Monday, April 30, 2007

Grapes in Carrick

Some varieties of grape vine do rather well in Ayrshire. We grow one under glass, in our cottage garden, but not fully indoors, and the root is outside. Frosts don't seem to do it any harm. It is an old vine, which originally came from a cutting from an even older vine which grew in the garden of a big house in Maybole. Artist Gordon Cockburn who has just moved into the flat above his art gallery in Maybole High Street tells me that there is an old vine in his garden too. Wouldn't it be interesting if some of these grapes date from the years when Maybole was home to the town houses of the old Scottish Kennedy family?
I have no idea of the variety, but it gives many bunches of sweet black seeded grapes, which if I can be bothered to prune the fruit out, grow very large and juicy. Usually there are far more than we can eat. One year somebody made wine from them and gave us a few bottles. More often, we eat what we can, give some away, and leave the rest for the blackbirds who become adept at flying up into the glass roofed 'arbour' where the vine grows, snatching a grape, and flying away to eat it in peace.
Of course at this time of year our vine is only just coming into green leaf. At Culzean, the National Trust for Scotland has restored the lovely old glass houses in the walled garden - and the gardeners have planted many interesting old varieties of grapes in there. The photograph was taken a week ago. The notice reads
Buckland Sweetwater.
Bunches - very large shouldered, ripen early.
Berries - large, round, thin-skinned, golden or amber.
Flesh - melting, juicy, and richly flavoured.
And if that doesn't make your mouth water, nothing will!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

More Pictures of Culzean

Looking utterly beautiful at this time of year - the gardens of Culzean Castle, here in Ayrshire. It's a busy place at the weekends, but go early, on a week day if you can, and you can imagine that the whole place belongs to you. We skived off work the other day - myself, and my husband, and wandered through the gardens to admire rhodies, and camellias and magnolias in full bloom. Much is being made of how early spring has come to the UK this year, but it doesn't seem that early to me, here in South West Scotland - a week or two perhaps. We often have mild springs, and although scaremongering journalists are trying to tell us that the daffodils should still be in bloom just now, there is an old English nursery rhyme which goes 'March brings breezes, loud and shrill, stirs the dancing daffodil' while it's April that 'brings the primrose sweet, scatters daisies at our feet.' OK, so the fleecy lambs have been here for some time, but then early lambing is pretty much commonplace! So I don't think the spring has come unnaturally early. In fact there has been no sign of our swallows and house martins yet, and I'm beginning to wonder what has become of them - you usually see a few of them some time in April! Meanwhile, we are also being told that bumblebees are under threat - and so they are in parts of the UK. But we have a bumblebees' nest somewhere in the garden and they seem to be everywhere at the moment: huge, furry, noisy and beautiful. We seem to be on constant bumblebee watch, rescuing them from our conservatory - my husband had to close his workshop door because he was spending so much time assisting panic stricken bees.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Magnolias at Culzean Castle

Culzean Castle, the National Trust's top attraction in Scotland, has a fine display of Magnolias and Camellias at this time of year - although it is always a bit hit and miss as to whether the late frosts will turn the flowers brown before you can get there to admire them! This has been a wonderfully mild spring. I refuse to moan about global warming in this respect, since we so often have these lovely, early, mild springs, in the West of Scotland, but they can just as often be interrupted by sudden and unexpected frosts. The good thing about early sunshine is that it seems to prolong the summer so effectively.
Culzean, one of the houses of the Kennedy family, and a very beautiful one at that, is pronounced 'Cullane'. You often find this 'z' pronounced as a 'y' or some variation of it, in Scottish names. (eg Menzies). It's because the original letter wasn't a 'z' at all, but an old, now obsolete letter like a 'z' with a long tail, known as yog, and pronounced as a 'y'. Not a lot of people know that.....