Foliage vs Flowers: Winter

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.

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