I am trying my hand this spring with a Dye Garden. So far only four different plants which have been selected for; color (yellow, blue and red which can all be blended to create other colors), ease of growing, and suitability for my Zone here in Portland, and also because I like the names. I have always wanted a garden with Woad and Weld. And I love the name Lady's Bedstraw. Dyer's Woodruff is chosen more for the color, a very intense red, then the name.
This one is Lady's Bedstraw. It is a wild flower in Britain and so it should do well here. In the past the dried plants were used to stuff mattresses. It smells like sweet hay and is supposed to encourage sleep and deter fleas.The flowers were also used to coagulate milk in cheese manufacture and, in Gloucestershire, to color the cheese Double Gloucester. The leaves and roots are used to make yellow (leaves) and red (roots) dyes. It is tall and beautiful as a plant, and multi use as a dye stuff so it made the cut.
And this is Dyer's Woodruff. It is a hardy perennial that thrives up to zone 4 so will work in my Portland garden. It is also low maintenance, which is an absolute requirement for a gardener like me -- I like to garden but I don't LOVE to garden. The roots provide a madder like red.
This is woad. Think Braveheart. It gives an intense indigo colored blue with occasional hints of turquoise. As you can see from the picture it is an umimpressive looking plant with wooly leaves but if youlook at the tips you can see the bluish tint. It can be harvested 3 or 4 times in a good year. Next spring it will shoot and the blue pigment in the leaves will disappear and by early summer a multitude of tiny yellow flowers appear followed by purple teardrop shaped seeds. The first year’s leaves are harvested by hand, washed, chopped finely and placed in a bucket, covered with boiling water and left to stand for about an hour while the pigment leaches out. The resulting liquid is strained, whisked, made alkali with washing soda and then the air is eliminated from the vat. It will dye almost anything blue; all fibers, wood, bone, leather and especially hands.
And this is Weld which gives a brilliant yellow. If you have dyed wool with Woad and then overdye with Weld you will get Lincoln Green. It's the color that Robin Hood's Merry Men wore so that they could blend into the forest. Although it is my guess that there were some merry women on board somewhere doing the spinning, weaving, sewing and dyeing for the merry men.
Are there other plants that you would particularly recommend? For either interesting names, good colors, or ease of growth in Maine's short summers? Also if any of my reader's have experience with natural dyeing and want to chip in with some wise advice please do so. I think I'm going to be able to use all the help I can get.