Beloved of the French and cultivated by them for centuries, the ornamental cabbage is the perfect hardy annual for introducing sculptural form and a splash of vibrant colour to a winter garden.
In France, the likes of 'Red Peacock' with crinkly leaves almost coral-like in their intricacy and with colours of delicate pink through to vibrant red, have been an important ingredient in the ornamental garden for centuries. Here this decorative vegetable is so well-loved that “mon petit chou” (my little cabbage) is used as a term of endearment.
Splendid examples can be seen in the gardens of the great Renaissance chateau, Villandry in the Loire Valley. For inspiration closer to home, visit the walled garden at Harewood House, near Leeds.
Sowing: Sow anytime from late spring to late autumn
Sowing into pots. (from late spring to early summer)
Seeds must be sown and young plants kept under cool conditions to thrive, so this is a project best suited to somewhere where the temperature can be controlled.
Once the plant becomes root bound, plants will stop growing, so sowing into large plug trays (and later transplanted) or directly into their large final pot, a 15 to 20cm (6 to 8in) pot is advisable.
The seeds require light for germination, so do not cover the seeds with soil.
Transplanting should be done soon after the cotyledons (seed leaves) are expanded so that root growth is not slowed. If the plants are leggy and have produced a stem, this can be buried so that the rosette sits on the surface.
Transplant the small plants up into larger pots until you are ready to plant into their final positions.
Grow on outside or in a cold frame. Wait until temperatures start cooling down, then plant in a sunny location in a moderately moist, rich soil. Transplant to the garden or display container in September. Before transplanting, remove tatty bottom leaves. Plant into the ground so that the rosette of leaves is flush with the soil surface and the stem buried (roots will grow along the buried stem). Keep the plants well watered.
Sowing direct (from late summer to early autumn)
Sow six to eight weeks before the first frost. Although they are not fussy, they will grow better if given nutrients at planting time. When you prepare the soil for planting, give them a helping hand by mixing peat moss, compost or leaf mold with the existing soil. Also, mix a well-rotted organic manure or all purpose rose or garden type fertilizer with the soil. The seeds require light for germination, so do not cover them with soil. Keep the plants well watered.
Plants should start to colour up as soon as the temperature drops below 10°C (50°F) Feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser to avoid yellowing of the fast growing foliage. Cabbage worms, cutworms, aphids, and slugs like these plants, but because of the season, they will not have the same problems they would if grown earlier in the year.
Combine with perennials that are at their peak in the autumn, (grasses, dark-leaved sedums or asters). For container planting, place an ornamental cabbage or kale in the centre and flowers around the edge. Or try them with other plants that can tolerate light frosts, (such as swiss chard, snapdragons or petunias).
Kale or Borecole is a form of cabbage (Brassica oleracea Acephala Group), in which the central leaves do not form a head. It is considered to be closer to wild cabbage than most domesticated forms.
Both ornamental cabbage and kale are edible, although they tend to be more bitter than the edible cultivars (and the pretty colours turn an unappetizing grey when cooked).
Ornamental kale leaves are often used as a garnish in place of parsley.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 16 Seeds Family Brassicaceae Genus Brassica Species olearacea Cultivar F1 White Peacock Common Name Ornamental Cabbage, Ornamental Kale Hardiness Hardy Annual Foliage Fringed bluish-green leaves, prominent, white veins. Height 30cm (12in) Spread 30cm (12in) Position Full Sun preferred Time to Sow Sow anytime from late spring to late autumn Germination 5-10 days at 15-20*C