Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Must-Have Plants (Jean Ann Van Krevelen, Lisa Gustavson, Mike Lieberman)

Photo by Elaphurus on Flickr
It's harvest time! So, this segment of "must-have" plants spotlights delicious and delightful edibles of all types. These three clever gardeners, from across the nation, show you how beautiful fresh food can be ... and how you can grow vegetables, herbs and fruit in even the smallest urban spaces.

Jean Ann Van Krevelen is a big fan of fresh foods from her Portland, Oregon (Zone 8) garden. She was the main author of Grocery Gardening: Planting, Preparing and Preserving Fresh Foods, which I also co-authored. She also co-hosts the funny and popular Good Enough Gardening podcast with Amanda Thomsen on iTunes. Somehow she finds time to be social media director at Cool Springs Press. Find Jean Ann on Twitter @JeanAnnVK. Or, at her blog Gardener to Farmer.

Jean Ann likes her edibles to not only taste good, but look lovely as well. Perfect example? The purple tomatillos at the top of this post.

"I just love purple tomatillos," says Jean Ann. "In addition to being absolutely gorgeous, they produce in cooler weather than tomatoes. Their crisp, clean, slightly sour taste is ideal for fresh dishes like salads and salsas. Cook them down into a sauce and use them in Mexican or Asian dishes."

Photo by beautifulcataya on Flickr
Another favorite is 'Peacock' broccoli. "It's twice the bang for the buck," explains Jean Ann. "You can eat the little broccoli florets and the leaves. This broccoli is tender and small, so it doesn't need much cooking. Try it in salads, stir fries and grilled dishes. The leaves can be used as kale and incorporated into almost any dish. They will be a bit more tough, so blanch the leaves or saute them."

For more than 16 years, Lisa Gustavson has enjoyed spending time in the garden. In Western New York State (Zone 5b), she grows lots of unusual vegetables and fruits, mixed with flowers, throughout her charming half-acre property. Lisa is known by gardeners nationwide for her popular blog Get In The Garden. Or on Twitter at @GetInTheGarden.

Photo by Lisa Gustavson
As a young girl, Liza never particularly cared much for pumpkin pie. But now she simply loves the pie made with winter squash like this gorgeous heirloom 'Galeux d' eysines' (shown above). The beauty of this healthy vegetable is a big plus.

"The squash's sweet flavor may have won me over," she recalls. "But it was the plant's long, rambling vines and huge orange blossoms that hooked me on growing them. The sight of such a large plant unfurling from one seed is just amazing to me."

Photo by Lisa Gustavson
Fresh beans have meant "summer" to Lisa since she was a little girl. "Back then, the beans were from a local farm market," she remembers. "Now as an adult I plant different heirloom beans to eat fresh and can. I also plant varieties for drying for winter soups and stews. They're easy to grow and the beans are just beautiful."

Shown above are her stylishly spotted 'Rattlesnake' beans, green 'Vermont Cranberry' beans and purple 'Trionfo Violetto' beans. These beautiful beans elevate a simple meal into a gourmet experience.

Who says you can't grow food in small places? Mike Lieberman has grown food on a tiny fire escape in New York City (Zone 6), and a small balcony in sunny Los Angeles (Zone 10). Regardless of the size of his garden, he always eats well. Known to thousands on Twitter as @CanarsieBK, this active blogger, social media consultant and writer "walks the talk" when it comes to green living. You can learn more at

Have a small garden yourself? Michael recommends vegetables, fruits and herbs with a high yield. Here are some of his must-have plants for urban living.

Photo by Mike Lieberman
"A container filled with lettuces will make it to your plate quickly," explains Mike. "Plus, this plant will provide for you for many months. Growing your own lettuces helps to cut your food bills, because you'll have plenty of fresh homegrown greens to enjoy." 

The above picture shows different leaf lettuces alongside a pot of thyme as well as 'Jimmy Nardello's Sweet Italian' and 'Chili Rellenos' pepper plants on a New York City fire escape. More on lettuces.

Photo by Mike Lieberman
Herbs are a terrific food value, according to Michael. "It doesn't matter what herb you grow as long as it is one you are going to use," he says. "When you go to the store, you have to buy a bunch for 2 to 3 dollars, even when you only need a sprig. The rest winds up going to waste. Grow your own herbs, and you can harvest them as you need them. They'll last much longer too."

Mike's apple mint (left) and greek oregano (right) are growing alongside tomatoes and rosemary in the above picture. It's a perfect example of how delicious seasonings will survive growing conditions in one of the world's most urban environments.

My favorites? Over the months, you've read plant choices from some of the nation's most well-known garden writers, designers and bloggers. You may even be wondering which plants I personally can't live without. Tune in next week to find out ... when I reveal some of my favorite plants of summer 2010, complete with lots of photos. Meanwhile, don't miss these other plant picks.


  1. I definitely agree with Mike that you'll get a long of bang for your buck with salad greens and herbs. Both are easy to grow in containers and way over priced at the supermarket.

  2. Absolutely, Fern. Plus, many herbs are drought tolerant and thrive in difficult situations. And salad greens can grow just about anywhere. Thanks for stopping by. Teresa

  3. Thanks for asking some fabulous Gardeners - because I am adding all these favorites to my list of MUST HAVE next year.
    Pumpkins are not an easy veggie for me to grow in Ohio. Now I know who to ask for growing information : @getinthegarden .

  4. Seasonal Wisdom what a truly wonderful blog post. Bringing three dedicated gardeners together to share their love and passion for #FreshFood with all of us. Jean Ann, Lisa and Mike Thank you for sharing : ) Annie

  5. Bren and Annie: Thanks for your nice words, especially from such wonderful gardeners as yourselves. This "must-have" series was a lot of fun this summer. It's always a treat to see what others are growing. Enjoy the start to your fall, and thanks for stopping by. Teresa