It has been a cold and grey spring here so far. We had two wonderfully sunny days last week, the crocuses and bees were out at last, but unfortunately it didn’t last. This week the winter is back we had 10cm of snow on the ground this morning. But it’s prime seed sowing season nevertheless, and it has been keeping me busy in the last few weeks.
To avoid the inevitable spring rush, I was super-organised in the autumn and ordered my seeds already then. And yet, as I have been going through those seeds now, I realised that some of my seeds should have been sown already in the autumn, and quite a few need a period of cold before they germinate. I can’t believe it – I’m behind already and I have only just started!!
Last year was my first year of growing dye plants, and this year I have an even bigger list of plants I want to try to grow. I have a new border dedicated to dye plants, which is pretty exciting. As well as useful, I want this border to be ornamental too so I have chosen plants that look pretty as well as are suitable for dyeing. I am also going to scatter a few of these multi-functional plants in my existing ornamental flower borders (just to have even more room for them!).
So here is the plan for dye plants that I am going to grow this year. Just for my own benefit so that I remember what I should be doing, I’ve grouped the plants according to sowing time and method.
Seeds that need an early sowing:
- Japanese Indigo (Polygonum tinctorium). After my success with woad last year, I’m very excited to try the Japanese indigo this year.This needs a long season especially if you want the plants to set seed. It is not hardy so I have started these in-house, soon I will move them to heated propagators in my unheated greenhouse and hope to keep them going that way until late May when I will plant them out.
- Dyer’s Broom (Genista tinctoria), this will need an exposure to cold before germinating. After sowing, I kept the seeds in the house for 2 weeks, then put them outside for the chill treatment. And I already have a few plants in pots that I managed to grow last year, but never had the time to plant somewhere permanent.
- Purple loosestrife (Lythrum Salicaria). This is a pretty native plant with purple flowers that is ornamental as well as suitable for dyeing. It needs damp soil, which luckily we have. We have a pond in the garden as well as very sticky clay, so by the pond it is often completely soggy. Seeds should be sown in winter in a coldframe.
- Goldenrod (I’m trying Solidago canadensis ‘Golden Baby’). Seeds should be sown in late winter/early spring.
- Black-eye Susan (Rudbeckia fuldiga ‘Goldsturm‘). Sowing in early spring in a cold frame.
Spring sowing (seeds to be sown in spring in a coldframe or in an unheated greenhouse):
- Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum). This is a very tall perennial that butterflies adore. It can also be used for dyeing. Seeds can be sown in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse in the spring.
- Medowsweet (Filipendula Ulmaria). Another multifuctional plant that needs damp conditions ideally by a pond.
- Tickseed (Coreopsis tinctoria). A perfect multi-functional plant that I grew last year. It looks pretty and gives a nice range of yellow, oranges and brick red as I wrote here.
- Purple basil (I am trying variety ‘Purple Ruffles’). Not a hardy plant so needs to started indoors. My soil is not ideal for basil, but I am going to try it anyway, and perhaps keep some in pots.
- Red Perilla. This is an oriental cooking vegetable that is decorative too. The seeds only germinate after their dormancy is broken. Apparently keeping the seeds in a fridge for 1-3 months before sowing might do the trick. So I am putting them into the fridge now and sow a bit later on in the spring.
Direct Sowing (March to May):
- Bronze fennel. A truly multi-functional plant, very ornamental, used in cooking and also dyeing. The seedling of fennel do not transplant well so it’s best sown directly in late spring.
- Woad (Isatis tinctoria). Last year I was more successful with my woad when sown directly (the seeds I tried to propagate in the greenhouse just didn’t germinate). It’s a hungry plant so needs extra fertiliser once it gets going.
- Weld (Reseda luteola). Another one that I just could not get to germinate in the greenhouse last year, so this year I am going to try sowing it directly in a dry gravelly ground next to the south facing wall of our garage – lets see if I am more successful this way.
Plants that I already started last year:
- Dyer’s Chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria). This is a perennial plant so it should flower again this year.
- Black Hollyhock (Althaea rosea var. Nigra). As I have been reading about the dyeing experiments by Pia from Colour Cottage with this plant, I am so happy I already started some plants last year. It’s a biennial so mine should flower this year.
- Rhubarb. I planted quite a few rhubarb plants in my kitchen garden last year. As well as the stems that provide nice puddings, the leaves (which are poisonous) can be used as a mordant. The roots you can use as dye. But you are supposed to let them grow 2-3 years before starting to harvest them so I may need leave mine alone this year.
- Buckthorn (Rhamnus species). This is a hedging plant, and I am going to fill some gaps in our hedge with some plants that I bought last year and have been growing on in pots.
- Elder (Sambucus nigra). I’m going to plant both the green and black varieties in my garden this year. The flowers and berries can be used in cooking and the leaves and the flowers can be used in dyeing.
- Blackthorn, “Sloe” (Prunus spinosa). There’s a wild sloe bush in the forest near our house the berries of which we’ve used to make wonderful sloe gin but I’d like a sloe bush in my own garden too.
And in case I won’t have enough on the list already, I really would like to try these too:
- Staghorn sumac (useful as a mordant too)
- and some hardy variety of eucalyptus
Now that I am looking at this, I’m realising it’s quite a list. I am always way too over-enthusiastic and ambitious with my garden plans and by April I know I am in trouble. Despite good intentions this happens every year, so I’m sure this year won’t be an exception. But being sensible is not fun, is it?