Sea Green and Sapphire

A blog about a love of colour, addiction to fabrics and joy of crafting…

Trouble at the Dye Garden


Now I am not a superstitious person, but I am seriously beginning to think there is an evil curse on my brand new flower bed, which was especially created so that I have more room to grow dye plants. So far, nothing that I have tried to grow on that bed has actually been successful.

My new dye plant border is not looking good this summer…

I spotted the first signs of trouble after the first plants were planted there. These were some dyer’s chamomile and hollyhock plants that were transferred there from a raised bed where they had previously been growing quite happily. On the new bed, they just sulked, they literally have not grown at all since they were transplanted a few months ago.

Ailing chamomile

Hollyhock that refuses to grow

Hollyhock that refuses to grow

Then, I tried to sow some woad and purple fennel seeds there. None germinated, not a single seed. I must admit that this might have been my own fault. I sowed the seeds during a dry spell, and although I did water them (occasionally), perhaps I just didn’t do it enough.

But I also started to suspect there might be a problem with the soil. The soil around here is incredibly thick and sticky clay, and I knew that to have any chance of growing anything in it I’d need lots of extra compost as a soil improver.  Someone told me that the best way to improve heavy clay would be to use fully composted bark to improve the structure. So I bought a truck load of the stuff, and on my other flower beds it has worked very well as a mulch, it does a good job suppressing weeds. But perhaps it was a mistake to use it when establishing a new flower bed? Perhaps it doesn’t contain enough nutrients, and so it’s not the ideal stuff to be dug in? I don’t know if that is the case, but clearly something had to be done so I bought some standard compost and had the bed completely dug over again with lots and lots of this new compost added in.

So after this I dared to plant some plants into the bed again. I planted some tickseed, tagetes and purple loosestrife that I had grown from seed in the greenhouse. But only a few days after, I noticed that most of the tickseed had been eaten, probably by rabbits . It was too late to take any action right then, and the following morning when I went back, the rest were, as I had feared, completely devoured and some of the purple loosestrife had been nibbled too. Of course I knew there are rabbits about (they are very cute, sweet-looking bunny rabbits and there are a lot of them), but on the whole they have left my perennials alone. Fruit trees get nibbled instantly, but perennials, for some reason, have been spared. Now I know it was only because they are fussy eaters and were only waiting for me to offer them juicier types of plants. Tickseed, preferably.

An ex-tickseed

An ex-tickseed

If I am completely honest with myself, I do know what the curse afflicting my dye garden is called. It’s the “Curse of the Inexperienced and Over-Enthusiastic Gardener“. No matter how many garden books you read, gardeners have to make their own mistakes before they learn. Not that I am a complete novice with gardening – I have spent over ten years of making all manner of gardening mistakes – it’s just that I have only had a garden bigger than a postage stamp for a few years, and at my rate, I reckon I need at least ten more years of intense practising and more mistake-making before I can be more certain of reliable success.

And one lesson I need to learn straight away is not to make over-ambitious plans, not to attempt so much that I will be rushing and taking short-cuts, hoping that I can get away with them (because I probably won’t). It’s easy enough to grow lots of plants from seed, but you need the time and the energy to plant them on before they start suffering in pots that are getting too small, water them properly for weeks afterwards and protect them from all kinds of beasties big and small (ideally before the plants get completely devoured). And this year,  poor health hasn’t made it easy to keep on top things either (which is the reason why I have been rather quiet on the blogging front recently).

But luckily, it hasn’t all been a failure. Some of my other dye plants have grown well and even on the health front I have picked up a little bit over the last couple of weeks, so I am hoping I’ll finally get a chance to do some dyeing this week. So lets hope I’ll be able to report some more successful results to you soon!

But if all else fails, you can always rely on nettle

But if all else fails, you can always rely on nettle to do well


Author: Heidi

I love colour wherever I find it, in art, photography, gardens, nature. I also love all kinds of fiber arts; spinning, dyeing, knitting, felting, sewing.

5 thoughts on “Trouble at the Dye Garden

  1. Well, even the most careful preparation will not help against bunnies. Maybe you need some tunnels with chicken wire to put over your plants, or a really good fence.

    I had a curious thing happen, I’d kept 2 Japanese Indigo in pots in the greenhouse, so they would grow bigger and perhaps make seeds. They were doing fine until a few days ago, they just started to shrivel up like an evil witch breathed on them, in a day they looked nearly dead. The ones in the garden are really small, so not much dyeing there. 2 years ago I had too many and they grew to bushes.

  2. We did put a netting around the flower bed, but it was only 50cm high, and I’ve realised they just jump over it, so next year we’ll need to do a better job.

    Very peculiar about your Japanese indigo, it must have been some sort of root problem or disease or something, I’m sure they wouldn’t just die suddenly like that otherwise. I too have one Japanese indigo in my greenhouse for the same purpose, it’s been getting very large and yesterday, when it was the hottest day of the year so far, by the evening it had just collapsed due to dehydration although it had been watered the night before. I hope it’ll recover though (and if you don’t get any seeds but I do, I’ll send you some!). The Japanese indigo plants that are outside haven’t done as well, they really didn’t enjoy the cold early summer here, I suspect you have been having the same problem over there. I’m thinking of having a first harvest of indigo leaves next week if I am up to it at the time, I’m so looking forward to seeing what happens..

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