The best living displays of the diversity of Brassicas I’ve seen was in the Munich Botanical Garden in Germany in November 2015, including an apparently perennial kale I hadn’t seen before… Braunkohl “Rote Palme”. Please let me know if you know more about this kale, also if you know of a source of seed /cuttings.
When I visited Japan in early spring 2016, I noticed a violet/purple flower growing as an ornamental in some gardens and also escaped as a weed.
I finally realized that it was a plant I had grown for a couple of years (2011-2012) as an unusual annual vegetable, Orychophragmus violaceus, known as ‘Chinese Violet Cress’ or ‘February Orchid’, sourced from Horizon Herbs in the US. Despite one of its common names, it’s not an orchid but is related to cress, belonging to the cabbage family Brassicaceae.
It hadn’t grown particularly well in my garden, but it did manage to flower and I used them in various salads during those two years, adding a different colour to the mix and it continued flowering right to the first frosts in November! It was also badly attacked by the usual pests of Brassicas, but it bounced back with masses of shoots from the roots in the autumn when the pest pressure was released. It doesn’t like temperatures below -5C and therefore didn’t have much chance of overwintering here in Malvik (it is biannual in the Far East).
Orychophragmus violaceus has a wild distribution in China and Korea and was introduced to Japan a long time ago both as an ornamental and also as a potential oil seed crop (you can google pictures of it growing alongside rape oil plants). In the wild it has a wide range of habitats from woodlands, gardens, roadsides and open fields. In Japan it has widely naturalized in many habitats thanks to its adaptability and it is now found throughout the islands, encouraged by gardeners who love the early spring flowers. In some parts it carpets woodlands in the early spring and it has been described as the Bluebell of Japan! However it is also a weed in gardens (and as such one of the world’s most beautiful weeds!). In Japan it is known as hanadaikon (“flower-daikon”), which name is also used for Hesperis matrionalis (dame’s violet), ooaraseitou, murasaki-hana-na (“purple-flower-rape”), shikinsou (“purple-gold-plant”). Shokatsusai / zhu ge cai is its Chinese name.
It has also been used as a forage species in China: “Its shoots are rich in protein, iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. Hence it is a valuable forage. Its shoot yield is high, about 36,400 kg/ha, when cultivated in Chengdu. This plant species is adaptable to grassland, barren hills, roadsides, gardens, etc. Its protein content is higher than most other forage plants.”
Orychophragmus violaceus is mentioned as an edible wild plant alongside Udo (Aralia cordata) in Joy Larkcom’s Oriental Vegetables!
Here’s more evidence for the importance of having sparrows in our gardens! In the video can be seen both house and tree sparrows (gråspurv og pilfink) feeding on diamond back moth (kålmøll) larvae from kale leaves!
Many thanks to Sam Brown for showing me around backstage and for posing for scale next to this giant Taunton Deane’s Cottagers Kale, the UK’s only documented old surviving cultivated perennial kale! This one was acccording to Christina Damerel only about 5-6 years old. I was bowled over to see the cottagers kales when I visited 5 years ago, but hadn’t realised how big they could get. The pictures in the link above show plants that weren’t actually that old… The plant in the picture below has a similar stature to the Californian Tree Collards. Sam told me that the woodpigeons graze the higher leaves (you can see this in the picture), but the lower ones are left alone and are also better tasting. The “trunk” was massive!
More pictures from this still great edible walled garden when I get a chance!
I have two helpers in the garden this week and one of the jobs was to pull up all the garlic mustard / løkurt which was in danger of spreading big time! When I returned home, Tone was sitting outside patiently pulling off the young seed pods. They were cooked up in a failed attempt to make them less fibrous. She then separated the young green seeds for a tasty exclusive relish which we ate with dinner!
I still can’t get used to the amazing upsurge in interest in grow your own, particular amongst youngsters! This afternoon, members of the newly formed Kneiken Felleshage (Kneiken Communal Garden in Trondheim) visited my garden and we discussed everything from seaweed as fertiliser to Tromso Palm! You guys are so inspiring and I’m honoured to be part of it….look forward to collaborating more in the future!
Unknown to them, they automatically joined Norwegian Seed Savers (Planteklubben for Grønnsaker) as I gave them a special Jerusalem Artichoke / Jordskokk – North American Stampede, which visually is identical to our earliest variety Dagnøytral (Dayneutral).