Planting dye garden seeds

The Dye Garden in March

In the dye garden this month, not much is happening that you can see, but lots is happening underground!

Planting

I have planted a variety of seeds including dyer’s chamomile, calendula, woad, weld and coreopsis. I also planted new madder rhizomes to boost the ones I already have. Try to buy seeds from a reputable source like Wild Colour or Dyeing Crafts. They are quality seeds which are more likely to germinate and be a ‘true’ plant rather than something of inferior quality which may not produce much, if any colour.

I saved the seeds from my woad plants last year. I have planted some, and I will use the rest to try to get a pink dye. Woad seeds usually only germinate the following year after harvesting, so don’t be tempted to use old seed, it probably won’t grow.

Growing

Dye garden seeds are usually easy to grow and can be quite prolific. There can be hundreds of seeds in a pack, so plenty to share if you have a dye friend. Chamomile is especially easy to grow, and although I only planted the seeds last Monday, they are already up, 9 days later.

I like to use packaging and pots that would otherwise be waste or recycling. Frustratingly, our local council doesn’t recycle tetra packs (the foil lined cartons for juice, oat milk etc) so I use them to grow seeds in. I think the foil lining might help keep the seeds cosy when they are germinating too! I also save any eco-packing which contains waste wool fibre as this helps insulate the soil, and also composts to give back slow release nitrogen as the fibre protein breaks down. As you can see, I’ve put a layer over the madder rhizomes. I’ll remove this once the shoots are up and the risk of frost has passed.

Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, I will pot them on into larger pots and put them in the cold frame to get used to being outside, before planting out in late April or May.

A different dye plant

Each year I like to try a new dye plant. This year, inspired by my research into kimonos and contact with the V&A museum, I’m going to try to grow Murasaki (Lithospermum erythrorhizon) from Nature’s Rainbow. This dye was traditionally used to dye silks and wool for kimonos and hopefully will give a purple dye from the roots after several years.

This year’s list

Dyer’s chamomile, weld, woad, madder, tansy (as a perennial plant) safflower, dyer’s greenweed, calendula, coreopsis and murasaki. I also have a meadowsweet plant that is well established. This year I want to try this for dyeing as it can give yellow black and red. I’ll let you know how I get on!

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