Beauty and the Feast

Fall will fill the garden and fridge with leafy “greens.”

by Charlie Thigpen   

Photography by Chuck St. John 


The chilly weather makes us a little sad that we can’t bite into summer’s juicy, flavorful tomatoes, but we may give thanks that melt-in-your-mouth winter greens are plentiful and here for the pick’n. During the cool season there are many different leafy and colorful plants that we can set out and harvest in our landscape. Cabbage, collards, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, and Swiss chard are easy to grow and will both beautify your garden and help fill the fridge.


Where to Plant

These greens do need four to six hours of sun to perform well. Most people plant them in the vegetable garden, but I like to mix them in flower borders and set them out in containers. “Giant Red” mustard and “Red Bor” kale are two of my favorite greens to mix with flowers. They both produce big, bold foliage that creates a nice backdrop for pansies and violas.


How Cold Will They Go?

The leafy lettuces such as “Simpson Elite,” “Buttercrunch,” and “Red Sails” will take a light frost, but a hard frost will turn them to mush.  To protect these tender plants from hard frosts or freezing temperatures, you can cover them with floating row covers. This thin protective cloth can be placed over the lettuces to trap the ground’s warmth and keep freezing temperatures out. You can leave this thin blanket over plants for weeks at a time. It’s so shear that it allows sunlight and water to flow through to the plants.

Cabbage, collard, kale, mustard greens, and chard can take the cold, and their foliage is so pretty when covered in frost. Many of these greens are actually tastier once touched by frost.  All are fine unless we have a hard freeze for an extended period of time, but, like the lettuces, they may also be protected by floating row covers.

This fall, don’t just plant pansies, violas, and snapdragons.  Our winters in Birmingham are mild, and there’s so much that we can plant. Try some greens that will serve double duty—they’ll fill your garden with fabulous foliage and give you a taste of cool-season goodness.  Happy gardening and bon appétit!

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