Although the weather is still chilly, it’s time to start thinking about the next year in my dye garden. I like to have as many perennial dye plants as possible, so I have two mature bushes of dyer’s broom (Genista tinctoria) and plenty of madder plants (Rubia tinctorum). I also have lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum), wild madder (Rubia peregrina), dyer’s woodruff (Asperula tinctoria) and two small buckthorn bushes (Rhamnus catharticus). I am nurturing a small evergreen oak, which I grew from an acorn given to me by a friend, and a small Venetian sumac tree (Cotinus coggygria), although it will be a while before these provide serious dyeing materials. The more common Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), which grows almost like a weed in our garden, is also a useful tree, especially as a source of tannin. And I mustn’t forget our huge eucalyptus, or the walnut tree, still in its pot, that was given to me three years ago. Unfortunately walnut trees don’t seem to thrive in our garden and I’ve tried several times to plant one, but without success. This is a great pity as walnut is among the most useful of dye sources, so I’m cossetting this one and will continue to re-pot it for as long as I can. Of course, some dye plants have to be grown each year from seed and I usually grow woad and weld every year. If I’m lucky, I don’t have to sow seeds and can rely on self-seeded plants springing up all over the garden, ready to be transplanted to the dye garden.
This year, however, I’ve looked in vain for weld seedlings, so I shall have to sow some weld seeds. As far as woad is concerned, I have plenty of seedlings coming up but I shall also sow some seed, as my friend & fellow dyer, Chris Dobson, has kindly given me some seeds from her woad plants, which seemed so much more vigorous than mine last year. So this week I shall start sowing some seeds. I may also sow some seeds for flowers, such as calendula, which I love and from which I regularly make calendula ointment to treat cuts and rashes, and zinnias, which come in such lovely colours. And I think it will also be time to start off my tomatoes although I don’t usually sow the beans and courgettes until mid-April.
This an overwintered woad plant from last year which will produce a flowering stalk and provide seed for next spring.
This is a perennial dyer’s broom bush, with a few seed pods to be seen and this year’s new growth starting to develop. Used fresh, the prunings give lovely bright greeny yellows.
This is my small evergreen oak tree. I’m not sure exactly which species of Quercus it is but it may be Quercus ilex, the Holm Oak .