Knitwear Natural Dye Garden - (Most of) The Plants are In!

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It’s June and there are finally some plants in my dye garden!

A few weeks ago we filled the beds with topsoil (about 40 wheelbarrow loads, if you’re interested), and last week I filled the car with plants that have been lovingly grown from seed by my Mum in Surrey. Last weekend I had the epic task of getting them in the ground.

Using the excellent The Dyer’s Garden book I planned the planting according to where gets the most sun and at what part of the day, and which plants need more or less sun or more depth to put down roots. See the three images below for a guide as to what I’ve planted where.

Pretty much every dye plant is really susceptible to slugs! I’m giving copper tape a go around the edge of the beds, and I’ve protected the most vulnerable woad and hollyhocks with wool pellets and grit. I am quietly confident that the rough wood of the beds is acting as slug barrier too, as despite this week’s rain I haven’t seen any slithering about. Fingers crossed…

I’m particularly pleased with how the Coreopsis bed looks right now, which my husband has named mini Jurassic Park because of the netting! I’ve had to put plastic netting down which looks awful and isn’t very environmentally friendly, but it’s needed to protect the plants against neighbourhood cats who have been using this as a toilet for the past month (gross).

The hop plant isn’t for dyeing - it’s a project with a local brewery - but I have read that you can dye with the leave so this probably will go into the pot after the hops have been harvested!

Some of these crops will be ready soon. The coreopsis should start flowering in a month or so and I’m hoping to get dahlias and cosmos for bundle dyeing. It could be possible to harvest woad this year but we’ll have to see. The beds look a bit gappy as I’m leaving room for some plants to mature (the weld gets quite large), and I’ve also got some more seedlings to go in a bit later in the month.

The madder plants (seen below in the two pots) will soon go into a larger container - they are creepers and have wandering roots, so it’s best to keep them contained! Their roots are used as a source of red dye once the plant is matured - this can take up to 5 years. I’m really playing the slow fashion long game with this plant! Will annual sowings of madder I should have a regular supply, in a few years time…

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This project has made me obsess over the plants. I have given them words of encouragement, asked them what’s wrong, and I check on them first thing in the morning just in case anything exciting has happened!

Despite this obsessing, I have felt a real improvement in my mental health. Spending time outside in the garden really clears and calms the mind. Funnily enough this week is National Growing for Wellbeing Week, which aims to ‘celebrate the magic that growing your own produce can do for your wellbeing, both physically and mentally’. I can certainly vouch for that!