8 easy beans that add both taste and color to the garden

Story by Kenny Coogan

Versatile and adaptable to many type of cuisines, beans are not only easy to grow, but they can be beautiful as well. Step away from the green and try these colorful varieties. 

‘Amethyst’ – Widely available, this beautiful bean’s purple pods are thin and straight, averaging 5-5½ inches long. They grow on medium-sized, upright plants and have tan colored seeds. They have a great flavor, raw or cooked, and would look great in a fresh salad, if you don’t eat them all while picking them. The pods will turn green when cooked. If you have had trouble with bean mosaic virus in the past, this variety is a great choice.

‘Amethyst’ bean, photo courtesy of Johnny Select Seeds.

‘Christmas’ – My neighbor loves to grow these heirloom lima beans during the cold season. She acts like Mendel saving the prettiest beans for future plantings. These beans take 95 days to produce. They have a rich flavor, and the plants are said to produce heavy yields even in hot weather. Well, this may be true for the rest of the country, hot weather in Florida is too hot so stick with late fall or early spring plantings. Produces great autumnal flavor and bean liquor.

‘Christmas’ pole lima bean, photo courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

‘Dragon Tongue’ – This unique heirloom has flat pods that are pale yellow with purple blemishes. They are tender and sweet, making them a great addition to meals or garden snacking. Pick them young and eat the entire pod. Like many colorful beans, the purple disappears when cooked. Tan seeds with dark speckles.

‘Dragon Tongue’ bean, photo courtesy of Johnny Select Seeds.

‘Gita’ – I love long beans, mostly due to the fact that I get more bang for my buck. This bean is a more widely adapted day-neutral variety of a subtropical Asian specialty. Day-neutral plants are those that flower regardless of the length of light they are exposed to. These beans have a graceful growth habit and 16-20-inch-long, dark green pods, no bigger than the diameter of a pencil. A stringless bean, ‘Gita’ is sweet and richly flavored, great for steaming and stir-fries. I usually cut them into ½-inch pieces. The plants prefer warm days and nights.

‘Gita’ bean, photo courtesy of Johnny Select Seeds.

‘Kenearly Yellow Eye’ – These are considered the best variety for baked beans. Kenearly is very similar to ‘Maine Yellow Eye’, but matures more evenly for easier harvest and has a slightly larger eye. Here in the South, it is used as a tastier black-eyed pea. A great substitute for cannellini beans, they are excellent for baked bean suppers and hearty soups, since the beans cook down into a rich, creamy broth. This is a bush bean and the plant holds its pods off the ground, making it easy to hand harvest.

‘Kenearly Yellow Eye’ bean, photo courtesy of Johnny Select Seeds.

‘Mbombo’ – To grow a full rainbow of beans in your yard try this kidney shaped bean that are a mix of jade and emerald. I find these to be one of the most spectacular beans on the list. They are delicious in soups or eaten as a green bean. They are drought and heat tolerant, which is great for the Florida spring. According to Baker Creek the bean originated in Kenya where its name, ‘Mbombo’, is an African tribal association to the Creator God of the same name. The bean is thought to be a sign of prosperity and bring good fertility to the soil, as well as to the people. They would look great on a trellis in the garden or along a small fence.

‘Mbombo’ bean, photo courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

‘Nonna Agnes’s Blue Bean’ – Speaking of a rainbow, these can be as blue as sapphires! This bean originally comes from an unknown Nonna (Italian for grandmother) in the northern Italian Town of Bernardo. Botanical explorer Joseph Simcox brought the beans to the U.S. a few years ago. This is an extremely productive and vigorous pole bean – a friend told me his vines reached 11 feet in seven weeks. From 10 seeds, they were able to harvest 1 quart of dried beans. Not all will be vividly colored. Save only the bluest for next year’s seeds to help preserve this amazing landrace.

‘Nonna Agnes’s Blue Bean’, photo courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

‘Red Noodle’ – I’ve always had luck with long beans; they are healthy and grow well in Florida’s climate. This plant produces burgundy beans that measure 16-20 inches long. While many beans produce two beans per cluster, this variety can grow up to four. Compared to the aforementioned ‘Gita’, ‘Red Noodle’ is sweeter. Both the pod and seeds are red. Long beans grow best in hot weather.

‘Red Noodle’ bean, photo courtesy of Johnny Select Seeds.




The liquid that beans cook in is known as “bean liquor” by bean buffs. Don’t drain it, drink it! 

Try these other uses for bean pot liquor ideas:
Add to cooked greens
Add to tomato juice
Add wild mushrooms and garlic for soup
Boil pasta 
Cook rice 
Mix with mashed potatoes
Poach eggs 
Soup stock bases 
Water substitute for bread making

Special thanks for photos used in this article:
Johnny Select Seeds –
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds –

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