Who says a vegetable garden can’t be pretty? Even in winter, when the gray, sparse landscape shows up all your yard’s flaws, vegetables can brighten the dull picture – especially when combined with the colorful flowers and foliage of cold-hardy annuals.
Gardeners who once relegated their beets, cabbage and lettuce to an out-of-sight corner of the backyard are now recognizing the beauty of these plants and using them front and center, in foundation borders, mailbox plantings and patio containers. Most winter vegetables are either green, gray or purple, so for complimentary colors, think red, yellow and orange. The frilly fullness of pansies and violas are the perfect foil to the bold, strappy leaves of kale, lettuces and mustards. Snapdragons, dianthus and Dusty Miller also make great companions. And for foliage plants, don’t forget the many types of evergreen ferns and heucheras (coral bells), which growers now offer in many colors, from deep purple to bright orange.
Start with an annual color you like and then add a bold-textured veggie and a fine-textured one. Think yellow pansies with ‘Redbor’ kale and 'Dusty Miller'.
The great thing about winter veggies is the wide variety of texture they offer, from the dainty stems of parsley and cilantro to the rugged leaves of kale and cardoon. Here are some options to consider:
Parsley and Swiss chard: Whether you choose the flat-leaf or curly-leaf variety, there’s no mistaking that spark of bright green that parsley lends a bed or container. Swiss chard is one of the coolest when it comes to colorful veggies. Its stems can be neon red, purple or yellow with waxy, strappy green leaves. (A warning: In really cold climes, these two veggies can go flat and not bounce back.)
Beets: Go for the dark red leaves of ‘Bull’s Blood.’
Lettuce: Perhaps no other winter veggie offers so much texture and color. Besides the bright green varieties, look for ‘Merlot’ (intensely purple-red) and ‘Lola Rosa” (dark red and ruffly).
Broccoli: Who can resist the gnarly textured heads of this staple? Two varieties to consider are ‘Romanesco,’ which resembles cauliflower, and ‘Veronica,’ with its swirling chartreuse spires.
Kale: This extremely hardy plant makes a great centerpiece for a container garden and comes in a variety of colors, such as ‘Winterbor’ (green), ‘Redbor’ (deep purple), ‘Red Russian’ (blue green) and the crinkly-leaved Dinosaur types (gray).
Cabbages: Another favorite for centerpieces, cabbages look great when paired with the soft leaves of lettuce. ‘Mammoth Red Rock,’ with its deep red heads, adds some drama to the garden. ‘Nagoya Red’ features balls of dark purple ruffled foliage with bright rosy-purple centers.
Collards and cardoon: Now we’re talking really bold drama – if you have a lot of space, that is.