Books on edible gardening always rave about Swiss chard, whose crimson ribs are striking. But to me, it tastes weirdly metallic. It's among the large number of foodstuffs that taste OK when combined with cups of minced garlic and globs of sweet butter. Paper-towel rolls might taste all right with the same treatment.
There are more and more vendors offering seeds of things you can enjoy for their rarity or oddity. This summer, there will be chervil in my garden. It's a feathery herb that tastes like tarragon but more subtle. French chefs swear by it for vinaigrette or cream sauce or with mint on new potatoes. There's a variety of chervil called "Raven's Wing," which would complement your eggplant.
Russian gardeners grow black tomatoes; can someone tell me why? Is this in any way related to the work of Dostoevsky? There is one honoring an African-American—"Paul Robeson."
There is even beauty underground—the "Chioggia" beet is striped.
The formula for all this happy vegetable connoisseurship is simple: sun, good soil, and a chair. Find a sunny place, well-drained, without big tree roots nearby. Rip up the weeds or sod. Improve the soil with well-rotted cow manure or compost.
It's fine to start small. In a 6-by-4-foot plot, you can grow two or three tomato plants, four rows of different kinds of lettuce, a row of basil, and some oregano—an instant Mediterranean recipe. You might want to frame the plot with thyme or chamomile or feverfew—flowering herbs that exude good scent as you lean across them. It's OK to crowd the lettuce and herbs. Tomatoes, though, object to having some other plant blocking their sun. (For a moving account of making every square inch count, see this story about "keyhole gardens" in Lesotho.)
No matter how small your garden, give yourself a place to sit and look at it—a folding seat from a garage sale, a plastic lawn chair, a director's chair—anywhere you can perch and admire your handiwork.
You may protest that you really don't have an appropriate place for a vegetable garden and that you're away a lot of summer weekends. No excuse. Consider the case of Earl Weaver, the manager who led the Baltimore Orioles to six Eastern Division titles, four American League pennants, and a World Series championship. He did this while growing tomatoes just outside of Memorial Stadium's outfield fences. When the irascible Weaver went on the road with his team, the tomatoes were cared for by stadium groundskeeper Pat Santarone, who tended the field for more than 20 years. So have a friend water when you're away.