Take a trip around the globe from the Knightshayes kitchen garden
The walled kitchen garden at Knightshayes was built at the peak of the high Victorian era of kitchen gardening. In that spirit of Victorian innovation we love trialling new, unusual and exciting veg, fruit and flowers from all over the world, to 'show off' to our visitors. Beverley Todd, Kitchen Garden Supervisor at Knightshayes explains how every year she scours the seed catalogues for new things to grow.
At Knightshayes we have a special love of tuberous crops such as Oca, Mashua, Yacon, Hopniss, Tigridia and sweetpotatoes. We also like to try exotic fruits like groundcherries, tomatillos, sharks fin melon, Achocha, watermelons. We're even growing our own loofahs this year. Here's a little taste of some of the exotic tubers we grow.
Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) was recently recommended by the RHS as an exotic crop to try at home and we love it here at Knightshayes. It's an Andean tuber originating from Peru and Bolivia, grown much like the potato. There are a wide variety of flavours and textures; from lemony waxy new potato, to fluffy baked apple to dry, rich roasted chestnut. We joined the Guild of Oca Breeders in 2016 and now breed our own varieties. Some of our oca went to Romania last year to be filmed in a scene for a new Netflix series called 'The Witcher.'
Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) is a beautiful climbing plant with red/orange flowers and Nasturtium shaped leaves. It's another Andean tuber. It a hot mustard/peppery taste when raw, but it mellows out when cooked. Both oca and mashua seem to be resistant to pests and diseases and are still commonly grown alongside potatoes in Andean countries as good alternative sources of storable carbohydrates.
Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) is an architectural whopper of a plant, distantly related to the sunflower. Indigenous to the Andes, it grows to around two meters tall in good soil with small but pretty yellow flowers in autumn. The tubers look quite like dahlia tubers (which can also be grown as a food crop but that's another story). They're left to cure in the greenhouse for a week or two after harvest, becoming sweeter, juicy and delicious with the crunch of a water chestnut and the flavour of a pear. The juice can be boiled down to make Yacon syrup, a rich, russet coloured sweetener a bit like agave nectar but with a very low glycaemic index, making it a healthy alternative to sugar, suitable for diabetic diets.
Hopniss (Apios americana) is a really pretty climber with fragrant, pinkish, pea-like flowers. It is a nitrogen fixing plant from the Americas with nutritious tubers that form on rhizomatous stems like beads on a necklace. The flavour is described by Plants for a Future as being like a roasted sweetpotato, which we can't confirm as we haven't bulked ours up enough to eat any yet (it takes two years for the tubers to grow large enough to eat, which could be why it has never really taken off as a food crop).
Lastly, there's tigridia pavonia, a stunning speckled iris-like flower with an edible bulb, which, when roasted is said to taste like a chestnut. The spectacular flowers only last a day, opening in the morning and fading by late afternoon, with new flowers forming every day. We hope to be able to eat some in a few years. Sometimes patience is needed when growing exotic crops.