This time, I was fortunate enough to get a respite form the hellacious heat of the East coast by escaping to the Perennial Plant Symposium and trade show in Portland, Oregon.
Meet my new nemesis – Harlequin bugs.
While I was gone, something yucky invaded my life. It has quickly become my new nemesis.
I had a nightmare they were crawling all over me. They’ve destroyed all of my kale. They’ve destroyed all of the kale and collard greens at the City Hall vegetable garden in Baltimore. I was planning to eat kale all summer, but I had to pull it out and destroy it due to the nasty infestation.
They are beautiful, red and black insects that lay eggs camouflaged as caterpillar frass, which is a lovely term I learned in entomology class for insect poo. See, I did learn something in college.
They LOVE kale, cabbage and collard greens and they have taken Baltimore veg gardens by storm, eating everything in sight.
My veg garden looks a little bare right now. Time to sow more red Russian kale, one of my favorites (more on that soon).
Since we’re talking about veg, let’s talk about cool veg. I adore cool vegetables for spring, all summer and fall texture in the garden as well as in containers.
I’m not talking about the common, two-toned, round ball “ornamental” cabbages on a stick that look like a bi-color version of Marge Simpson’s hair.
I’m assuming you all have seen The Simpson’s. If not, I’m sorry.
During the Ohio Short Course and even on the plane ride home, I talked to many garden center buyers. Curiously, I asked them all about their veg selection.
“Why don’t you all sell larger pots of some of the prettier vegetables so folks can plant them in spring containers and in their gardens?”
Then I start frolicking on about how beautiful I think some of the kales and cabbages are and that’s when the looks begin.
They look at me like I’m insane. Are they listening? I’m a consumer too, you know?
In the last issue I talked about all the gas and energy wasted to truck plants cross- country from some of the larger growers. This week, while we focus on beautiful veg, I’d like to address how much garden centers waste to bring in early color and offer my favorite solutions (aka beautiful veg) to ease their pain and make spring-time shopping much more enjoyable for me (and other customers too).
I know most people can’t wait for the local strawberries or cherries, so they’ll buy them as soon as they see them, even when they are not in season. Not me, I’m a seasonal fruit gal, so I live without and then stuff myself once they are in season. There is nothing like fresh strawberries and cherries – in season.
I know it’s tempting to buy them as soon as you seen them. It’s like tomatoes in the winter. Good grief, what a waste of money. I’d rather do without than eat some grainy, mealy, tasteless impersonation of a tomato. I know cherries and strawberries from far away usually have more flavor than a winter time tomato, but isn’t it more fun to wait and taste them as nature intended?
They are much cheaper when they are in season too…
Early perennial, annual and tropical “color” plants are purchased the same way at garden centers and big boxes. They get things in so early that plants can be blooming up to a month earlier, especially if they come from a warmer part of the country, which is usually pretty far away from the garden center.
Dianthus (cheddar pinks) should not be blooming in April in Maryland, but it’s always for sale, in full bloom, before Mothers day. Outside, it doesn’t bloom until mid May. Why not sell dianthus from a local grower? It would bloom at the right time and there would be no chance of it getting hit by an early frost.
People can wait. If there was something naturally in bloom and it was gorgeous, don’t you think they would buy that instead? Why are we always in such a rush?
I know garden center buyers push the limit each year, trying to bring in color early to attract customers. There are plenty of things you can bring in that naturally bloom early. How about selling more early perennials like hellebores, epimediums and heuchera? Granted, heuchera don’t flower that early, but their foliage is drop dead gorgeous in early spring. They all look fantastic in April, and they won’t skip a beat if they get hit by a late frost.
Scandalous, I know, but have you seen them in spring containers?
People don’t realize how beautiful vegetables can be. What a great complement to the Pansy crop. I’m not talking those funky, colored cabbages and curly leaved kales that everyone sells.
And don’t get me started on the dyed and sparkled cabbages they sell during the holidays. Eew! Ponsettias was one thing, but abbages and kale should not be dyed OR covered in sparkle paint.
How about a ‘Red Russian’ or ‘Redbor’ kale? Have you ever seen one in a six or eight inch pot?
Redbor, or Side Show Bob hair kale, as I call it, is one of the most ornamental vegetables you can grow. It’s deep purpley-red and I think it’s much more attractive than any of the ornamental kales offered in the spring. Plus, it’s much more edible. Sorry for two Simpson’s references in one e-letter, but I know you’ll get the Side Show Bob reference once you see it.
Tuscan or dinosaur kale is deep, bluish green and crinkly, also resembling crazy fountain-like hair. And it’s gorgeous too.
Imagine how much fun that name can be for little kids? Sadly, mine still wont eat it, but they love to talk about the dinosaurs in our garden.
Each night, my eight year old comes lurking in the kitchen to examine what’s being cooked just to so he can prepare himself to taste. It’s a huge deal to him and he gets so stressed out. I could write an entire issue on kids and vegetables. Mine just won’t eat them…ugh!
Grow and cook your own food and your kids will eat it…haha! Is that a joke? It certainly hasn’t worked for me.
Can you say gorgeous?
Gorgeous plants, and no one sells them. I always have to buy them from seed. Even ‘ ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard is hard to find. Savoy cabbage is one of the most beautiful vegetables I have ever seen. It’s crinkled, wavy leaves and enormous heads of truly edible cabbage make it a must for any garden. One plant can grow to 3 foot by 3 foot in just a few months.
Come on people! No dyed, sparkly cabbage could ever compare to this giant , graceful beauty.
I’m not talking peat pots or six packs either. Grow them big like you do the ornamental cabbage and kale. Have demos and classes on planting an spring container that contains vegetables for the front porch. It’s so much fun. I always have veggies in my front containers, right there along with the pansies in the spring.
Swiss chard grows and produces edible leaves ALL summer and it’s beauteous and easy to care for. It can take western facing, full afternoon sun without skipping a beat.
All of these beauties are edible. Kale can be harvested all summer too, unless the harlequin bugs get them. Kale can also take the heat and the humidity, so you don’t have to remove them once it gets warm (like the pansies). It’s not just a spring crop. We harvest thousands of pounds of greens from the garden in front of City Hall in Baltimore city. It all goes to feed the homeless. I’m talking 30 to 50 black bulb crates every other week, throughout the summer. Each crate weights about 30 pounds when it’s full of greens.
Plants can be beautiful and useful at the same time. Imagine that?
Imagine bringing in local color to your store without shipping plants from one coast to another and wasting all that gas.
There’s more to life than pansies.
I’ve had great experience with loads of pretty veggies. It’s so much fun and no one ever thinks of putting them in spring containers. I’d be happy to share the good, the bad and the ugly of pretty veggie selections with anyone.
While in Portland, Oregon last week for the Perennial Plant Symposium, I had the pleasure of touring (and shopping!) at Sean Hogan’s famous zone denying nursery, Cistus. If you are in zonal denial, like many gardeners, try some of the unusually cool things Cistus has to offer.
I was pleasantly surprised with the display gardens. They had red Russian kale, Tuscan kale and Swiss chard randomly mixed into their borders.
Sean is my hero! I was so excited!! Here are some pictures.
Nobody puts baby in the corner, so why do we plant the veg in the back corner, hidden from all?
Integrate the veg! Then eat it!
Until then, Happy Weeding!
President, Plants Nouveau
PS – Let’s talk about how fantastically tough Phlox paniculata ‘Lord Clayton’ has been. I’ve practically put it through plant hell the past few weeks.
I took plants to the Ohio Short Course, displayed them in the booth and then had them trucked from Ohio to Washington state (all the while in the dark), so they could be taken off one truck and put onto another to be driven down to Portland, OR to be displayed in my booth for the Perennial Plant Symposium.
These tough plants saw no real sunlight from July 9th to July 23rd. They were indoors, in a dry environment and they did not skip a beat. I watered them regularly and thanked them for behaving, of course, but that was it. Did I mention they were also manhandled by some passer-by about twice an hour.
Not a great life for a plant, but Lord Clayton did fine.
I also discovered Lord Clayton has the darkest purple there is to be had on the Royal Horticultural Society’s Colour Chart while I was doing the patent a few weeks ago. The new foliage is nearly black. This plant deserves a trial in your garden and in gardens all over the country, so if you’d like a sample, let me know and we’ll add you to the list.