Sutherland Kale

Brassica napus – Lizzie Sanders

Sutherland Kale in progress © Lizzie Sanders

I wanted to paint something big and bold. I had previously been working on a full size painting of ‘Cavolo nero’ so I started to investigate Scottish native vegetables.

‘Sutherland Kale’ was suggested and last May I found someone with an allotment at Inverleith who was growing a couple of plants. She kindly agreed to my drawing her plants and taking lots of photos over a period of weeks.

I also contacted The Real Seed Company and bought some seeds to grow my own plants. On their website, they explained that this particular variety (“Càil Cataibh” in Gaelic) had its origins in Sutherland where it was grown by local crofters.  Not only does it produce lovely, tender green leaves, it is also very resilient, capable of fending off aphids, caterpillars, ravenous goats, and 70 mph freezing sleet!

Sutherland Kale grows waist high and is cooked in a very similar way to spinach.  When it starts to bolt in spring, the flowering shoots can also be eaten, very much like sprouting broccoli shoots.

Piecing it all together © Lizzie Sanders

The original plants were several feet tall so the painting would take up a whole sheet of paper (1000 x 700 mm). As I didn’t have a whole specimen in the studio I started piecing together dozens of tracing paper drawings of separate leaves, stems and flowers. This got so complicated that when I came to transfer it to watercolour paper, I had to use coloured markers to define which parts I had already worked on.

© Lizzie Sanders

I painted all the leaves first, leaving the stems white until near the end; then the buds and flowers before joining all together with the stems. Finally I completed the lumpy brown lower stem and roots.

My painting technique is usually fine dry-brush – which is what I’ve mostly used here. However, as the deadline for hand-in loomed closer and closer I had to speed up and started to use more water than I usually do. I always keep a record of my painting hours – this piece has taken 375 hours!

Many thanks to Kathy Parker whose kale I drew and painted.


For the full story about the history of the Real Seed’s Sutherland Kale, have a look at the following:

For more interesting facts about Sutherland Kale including how it is related to cabbage, turnip and mustard, see this article on the RBGE web page: