Nothing makes winter flowers and berries brighter than greens. No, I don't mean evergreens. I mean real, edible greens.
Because I didn't grow up vegetable gardening I was amazed to learn that most cool-weather vegetables tolerate light frosts, and many will survive a hard freeze. That means containers and beds I normally use for summer annuals can have more than a low blanket of pansy blooms. I can plant greens for big rosettes of colorful leaves. After all, green is a color too, especially in winter.
Not all greens will see spring if planted in fall. But some are worth the effort, even for a few months. Lettuce comes in many colors. I particularly like 'Black-Seeded Simpson' and 'Simpson Elite' for the energetic lime-green leaves that give nearby color extra impact. The reddened foliage of 'Red Sails', 'Lolla Rossa', 'Flame' and others adds drama and depth.
My lettuce survived the early freezes without a problem last fall. What it didn't like was the unseasonable warmth of December. Temps reaching the 80s made the lettuce bloom as if it were spring. Then a night in the low 20s ended it all. However, I enjoyed the sight--and flavor--of lettuce for three months. I'll plant again as soon as possible this spring.
My Safe Bets
Collards, kale and red mustard get the prize for showy foliage and cold-tolerance. The ornamental cabbages and kales are less tolerant, but pretty while they last. For longevity shop the vegetable section. If planted in spring after frost, these greens will survive summer, growing into big mounds of foliage by the next winter. Sadly they will bloom and die after winter, but not before raising 3- to 4-foot-tall stalks of butter-yellow blooms.
Swiss chard is remarkably tolerant of both cold and heat. Here is a pot I planted in fall with chard and lettuce. After the lettuce died from a freeze in the low 20s, dusty miller took its place.
Other greens are worth a try. Do you have some you can recommend?
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