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With gardening one’s own food becoming a more common venture, it’s no wonder that we, as an inventive and curious species, have begun to explore new avenues. In truth, water gardens are not something innovative at all — just check out the rice paddies of Australasia — but, in the Western world, we are beginning to approach them anew.
The reasons for starting a water garden are many. For one, they are potentially the most productive gardens, with the fastest growing vegetable and most abundant root, both of which are highly nutritious additions to our diets. They also eliminate the need for irrigation because, well, the garden beds are water. Water gardens with animals, especially those with fish and/or ducks, also handle their own fertilizing. Plus, they are absolutely beautiful.
Additionally, water gardens have a huge option of plants to choose from, including floating, submerged, and edge varieties. Now, the trick is choosing edibles from our list of water plants and making the water garden an asset for the kitchen.
1. Kangkong (Ipomoea aquatica)
Also known as water spinach, this is the fastest growing vegetable in the world. Like spinach, it’s a leafy veg that is vitamin-packed (only without the oxalic acid to contend with). Kangkong is more common to subtropical and tropical environs, where — by those who don’t appreciate it as food — it is considered a noxious weed. However, it grows (and spreads) rapidly and could probably work as an annual in colder climates.
2. Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera/Nelumbo lutea)
Swallowtail Garden Seeds/Flickr
Respected as one of the beautiful flowers for featuring in ponds, lotus largely gets skipped over in Western cuisine, but it is highly nutritious and extremely delicious. It’s great for our blood, mind, stomach, and overall health. Again, this one has the reputation for being invasive, but for the optimist, that just means we have to eat more of it.
3. Watercress (Nasturtium officiales)
As with soil-grown vegetables, most water-based vegetables are well-regarded for their health-promoting powers, and watercress is definitely one of them. Watercress is a member of the mustard family. It grows easily in containers, is a low-lying plant, and requires a lot of fresh water, often such as occurs with natural springs.
4. Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus)
Sweet flag is more regarded as a forage plant than a cultivated one, and when it is cultivated, it’s usually for ornamental purposes. However, it has both rhizomes (root-like stems) and leaves that are edible. The leaves have a lemony flavor, and the tubers are compared to ginger, such that it is often used as a spice. In the pond, it’s a slow-spreading perennial.
5. Water Chestnuts (Eleocharis dulcis)
Another vegetable we commonly see in Asian cuisine but not Western diets is the water chestnut. Again, these are super healthy and produce abundance for the garden. Most of us have only ever had them in the canned variety, but fresh ones are sweeter with more crispness. They do require a long growing season (about seven months) without frost, so consider this before including them in your water garden. This is an edge plant that requires some soil.
6. Duck Potatoes (Sagittaria latifolia)
Also recognized as common arrowhead, a name won by the shape of its leaves, this large perennial plant has got a growing range that stretches from Quebec to Florida. The duck potato name is a thing because ducks (and geese) like to eat the tubers. Well, people can also eat the tubers, and if they attract ducks to the water garden, that helps to fertilize the water for the other crops. It’s a winning addition all around and will grow in anything from muddy soil to two feet of water.
7. Malanga (Colocasia esculenta)
Malanga is related to taro, the popular tuber that has given us bubble tea and tapioca. Malanga is a large root vegetable with edible leaves (when they are young and cooked). It’s a good staple food, a la potatoes, as it produces copious amounts of food. It is also a fantastic addition to soups and stews because it thickens the broth, much the way okra does in gumbo. This is another warm, tropical variety that’ll need to avoid cool temperatures.
Like so many avenues in the garden, this is but the beginning, just a sampling of all the tasty treats that are possible. We haven’t gotten into wild rice, water mint, or water cherry. Suffice it to say, a pond in the back garden is full of productive potential. Now, you have a spot — a list of plants — from which to begin exploring water gardens.
Lead Image Source: Swallowtail Garden Seeds/Flickr