Kale ‘White Peacock’

“Oh, just take it,” the nursery manager grumbled, clearly disgruntled that I walked right past his greenhouse packed with poinsettias without a second glance (there’s no accounting for taste) and opted instead for this leftover flowering kale. “I could pay for it…,” I offered. But he waved me aside.

So there I was with my prize Kale ‘White Peacock’ in the car, feeling like I just robbed Fort Knox and ready to make merry. I thought the kale would just be a holiday fling. But now I’m wondering how I can ever live without this little lovely again. Stunningly weird close up (you be the judge). Sufficiently intricate to hold your attention over the long nights of winter. Requires almost no care. Although I had little faith that the kale would perform as a houseplant over the long haul, it’s been a source of constant delight. Fooled me.

That’s what houseplants are all about, in my opinion. Forget the poinsettias. Seriously. They whine, they pout, they do all the things that would put them permanently on Santa’s “not” list. They’ll give you nothing but heartbreak. On the other hand, something like a flowering kale is the breakout scene stealer. Can’t keep my eyes off it.

And how many times have you walked by a kale outside in autumn without giving it more than a nod of recognition? In a container at your elbow, this ugly duckling reaches swan status. No lifting a finger on your part necessary. Mine dropped a few leaves when I came back from holiday visits and found its soil bone dry. Big deal. Watering it regularly is a better idea, needless to say. But it doesn’t hand out demerits. We like plants that don’t feel the need to punish us.

Of course, what are the chances that I’ll find another freebie next year? And the nurseryman with the limited patience for shoppers who snub his poinsettias is not likely to make the same mistake twice and grow a superabundance of ‘White Peacock’s. He’s no fool. There will be no leftovers for me next year, I bet. But I’ve got a plan (I’ve always got a scheme): I’ll buy a few flowering kales for the front porch in autumn and bring them in last minute for a white Christmas. Hoping all your holidays were equally bright…

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16 Responses to Kale ‘White Peacock’

  1. Lisa from PA says:

    Your photographs are fantastic! Like looking under a microscope. I’ve always enjoyed the look of ornamental kale in the landscape, but never purchased any. I’m the kind of gardener who is exhausted by September and can’t wait to “put the garden to bed” as it were, I’m not normally planting anything new. Except I do put in new bulbs each year after I clean up the garden waste. I have more energy in the Spring. You really did find a prize in Kale ‘White Peacock’. Good eye!

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Thank you so much, Lisa. Can you think of a better thing to do on a frigid January day than focus on the miracles of flora? I’m sort of kicking myself for not salvaging more of the deep purple flowering kale types and squirreling them inside as well. There’s always next year, right? Fortunately, I got a second wind this year on the bulbs and ordered a bunch last minute. I was getting a few leftover bulbs in the ground on New Year’s day, do you believe it? We’ll see if they make it…

  2. I love it, Tovah! I am a big fan of giving the “unconventional” it’s time in the spotlight, center stage in a beautiful container. Your experience at the nursery is a good lesson for us all when considering houseplants; to look beyond the glitz and begin to see the real beauty and sophistication in the everyday (although ‘White Peacock’ is anything but mundane). I am not sure what Einstein thinks of it, however. I know that look. It often occurs seconds before a little paw reaches out and knocks something over.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Or the not so little paw upsets the apple cart, Joe…If ever there was a kitten with a slingshot in his back pocket, it’s Einstein (your Wendellberry being a close second = everyone go to http://www.juniperhillfarmnh.com to follow the animal kingdom at Joe Valentine’s farm/garden). At least this is one plant that I don’t have to worry when shredding-by-mouth becomes part of the game. In general, don’t you find that the houseplants they try to push us into adopting at garden centers are the most boring things on the face of the earth? No wonder we kill them — they look about the same, dead or alive. If you’ve got a houseplant and haven’t noticed that it passed away a month ago, that’s a bad sign. Better to go to nurseries rather than garden centers, I say.

  3. Maude Odgers says:

    I agree with Joe about Einstein. He is looking at it as if saying, “she likes you, hmmm, that means you shall have to die by my paws. I’m not about to compete with a kale, fancy or not. She has gone too far this time.” Don’t tell Einstein I said this, but it is pretty darn wonderful. But so is Einstein and you probably better tell him every few hours, lest you will hear the crashing of a pot.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Whaddaya mean, Maude? We thought that all the houseplants were Tovah’s homage to the Purrrrrfessor. If they displease him in any way (ruffle his fur, for example) off with their heads…BTW Maude, Einstein’s New Year’s Day present was a little mouse at my feet. Dancing in the streets! Of course, we donated it to charity.

  4. Maude Odgers says:

    Well, by the look on his face I’m not convinced that he is convinced that all your houseplants are a homage to his mighty Purrrrrrfessor. But I’m glad to hear he has a big heart and that he not only gave to you, but also to charity. Well done.

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Who knows what goes on in the Mad Purrrrfessor’s mind. There’s only one thing we can be sure of — it’s diabolical. Wait…I hear terra cotta hitting wooden floorboards as I type this. O NO…he’s on a rampage…Lock up your rhipsalis, nothing is safe…

  5. Lee May says:

    Kale as a houseplant! Beautifullovely. And, a great idea. Tovah, you’re a woman after my own heart – and gardening gene. I’m going on errands today, and if I can find a kale, ‘White Peacock’ or not, I’m buying it. As if I need another houseplant. Your fine idea, however, puts the need in me. Oh, and like you, I never *needed* a poinsettia.

    ‘Preciate you,

    • Tovah Martin says:

      Honestly, fellow houseplant hugger — have you ever seen a kale that you didn’t love? They’re all worthy. Next year I’m gonna do a whole menagerie of them. But just wait for the next post because James and I found yet another friend in common = we’re both growing blue fescue as a houseplant!

      Question for you Lee – would poinsettia work as a houseplant white fly sacrificial/trap plant? All the white flies would run to the poinsettia and leave the abutilon alone? Or does that only work in the veggie field?

      Everyone, follow me over to Lee May’s blog http://www.leemaysgardeninglife.com here you’ll find horticulture’s best writer and a gardener of such fanatic proportions that he just bought a big box car specifically to fit his addiction. If you see a forest driving by — that would be Lee.

      • Lee May says:

        Hey, Tovah,

        It took me a while to respond, as I had to pry myself out of my new box car, aka Kia Soul, which, by the way, is hauling like a champ.

        No, no, I haven’t seen an unlikeable kale. Purple, green, rainbow, ruffled – they’re all lovable. And, thanks to your indoor kale-growing experience, I’ll stock up, come autumn. Maybe some fescue, too. And, hey, don’t forget boxwood. I grow a couple of bonsai boxwoods indoors every winter. You’d have to love the fragrance, as I do.

        Speaking of indoors, interesting thought, yours about poinsettia as fly trap. That might work, buuut, would you really want to grow it?

        Thank you much for your kinds words about my writing. You’ve swollen my head so much that I don’t know whether it’ll fit in my high-roof, plant-hauling automobile. And, I know you know I feel the same about your beautiful word-weaving, my fellow fanatic.

        • Tovah Martin says:

          Problem was — I almost forgot how to eat kale with all these ornamental varieties out there. I mean, you wouldn’t be eating the family beauty queen, would you? You know, I almost thought of growing boxwood indoors and then I looked at my kitten (neutered male, but still) and I thought, “Do I really want to invite something that smells decidedly musky into the house?” Better not to put any thoughts into Einstein’s buttoned down brain. So I’ve got to ask = how do you feel about paperwhites? Same smell, no?

          • Lee May says:

            I get your concern about Einstein; I saw the picture of him staring suspiciously at your kale. I *know* what he might do with boxwood, which some (not me) think smells like cat urine. I don’t have that cat problem, as Bette is a lady, not given to marking plants, even boxwood.

            I can’t stand the smell of paperwhites, unless there’s just one bloom, and even then it’s too sticky sweet for me. Many have a similarly visceral response to boxwood. That’s why there are so many smells in the naked garden; we can all get what we want. And avoid what we don’t want.

          • Tovah Martin says:

            Well, I was beating around the bush on the scent, Lee, but you hit it…Einstein’s been genius so far in that department – but I don’t want to push my luck. I notice that certain paperwhites are okay for the first few days, but then they move on into cloying. Actually, lilies can be a little too overwhelming for my tender sensibilities — even in the garden.

  6. Lisa from PA says:

    On an unrelated topic, just rec’d my Early Spring 2012 copy of Country Gardens in the mail. Found your article (p. 51) “Growing a Legacy”, all about the Hollister House Garden in CT. Wonderful article, fantastic garden!

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