The ornamental cabbage

by James Alexander-Sinclair

It's easy to be sniffy about the ornamental cabbage. It is quite a strange concept; an odd, Frankensteinish amalgam of vegetable and bedding plant.

It's easy to be sniffy about the ornamental cabbage. It is quite a strange concept; an odd, Frankensteinish amalgam of vegetable and bedding plant. However, my mind was changed - temporarily at least - during a recent trip to New York. I saw ornamental cabbages with marvellous frilly leaves, in shades ranging from washy pink to beetroot to deep purple, together with larger ornamental kale.

The Americans are very keen on ornamental cabbages and use them in quantity for public plantings (and also as cut flowers). I saw them at the base of street trees, gleefully mixed in with bright chrysanthemums and lipstick-pink cyclamen. Not  a very conventional mixture but certainly striking.

There are variations: this one has a good solid evergreen box edge  - and politely bossy signage - whereas here the brassicas are in large pots with ivies (this time without the chrysanthemums, which some might consider a blessing). Those of you with long memories might recall my writing about the American penchant for bedding chrysanthemums.

It is pretty straightforward to grow your own ornamental cabbages although they suffer from the same predators as normal brassicas. Seeds should be sown in springtime.

They should last in containers for much of the winter - although if the pigeons cotton on then they might not make it through!  And, yes, if you're really peckish you can eat them.

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Gardeners' World Web User 24/11/2009 at 10:34

When I lived in Washington D.C. twenty years ago they were everywhere and I thought them a little vulgar. They are now a fixture on the UK gardening scene but my attitude has changed completely.(David Hurrion did a lovely feature about using them in pots in Nov. issue of Gardeners' World Magazine). Any port in a storm: ornamental cabbages are fabulous for providing winter colour.

Gardeners' World Web User 25/11/2009 at 12:24

Sniff! I was at my local garden centre a few weeks ago with a friend when we spotted some of these. We turned to each other simultaneously and said 'Why?'

Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2009 at 10:34

I too spotted some ornamental cabbages in a container outside a local garden centre last week. The container contained only the cabbages and cineraria, but it looked very effective with the deep purple colour of the cabbages against the silver of the cineraria.

Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2009 at 11:48

I started to use ordnary dark-leaved cabbages as infillers for my husband's new beds of dark-leaved perennials some years ago, when I had too many seedlings for the veg patch, and was amazed to see how well they lasted and how attractive they were when fully open, despite the pigeons. So now I, too, look at the ornamental varieties, particularly the purple ones, with fresh eyes. I couldn't cope with the chrysanths and cyclamen combo, though! janerowena

Gardeners' World Web User 26/11/2009 at 20:11

The kale looks better. Not sure bout ornamental cabbages as cut flower - they'd bring a rather pungent odour to a display.

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