Autumn in the Kaleyard

Kale is another word for cabbage. I learned recently that Scottish “Kailyard” literature displeased the artspeakers of the late Victorian era who found it sentimental and cottagey, not nearly edgey enough, too sweat-blood-and-tears free, so to speak. James Barrie, author of 'Peter Pan and Wendy' was a kaleyardist author, and thus much sneered at by the critics of ' kaleyard' (or 'kailyard') lit, a genre so- named for the ordinary country-Scot of tradition who had kept a cabbage patch ( or 'kaleyard') beside his wee house to feed his family way before the potato came north…You may even have noticed 'cole' (AKA kale or cabbage) depicted in medieval MSS. showing images of jolly, contented peasants tending seasonal crops.

In growing the absurdly handsome 'Lacinato' black kale (AKA 'Dinosaur' kale) this year, I had the most innocent of intentions, just looking for some kitchen dyes and a little summer salad. I had no idea this plant would turn out to be the decorative star of the front yard, a neighbourhood conversation starter like no other and an art-political statement besides. Here it is, flanked on the left by the lovely native great blue lobelia, or Lobelia syphilitica.

Dino kale leaves (backed by natives coreopsis on the right and black-eyed susans on the left, out of focus.)


Kale colour and texture are foils to a chartreuse barberry, saved from severe garden editing as a Native Plant Gardening Don't, only because it was too prickly to pull out that day – but which turned out to be a Garden Designer Do (Does Glamour magazine still run pics of their fashion Do's and Don'ts? ). The sedum 'Autumn Joy' is still summer green in this photo:

And here is the much-expanded kale beside the fall rust-pink of Sedum spectabilis:


Pollinators love the fall-blooming Michaelmas daisy:


Pot-grown indigo beside the kale: this will overwinter indoors, like Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria).


Calendulas love the cooler fall weather: and burnt orange beside kale green is eyepopping.


These humble, cottagey little kaleyard sparrows love their bath at ground level:


This is the sparrows' Birds' Eye view of the fall colours in my kaleyard. The lobelia has gone to seed. The rue (back left) is divinely thick and blue-green, lighter in tone than kale, with a lacey texture for contrast, harmony and repetition.


Looking up, the sparrows can see the black elder, native Sambucus nigra, in full fruit:


And under the bird feeder, some new garden sculptures by Shlomo, in my favourite orange and blue combo:


Fall means foraged wild apples for apple butter:


And for art this late summer and early fall, eco prints a-plenty, using mostly the native plants from my garden.

Coreopsis with Aronia melanocarpa berries and Prunus cistena leaves:


Prunus cistena, Aronia melanocarpa, sumac.


Japanese maple and grevillia (exotics!)




Almost all native plant prints. The reds are coreopsis and bloodroot; the blues are various blue berries, e.g., aronia, elder and dogwood.


Iron enhanced prints from Cotinus obovatus, Baptisia tinctoria and Sanguinaria canadensis.


Ditto, as above; blues from red cabbage and aronia berries.


Plus an embroidered Artist Book or two: this one is about daisies ( o how kaleyard a topic!) and incorporates embroidered imagery along with vintage textiles (o how kaleyard an art!)

Spidey below was not the only weaver in the kaleyard:


This year, Kaleyard visitors were invited to weave fibers and plants on the garden loom (hinged like a gate to the shed and painted as near to Yves Klein blue as we could manage with Home Depot paint).


And finally, we began to hang up some of the art we have had stashed since we moved here a year ago: blue and orange, my faves:


Next time, more about Artist Books and native plants for eco printing; plus some long overdue updates to my other pages here, notably the tutorials page, the eco dye references and the plants.

I also have a set of thrifted chairs that need new seat covers and a new paint job. TBD!


Regards from your Kaleyardist blogger





About wendyfe

I am a fibre artist working in mixed media textiles with a focus on vintage cloth reworked with stitching, natural dyeing, eco printing and rust printing . My work can be seen at
This entry was posted in book arts, dye garden, dye plants, dyeing with native plants, Eco Prints, kaleyard, native plant gardening, native plants, Natural Dyeing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Autumn in the Kaleyard

  1. Margo Duke says:

    Oh Wendy what a wonderful garden and your prose is as colorful as your plants! Thank you for sharing – you are an inspiration!

  2. Pia says:

    Lovely garden photos, awesome prints!

    Incidentally, in Danish, cabbage is “kål” pronounced cole.

    • wendyfe says:

      Hi Pia!

      Yes, “cole” is an old word in English for cabbage. In old Scots, “kailyaird” came to mean a small garden because of the importance of cabbage in the diet – quite a bit more nutritious than the potato which eventually displaced it in many a kaleyard. I love the historical and linguistic connections of the word, Orkney woman that I am!

  3. Pia says:

    Btw I have a thing for orange/blue as well!

    • wendyfe says:

      I try to engineer that colour combo in my garden just to make little vignettes to delight the eye in a small garden without “vista” per se. Orange nasturtiums look great beside purple basil!

  4. engelien says:

    Your garden is so inspiring to me!! And so is your blog…. Thanks Wendy!

  5. Enspiring post, love your garden, I have tried growing that particular kale but with limited success. Love the eco prints and the loom weavings.

    • wendyfe says:

      Debbie, here is my kale success story, I can take no credit.

      That black kale loves fish fertilizer. I use a liquid fertilizer called “Muskie”, made here in the Maritime provinces – made from the trimmings of fish from a fish processing factory. It is a hungry plant and I understand it can deplete the soil quickly and gobble up the nutrients from its neighbours; so if I want to plant it again next year, I should rotate the crop- or at least, feed the heck out all the plants in the area. On the other hand, it also seems to thrive on neglect. I gave some of the seedlings to my young neighbours who grow veggies in a raised box. They were away for six weeks in and are very busy anyway, so they hardly ever fuss in the garden…the sun and the rain looked after their kale which asserted itself among their tomatoes. It is in part shade there, too, while mine is in full sun. Their kale is almost the size of mine with way less effort. But they did fertilize. Another tale of kale.

  6. Karen Keene says:

    Thanks for sharing. Such a riot of color! you’re singing my song : )

  7. Celia Wilson says:

    Hi Wendy, what a fascinating and interesting post. The black kale is amazing. On another note, please check my link on your blogroll etc, as the address is incorrect. Congratulations on your new format – it is looking very good!

  8. Greetings to the fine folks in Ottawa, one of them, you, Wendy. Your yard is fabulous, a riot of color for sure. You’ve accomplished quite a lot for the short year you’ve been there! Love the artbook and all your eco prints. I do them, too, and just shared the art of it with a new young friend of mine, just as you do with all of us! Cheers!

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