Foliage vs Flowers: Winter

Well-planted pots can pack a punch totally disproportionate to the number and volume of plants involved.

A couple of times a year I replant the largest of my pots, which then sit in prominent positions, mostly doing a remarkable job of distracting from the fact that there’s nowhere DSC_0017near enough in flower in the garden itself.  In summer, when I don’t have enough water for vegies (mine is a winter vegie garden only – much the easiest way to go about it, but that’s another subject), these pots brimming with seasonal contents totally eclipse the dreariness of empty vegie beds.  It’s miraculous.

What I’ve learned, through pain and suffering, is that in my winter pots, coloured foliage is a whole lot more effective than flowers.  This is slightly depressing, as there’s no escaping the fact that foliage, no matter how extravagantly coloured, lacks the heart-breaking, fragile beauty of flowers.  But fragile is the key word.  No flowers are made to put up with the cycle of freezing, thawing, drenching, waterlogging and wind-drying that my climate dishes up in winter.

A large pot containing six seed-grown kale plants.  The seed is annoyingly hard to find, and there's nothing in the way of options.  in front of that are individual pots of the fabulous red-leafed mustard.  This is hopelessly fast to bolt to flower in the warmer months, but is a fabulously stable ornamental for winter.

A large pot containing six seed-grown kale plants. The seed is annoyingly hard to find, and there’s nothing in the way of options. In front of that are individual pots of the fabulous red-leafed mustard. This is hopelessly fast to bolt to flower in the warmer months, but is very stable, and highly ornamental, in winter.  These things may be all very coarse in colour and texture, but you’re happy for colour of any sort in the long winters we have here…

Of course all flowers are beaten around, in any climate.  But my current belief (self-generated, and with no way of my truly testing it out) is that the particular challenge of winter is that flowers just can’t replace themselves fast enough.

A pot of violas, that were flowering well when winter started, but haven't (and won't) produce another flower worth looking at until well into spring.  They produce 'em alright,  albeit slowly, but the weather reduces them to pulp before they can give any pleasure.

A pot of violas, that were flowering well when winter started, but haven’t (and won’t) produce another flower worth looking at until well into spring. They produce ‘em alright, albeit slowly, but the weather reduces them to pulp before they can give any pleasure.

The growth rate of the flowering plant, and of the flowers themselves, is just too slow to cover for the constant loss of flowers due to batterings and bruisings.

Foliage is the answer.  And in winter that’s limited. I had to grow the ornamental kale plants in these photos from seed. Not only are seedlings irregularly and unreliably available, they hit the market too late in the season to bulk up before it gets too cold here.  I germinated these in early February.  The nursery didn’t get any seedlings in until about April.

DSC00272

I can’t say that I absolutely love ornamental kale plants, but by golly I’m grateful for them.

 

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11 thoughts on “Foliage vs Flowers: Winter

  1. I have always grown ornamental kale but this year my chickens made a daily luncheon of them. By the time I discovered their culinary preference, they had eaten all of them. Normally I would use them in decorating wreaths for the holiday but this year I had to pluck them from the earthen pots and throw them to the chickens for their last luncheon of kale.

    • Thanks Christine. I’ll cook up something, though it’ll be in typical MM style ie with few concrete suggestions, and most focus on how to approach the idea (which drives my kids crazy. They’ll ask for help with their homework, and end up exclaiming, in exasperation, ‘just tell me the answer, don’t tell me how to think it through!!!’)

    • It’s not easy to achieve, Peter, if that makes you feel any better!. Certainly in my climate, if I wait until summer stuff is over, then it’s too late to start the winter stuff. I’ve gotta start thinking about winter when I’m still bathing in the bounty of late summer. This is particularly troublesome in the vegetable garden, when beds usually remain full of warm season crops until frost, or early winter in frost-free areas, and then it’s way too late to get winter stuff started. Most of my winter stuff spends the first couple of months in pots, waiting for space to become available. This is annoying, as I have a habit of neglecting stuff that’s not in full view, but it works for me since I’m always low on water at this time of year (late summer – autumn), and watering things in pots is water-efficient, even if painfully demanding

  2. Hi Michael,

    I agree winter pots are a great idea and a saviour when the garden is bereft of flowers or it’s just too inclement to venture too far.

    What about hellebores (for a year or two) or well-packed pots of Cyclamen coum or hoop-petticoats as other possibilites?

    Cheers, Marcus

    • I love the kind of pots you’re talking about here, Marcus, and occasionally I’ve worked up the numbers to do a decent pot-full of the smaller bulbs you mention.
      But their beauty is in their subtlety, and what I’m looking for in pots of perennials and annuals such as mentioned in the post is volume and colour so loud that it borders on, and frequently crosses, the line into vulgarity.
      Also, I’ve got to be honest and admit that I’m very nearly useless and looking after things in their off-season. My pots of hellebores (I was an early uptaker of ‘Penny’s Pink’ and ‘Anna’s Red’, as well as some other rarer species that should never have been entrusted to me) nearly always suffer neglect over the summer, and my bulb pots end up full of weeds which, when you try to remove them, want to lift the entire pot of soil out rather than be severed from their roots. V v bad gardening, but there it is.
      I find it so much easier to put my display pots in places I can’t forget about them, and fill them with stuff I can just turf once they’re past their use-by date. I so, so wish that I was otherwise, and I live in constant hope of a deep inner change, but so far I’ve proven myself to be totally untrustworthy of the custodianship of anything remaining in a pot for its downtime.

  3. Can I second Penny’s thought of seasonal pots to set up near doors. My garden is so wet I can’t walk on the lawn without leaving muddy prints! Pots would give me something else to think about.

  4. Dear Michael, I know you’re totally inspired by Christopher Lloyd at Great Dixter and his amazing array of seasonal pots at the front door… would you consider a post to give us a couple of pot inspirations for the coming couple of seasons? Do you do a Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter display pot or just a Winter Summer version? So with summer on the way… what are you planning and could we try and plant along… especially if we promise to feed like crazy… I think Australia needs a good potted plant revolution! (Me loving the kale and mustard pots they look great but now I have to remember to try and get something like that going around May next year!!)

    • Might take up the suggestion Penny. But while I’m thinking of it, you’ll need to get them going before May in your climate! That’d work in Melbourne, but in Ballarat, things need to be well established by May if you’re going to get any show out of them. Wish someone had told me that 25 years ago…

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