Seven unique plants in our community gardens
Western Washington is a gardener’s paradise. Our mild maritime climate, rich soil, and an extensive network of community gardens make growing edible plants relatively easy for the green-thumbed. Most of us stick to the predictable assortment of fruits and veggies. But there are some uniquely original outsiders edging in. Some are mossy old-timers local tribes have cultivated for centuries; others are fresh-faced newcomers brought here by horticultural pioneers. More recently, immigrants and refugees have been growing a cosmopolitan cornucopia. These are the upstarts, rebels, and future favorites of the Pacific Northwest garden.
Native peoples in the Pacific Northwest have used licorice fern as food and medicine forages, chewing its licorice-flavored root or brewing it as a tea to treat sore throats. As an epiphyte, or plant that feeds on other plants, its preferred growing spot is on the bigleaf maple and other mossy trees. But transplanting it into a bed of moss or plant debris will help it take root.
Evergreen huckleberry lives along the Pacific coast of North America, usually found hugging fallen logs. Its dark blue berries have long been sought out by tribal foragers for their refreshing sweetness. Gather enough and you will have the makings of a delicious jam or syrup.
Bok choy, napa cabbage, and mustard greens are loved by first-generation farmers and “superfood” fanatics alike. Bok choy and napa cabbage have a crunchy texture and slightly bitter flavor; mustard greens add a horseradish-like kick to Asian, African, and African American cuisines. The South Asian variety is the greens du jour at Namaste Community Garden in Tukwila, where a single planting yields up to three to four seasons of spicy, vitamin A- and K-packed goodness for immigrant and refugee families.
The hardy kiwi has been mounting a serious incursion into Northwest fruit territory. It’s the ideal snack for people who love kiwis but would prefer them bite-sized and ready to eat right off the vine. Hailing from eastern Asia, the vine’s diminutive grape-sized fruit resembles a cuter, sweeter kiwi. While it may seem exotic at first glance, the hardy kiwi loves our cool, rainy climate and will thrive in your garden with a little love and care.
Ozette potatoes are the ultimate local tubers, durable and highly nutritious. Introduced by Spanish explorers to the Makah people at Neah Bay in the 18th century, the Makah have been growing them ever since. These stubby fingerlings may not be pretty, but under their gnarly skin they offer a creamy texture and a rich, earthy flavor that can be enjoyed fried, steamed, or roasted.