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Garden Plants That Are Similar -
But Different!

Grow plants you know, but have a fresh twist!

We've all been there. We like to grow our favorite plants because of certain characteristics, or because we can grow them successfully, and enjoy them for long periods of time. But every now and again we want to grow something new, but will it do well?

"Would I be as successful with a new, untried plant, as with my old standbys" is a question that might run through your head.

Well, what if I told you there are many plants that are related to more commonly known varieites, that are just as easy to grow, but will give you something new to experience and enjoy? Would you be interested?

I know I was when I came across these plants, so I wanted to share a few of them with you.

I originally had 15 suggestions, but I will only go over a few here, leaving us something to talk about in the future!

Cut Flower Kale
Brassica oleracea

Similar to: Ornamental Kale

Color: Pink (new)
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Used in a cut flower arrangement
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Color: Bicolor
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Used in a cut flower arrangement
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General Information

At first glance these huge, perfectly formed blooms look like some sort of exotic Rose. Then, upon closer inspection, they are revealed to be . . . Kale? THE cutflower sensation, this Ornamental Kale is just perfect for the vase, with long-lasting rosettes.

This is a cool season annual that is perfect for spring or fall, and should be grown just like any other ornamental kale. The main difference with this kale is that it is grown as a cut flower (even though it isn't a flower) and has large, long-lasting rosettes that are perfect for indoor arrangements.

The series, called "The Crane Series" was started back in 2000/2001 with Crane White being the first introduction in the series. White was followed by Crane Red and Crane Rose in 2005/2006, and Crane Bicolor was introduced in 2006/2007 and Crane Pink was new this year 2007/2008.

That means the Crane Series now comes in 5 colors: Bicolor, Red, Rose, White, and new Pink. They are great for winter bouquets with varied colors and long-lasting vase life. The flower head was bred to be compact; however, plant spacing will determine the size of the flower as well.

Crane Pink, Red, and White have a very uniform, upright habit and complement each other very well. Crane Rose produces bigger leaves and compared to the other colors, has slightly lighter grey-green leaves with a dark purple rose center. Cragne Bicolor has a white head with a rose center and has a simliar habit with Rose.

These plants aren't limited to a cut flower, because they also make lovely container and bedding plants.

Care and Culture

Type: Cool season annual

Zones: Hardy to zones 6 - 11 - click here for climate zone map

Sun: Full or light shade

Water: Regular

Soil: Well-drained

Depending on growing conditions, the stems grow to about 24 to 28 inches (61 to 71 cm) tall and have 3 to 7 inch (7.6 to 18 cm) wide rosettes. To get the full effect of the bicolors, these plants need exposure to temperatures below 60° F (15.6 ° C), but will still look good at warmer temperatures.

The hybrid genetics make the series more uniform in habit, flower size and color. The plants can be spaced close together for high density production, and the flower head was bred to be compact and uniform, but plant spacing will also determine flower size.

To grow larger "flowers," keep the lower leaves of the young plants trimmed, and feed generously until the heads begin to show their colors. Stake or otherwise support the heavy stems as they grow taller.

Where to buy

Seeds are availble at the following websites. It is best to use the search feature each website provides and type in "Kale".

Johnny's Selected Seeds -

Park Seed -

Mespilus germanica

Similar to: Apples

Medlar Fruit
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Medlar Plant
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Medlar Fruit
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General Information

Medlars not only resemble an apple, but in fact are closely related. If you have trouble growing apples either because of climate, or disease, or pest problems, you may want to try a Medlar.

The common Medlar (Mespilus germanica) is a slow growing, large, deciduous shrub or small tree growing up to 26 feet (8 m) tall. The leaves are dark green and 2 to 6 inches (6 to 15 cm) long and 1 to 1.5 inches (3 to 4 cm) wide.

The leaves turn a spectacular red in the fall, and the plant has beautiful white flowers in late spring. The fruit is a pome, and is about 1 inch (3 cm) in diameter, with wide-spreading persistent sepals giving a "hollow" appearance to the fruit.

Medlars are eaten very much the same way as persimmons. Initially the fruit are very hard and acidic, but they become edible after being softened ("bletted") by frost, or naturally in storage given sufficient time.

Once softening begins, the skin rapidly takes a wrinkled texture and turns dark brown, and the inside reduces to a consistency and flavor reminiscent of apple sauce.

Medlars are hard to start from seed, so most varieties are grafted onto pear root stock. They are self-fertile so they don't need another tree for pollination and they produce fruit by the second year.

Care and Culture

Type: Deciduous shrub or small tree

Zones: Hardy to Zones 4 - 9 - click here for climate zone map

Sun: Full or light shade

Water: Regular

Soil: Well-drained

They are slow growing, need a temperate climate, and shelter from any strong winds. They don't like to dry out, so keep moist.

Where to buy

Seeds are availble at the following websites. It is best to use the search feature each website provides and type in "Medlar".

One Green World -

Raintree Nursery -

Burnt Ridge Nursery -

Bush Alpine Strawberry
Fragaria vesca

Similar to: Garden Strawberries

Alpine Fruit
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Alpine Plant
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General Information

Alpine strawberries are considered a wild strawberry and have small, but highly flavored berries from late spring through fall. They are bush strawberry, so they don't grow runners, and are ideal for a good edible edging plant for your flowerbed, or used in containers, or small areas where you may not normally have room for the sprawing habit of a garden strawberry.

Another ideal bonus of Alpine Strawberries is that they still produce incredibly flavored berries in partial sun settings, in fact, they are able to grow lots of berries in almost full shade, meaning they can be grown as ground covers under larger plants. While the berries are smaller in size, they have a very strawberry flavor.

They produce berries starting as early as May and ending as late as December, and come in both a red and a white/yellow variety. The white/yellow variety has a slightly sweeter almost pineapple-ish flavor to it. If you have a problem with birds eating your strawberries, you might try growing the white/yellow variety, since it has been said that birds tend to leave them alone.

Alpine strawberry plants are a very hardy, low-growing, compact perennial about 10 inches (25 cm) tall, with a spread of 8 inches (20 cm). The leaves are long-stalked with three coarsely-toothed leaflets. Flowers are round-petaled in flat clusters on a separate stalk from the leaves.

The fruit is a small, scarlet, cone-shaped berry studded with tiny, brown seeds. They have a fragrance and taste more delicate than the larger cultivated berries.

Care and Culture

Type: Perennial, with no runners

Zones: Hardy to Zone 4 - click here for climate zone map

Sun: Sheltered site in full sun or partial shade

Water: Regular

Soil: Well-drained, humus-rich, acid soil

Alpine strawberries reseed profusely from the seeds found in the skin of the fruit, and you will find that if you miss picking some berries, that strawberry seedlings will grow where the berries fell the following spring.

They can also be propagated by crown division, If you want more, simply divide one of the plants and plant the divisions in the locations you would like them.

Alpine strawberries grow quickly and are everbearing. Once the fruit appears, the plant will continue to bear all season. It is worth the considerable work it takes to harvest the fruit, but keep in mind, they will deteriorate after a few years and will need replacing.

They are fairly pest-free, but cover with netting once the fruit sets to discourage hungry birds and animals.

Where to buy

Seeds are availble at the following websites. It is best to use the search feature each website provides and type in "Alpine Strawberry".

Diane's Seeds -

Swallowtail Garden Seeds -

Nanking Cherry
Prunus tomentosa

Similar to: Sweet & Tart Cherry

Nanking Fruit
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Nanking Flowers
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General Information

Because of its tolerance for both drought and cold, the Nanking Cherry is grown for its fruit in areas where sweet and tart cherries won't bear reliably. They are good for fresh eating, jellies, and jams.

They grow 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 m) tall, and 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 m) wide, and are considered a large wide spreading shrub, with dark green leaves with fuzzy undersides. It can be pruned as a small tree.

It has showy white flowers which cover the plant in early spring, and bright red fruit which ripen in early July and are edible, but a little tart for some people, for fresh eating.

A good producer, the cherries grow up to 5/8 inches (1.9 cm) in diameter.

Nanking Cherries also be used as a mass planting or informal hedge.

Care and Culture

Type: Deciduous shrub or small tree

Zones: Hardy to Zone 2 to 7 - click here for climate zone map

Sun: Full sun

Water: Regular, but fairly drought tolerant

Soil: Good, well-drained

Needs cross pollination to produce fruit, so plant at least two as there are no individual male and female plants.

Where to buy

Seeds are availble at the following websites. It is best to use the search feature each website provides and type in "Nanking Cherry".

Greenwood Nursery -

Great Lakes Nursery Company -


Well, we've covered 4 of the original 15 plants I had in mind for this article. As you can see, each one is similar to more commonly known and grown plants, but they are different enough to make them a unique and fresh addition to your yard or garden if you have never tried growing any of them before.

In a few more months I'll talk about 4 or 5 more and we'll eventually make our way through the list. Till then, here is one for you to research a bit on your own if you want. The picture to the right is an "Open-Faced Snapdragon."

They are a cut flower variety of snapdragon known for their long-lasting flowers, and resistance to damage when handled; making them great for transport as a cut flower in an arrangement.

Check them out, they are really worth a look! If you want to wait, no problem, they are just one of many I will be going into detail in the future.

Till next time!

The writer is a certified organic grower, and a member of the National Garden Writers Association. She is a nationally published writer, and regularly speaks and writes about all gardening related topics concentrating on making gardening fun and successful for everyone. Weekend Gardener Monthly Web Magazine gives gardening advice and gardening tips to all levels of gardeners.

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