My dye garden

After a long wait for the first shoots and being worried that my dye garden will eventually become a desert, finally I am ready to show what I’ve got over there. Yet before I go further.. thank you Arek for digging the garden! 🙂

There are successes , but also failures. So far I can not see any madder shoots ( Rubia tinctorum ) nor weld ( Reseda luteola ). I do not think that I sowed them too late , I would rather put the blame on my further gardening mistakes or my impatience. Yet I am still hoping a bit they will show up.

I am really happy however to see my woad growing (Isatis tinctoria). It wasn’t easy to grow it, so I am a bit proud of myself. Starting from the very beginning: this is one of the oldest known dyeing plants, the oldest discovered seeds date back to the Neolithic Age (cave l’Audoste in the Bouches-du-Rhône), since then its career wass constantly gaining momentum and slowed down after the sea rout to India became open (Vasco da Gama, 1498). Huge amounts of indigo imported back then from India became a major thread to woad forunes and so in Germany in 1577 the use of indigo was prohibited, and the plant itself was considered a corrosive substance and named Devil’s dye. A little later, in France, Henry IV Bourbon banned use of “indian drug” under death penalty. The situation turned clear in first years of the 20th century. Together with the development of chemical methods of dye synthesis, both woad and indigo branches collapsed in the European continent. So much for the historical facts, now the practical part 🙂

I sowed m seeds in early May right into the ground, ingoring recomendations to take extra care of them. It is true that less than 50% of the seeds had shown up, yet I know nothing of their origin, so it is hard for me to determine whether it was me who was guilty, old seeds or birds. Today however, a month after sowing, the plants are approx. 30 cm high and in the mornign dew, at half past five in the morning, they looked super healty:urzet1urzet2
There is no trace of the recent failure with replanting 🙂 I’ve waited for too long with that and thus I was replanting pretty grown up plants. I was amazed how little time off the ground was enough for the plant to lay flat! While virtually every plant spent not more than 30 seconds in the air (I was replanting them only 40 cm further), their leaves lied flat on the ground after that – they lost firmness, got purple bruising and leaf veins became blue. To be precise – although the root had a pile shape, I haven’t broken any of them, so this was not the case for sure.


Fortunately intensive watering + couple of rainy days saved each single plant, yet the lesson was not the pleasant one though. Next time don’t wait – replant seedlings while they’re still small 🙂

What’s interesting – it was woad itself that was used to prepare a dye which Boadicea, a great Iceni queen, used to paint her body with before heading out to a battle against Romans.

This lady was described as:

“This woman assembled her army, to the number of some 120,000, and then ascended a tribunal which had been constructed of earth in the Roman fashion. In stature she was very tall, in appearance most terrifying, in the glance of her eye most fierce, and her voice was harsh; a great mass of the tawniest hair fell to her hips; around her neck was a large golden necklace; and she wore a tunic of divers colours over which a thick mantle was fastened with a brooch. This was her invariable attire. She now grasped a spear to aid her in terrifying all beholders and spoke as follows”

Cassius Dio “Roman history” 62, 2

This makes even more hapyy my woad has survived! 😀

Staying among blue shades, my next plant is japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctorium). Like other seeds, these were sewed directly to the ground as well. Unfortunately soon after that a frost came unexpectedly – all my tomatoes died
jap_indthen, so I was truly worried about my soon to be indigo field. Fortunately nothing bad happened and first indigo shoots showed up couple of weeks after sewing (2 round leaves with purple border and third one truly green, fleshy and glossy). I can safely say that vast majority of seeds grew up and seedlings survived replanting really well. Pretty resistant beasts 🙂 Due to the fact that indigo leaves are more efficient when compared to woad, I am more than curious of the dyeing results.

Changing from blue to warmer shades – time for my Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.) which is supposed to make up for the abscence of madder. Its flower petals should dye from yellow to red depending on the solution pH so I will not be limited to cold shades this summer 🙂 In the picture you can see approximately 30% of my Safflower resources, so I am pretty worried wil that be enough. This I will learn in August 😉


The last colour I am going to be able to achieve is yellow. My fiance is already thrilled to see where I’ve planted 2 dyer’s greenweeds (Genista tinctoria) – I placed them outside the main garden to mark where I would like to have it expanded 🙂 For now he refuses to dig, but I’m only waiting for him to see me at work. He will surely pity me and do the job for me, it is always like that! 😀

Dyer’s greenweed ready to blossom:janowiec

That was my early morning walk. I’ve also visited my second garden – half herbal, half vegetable to pick up goods for breakfast. Let the next picture will therefore be a praise of rural life, as radishes and basil also come from my crops:


Let my plants grow strong and healthy while I’m going back to a project I launched yesterday at 11:00 pm. It is because of that my sleep was too short, but the idea is terrific! Below is a little teaser and I am really hoping that I will be able to show the results here really soon!

“Roman History” by Cassius Dio you will find here:*.html

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    1. o nasiona dobrze pytać u farbiarek, albo szukać online. Można je znaleźć na przykład na albo szukać po etsy, czasem tam da się znaleźć taniej. Moje urzetowe nasionka na przykład znalazłam na allegro, więc dobrze się rozejrzeć bo mogą być tuż obok 🙂

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