Archive for August, 2010

Help needed with identification

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Can anyone help us identify a shrub, which we have growing in the garden here? It seems to be relatively common here in West Sussex. Our daughter has a very tall specimen growing in her garden and earlier in the year it seemed to have small flowers that were almost black in colour. Our example is about six feet tall and about 3 feet wide. The photo below shows the rather interesting glossy striped leaves. We’d be grateful for any suggestions as to what this tree might be.

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Our new garden

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

One of the first things I have done in this new garden has been to look around to see whether there are any plants here suitable for the dyepot and I’ve already found several potentially useful plants.

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The first plant I noticed was this rather pretty eucalyptus tree in our front garden. It’s much smaller than the one in our previous garden but it’s a lovely shape. I’m planning to try – yet again – to get a really deep red from eucalyptus and perhaps this time I may be lucky.

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This attractive small shrub is a species of barberry, Berberis thunbergii “Harlequin”. Barberry bark is a traditional source of yellow dye and while the best dye comes from Berberis vulgaris, the more decorative varieties can also be used as a source of dye colour.

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This small sprawling shrub, rather overshadowed by the Choisya bush next to it, is a Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria, also known as Venetian Sumac. When fully grown, these shrubs can be very beautiful and also have an interesting history. Venetian Sumac was a valued source of yellow dye in Europe in the Middle Ages and was known as Young Fustic. When fustic from the Americas was introduced into 16th century Europe, it was known as Old Fustic because its dye properties were recognised as similar to those of Young Fustic. Venetian Sumac is also rich in tannin and can be used in combination with iron to create black.

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This is a small Morello Cherry tree, which has been almost stripped of cherries by the birds. (Fortunately we managed to harvest a few cherries, which we have frozen to make into jam later in the year.) The leaves and bark of cherry trees can make useful dye material, so I’ll be able to experiment with the prunings in due course.

I have decided to make two small herb beds just below the terrace area in the back garden, one on each side of the steps down onto the grass. As my definition of a herb is “a useful plant”, I intend to grow dye plants in these beds, as well as culinary and medicinal herbs.

I also plan to grow some dye plants in the raised bed next to the area where I have my indigo dye pot. At the moment this bed contains the madder and woad plants I brought with me from our old garden and some summer bedding plants for colour. Next year I’ll probably grow some more woad here, plus some more decorative dye plants, such as dyer’s chamomile.

Settling into our new home

Monday, August 9th, 2010

At last we have moved into our new home and are back online after several weeks without an internet connection. Although there is still much to be done in the house and garden, I feel sure we will be happy here in West Sussex, especially as it only takes 10 minutes by car to reach our daughter and granddaughter.

I haven’t had chance to set up any dyebaths yet but I’m beginning to get my dyes and equipment unpacked and to plan where I shall do most of my dyeing.

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This is the view from the kitchen window of our terrace and back garden

 

 

 

 

As will be clear from the above photo, this garden is very much smaller than the garden at our previous home. I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to grow many dye plants here but I did manage to find spaces for some madder and woad plants I brought with me.

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The madder looks as if it’s settling quite happily into its new position.

 

 

 

 

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Sadly, the woad plants I so carefully watered into their new site have been eaten by caterpillars and look very sorry for themselves.

 

 

 

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This summer house at the end of the garden will be my workshop and “den” and I’m gradually filling it with my dyeing and spinning equipment. I have made a resolution to keep it tidy and clutter-free but I fear this may not be easy!

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This shows my indigo dye pot from Thailand, waiting to be put to use. It sits so well on this spot and I think this will be an ideal outdoor dyeing area. The madder and woad plants have been planted in the raised bed on the left of the picture.