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GROWING A NATURAL DYE GARDEN

Ellie Fisher All Blog Posts Natural Dye Garden Natural Dyeing

Coreopsis in the dye garden

Having threatened for several months to write a blog on what I’ve been up to in the garden, I thought I ought to follow through!

I get so much joy from spending time in my garden and i'm keen to see how much I can grow in the space that I have. I'd also like to share my progress and show you what is possible with limited space so that you too can reap the benefits of growing your own dye plants.

Preparing the dye bed

A couple of years ago I claimed a sunny little patch of the garden that backs onto my studio as my dye bed, but only managed to get round to planting coreopsis. These had come from Waitrose in 2022. Mum (Claudia), who does all the natural dyeing and runs all our natural dyeing workshops had spotted them, hugely reduced at the end of the season and had snapped them up.

Coreopsis plants from Waitrose

Image: Coreopsis plants from Waitrose

We weren’t sure if they’d survive the winter, but they did, and boy did they put on a show last year, providing harvest after harvest of the most spectacular sunshine flowers, a real attraction for the hoverflies, and the most beautiful dye, from acid tangerines through to rich rusty oranges.

Linen, naturally dyed with coreopsis

Image: Linen, naturally dyed with coreopsis flowers

Come spring this year, the coreopsis were looking a little sad and again I thought they probably wouldn’t make it, but they’re back and bushier than ever!

This year I bought most of my dye seeds from Nature’s Rainbow. I have limited space so I had to rein myself in and went for madder, long leaf and kojyoko indigo, weld, woad, and murasaki.  All of these seeds bar the weld went into my trusty little electric windowsill propagator which has been going strong since 2018, a brilliant addition to any gardening set up.

I also got some more coreopsis in case mine didn’t have another year in them, so I’ve now got them coming out of my ears, but i've potted some up for mum and the rest will head to my daughters school where I am about to start a gardening club. One of the beds is dedicated to natural dye plants, so I’m looking forward to developing that, and creating some fun natural dye projects for children which I'll share in blogs and on our YouTube channel in due course. 

Coreopsis in pots

Image: Coreopsis in pots

For the madder, I followed the updated advice on the Nature’s Rainbow blog about soaking the seeds in a small puddle of very hot water, and the other half went straight into the soil. Though I got good results using both methods, the hot water trick is a winner and noticeably more of these seeds germinated. Madder can become invasive, so it's best contained in specific beds or deep planters. Due to my space limitations, mine is going into a planter which i’m yet to source. 

I was interested in trying out a couple of varieties of indigo and went for long leaf which is more suited to a northern climate, and kojyoko. I propagated some of the kojyoko early, intended for seeds for next year, and I planted all of it out a few days ago, some directly into the bed and the rest into pots.

Indigo seedlings

Image - Kojyoko indigo seedlings, ready to be pricked out

Of all the weld seed’s, only two germinated. They don’t like having their roots disturbed so I planted the seeds in little cell trays and have now carefully moved them into a large pot. I’m really hoping they make it and I'm checking on them every morning. I'm not holding out much hope for them but fingers crossed! 

We found an amazing patch of wild weld last year and I'd madly shaken the seeds all over the place in the hope that some may germinate, but there’s no sign as of yet. Fingers crossed we'll get some next year.

Wild weld

Image: Wild weld

My first batch of woad was very leggy, as was my second, though less so, so I’ve optimistically planted it out and will just have to wait and see what happens.

Three of the murasaki seeds germinated, so I’m keeping them indoors for a bit longer and once they’re a little bigger they’ll go into some new beds we’ve made in the woodland as it likes the shade.

My aunt Eliza has been growing dye plants in Gloucestershire and kindly gave me some dyer's greenweed last year which seems to be enjoying its sunny spot at the corner of the studio.

There are too many plants here to go into much detail on them all, so I'll write individual blogs on them all over the next few months.

In the meantime, I wish you all a fabulous start to the summer!

Ellie X

 

References

Websites:

https://www.naturesrainbow.co.uk/

https://www.wildcolours.co.uk/html/madder.html

Books:

 'A Dyers Garden' by Rita Buchanan

'Singing the Blues' by John Marshall

 

 











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