2014-10-23 / From The Garden

Kale – Not Your Everyday Cabbage

By Cynthia Gibson


Kamome “Red,” perfect for Christmas. Kamome “Red,” perfect for Christmas. Like giant rosettes, the heads of flowering cabbage or decorative kale dot the fall landscape with dramatic clusters of color and texture. What a sight they are. A cross between ballerina tutus and cabbage, these “Can-Can” kale skirts grow in pots or in borders in the fall and are edible. Kale and cabbage are members of the mustard family. Flowering kale is, indeed, edible but is not very tasty. It is tough and bitter.

Decorative cabbages and flowering kale are a result of hybridization, like most showy flowers. If you grow them from seed, they take 11 – 14 weeks to germinate, so at this time of year purchase them potted at nurseries, stores, or orchards. They will enhance the color that is beginning to fade in the gardens.

The fringed varieties range in color from white, to pink, to green, to dark green, to variegated green and white. The red and green varieties will look seasonal right into the Christmas holidays. They are spectacular. Flowering kale grows to almost 18 inches tall and can have a spread of two feet, if generously fertilized.


Ornamental cabbages are surprisingly attractive. Ornamental cabbages are surprisingly attractive. Kale is distinguished by having upright leaves, while cabbages form heads. Ornamental cabbages can also have small heads with lobed petal-like leaves. The flowering kales are most attractive, as some have fringed edges while others are feathered. Both of these fall vegetables love direct sun and cool weather. Temperatures from the high 50s to low 60s are perfect weather for these ornamentals.

These autumn plants are excellent for walkway borders or in planted pots that easily last into winter. Frost does not disturb their beauty. I have seen these cabbages and kales covered with a dusting of snow, which almost looks like glitter on their leaves. Talk about “gilding the lily.” If you are potting kale in large urns, adding other fall flowers like grasses, chrysanthemums and asters makes a perfect fall outdoor arrangement. These autumn vegetables are also a great alternative to the typical orange colors of the season.


The Latin name for ruffled kale beauties is Brassica oleracea. This name broadly covers all species of kales and cabbages. The Latin name for ruffled kale beauties is Brassica oleracea. This name broadly covers all species of kales and cabbages. Chave’s Garden Center and Sweet Berry Farm in Middletown always have lovely selections of these plants. Barbara Chaves suggests, “Cut the large kale heads and incorporate them in long-lasting flower arrangements indoors.” Remember to change the water every three days, without fail.

Do not forget that these fall decorative plants are the perfect size for window box plantings. Add pine greens and holly to complete a revitalized outdoor decoration for the holidays.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Kales are a natural for the harvest table at Thanksgiving. Take out the center leaves of the kale or cabbage, and place a bowl filled with cranberry sauce inside to grace your holiday table. For a unique holiday buffet, just picture these lovely kale bouquets with bowls in the center holding condiments and dips of all sorts. What a lovely array of color in autumn.

These low-growing large-leafed plants are their own bouquet and create an undeniable focal point for a unique table décor or as landscape. Buy them now while they last.

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