11 May 2010
On top of the dry wall in front of the office grow a group of wild cabbages, Brassica oleracea. Growing wild on seaside cliffs they are the ancestors of domestic cabbages. They are not first raters for a garden but they manage to produce loose heads of lush blue-green leaves on a dry diet of dust so earn a place, both as a wildlife foodstuff and as a result of seed-filled Welsh holiday pockets. The leaves are thick and fleshy with a grey bloom and are bitter, tough and nearly inedible. This won't put off the Cabbage White caterpillars that will appear later in the season, feeding ravenously on the leaves and gnawing them down to stalks. The thick layer of caterpillar faeces scattered then will make this corner stink to a sulphurous high heaven - the caterpillars store the cabbage sulphur compounds in their bodies as an effective chemical deterrent against predators. The cabbages will soon re-grow from their stinking state of collapse but this is all yet to come.
At the moment they are flowering and I like them. Above the leaves sway stems of pale yellow flowers, simple with just four petals they are unsurprisingly typical of the cabbage family, and they should be in flower for a good few weeks yet. I have tasted the flower shoots too expecting something milder and mustardly edible in a Chinese flowering greens type of way. They are as unpleasant as the leaves.
In a planted wheelbarrow, still hanging on from last year, a few small purple domestic cabbages are also flowering. These looked good last year with their rich purple leaves contrasting with the bright yellow Bidens accompanying them. They are very pretty with the soft yellow flowers opening atop dark red-purple stems. It is interesting that the purple of the leaves and stems colours the centre of each flower but doesn't extend into the petals themselves. The caterpillars won't get these. They are off to the compost heap within days.