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Pink and purple ruffles

With its ruffled leaves drenched in pinks, purples and ivory, ornamental kale is a decorative and easy-to-grow addition to a winter garden. Reporter Matai O’Connor spoke with gardener Jenne Rudkin-Pearson about the plants she chose for Teal Motor Lodge . . .

GOING past Teal Motor Lodge on Gladstone Road you might notice a different bunch of flowers from usual. These are ornamental kale — long-lasting rosettes of wavy-to-frilly leaves in colours not commonly seen in their more edible counterparts.

Gardener Jenne Rudkin-Pearson decided to plant these at the front and down the back of the motor lodge because it is unique and is the perfect plant to insert some liveliness into your garden.

Jenne has been gardening at the Teal Motor Lodge for about five years and in 2018 won a Gisborne Gardener’s commercial garden award for her work.

“I wanted to plant the ornamental kale because its distinctive. Normally I do the same annuals every year, (impatiens) but this year I thought ‘let’s do something different’.”

“I wanted to change it up and see what reaction I would get.”

At the beginning people walking past were concerned why Jenne was removing all the impatiens, and she explained what she was doing. They were intrigued.

But now as people walk past and see the ornamental kale, they are amazed.

“People recognise the place and love to see something new growing.”

Jenne has never planted ornamental kale before — this was her first time. She says it was “a bit of a gamble” but it has paid off.

It’s about giving new ideas out to the public on what plants can be used.

“People might decide to grow some in their gardens.”

Winter is the best time of year for all brassicas to grow. “The colder the better.”

Jenne wants to thank Teal Motor Lodge manager Stewart Haynes for allowing her to do what she wants with the garden, “it’s a blessing”.

Peter Whitehead from Touchstone helped Jenne source the plants.

“Whitehead shares his expertise and is always interested in what I am doing,” says Jenne.

She added, Caroline Mills from Location Palms is also helpful in sourcing plants and shares her knowledge.

“All the staff here at the Teal Motor Lodge are lovely and keep the place in tip-top shape.”

Ornamental kale are in the same species (Brassica oleracea) as edible cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.

While ornamental kale is edible, they tend to have a bitter flavour and are often used in a culinary setting as garnishes.

Ornamental kale grown for their large rosettes of white, pink, purple and red leaves

Ornamental kale are prized primarily as colourful additions to home gardens where they are grown for their large rosettes of white, pink, purple or red leaves.

Technically, ornamental cabbage and kale are all kales. Kales produce leaves in tight rosettes; cabbages produce heads.

But in the horticultural trade, ornamental kale is the term used for types with deeply-cut, curly, frilly or ruffled leaves.

Ornamental cabbage is the term used for types with broad, flat leaves that are edged in a contrasting colour.

Ornamental cabbage and kale grow approximately one 30cm wide and 40cm tall.

Ornamental cabbages and kales do not tolerate summer heat, so you need to start plants from seed in mid-summer, or purchase transplants at your local garden centre.

Sow seeds about six to 10 weeks before the expected date of the first frost in your area.

Seeds must be sown and young plants kept under cool conditions to thrive.

In most climates, this means plants should be started in a greenhouse where the temperature can be controlled.

Alternatively, you can place pots with seeds in a refrigerator for several days to encourage germination.

In cooler climates, sowing seeds directly in the garden may be possible.

Ornamental cabbage and kale seeds require light for germination, so seeds should not be covered with soil.

When purchasing ornamental cabbage or kale transplants, look for large, compact plants that are nearly or fully coloured.

Plants will generally not get much bigger after they are planted in the garden, particularly if the roots are pot bound.

Colourful Kale: Gardener Jenne Rudkin-Pearson says the ornamental kale, with its ruffled, crinkled and curled leaves, at Teal Motor Lodge has added wonderful texture and colour to the garden. Pictures by Liam Clayton
Ornamental kale at Teal Motor Lodge.