Wonderful Edible Ornamental Kale

A 2014 prediction from the culinary community is that kale, the “super food,” will continue to grow in popularity. Nutritious as it is, gardeners shouldn’t overlook kale’s ornamental value. Tucked in amongst perennials and shrubs in sun and part sun conditions with well-draining soil, you can have your cake and eat it, too. 

Photo: Territorial Seed Co.

Want to get your kids or grandkids interested in gardening? Try easy-to-grow kale and turn your labor of love into kale chips, a popular new snack that kids—and adults—enjoy eating. I’ve successfully grown three varieties of kale in my community garden plot, but I haven’t tucked it in my ornamental garden yet; that will change in 2014. I was curious how many varieties of kale are available to the home gardener. Turns out there are lots!

Nichols Garden Nursery, a family-owned seed company located in Albany, Ore. and long-time Yard, Garden & Patio Show (YGP) exhibitor offers seeds for 11 varieties. Territorial Seed Co., also a YGP exhibitor, offers a wide selection as well. As is often the case, the grocery store offers a very limited variety so planting your own will let you expand your horizons—and taste buds—and allow you to experiment and find more favorites, both for flavor and ornamental attributes. With curly, crinkly, blue, green or magenta leaves, kale adds nutrition, color and texture to the garden, even in the winter months!

Here’s a sampling of kale varieties from Nichols Garden Nursery and Territorial Seed Co.:

  • Dwarf Blue Curled Kale – 15-inch tall with a 2-foot spread. Produces blue-green finely curled leaves.
  • Dwarf Green Curled Kale – 12-18-inch tall with green curly tender, sweet leaves.
  • Gai Lohn (Chinese) Kale – Heat resistant variety.
  • Improved Dwarf Siberian Kale – Frilly, dark green leaves form a rosette 24 inches in diameter. Harvest leaves long after most other kales have bolted.
  • Kosmic Kale – A new edition to the kale palette, Kosmic is a perennial, bi-colored kale, allowing for continuous harvests of slightly curled blue-green leaves set off by contrasting creamy white leaf margins.
  • Maribor Kale – Filly-leaf compact kale with dark outer leaves and extra deep-red central foliage. Cooler weather intensifies the color and sweetens its flavor.
  • Nero Di Toscana (Tuscan) Kale – Also known as dinosaur kale. Very dark green leaves are 2-3 inches wide and 10 inches long with a blistered appearance. It is extremely winter hardy, becoming very sweet after a freeze. Excellent for kale chips.
  • Red Russian Kale – 2-3 feet tall with blue-green foliage supported by purple stems. Sweet whether using young or mature leaves.
  • Red Ursa Kale – 20-24 inches tall with gree, frilly leaves on magenta stems.
  • Redbor Kale – 18-24 inches tall with purple leaves and magenta stems. Leaves deepen in color and become curlier with the onset of cool weather.
  • Savoy Kale – 24 inches tall. Vigorously re-grows from successive pickings. Dark green, slightly ruffled kale with a purple blush.
  • White Russian Kale – A sister variety of Red Russian, it has the same moderately dissected and frilled leaves, but with white and green mid-veins.
  • Wild Red Kale – A more compact variation on Red Russian kale. Foliage is silver green overlaid with bright red on the stems and leaf joints. Extremely hardy and productive.
  • Winterbore Kale – Finely curled, thick, blue-green leaves. Grows up to 2 feet. An early spring and late fall kale.

In my experience, as the days begin to warm, aphids pose a problem. Territorial Seed’s website recommends a hard spray of water, Hot Pepper Wax, Insect Killing Soap, or Pyrethrin to deal with the pests. Perhaps the most practical solution is to select varieties that mature later in the season when aphid populations decline.

For spring harvest, direct seed after danger of hard frost (ideal soil germination temperature is 55-75 degrees). For fall and winter culture, sow seeds in early July.

For more information about edible kale, click here.