Documents: Special Interest: What we grow to eat:

Gardening From Southern California

...ornamental cabbage
by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

September 26, 2004

Sometimes vegetables can be used in the flower garden with good results. Examples are borders of chives, parsley, carrots, Swiss chard, and lettuce. But a couple of vegetables that are colorful cool weather varieties are flowering, or ornamental—a better term—cabbage and kale. Kale isn’t as popular as the cabbage, but both make bright displays with their colorful leaves in fall and winter.

Temperatures have to fall below 50 at night to get either one to start to color up well, and the cooler it gets the better they’re going to look. Seed planted this month and next will take 10 to 15 days to germinate, then will grow slowly, taking about two months to begin to look like anything. My experience shows that kale is a little slower than cabbage, but it’s equally as colorful once it gets going.

Most of these good colorful plants have originated in Japan, some in China, where they’re popular. One good variety of cabbage is Tokyo Hybrid Mixture. It gets about 12 inches tall, forms colorful leaves as the weather gets cooler, and will last well into early spring. Colors of this mixture are red, purple, lime green, and a shocking bright pink, with some leaves having bicolors.

Northern Lights Mixture, another cabbage, is a little taller, getting up to around 15 inches or more, spreading with several heads of frilled leaves at maturity, in bright colors.

Park Seed Co. lists one under their own name called Park’s Color Up Hybrid Mixture, fairly dwarf at around 10 to 12 inches, slow to bolt as warm weather comes along, with the leaves staying open for a long time. Colors are white, cream, pink, red and purple.

Park also lists the only ornamental kales I’ve seen in current catalogs. These make rosettes of colorful leaves resembling roses that are tall, sometimes 18 to 24 inches. Sunset has dark green on the outer leaves with red in the center. White Crane has dark green outer leaves and white centers with pink hearts.

Few catalogs list many of these ornamental cabbages and kales, but it you get your hands on a Japanese catalog you’d find many varieties. Sometimes seed racks will have one or two, and late in the winter, or early spring you may find some as started plants.

Seed should be started this month and through October and plants can be set in where winters are cool up until January or February. For the low desert plants should go in the soil by December.

These ornamental cabbages and kales are fun to grow and they make colorful borders, or a small bed mixed in with other flowers, and they grow well in containers. They need some fertilizer during the growing season, and adequate water, especially if in a container.


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