Saturday, 24 October 2015

A Kaleidoscope of Colour: Chillies

Chillies are a must-have inclusion in an Asian-style garden. Not only will they reward you with their warming culinary delights but also provide rich layers of colour to vegetable or even flower gardens.

From miniature rosettes which hold their colourful fruit high above the foliage, through plants forming 30 centimetre tufts to much taller varieties, some attaining 120 centimetres or more, chillies are a reliable and easy-care plant.

The instant attraction of chillies is the eye-catching glossy colour of their pods. There are varieties of chilli, however, which can best be described as curiosities for the unusual colours of their leaves... Some are almost black in hue... others exhibit varying patterns of variegation. 

For those people like me who have an addiction to the consumption and planting of chillies, they are a rewarding garden subject. Close-planted, many chilli plants will readily cross-pollinate producing, in the next generation of plants, a wonderfully unexpected bounty: plants with varying leaf and pod colours, and even growing characteristics (upright or pendant fruit) differing from the mother-plant. In time one can build up one's own catalogue of chilli varieties!

In September and October every year we plant out seeds of our most valued chillies. Some are selected for their usefulness in the kitchen, whereas others are selected for their beauty in the garden setting. Nevertheless, after three years of dropping fruit we are blessed with hundreds of adventitious plants each spring. Some of these pioneers are allowed to grow in the prospect of gaining more unusual hybrid plants.

Evidence of cross-pollination in planted seed.
Note the black-leafed juvenile plant.
In Sydney's climate, well-cared for chilli plants with suitable protection from frost will survive into a second season. Cut the plants back hard when the danger of frost has passed. Feed your plant well and your chilli will 'resuscitate' as the weather warms. Let's note, however, that some varieties of chilli, for example, the famous orange habanero chilli, must be re-planted every spring: no level of care in our cooler temperate climate will save it.

Our chillies provide fresh fruit from the end of October until June or July. In addition we collect chillies for drying and grinding. In this way we always have an overflowing supply of chilli for the kitchen. 

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