oval fruits; and Yellow Fleshed, with (you guessed it) yellow-fleshed, white-seeded, elongated fruits. I don’t know what kind I was growing, since mine had small, round, pink-fleshed fruits, and so did the previous-year’s plants, from which they self-sowed. They were very tasty, whatever they were.

Watermelon ‘Moon and Stars’ leaf summer 05

If you’re interested in tracking down other eccentric edibles, you really can’t do better than to join the Seed Savers Exchange. Their retail catalog sells just a sampling of the amazing diversity offered through the Seed Savers Yearbook: 450 newsprint pages packed with well over 10,000 vegetable and fruit listings available from other SSE members. That’s how I originally found the variegated tomato, as well as two other agronomic gems: variegated barleys. Their markings don’t show up well in photos, unfortunately, but I can tell you that ‘Montcalm Mutant’ (below left) had yellow-banded young leaves, while ‘Variegata’ had white-edged foliage. They’re hardly show-stoppers, but the thrill of discovering their existence and acquiring the seed made them worth growing, for me, anyway. I encourage all of you adventurous gardeners to give SSE a try for at least one year, and see if you don’t find some treasures you’d enjoy for yourself.

Barley ‘Montcalm Mutant’ and ‘Variegata’ late June 05

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

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Lisa at Greenbow March 10, 2008, 6:53 pm

There is a moon and stars watermelon too that tastes pretty good and looks pretty. I am going to try some veggies this year. I have been known to say this often and it hasn’t happened yet but I think this year might be the year.

Yep, I’ve been there, Lisa. Start with veggies that look good, even if you don’t plan to pick them; besides the variegates, ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard, kales (especially ‘Redbor’), and lettuces (like ‘Merlot’) are some of my favorites. Add some variegated and purple-leaved herbs, and you have the fixings for a garden-fresh meal before you know it!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens March 10, 2008, 10:32 pm

You are tempting me with these variegated foliage vegetables. And I already have too much to plant in my vegetable garden!

Sorry, Carol! You *can* tuck these into ornamental beds and borders, but I know you don’t have much extra space there either.

Frances March 11, 2008, 4:34 am

Nan, thanks for giving us great info on new to us plants. Interesting veggies that are ornamental don’t have to be isolated in the short on space veggie garden, but can be used in our larger flower beds. Especially those peppers, Love the trifetti pepper, but won’t eat those very hot fruits!

Frances at Faire Garden

I too am a bit of a coward when it comes to those hot peppers, Frances! I don’t even bother picking the fruits for seed-saving; I just leave the plants in the garden through the winter, and they self-sow enough to produce a few new plants each year.

Elly Phillips March 11, 2008, 7:46 am

Great post, Nan!!! I’ve grown the peppers and ‘Moon and Stars’, but had no idea there was a variegated tomato, too! Guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds also offers both peppers and several cultivars of ‘Moon and Stars’. Guess I’ll have to bite the bullet and rejoin Seed Savers this year!

Thanks for reminding me about Baker Creek, Elly. I definitely need to add them to my list next year.

Elizabeth March 11, 2008, 2:59 pm

I’ve grown the Tri-fetti ornamental peppers for several years now- both in containers as well as in my vegetable and herb gardens. It never fails to receive compliments! It especially looks great paired with purple basil and strawberry gomphrena.

Welcome, Elizabeth! That sounds like a great combination idea – thanks!

Dave March 11, 2008, 7:46 pm

I’ll be trying the variegated ornamental peppers. In fact I already started the seeds. They should be interesting. I didn’t realize that there were variegated tomato plants.

Oh yes, I can see you appreciating that pepper, Dave. If my variegated tomatoes come up again this year, I’ll have to try the seed-saving process so I have some to share.

wiseacre March 11, 2008, 10:41 pm

The Trifetti is tempting. That extra splash of purple is all I needed to see. There’s always room for one more variety of pepper in my garden.

It’s even better in person, believe it or not. I’m sure you’d enjoy it!

Gail March 12, 2008, 11:54 am

Maybe it’s time to get on the vegetable cart and plant some. I saw a purple green bean that was beautiful…

Does anyone know of a blogger who is growing vegetables in containers?…I have sun on my driveway.


Hi Gail! Well, as much as I’ve whined about having bad luck with ornamental container plantings, I did have quite good results with growing potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, greens, beans, and radishes in pots last year. My inspiration was Edward Smith’s book Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers. He uses many of the containers from Gardener’s Supply Company but also includes instructions for retrofitting other kinds of pots to be self-watering. I particularly liked having the greens in pots, because they were much less prone to slug damage, and they didn’t get gritty from splashed-up soil.

Benjamin March 12, 2008, 1:06 pm

If I grew veggies, or if I do some day, I’d go this way. It’s a coincidence, in some ways, that I just read this review of someone’s book on this morning, and I post it here to share with everyone.

Foliage as flowers
“As a gardener who does rather than dreams, I am no fan of expensive photo books that deceive gardeners with pretty pictures of plants that can’t be grown in Minnesota. So I rolled my eyes when I picked up a glossy copy of “Foliage” by Nancy Ondra and Rob Cardillo (Storey Publishing, $24.95).

And then I opened it, and realized I was wrong.

While the book features gorgeous photography, it’s perhaps the most intelligent and comprehensive guide I’ve seen to plants that light up the garden with their leaves rather than their flowers. Smartly organized by leaf color and then subdivided by leaf shape, this is a great book for gardeners who want to add something unusual to their pots and gardens.”


Ack! I’m blushing. “Intelligent and comprehensive”? Who knew?

Kathy March 12, 2008, 2:29 pm

There’s a variegated horseradish out there, too, but I think you need to vegetatively propagate it. Horseradish has a reputation of sprouting from every bit of root left behind, so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

And then there’s ornamental corn . . .

Yes, lovely variegated corn! I tried the variegated horseradish once, but it never did get the markings. Apparently it’s supposed to take a few seasons, but I figured after five years, I was waiting in vain.

Curtis March 12, 2008, 5:51 pm

I never knew there were so many variegated veggies.

I’m sure there are more too, Curtis, and I hope to find them!

Kim March 12, 2008, 10:54 pm

I never realized that ‘Moon and Stars’ had such pretty foliage!

I have, however, used purple basil in place of purple coleus. And little shocks of chives in the same way you use the barley–which I adore. (Must find some of that!)

There are so many veggie plants that are just plain pretty without the light variegation, even. I love the dusky purple-green of ‘Ichiban’ eggplant, and okra plants–wow! Even the right color of cabbage can look amazing when used like rounded boxwood balls as edging….

Good point, Kim – once you can get your mind around the idea that some veggie plants are quite ornamental in their own right, it opens even more possibilities for exciting plantings. I love the idea of cabbage as a boxwood replacement; it certainly would smell better!

vance mayton September 1, 2008, 10:52 pm

hey there. was doing a google image search for moon and stars and wound up here. just harvested my first moon and stars watermelon and it is so tasty i ate an entire watermelon as i sliced it.

Good for you, Vance! I didn’t get any ‘Moon and Stars’ this year, and I really miss them. Glad to know you got to enjoy some!

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