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natural dye garden

Dye Garden Notes for Autumn - April

Botanical DyeEllie Beck1 Comment
Japanese indigo flowers in the early morning dew. I love the way the spiders creep in at night time to make their little homes.

Japanese indigo flowers in the early morning dew. I love the way the spiders creep in at night time to make their little homes.

Japanese Indigo in flower, polygonum tinctorium

Japanese Indigo in flower, polygonum tinctorium

I am slowly slowly getting my garden becoming more of a thing. The dahlias, cosmos and zinnias from Summer’s garden are still blooming quite abundantly, but it’s all looking a little overgrown and end-of-season-ish. A couple of weeks ago, we made a new garden bed, and I planted out the indigo and woad. As well as some other things that needed to from pots to the ground.

We created a layer garden bed, using old palm fronds and some of our composting toilet compost / soil, as well as soil that we’d previously gathered from the forest - from an old abandoned bush turkey mound. Perfect amazing soil, those bush turkeys sure are wonderful at making soil. But it’s a lot of hard work digging it all up from the forest and bringing it down into our yard, barrow or bucket at a time. That’s why the garden work is slow. The long work of it all. The raised bed idea is easiest for us, on our land, as the ground is full of rocks and quite clay-ish. Creating a raised garden bed is fairly easy to do. I learned from a workshop I did last Spring, but also Milkwood book has some great help and ideas.

Tote bags made using fabric dyed from my garden (except the blue from indigo vat). Purple is from elderberries, oranges from dahlias, pink from avocado, greys from iron over dahlia. In the back ground you can see the beginnings of the pokeweed starting to ripen - the birds got them all this year, so no dye experiments alas.

Tote bags made using fabric dyed from my garden (except the blue from indigo vat). Purple is from elderberries, oranges from dahlias, pink from avocado, greys from iron over dahlia. In the back ground you can see the beginnings of the pokeweed starting to ripen - the birds got them all this year, so no dye experiments alas.

  • Currently the Japanese Indigo (polygonum tinctorium) is in flower. I did put it in late in the season, so I’m hoping it’ll go to seed and I can collect that and then grow fresh next Spring. It hasn’t really grown big enough for me to pick any leaves. Not enough to make any sort of dye experiments, thats for sure.

  • The ‘true’ indigo (indigofera tinctoria) that I planted all died before I could even transplant them into the garden. I’ve read that they are fussy with water - don’t like too much, don’t like not enough. I saved some seeds from the batch I bought and will try again in Spring. And I’ll keep them out of the rainy weather so I can control the watering situation.

  • The woad (isatis tinctoria) is growing slowly, but healthily. I’ve no idea if it’ll flower before Winter, or simply die. Or just keep going through, that would be great wouldn’t it.

  • I planted blackk hollyhocks, but not sure that I know / knew how to get the best out of them. I’ve since read that they don’t flower until the second year, and need a lot of tending. So we’ll see. One batch started flowing over, and growing along the ground. The other batch - in a different section - is still just a small plant. I had expected them to be tall by now. Anyway. All lessons.

  • I did put some seeds in of ‘dyers marigold’ (which is different than the regular marigold that I have growing), but none came up. Which is strange as marigolds are generally very hardy. But I’ll try again in late Winter. Or perhaps I’ll run out a poke a few in the soil now. I’m an eggs in all the baskets, seeds in all the seasons type of gardener. I have found the marigolds I have (the regular orange and yellow ones, small heads) don’t give as vibrant or regular colour as I’d expect; so I think I do need a different marigold. What’s your experience or thoughts on this?

    • I got my dye seeds from All Rare Herbs, they have an excellent selection of dye seeds / plants, if you live in Australia - I think it’s the best I’ve seen in any one place. They also sell plants at certain times of the year, so I might try that too - especially madder, which takes many years to grow before ready for harvesting. I have seen people selling indigo seeds via Instagram and Facebook as well, if you’re after some.

    • I’ll add to the dye seeds before Springtime. Dyers Chamomile, tansy, henna, madder, and Syrian Rue I have already.

This weekend past I planted rannunculus, anemones, freesias, jonquils and garlic. As well as a few different seeds that I put in randomly - some old poppies that I’m crossing my fingers will grow, and some dark deep purple pansies. Last year I dyed with the dark purple rannunc I was given and they were amazing. So I’m hoping to be able to experiment more with that come Springtime. I’m not sure if I’ll try the jonquils in the dye pot - I know that daffodils are amazing, but they won’t grow here very happily (without a lot of extra tending), so I’m not going to bother planting any. I have dyed with them in the past, when I managed to get some from a market in Sydney. Stunning amazing yellow - if you have daffodils growing, do try them in your dye pot. And we’ll see if I get enough jonquils to plunge them into water.

The orange cosmos has made an amazing print on my linen. I haven’t tried it on silk, because I have none to work with, The seeds are popping up everywhere in the new garden patch, so I think I’ll have lots to test with over the coming year. For some strange reason I never dyed fabric with the purple cosmos - they were stunning on paper. So, I’ll have to wait until next Spring and hope my self-collected seeds grow.

I have to share an updated dahlia dyeing journal - because I’ve been getting lots of lovely varieties of colours and tones depending on dye process. But the deep purple ones that I was gifted last Spring are still going so strongly. The little orange ones have died down now - probably mostly due to their end of the garden becoming a little overgrown. I have some sown from seeds as well that are much slower and littler, but might be bigger next season.

I’d love to know what you might want to learn, read, know about natural dyeing and gardening and fabric and such. Is there a plant you’ve wanted to dye with, but not sure how. Do you want me to write a little dye notes on using dahlias - and share my colours? Let me know….

Dahlia bud - this one is a special that we’ve had only two of. From the same plant as all the dark deep purples, it’s given some of these white petals. Dark coloured dahlia flowers gives yellows, oranges and even gentle browns in the dye pot.

Dahlia bud - this one is a special that we’ve had only two of. From the same plant as all the dark deep purples, it’s given some of these white petals. Dark coloured dahlia flowers gives yellows, oranges and even gentle browns in the dye pot.

Pink zinnia and orange cosmos

Pink zinnia and orange cosmos

Woad - isatis tinctoria

Woad - isatis tinctoria

in the garden - gathering flowers and plant dyeing and feeling abundant

Slow & Sustainable Living, Botanical DyeEllie BeckComment
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Every year we try to plant a garden, of some sort or other. Some years we’ve had flourishing garden, picking veges and flowers, other years barely anything at all. Some years it’s determined by the floods or the lack of water. I’ve done a lot of hand watering, carrying buckets from the creek to the garden over the years (especially when we first moved here to this land, and didn’t have water plumbed in yet). Some years I’ve watched all the soil and the plants washed away by a giant flood. Or the seedlings eaten by possums or wallabies, or the fruits picked off by bush turkeys.

But this year I have this. Three raised beds (metal frames) and a raised no-dig garden bed. And a whole lot of flowers that are blooming and thriving - despite our low-quality soil, but perhaps due to all the love and watering and conversations I am having with the little plants.

The dahlia tubers were gifted to me, from my dear sister-in-law and also a dear woman who I met recently, and makes magic with flowers. The cosmos keep getting taller and taller, and gifting us new blooms each morning. The tomatoes have grown past the bamboo teepees we built for them, and are giving us sweet little pops of deliciousness every day at the moment.

Having a small space right outside out home, that I can see from my kitchen window, makes me so so happy. The pure joy and pleasure of waking each morning, to water or tend or talk to my plants begins my day with a nourishment and uplifting feeling of possibility.

We planted more seeds this week past, including some woad and indigo. Next year my dye garden, flower garden and even perhaps vege garden will grow and expand. But for now it’s helping me to grow and expand, to nourish myself in simple small slow ways.

A feeling of abundance & garden metaphor for creativity ~

My garden, for me, is a very visual representation of the way we can feel about ourselves and the world, and how we can respond and react. Tending baby seedlings is like tending to the creativity inside us, the more we watch, water, talk to, nourish, spend time with the better the plants grow. Same as giving yourself the permission to nourish your self - giving yourself good soil (materials or time or simply kind words), and time. Watering a garden everyday is necessary in our climate here. When I’m watering, I’m also watching for weeds or bugs that might each the plants.

If I spend time with my creative practice, I am noticing the things that guide me towards blooming more openly, more rawly. I can start to spot when something is wilting or something is getting ready to bloom.

Tending weeds, in the garden, or choosing to pull them up is a lesson, for me, in allowing things. Some weeds are good (especially for my dye pots), whereas other weeds I don’t want to encourage at all. If I encourage weeds in my creativity I have to look at what they’re bringing to me - do they nourish my soil in a way I might not have imagined, but actually need. Or are the weeds taking away from other things growing more happily. So.. looking at this - letting some plants develop is like letting some ideas develop and grow. Pulling a weed out is like saying no to the wrong things in my life.

You can choose, in life, in creativity, in the garden, to be happy and content with one small simple garden bed and help it to grow and bloom. Or you can wish for more, constantly spreading yourself thing tending many things, many garden beds… and nothing quite blooms the way it could.

GO plant some seeds. A tiny pot is all you need. Some herbs or flowers. Sometimes to bring a joyful feeling when you water it, watch it, pick from it, eat from it. Plant a herb pot to gift to someone else, or a little patch of sunflowers.

I’ll be sharing my new dye garden journey over the coming year - from seedling to plant, to the colours they make on my fabric… but for now I wanted to share these photos of our little garden and this tumble down tea-house that will one day be a studio space, and extra bedrooms for my kids.

PS - If you’re looking for some books* to help in your garden… these ones are on my book shelf, and I refer to them often - for different reasons. I’ll do a separate review of them in the coming weeks, if you’re interested.
Milkwood by Kirsten Bradley & Nick Ritat - so much excellent info about tomato growing, as well as foraging, wild foods, seaweed, mushroom growing and bee-keeping. I can’t wait to see what their next book might be about.
Grown & Gathered by Matt Purbrick & Lentil Purbrick - this book has SO much info about gardening, growing, eating locally.
Floret by Erin Benzakein - I am referring to this regularly at the moment. Mostly to work out at what stage of bloom should I pick a certain flower, and how best to help it last longer in the vase. A beautiful book for any flower grower.

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  • If you purchase through these links I receive a small commission from Book Depository. It doesn’t cost you any extra, it simply means a small contribution to my family income - which can go towards paying my internet bills. I thank you for your support.