natural dyeing

The Dye Garden in July

My little dye garden, which I started in May (see original post here), is doing fairly well through our hot Texas summer. Because our spring was so hectic, I started my seedlings much later than I should have, and didn’t plan out the garden bed nearly as carefully as I would have liked. Nevertheless, I’m pleased with the results.

My coreopsis have flourished — no surprise, since they are a wildflower that covers Austin roadsides through the summer. This hot weather is their heaven. I’m actually having trouble keeping up with the harvest!

The alkanet is also doing well, making a fine first-year rosette. Next year these will grow to 2 or 3 feet high as their purple-rich roots grow deeper and bigger. (The grass is also making a valiant effort for dominance in the garden, but besides the alkanet, this end of the garden is empty, so I’m actually thankful for the grass to keep the soil from eroding).

The madder seems to be doing quite well now that it is established. Next spring I will plant more madder, so that I can have several beds to harvest in rotation. Generally the plants are allowed to grow for three years before their roots are harvested for that famous red.

My Japanese indigo started well but has not appreciated the heat. It probably also wants watering more than every-other-day, which has been my pattern for the last two months. Still, I’m hoping this little guy at least will survive and give me some seeds. I’d like to try planting a fall crop, and also starting with them earlier next spring.

My Guatemalan indigo (indigo suffruticosa), on the other hand, has really taken off. It needed steady watering when it was first transplanted, but it seems fine with every-other day, and is growing quite tall. This weekend I’d like to harvest from the biggest plant and try some fresh-leaf dyeing recipes.

I didn’t plant any cotton this year, but I had three plants “volunteer” from last year’s crop. They are beginning to flower and set bolls!

While this summer’s dye garden is a little rag-tag, I’m proud to have it out at all, and I’m already thinking through how I’d like to cultivate it in the long-term. The real celebration, however, will come when I start to use what I’m growing.


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