Every year, I grow a large garden, approximately 10,000 square feet, which allows me to try so many different seed varieties. I keep a MUST grow list of my absolute favorite varieties. These are non-negotiable and will have a place in my garden every year! This is not an exhaustive list of all the plants I grow, just specific varieties that are outstanding.
When the winter weather starts rolling in, one of my favorite pastimes to get me through the cold weather months is planning and dreaming about what will be in my garden next year. (Check out how I plan my garden here.)
I imagine a lush and green garden and what I will grow in it. This has been especially fun as I've been planning my new gardens here on our new property. I'll cozy up with a seed catalog from one of my favorite seed companies with all the excitement of a kid on Christmas Eve.
One of the most requested videos on my YouTube channel, Roots and Refuge Farm, is people asking for my MUST grow list.
I know that buying seeds can feel daunting and a little overwhelming for some. I mean, how do you choose from 120 tomato varieties? So I hope that I can help you choose seeds that you will enjoy and be successful with.
Below is my most up-to-date seed list, but I'll also share an older list below in case you'd like to watch them both!
Now without further ado, from me to you, here are my top picks and why.
Let’s talk tomatoes. Everyone knows that they are my favorite things to grow (and eat). Last year I grew about 69 tomato varieties. I start a whole bunch every year. The ones that aren’t our favorites fall off the list and we try different ones.
But the tried and true favs, we grow again and again.
Slicers are the big beef-steak tomatoes that are often sliced and eaten fresh on sandwiches or burgers. I grow a majority of slicers because I also like to roast them and drain off the juice and use them for sauces and salsas.
Dr. Wyche’s Yellow is a large, low-acid yellow tomato with great flavor. They usually grow to about 1 pound. They are great for a tomato sandwich.
Paul Robeson is another must-try. It is a dark red tomato with a smoky, savory flavor. The best tasting tomato I have ever eaten was a Paul Robeson that was picked late in the summer on a dry afternoon.
Another large red slicer is Climbing Trip-L-Crop. The two biggest tomatoes I have ever grown were this variety.
A tomato that you will never find in the store is Black Beauty from Wild Boar Farms. The Black Beauty has an extraordinary dark purple, almost black skin.
The Large Barred Boar is worth mentioning for its beauty and great flavor as well.
I have grown a lot of different paste varieties but have not been happy with most of them. They either came in small or we just weren’t a fan of the flavor.
I have had good success with two in particular though, Amish Paste and Italian Heirloom. Both produced large fruits that were meaty and delicious.
Slice them and eat them fresh or use them for processing.
Most of my favorite cherry tomatoes are Wild Boar Farms varieties. Wild Boar Farms has a Blue Berry line of cherry tomatoes including the Blue Berry and Blue Gold Berry that are worth trying.
They are acidic and very prolific hardy plants. I love them because they are the first and the last to produce in my garden. This year I grew 18 cherry tomato plants, four of which were these varieties. When I would go out to pick all 18 plants, half of my harvest would be from those four plants.
Another cherry tomato variety I recommend is Barry's Crazy Cherry. Barry’s Crazy Cherry is a multiflora tomato which means that it has very large bunches of flowers and fruits.
They are pale yellow blush tomatoes with a really fantastic flavor. I got more compliments from our guests about these tomatoes than any other variety. They have a thin skin so occasionally the tomatoes split when it rains. You will have to be diligent to pick them as soon as they ripen.
I also really like the Sunrise Bumblebee, Pink Bumblebee and the Purple Bumblebee. They are larger cherry tomatoes, closer to a saladette size. Sungolds are worth mentioning as well for their sweet flavor.
The two saladettes that I truly like are the Indigo Apple and Rutgers.
Indigo Apple is full of anthocyanin and so the skin gets a beautiful dark purplish-blue.
Rutgers is a basic red, medium saladette size that is extremely prolific.
You will hear me talk about ground cherries a lot on my channel. Ground cherries are one of Jeremiah’s favorite things in the garden. They are like small cherry-sized tomatillos. Unlike tomatillos, ground cherries do not need a second plant to pollinate. We grow Pineapple ground cherries and Aunt Molly’s ground cherries. The two are so similar that I cannot tell the difference between the varieties.
I do not grow really hot peppers so I am not the girl for recommendations there. The hottest pepper I grow is a habanero.
Craig’s Grande Jalapeno is my favorite jalapeno and they are big. I also grow the TAM Jalapeno because they are very productive and nice for canning.
Try the Long Thin Cayenne for dehydrating to make your own cayenne seasoning.
I will always grow the Fish Pepper too. It is a medium hot pepper that is nice in salsas and it is a lovely, variegated plant.
Poblanos are mildly hot, but they are a great versatile pepper. If you let poblanos turn color and then smoke them, you can make ancho chile powder. They are also commonly used in Mexican cooking to make stuffed chiles.
Our favorite salsa pepper is the Serrano Tampiqueno which is similar to a jalapeno in looks but they are about twice as hot.
The last one I want to mention is the Sugar Rush Peach Pepper. I use these to make a fantastic hot sauce that has a fruity tropical flavor.
Sweet & Mild Peppers
Shishito is hands down my favorite pepper. I could eat my weight in Shishitos each year!
Once harvested, poke a hole in them so they don’t explode and then blister them in a hot pan. Serve them with aioli. It is so good!
The Corbaci is a long, red, sweet(ish) pepper. We like to throw them in a breakfast scramble.
A few years ago, I just raved about the Arroz con Pollo pepper in my garden tour, but I couldn’t grow it last year because I couldn’t get seeds for it. The Arroz con Pollo is a seasoning pepper with a very unique flavor.
The Habanada is another favorite pepper. Last year, I grew the plants in a high tunnel. They have a tropical fruity flavor so they’re great for breakfast. I really recommend you harvest them young or they can take on a musky flavor.
If you have someone in your family who doesn’t like spicy things, try the Nadapeno. It's like a jalapeno, but without the heat. When I make stuffed jalapenos, I can make some of them with these peppers for my kids who don’t like heat.
The sweetest pepper on my list is the Marconi Red.
Out of all the bell peppers I have tried, the California Wonder has ended up in my garden more than any other variety as well as the Ozark Beauty.
The first cucumber I have fallen in love with is the Silver Slicer Cucumber. I got these seeds from Hudson Valley Seed Company and if I could only grow one cucumber, it would be the Silver Slicer.
This cucumber is very prolific, but what I love about them is that even when I let them grow large, the skin stays soft and they don't get bitter.
The Silver Slicer is surprisingly versatile. I eat them fresh, but I also canned them. They produce great-tasting cucumbers for me even into the heat when other varieties dry up.
I will also be growing the Parisian Pickling Cucumber. This is a nice small pickling cucumber. It is a fast producer and has a really good flavor. This is a great option if you don’t have a lot of garden space.
We enjoy trying lots of personal-sized melons. They are pretty interchangeable to me, but the two that I will always grow are the Kajari Melon and the Kiku Chrysanthemum Melon. The Kajari is a small orange melon with green flesh that does really well on the trellises.
I initially tried the Kiku Chrysanthemum Melon because the Baker Creek Seed catalog said that it tasted like Greek yogurt and pears. And I thought, “I just need to know what it tastes like!” It's a small white melon, about the size of a baseball with a thin rind and soft flesh.
The flavor of watermelons depends heavily on the amount of water they receive and how they are grown. My most successful watermelon is the Desert King Watermelon. We had a massive 30 pound melon last year that was tasty.
All the beans I am talking about, I harvest young as green beans or snap beans. We eat these fresh, or I freeze, can, or dehydrate them.
Dragon Tongue Bush Beans have been in every garden that I have ever grown and so they are dear to my heart. They are a lovely yellow with purple streaks.
Tanya’s Pink Pod Beans are really cool. They are a truly hot pink green that cooks to green. I loved having these in my old garden because they kinda went with the pink gate!
The Purple Podded Pole Bean is a climber that can reach 8 feet tall. They are intensely good producers. Harvest them young if you don’t want them to get stringy.
Calima is a bushed type of tender thin beans.
The Chinese Noodle Bean makes a regular appearance in my garden as well. Chinese Noodle Beans are not the same as regular green beans. They are very long and have a really different texture. I don’t recommend boiling them but eating them stir-fried. I have pickled them also.
We eat a ton of pea pods fresh right out of the garden or throw them in stir fry. The Magnolia Blossom and the Purple Magnolia Blossom tendril pea are beautiful and tasty. I enjoy growing them in my garden.
If you are going to grow shelling peas, keep in mind that you need to do something with them right after shelling. I recommend the Telephone pea for shelling.
Root Vegetables (Beets, Carrots, Rutabegas & Radishes)
If I had to grow just one variety of beets, I would pick the Bull’s Blood Beet. It is a very dark red, juicy beet touted for high vitamin A and antioxidants. It also has really tasty tender leaves that are great in salads.
The Cosmic Purple Carrot has always done well for me. It is purple on the outside and orange on the inside. It is not a super sweet carrot, but has more of a piney flavor.
The Black Nebula Carrot came into popularity a few years ago because of its extremely dark purple color. You could dye stuff with this carrot.
If you like sweet carrots, try the red-orange Kyoto Red Carrot; it has a great sweet flavor.
I grow lots of varieties of rutabagas. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be the Navone Yellow Rutabaga because it is the most consistent and good tasting.
I usually grow a basic purple topped turnip, but don’t have a favorite variety. One way I enjoy eating them is raw, sliced and dipped in hummus.
French Breakfast Radishes are exceptional because their skin stays nice and smooth and they have a mild flavor.
TIP: Radishes are yummy raw, roasted and pickled. The flavor of your radishes will depend on whether you are growing them in cool weather or warm weather. If you don’t like the flavor of your radishes and you grew them in the warm weather, try growing them in cool weather before switching varieties. They will have a completely different flavor.
One variety of eggplant that really stands out to me is Antigua. It is a white and purple streaked variety that has a flavor similar to the hybrid Fairytale eggplant.
The Ping Tung, Black Beauty, and Casper Eggplant are the other varieties that I regularly grow.
If you haven’t tried eggplant in a stirfry, you really should! All of these varieties work well in stirfry as well as traditional eggplant recipes.
I have yet to find a summer squash that is genuinely resistant to the squash bug. I’ve tried all the tricks and the companion planting, but ultimately the squash bugs win, so I grow squash that will fruit early in the season.
The most long-lived squash I have ever grown is the Gelber Englischer Custard Squash. It is a patty pan summer squash.
I also grow the Early Golden Crookneck, Ronde de Nice, and Eight Ball because they are early varieties.
Winter squash needs to stay in the ground and stay healthy for a really long time, but again, I deal with squash bugs. Even though I love decorative pumpkins and warted squash, I don’t grow them because I cannot keep the plants alive.
I have success growing spaghetti squash, acorn squash and pie pumpkins because they take less time to mature than other winter squashes.
Fried okra is a summertime treat at our house. It's popular in the south and definitely grows best in warm climates. It can stand up to neglect and handle poor soil. It is good to grow if you are establishing a new garden space because it can break through the soil.
I grow lots of varieties but I always grow Texas Hill Country Okra or Alabama Red Okra. They are very similar short and squatty plants.
Also, the Burgundy Okra and the Clemson Spineless are really good and don’t get woody as fast.
Every time a seed company releases a new variety of kale, I grow it in my garden! I grow kale in the winter months with minimal coverage and it does great.
Lacinato (Dinosaur Kale) is very hardy with great flavor.
If you are looking for a classic kale that is like what you purchase in the grocery store, try Blue Curled Scotch Kale. It is much sweeter when it is grown in colder weather.
My number one favorite kale variety though, is called Ragged Jack. I love the flavor. The thing that I like the best about it, is how hardy it is. It can get rained on, snowed on, and iced on and it continues to do well through my winters here.
I am not married to any specific variety of lettuce, but I do grow a lot of lettuce. I enjoy almost any variety of lettuce grown as a baby green.
More than variety, the method of growing really impacts the flavor in a massive way. I encourage you to try different varieties. I can recommend two Black Seeded Simpson and Marvel of Four Seasons.
Herbs are a must-have in my garden. Holy Basil (Tulsi), which is not true basil, would volunteer every year in my garden in Arkansas. It's a great medicinal herb and is delicious in tea.
I also grow sage, thyme, oregano, marjoram, chives, mint, and lemon balm to name a few, but I don’t have a favorite specific variety of any of those.
Since they're perennials I don’t replant these each year.
I love eating true basil, especially with tomatoes. If you haven’t tried different varieties of basil before, they can have such a wide array of flavors.
I do have three favorite varieties of basil: Genovese Basil, Lettuce Leaf Basil, and Dark Opal Basil.
Genovese basil is a sweet, dark green leaf basil that I use in pesto, salads, and even in lemonade.
I also love Lettuce Leaf Basil. It has huge leaves that I chop up in salads or to make wraps out of.
Dark Opal Basil is a purple leaf variety that has a sharper more herbaceous flavor. It is slightly more spicy and not as sweet.
Flowers bring in pollinators to your garden and make it a more beautiful space. Some flowers are even edible. I am constantly touting the value of having a diversely planted garden and flowers benefit this.
My MUST grow companion plants include Nasturtiums which are edible flowers with a slightly spicy flavor.
I plant sunflowers each year like the Mammoth Sunflower which you can save the sunflower seed from.
The Double Click Cosmos and Blue Borage are a beautiful addition to any space.
Resina Calendula flowers are high in oils that are very good for your skin. I grow these flowers and then use them to make salves.
Zloty Lan Chamomile has consistently grown well for me. I harvest the flowers, dry them and make delicious chamomile tea.
The whole line of Queen Lime Zinnias are my most favorite although I have never met a zinnia that I didn’t like. The Queen Limes have beautiful muted vintage colors and bring the pollinators into the garden.
How to Plan YOUR Garden
You may be wondering if these varieties will grow in your garden especially if you live in a different climate than I do. Good question.
While it is true that some plants will thrive in certain climates and not in others, the biggest factor in whether or not you can successfully grow a plant is usually the length of your growing season.
For more information on this and plant hardiness zones, check out How to Plan Your Garden.
I hope you have a wonderful time planting your garden and I would love to hear from you what your favorite varieties to grow are, leave them in the comments below!
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