When I was in England in January, I took a look at the trial of ornamental kales at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley, in Surrey about 25 miles south from central London (zone 8). It was a real eye-opener.
Thirty six different varieties, almost all bred in Japan, were grown both in containers in a relatively sheltered location, and also in the open on the nearby trials field (netted against pigeons). Most of those grown in the open were a disaster, you just wouldn’t want to be bothered growing them at all. Only the Peacock types, with their flat heads of unusually lacy leaves really thrived. Most of the rest proved one of the often unappreciated aspects of plant trials – they revealed those which are not worth space in the garden.
All fared much better in sheltered containers, but even when growing well so many are little more than coloured dishmops that it makes you want to just pull them out and throw them on the compost heap.
The stars, both in containers and in the open, were ‘Red Peacock’ and ‘White Peacock’. Their broad flat heads of prettily dissected foliage made attractive specimens and their informal outline suits them well to growing with spring partners like wallflowers or pansies, or bulbs, which can emerge amongst the lacy leaves. Otherwise, don’t bother. Of course, this is just one location, in one season. There’s a report of a 2004 trial at Mississippi State University here.
The RHS trial is continuing, when the final report is published later this year I’ll add the link to this post.