January in the Dye Garden

January in the dye garden has been a quiet month. The weather has been really cold and frosty so far after weeks of endless rain. The ground is saturated and now frozen. I haven’t had time to get out into the garden until now but there isn’t that much to do outside anyway this month.

This is a good month for deciding what to grow this year. Even if you only have a yard, balcony or door step you can still grow a pot of dye plants. I like to buy my dye seeds from a reputable source as this gives the best chance for success. I buy seeds from Nature’s rainbow and Wild Colours in the UK. I also save seeds from my own dye plants; this year I have a whole bag of woad seeds that I will be selling at shows. Let me know if you’d like some.

Some dye plants are annual, like calendula and coreopsis. These are ideal to start with because they germinate well, grow easily in a pot and give a lovely show of colour. The flowers can be picked and used fresh or dried for later use.

Calendula in my Dye Garden

Plants like tansy and woad need a bit more space. Tansy grows very tall and can get a bit woody, and woad self seeds and spreads. I have grown both these successfully from seeds, and tansy from cuttings too.

If you have a large enough pot, or ground that won’t be used for anything else, you could grow madder. Beware though, it’s very invasive. Not ideal for allotments as it will take over your neighbours too! The roots need 3-4 years to mature before being dug and used to dye with. I grow madder successfully in a 150 litre tub.

Madder plants

Jobs to do in January in the dye garden:

  • Weed any pots or accessible bits of your day garden
  • Cut back any woody stems from last year’s dye plants
  • Scrub any old pots and trays that you plan to use this year
  • Clean out any cold frames or greenhouse space you want to use
  • Source your dye seeds.

I like to buy a cheap diary (or one in the sales) and tuck the dye seed packets in according to when they need to be planted. In this way I keep up with planting and potting on and don’t forget anything!

When you’ve finished your tasks in the garden, take a moment with a cuppa and dream of the colours to come in the summer. If you haven’t seen it, I have written a book all about growing dye plants and using them throughout the year, The Natural Dyer’s Almanac.

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