By Dr. Bill Barrick, Executive Director
Remember when your mother told you to eat your vegetables? Visitors to Bellingrath Gardens and Home during the winter months may be surprised to learn that many of our cold-hardy vegetables are also some of the most nutritious for us to consume.
An added benefit for many of these winter vegetables is they are quite ornamental. We use them to provide color and texture in our gardens during the winter months. Most of these vegetables are varieties of Brassica oleracea. This genus includes collards, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and kohlrabi.
To insure the full potential of these winter vegetables, they should be grown in full sun in fertile, well-drained soils. We typically start our seeds in late September for planting in late fall and early winter.
All of the varieties can tolerate freezing temperatures, and even survive mid-20’s temperatures. But keep in mind that as spring approaches and we get much warmer temperatures, these vegetables will begin to bolt or flower and become less attractive in our gardens.
Ornamental kales and cabbages are perhaps the most widely used winter vegetables and offer a myriad of color and leaf forms. Technically, all of these are kales, but varieties with tightly spaced leaves are called ornamental cabbages since they closely resemble cabbages. Varieties that we have used with success in past years are ‘Red Peacock,’ ‘White Peacock,’ ‘Nagoya,’ ‘Color Up’ and ‘Coral Prince.’
Two kale varieties that we have used extensively are ‘Redbor’ and ‘Lancinato.’ We like these varieties because they grow much taller and don’t exhibit the rounded form. ‘Redbor,’ as the name implies, has wonderful, ruffled dark magenta leaves, and ‘Lancinato’ has gray-green foliage.
Equally ornamental are varieties of Swiss Chard. The most attractive feature of Swiss Chard are the leafy stems that are striking in color. The variety ‘Bright Lights’ mix features red, yellow and orange stems and one of the newer varieties, ‘Peppermint,’ has thick stems that are pink in color.
Similar in growth habit are ornamental mustards. The variety we use extensively is ‘Red Giant,’ which has deep burgundy foliage. Over the years, we have used parsley as an edger and in mass plantings. The curly-leaved variety we use is ‘Krausa.’