A visit to Nature's Rainbow, Hitchin

I am really enjoying creating my 'Smell me and Dye Garden', that I am seeing what began as a bit of a vague idea come together as a physical, real garden, is really exciting.  My approach to this area of the garden follows my general principle when gardening which is that the garden will tell me what it wants me to do.  Hence it becoming also a rose garden now, so it is the combination of scent and colour.

I do also need to learn what to do.  I know that there is so much more to creating a place to grow natural dyes than just shoving a few plants in the ground.  I need to understand which plants, where they need to go, what the different benefits do some plants bring and just actually know what the garden could look like.  I have read books, I have looked online but I am a person who learns best by seeing and doing and listening to those who know.  One of the websites I had been reading was Susan Dye's website where Susan talks about what she and Ashley grow in their plot, there are courses, there is an online shop, it is without doubt, a wealth of information.  I signed up for the newsletter and when dates of visit to the plot were announced I quickly signed up.  Hitchen is about an hour and a half from home so was very doable.

The visit was on a hot muggy Saturday, we were a small group taking part and we were made very welcome by Susan and Ashley.  We had an introductory session (with tea and good cake) where we talked about what we wanted from the session and then we set off to walk around the plot.  It is not a really big plot and that in itself was really useful to know.  

We walked around, we discussed the various plants, their strengths, their weaknessess.  It was a talk packed with information and not a general 'high level' chat glossing over important detail; the scientific aspects of the plants and how the dyes work was there as it is important to know.  We talked about the properties of the different types of madder, the difference between blue from indigo plants and blue from woad.  We discussed how different fabrics would take on the colour differently and the difference that mordants added to the process.

Then it was time to go home and clutching my notes I wended my way home thinking about all we discussed.  

I stood in front of one of the many (so many) clumps I have of sticky weed (Cleavers) I have in my garden.  I thought about how similar it is to the madder (Rubia peregina) we had been looking at and that I already grow.  I thought about how similar it is to Galium album, Hedge Bedstraw and Galium verum Ladies Bedstraw that are part of the Rubiaceae family.  I googled sticky weed as I had no idea what its really name is.  Apparently it is not officially 'flipping nuisnace' 'bloody nuisance' or other such names I usually hurl at it, it is Galium aparine and yes, it is the same family and yes it can be used to produce a red dye.  Well, I say yes, a quick continuation of the googling seemed to find differences of opinion as to whether it works effectively as a dye.  Apparently you have to dig out the very fine roots which suddenly feels like a faff too far.  

Oh well, it's something to consider.

I have to thank Susan and Ashley for such a thought provoking day.  I arrived home inspired and looking forward to continue on this learning journey.

Take care and be kind

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