If you want to see constant color in your garden during the remainder of the fall and throughout the winter, consider planting ornamental cabbage and ornamental kale. Unlike pansies (prone to fungi that may kill them almost overnight) and snapdragons (susceptible to leaf rust and flower bud worms), ornamental cabbage and kale can persist until spring.
Pansies and snapdragons can require continual deadheading of spent flowers to keep blooming. Ornamental cabbage and kale, though, are decorative through omnipresent foliage.
Ornamental cabbage looks like ordinary cabbage except that its interior leaves are white, pink, lavender or red. Ornamental kale is similar – also available in white, pink, lavender and red – and has exceedingly fluffy or fringed foliage.
The beauty displayed by ornamental cabbage and kale is temperature-dependent. For the colors of these plants to be fully expressed, temperatures must drop below 50 degrees during several consecutive nights. The colder the winter, the more stunning the plants. If we experience an early frost, so much the better, since the cabbage loopers and aphids are generally put to rest by a single frosty night.
No plants should be more carefully examined in the nursery prior to purchase. Once they become pot-bound, these plants will not increase in size – even if their root balls are scored prior to planting in the garden.
The problem, of course, is that virtually all container-grown plants are pot-bound. Most container-grown plants react favorably to having their circling roots scored or cut through with a knife or pruning shears prior to planting, but ornamental cabbages and kales are unmoved by such procedures. Thus, you should purchase the largest, fullest ornamental cabbages and kales you can find. As the weather warms, ornamental cabbage and kale will “bolt” or send up flower stalks. This does not necessarily mean the demise of the plants. Remove the flower stalks and you should be able to keep your ornamental cabbages and kales alive for a full year, albeit in attenuated form.
To create a cool, wintry look not only for this season but throughout the year, combine perennial plants with blue and silver foliage, whether in the garden bed or in containers. The Mexican blue palm (Brahea armata) could be the centerpiece of such an arrangement. You could surround it with a plethora of blue junipers, including ground cover, shrub and tree junipers, some of which grow into perfect spires. There are also conical, silvery blue Arizona cypresses, which could be used either as individual specimen trees or, planted in a row, as a windbreak. Arizona cypresses are highly adaptable to all the weather extremes our area has to offer, from Palm Springs to the Antelope Valley. Blue conifers can be successfully underplanted with mounding, silvery Artemisias.
A cactus and succulent garden composed entirely of blue and silver plants is easily imagined. Several types of Cereus tree cactus are blue, as are many agaves. The succulent or pine family (Crassulaceae) includes chalky blue Dudleyas, many of which are native to our area and can be viewed growing precariously on sheer slopes from Bouquet Canyon to the Channel Islands. Then there are the many blue-hued Echeveria rosettes, as well as the deepest-blue succulents of them all, the trailing Senecio mandraliscae and Senecio serpens shade tolerant ground covers.
TIP OF THE WEEK: “I collect and dry a lot of seeds each fall. Storing the fresh seed while it was drying was always a problem, until I discovered the virtues of clean, used, clear plastic quart- and pint-size containers like those you get from a deli or takeout restaurant. Now I collect a single species in a container and drop in an identifying label. I leave the lid off, then loosely stack another container on top, fill it with seeds and label it, and soon. Without the lids on and stacked loosely, the containers admit enough air to slowly dry the seeds.” (This tip was provided by Steve Silk and is included with lots more useful information for gardeners at www.taunton.com/fg.
Hail to this great pumpkin
In Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts,” Linus spent Halloween waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.
In and around the Valley, residents wait for a Great Pumpkin of a different sort – one that dwarfs the garden, resembles a boulder and contains enough carving space to make jack-o’-lanterns full of detail.
Northridge resident Donald Stachowiak has grown several pumpkins over the 100-pound mark, which he donates to his parents for “fearsome” Halloween decorations.
His secret to growing the botanical beasts? “Lots of compost, tilling and keeping the soil fluffed up. I made a single hill with a levee around it, so all the fertilizer, food and water was concentrated at the roots.”
While happy with his crop, Stachowiak says he wants to grow a pumpkin that weighs 300 pounds before he retires from the hobby he considers more an obsession.
“If I could set my 6-year-old daughter inside the pumpkin, and see her poking her head out, I can then say ‘OK, I have arrived.’ ”
Willow McCutcheon of Santa Clarita grew a 40-pounder last year, with a catch: It was hanging from her white birch.
“My son planted the seed, and it grew and grew along the fence and up the tree, about 20 feet. We didn’t even notice it at first,” she says.
“We carved it for Halloween. It was very clean and beautiful.”
Not everyone grows giant pumpkins in the Halloween spirit. Last year, Grace Hampton of Burbank grew a 50-pound pumpkin just to see if she could do it. And though she ended up selling her pumpkin for $12.50, she wants to grow another.
“I just want to see how big I can get it,” she says.
– Mike Chmielecki