A winter garden

Chard and cavelo nero kale waiting for the market garden event

Chard, kale and dahlias in the potager

The garden may have entered its winter sleep, helped by the recent sharp frosts, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t anything of interest.

In her local parish magazine, Marylyn looked at which vegetables add a stylish note to the winter potager…

As the winter frosts decimate the brilliance of the autumn garden, most of us think that’s it for the season. However, the vegetable garden given some thought can be as smart and as sharp as you wish. Many of the winter vegetable leaves look fresh and stylish in the late autumn.

My favourite winter leaf is the kale, ‘Nero di Toscana’ or Russian black kale as it is alternatively called. Here is a long, curled and blistered leaf in dark green, that looks so smart in front of autumn’s dahlias keeping them corralled and neat and is still around as a backdrop to the earliest tulip. Highly attractive is the scarlet kale that turns violet after the first frosts. Around 100cm tall, its over primed leaves are very frost resistant and add huge colour and form to the winter garden.

The dwarf curly green kale does the same trick for the winter border’s edge, no more than 50cm high with dense deep green fizzy leaves. It’s a great front stalls plant for rows of winter leeks. All these kales are sown in the greenhouse in April/May and placed out in July. Have you noticed that they seem to be the vegetable of the moment, appearing in celbrity chefs’ menus regularly; their leaves harvested when they are small and tender giving fresh green to winter dishes.

Winter cabbages are strong shapes in the cold garden. I have always relied on the cabbage ‘Red Drumhead’ for Christmas Day’s red cabbage and for sheer winter garden beauty, the cabbage ‘January King’, which is a mixture of red and green-blue leaves. These too are sown in spring in the greenhouse and placed out in the garden in July. A must for the autumn planting combination – I repeat and repeat – are these cabbages alongside Cerinthe ‘Purple Belle’, with leaves the colour of eucalyptus and bracts of blue and green.

Parsnips are best once the frosts have come and also carrots over winter too. Both have an antifreeze component in their DNA and become sweeter as the cold sets in. Walking canes of brussels sprouts and the blue-green variety of leeks are stalwarts of the winter garden and even the green and white Swiss chard will last well into winter. It is much hardier than the multi-coloured chard ‘Bright Lights’.

The winter harvest is there, all for the taking. The work is done, so perhaps it is the most relaxing garden of all.