"I'm always on the lookout for foliage that makes a statement, holds up for a long time, and has interesting texture," Jill explains. She regularly uses upright, vase-shaped swiss chard and bushy, wavy-leaved kales in her borders. 'Bright Lights' swiss chard, Beta vulgaris 'Bright Lights,' adds spear-shaped leaves and splashes of the deepest hues, while 'Redbor' and 'Winterbor' kales (Brassica oleracea), offer contrastable texture and muted colors. Though not in the ground this year, another favorite is 'Bull's blood' beet, Beta vulgaris 'Bull's Blood', for its stunning burgundy foliage. These cold-hardy veggies stick around at least through fall: Beets and swiss chard will stand the early, light frosts and even a mild freeze, and kale more so, its flavor sweetening and color intensifying with each successive chill.
When there's time, Jill cuts down these biennials during fall clean-up. When she doesn't get to it, the kale will volunteer clouds of delicate, yellow blooms the following spring, with both plants giving up seed for next year's crop soon thereafter.
This year, Jill is experimenting with dill, Anethum graveolens, and anise, Pimpinella anisum. Or at least that is what she'd planned some quiet evening this winter past. By the time the large packet of anise arrived in the mail, she says, she'd "long forgotten what brain storm she'd had for its use." Inspiration came the other day in Conetown, when she scattered its seed in a large circle in the dirt with an entryway at one end. Will it please the inveterate tinkerer? "We'll see," says Jill. ~Lisa O'Brien