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5 Summer Garden Musts

5 Summer Garden Musts
REAL SWEET POTATOES Text by Cait Etherton, Agricultural Director of the Green Heart Project / Photo Courtesy of Billie Jeremy Photography

Malabar Spinach.

People hem and haw about how it’s not really spinach and how the texture is a little too similar to okra. But at the end of the day, malabar is a visually beautiful addition to your garden. Basella rubra, the variety with the purple stem and green leaf is our favorite. Malabar vines well on a trellis which will save you some space. Both the baby and full-grown heart-shaped leaves are mild enough for salad. Malabar is packed with minerals and antioxidants, including more vitamin C than regular spinach. And it can handle every second of the South’s hot, sunny, humid, sometimes-a-flood, sometimes-a-drought Charleston summers.

Real Sweet Potatoes.

Ornamental sweet potato vines are all over town at this point in the year, flooding our public parks, window boxes, and porch flower containers. Why not grow the same exact plant with the sweet satisfaction that you’re cultivating potatoes in the bottom of the container? Edible sweet potato plants are a great, low maintenance summer crop that grows just as well as the ornamental variety, plus the leaves are edible! They are sweet and tender and can be prepared anyway you would normally cook spinach – in sautés, salad, soups, quiche, be creative!


Roselle is in the hibiscus family along with okra, cotton and cacao. It will add some nice height and vibrant color to your garden and has no need to be trellised. The flower buds can be harvested and used to make a tea rich in Vitamin C and the immature leaves make for a bright, slightly tart garnish on salads and sorbets. In order to prevent your plant from growing so tall and skinny that it falls over, it is best to prune the plant’s tip when it has reached roughly ten inches tall.

Cuban Oregano.

This watery, crunchy little herb has a bright, addictive oregano flavor and can be added to just about any meat or marinade. It prefers a bit of shade and is very easily propagated. Just snip off a piece of your existing plant, remove all but the top four leaves, stick the bare stem back into a new area of soil and Voila! You are now a professional Cuban oregano farmer.

Green beans.

Growing vegetables in the hot and humid summer can be a challenge in the Lowcountry. That is why many area small growers are leaning more towards newly introduced tropical, African and Asian varieties of vegetables that can handle the heat. But it’s important to remember to plant some tried and true, warm-weather Southern vegetables that are a little less of a stretch when you’re cooking on the go or looking for a quick snack that doesn’t involve steeping, boiling, or adding even more heat to the kitchen. Enter: beans.

There are so many fun varieties to choose from and they are a snap to plant and pick. Just make sure they have full sun and adequate water. And look out for those pesky Mexican bean beetles! You may think it’s a pretty, little, yellow ladybug, but this beetle can cause major damage to the leaves and sometimes fruit of your bean plants. Try planting rosemary nearby as a deterrent, or choose bush bean varieties over pole beans, as these have proven to be less susceptible. My favorite variety is “Blue Lake.” I like to leave my bean plants in the ground even after I’ve harvested all I want for the season and forget about them for a few weeks. This allows time for the unpicked bean pods to fully mature and dry out. Seeds from the pods can then be removed and either saved for the following year, or planted immediately in a new area of the garden for a fresh fall crop.

Photo Credit to Cait Etherton
Photo by Cait Etherton, Agricultural Director of the Green Heart Project

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