The first time I saw ornamental cabbages used extensively as a formal winter bedding plant was one autumn at the Château de Villandry in 1989. At once, I appreciated how robust brassicas are in the winter, looking equally good on a sunny day or after a severe frost. Sprouts are, of course, a traditional element of Christmas dinner and are at their prime leading up to the festive period.
Ornamental cabbages are not plants I buy for the garden. Yet, I make my annual pilgrimage to garden centres before the Christmas poinsettias arrive to select the most photogenic cabbages. For me, those with pink or mauve leaves with a hint of green are the most attractive. Once home, they are placed in shallow trays on the ground and on small plastic tables in the most exposed parts of the garden. Then we await sub zero weather to bedeck the crinkled leaf margins with sparkling ice.
Cabbages bejewelled with ephemeral gemstones
This year, on the day I bought them, we had a severe air frost. To my delight, I awoke to find the rigid cabbage leaves decorated with huge ice crystals, out-sizing any ground frost encrustations. By varying the camera angles and magnification, a gallery of images captured this rare delight in soft natural light.
Suddenly everything changed when the sun began to rise and the first beam shone onto a single cabbage leaf. At once, the glowing leaf stood out from the surrounding unlit leaves and became a natural focus point. All too soon, warmth from the sun’s rays began to melt the ephemeral gemstones – every bit as attractive as real ones.
Silver raindrops decorate leaves
Some days later, the night temperatures remained well above freezing with mist creating magical silver raindrops on the cabbage leaves, when viewed against the light. Since these are much more likely to be lost by moving plants around, it pays to put some in an accessible place with all round even lighting so they don’t have to be moved for photography.
I appreciate not everyone is a fan of ornamental cabbages; but just a few plants add colour and texture to a winter garden, as do the leaves to a Christmas wreath.
Added 18 April 2017
Names of cultivars of ornamental cabbage and kale illustrated with colour images here
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