As we lose our wonderful fall sunshine and shift into the shorter, darker, wetter and cooler days of fall, we will all be looking to add some brighteners to our gardens and containers. We will need plants that have some brilliance, toughness, hardiness and blend well with other winter colours. Some of the most overlooked plants are the ornamental kales and cabbages that are used so much around the world, but not so much here.
Heavy winter rains can cause damage on some of the larger, full-headed varieties, particularly when they are planted out in the open. If these same varieties are placed under the eaves of our houses, they will stand up very well. There are, however, smaller and younger crops that will thrive out in the weather. Also, more open-growing varieties, like the ‘Coral’ and ‘Peacock’ series, stand up well because, rather than trapping rain, they will allow water to simply flow through. All their colours, whites, pinks and deep purples, are vibrant and make an exquisite show. I also find that the later-planted, smaller-headed varieties have rather loose heads and do not hold water. The smaller four-inch pots are ideal to mix in with containers and established plantings.
The secret to having ornamental kale and cabbage look their best is colour blocking them together in groups. Whites, pinks and purples look so good together and create a brilliant winter display. Complementary companions are winter violas, pansies and dusty miller. Evergreen grasses, such as carex, acorus and fescues, blend beautifully with ornamental kale and cabbage and make great focal points. Flowering kale is also a great accent for evergreen ground covers and looks fabulous as under-plantings for trees and winter flowering shrubs like viburnum ‘Pink Dawn’.
Hardiness is often more of an issue out in the eastern Valley where exposure to extreme cold winds can cause their demise. Kale will take a good deal of frost, but when we get frost in excess of –10 degrees C. they’ll have some challenges. By covering them with either ‘Remay’ cloth or the far better ‘N-Sulate’ when we get those severe outflow northeast winds, you can keep them looking great. If we get a covering of snow before the severe cold, that would be an even better insulator.
The classy, newly-introduced kales – ‘Red Bor’ (a ruffled deep purple) and ‘Winter Bor’ (a green version of ‘Red Bor’) – are both ornamental and edible. They are especially delicious after they’ve had a little touch of frost. For special occasions, they are great used to decorate food plates. If they have some sun, they can take –20°C in their stride.
There’s a wide selection of ornamental kale and cabbage now available in the Lower Mainland. As your garden begins to lose its colour, these ornamental and colourful brassicas will add fresh new life, and they are very reasonably priced. Give them a try. Now is a perfect time to plant them. Remember to bury them deep so they look like flowers popping out of the ground.