Ever wondered what a dye garden looks like and what sort of things you can grow here in the UK?
Keep reading because today I will show you just how my dye garden is growing this year!
How is my Dye Garden growing this July?
Have a look…..
Some of the Dye plants in my garden.
Here are some of the dye plants I grow and use, including dyer’s chamomile, madder, tansy and Woad. At the end of the clip I call a plant Alkanet….. that is a dye plant, but not the one I show you! I should say Amaranth. Ooops, bit of filming nerves there!
All these plants can easily be grown from seed or root cuttings, and they happily grow in big tubs. I found all the weeding between the dye plants a bit overwhelming last year. The raised bed, with gravel and the plants in big tubs makes it so much easier for me to manage. It also means that even if you only have a balcony or sheltered doorstep you can still have a go and grow a dye plant. You certainly don’t need a big garden to grow enough dye stuff to have fun. A dye garden is easy to achieve with a couple of big tubs.
The dyer’s chamomile (Anthemis Tinctoria) is a different variety to the type used for chamomile tea, and I found it easy to grow from seed in a tray on the window ledge. I transplanted it in early May, and look at it now! Almost ready to flower! The tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) also grew easily from seed, and is also perennial which means it keeps coming back each year. It grows vigorously and spreads, so that’s another good reason to keep it contained in a tub. It has quite a strong, bitter herbal smell, some people find it can irritate their skin, and in large amounts it can be toxic. However, in the small amounts used for dyeing, it is safe to use.
Madder is my favourite dye stuff to grow. It is easiest to grow from root cuttings, (I have never had any luck growing it from seed.) and like tansy it spreads! The roots, when washed and dried give a range of beautiful colours from brick red to peach, apricot and even pink. Its a reliable dye for beginners and experienced dyers. Madder is pH sensitive and this can be used to the dyer’s advantage. Use lemon juice (acid) to turn the dye more orange, and washing soda (alkali) to turn it pinker. It also works well with other colours in natural dyeing, for example with cochineal in a solar dye pot.
I didn’t show my rhubarb plants in the video clip. I use all parts of this plant. The roots for dyeing a rich mustard yellow; the stems for eating and the leaves to make a mordant to help dye fix to fibres and yarns. Rhubarb roots in this country tend to give browner tones to the mustard yellow than commercial rhubarb root dye which comes primarily from Nepal.
What happens to all these dye plants?
I pick the flowering dye plants on sunny days throughout the summer. Most sunny mornings I potter around the dye garden with a large bowl and gather the flowers of the dye plants. Its a peaceful and joyful ritual now for me. They are then dried in a domestic dehydrator and stored ready for use. Of course, dyes can be used fresh too, but I don’t always have enough all at one time to dye with.
Roots of madder are dug, washed and dried, then chopped ready to use. I do the same with rhubarb roots when the crowns need to be divided in the autumn. Rhubarb leaves to make mordant are picked and used fresh. (I find they are as good as alum as a mordant on wool )
Leaves like woad are picked and used fresh. I am planning to experiment this summer with woad. The process of extracting the blue pigment is long winded for a small amount of colour, but I have researched a way to dye with the fresh leaves without the extraction. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Last year I did a solar dye experiment with aquilegia flowers that I picked and dried. We have a lot of self seeded aquilegias in the garden and I thought I’d give them a try with natural dyeing. I hoped for a pinky purple, perhaps a lavender with pink splotches. Instead, these pretty flowers gave me a soft mint pistachio green. Its a beautiful colour, not what I expected, but a lovely surprise. Natural dyeing can be like that!
I use all the dye stuffs I grow in traditional method of natural dyeing and also with solar dyeing. Plant dyes are most successful on wool, silk and protein fibres. They give less intense colours on cellulose fibres like bamboo and cotton.
I am not able to grow enough dye plants for all the natural dyeing I do, or grow the variety for the colours I need. However, there is immense pleasure in growing a dye garden from seed, nurturing the plants, harvesting and drying, then using the dye stuffs to naturally dye yarn.
I’d love to know about your dye garden, or if this has inspired you to have a go at growing your own natural dyes…..