Hooray for Kale

– Posted in: Miscellaneous

I can sympathize with Fran’s feelings about the use and abuse of chrysanthemums (see “The Pushiness of Chrysanthemums“), but I must confess that I’ve done my fair share of September shopping for fall-garden fillers. Mums? Check. Pansies? Yep. Ornamental cabbage and kale? Oh, yes—gloriously yes. I know, I know: They’re big and frilly and gaudy, but what can I say? I find them almost impossible to resist.

I say almost impossible, because in the last few years, my gardening style has changed a bit. I’ve been gearing my gardens toward fall interest, with lots of long-lasting foliage and late-blooming perennials, plus July-sown annuals (such as cosmos and dwarf sunflowers) set out in August to add fresh-looking flowers well into fall. I’ve also developed a tolerance—even a fondness—for seedheads, so I’m not as quick as I had been to cut out dead-looking stuff. All this means I don’t have too many empty spaces that need temporary fillers in early fall, and so far, none of them have been big enough to suit an ornamental cabbage or kale. But still, I’ve found a way to have my kale and eat it, too: by growing edible varieties with leaves that look great from spring well into winter.

While many kales offer great-looking foliage, my top favorite is—and has long been—the one known as ‘Redbor’. The seedlings don’t look particularly promising: The leaves are basically blue-green with purplish veins and jagged edges, much like many other kales. As the season progresses, its stout, pinkish purple stems shoot straight upward, often reaching 4 to 5 feet by fall. The leaf edges become distinctly more crinkled, and the color develops more of a purplish tinge, especially in full sun. Once it’s touched by a bit of frost, the whole plant takes on a rich purple color, which looks just as good with pastel asters as it does with bright yellow goldenrods and tan-seeded grasses.

A close second for both color and texture is a beauty known by a plethora of names: dinosaur kale, palm kale, black kale, Tuscan kale, cavolo nero, ‘Lacinato’, ‘Nero di Toscana’, and ‘Toscana’, to name just a few. By any name, it’s a stunner, reaching about 3 feet tall with long leaves that are curled under along the edges and covered with a pebbly rumpling. The newer leaves are typically a bright powder blue, gradually turning an almost black-green as they age. Its bold-textured foliage looks fantastic with fine-textured companions, such as asters and grasses.

Both of these amazing kales are easy to grow from seed sown indoors in early spring, then set outdoors in late spring. (Or, you could sow in June or July, then set them out in August; the plants would then be shorter and more appropriate near the front of the border, instead of the middle or back.) I like to set out the seedlings in groups of three to make a dense clump, but they also look great planted singly and repeated along the border.

While mine occasionally get nibbled on by various bugs, I find that they seldom get attacked by cabbage loopers—even this year, when many of my other cabbage-family crops were chewed into lacy skeletons. I’ve also noticed that both kales show a tendency to overwinter here in southeastern Pennsylvania, although dinosaur kale looks pretty sad by spring. ‘Redbor’ quite often resprouts nicely from the cut-back stem and produces sprays of light yellow blooms in late spring and early summer; if allowed to go to seed, it will even self-sow lightly. That’s a generous return from an often-overlooked vegetable!

Nancy J. Ondra
Nan gardens on 4 acres in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. In the firm belief that every garden ought to have a pretentious-sounding (or at least pretentious-looking) name, she refers to her home grounds as "Hayefield." There, she experiments with a wide variety of plants and planting styles, from cottage gardens and color-based borders to managed meadows, naturalistic plantings, and veggies--all under the watchful eyes of her two pet alpacas, Daniel and Duncan.
Nancy J. Ondra

Latest posts by Nancy J. Ondra (see all)

6 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Colleen September 28, 2007, 1:50 pm

I grew Lacinato kale in my vegetable garden this year, but will definitely be adding it to other beds. The form and color of the foliage was absolutely unbeatable. And, as you mentioned, it was very easy to grow.

I’ll definitely have to try ‘Redbor’ next year….I can see that working in several spots in my garden.

fsorin September 28, 2007, 2:17 pm

Nan-

Kudos to you on creating (and photographing)
such stunning vignettes. Kale is not on my ‘pushiness’ list. And as a matter of fact, you’ve inspired to add the 2 varieties of kale to my ‘must have’ have list for next year!!

Nancy J. Ondra September 28, 2007, 5:09 pm

Thanks, Colleen and Fran! You and other kale-philes might want to check out Wild Garden Seed (www.wildgardenseed.com) when ordering seeds this winter. They used to carry a really neat seed strain that was a hybrid between ‘Lacinato’ and ‘Redbor’ (I can’t remember the name). I didn’t see it this year, but they do currently list ‘Wild Red’, which sounds quite enticing. They offer lots of other unique veggie varieties as well.

David in VT October 1, 2007, 9:59 am

What a beautiful celebration of kale. I was happy to learn that my Redbor might reseed next year. I’m really happy with the way it looks among my floppy asters.

Next year, I’ll try some of the others.

Nancy J. Ondra October 1, 2007, 9:27 pm

Thanks for reading, David. I didn’t get a lot of ‘Redbor’ seedlings, and they didn’t show up until later in the growing season, since the flowers were in bloom mostly in early summer and the seeds didn’t drop until late July or so. It’s probably best to start from spring-sown seed for your main plants and look to the volunteers as a bonus.

beth jennings April 24, 2009, 12:10 pm

I HAVE ALOT OF PURPLE KALE BUT IT IS NOW REALLY TALL AND I GUESS GONE TO SEED. IT HAS YELLOW FLOWERSON IT. CAN I CUT THIS BACK SO IT WILL BE SHORT AND BUSHY AGAIN? THANKS! I ALSO HAVE THE PURPLE LACE KALE AND IT IS DOING THE SAME THING!

Kales are biennials, so they naturally want to flower in their second year. Yes, you can cut them back, but they will quickly go to flower again. If you only want the foliage, you’re better off pulling out those plants and setting out new ones.
-Nan

Previous Post:
0 Shares
Share
Tweet
+1
Pin
Share
Stumble