Friday, 3 April 2009


Posted by Helen
Last week I went round to Enys's house to have a look at the emerging dye plants mostly for the Woolfest in Cumbria in June but some will be big enough for Wonderwool Wales which is April 25th & 26th at the Royal Welsh ground at Builth Wells. The Japanese polygonum (Persicaria Tinctoria) has germinated well-over 60plants Enys said-plants like dyers chamomile (Anthemis Tinctoria ),coreopsis (Coreopis Tinctoria) and cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) are as usual romping away, and the woads are better this year than last. One of the plants that is doing much better than ever before is safflower, carthemis tinctorius. Enys was furious at the madder -the seed tray on the top left of the picture of seed trays as none of the madder had germinated after two weeks. Over the years she has tried various ways to get it to grow, she tells me, but it is always difficult. I lent forward to inspect the reluctant seeds and saw one just starting to push it's way through. Time for champagne? I suggested hopefully. We went back to celebrate with coffee.
Incidentally the nearly flowering woad is Chinese woad (Isatis Indigotica) and as mine is flowering too we should have plenty of seeds for next year. The Chinese woad we have planted this year is still from the original seed sent to me by Annee Silk in Canada who sent them twice when the first lot did not germinate. Chinese woad (Isatis Indigotica) produces more indigotin (about twice as much)as does the European woad (Isatis Tinctoria). The comparison data is here

While I was there Enys proudly showed me lots of robust Baptisia Australis-"what dye colour do we get from it"? She asked. My mind went blank. However researching through my archives I found I wrote a post about the Baptisia and you can find what I did here!

to my all new followers.


  1. I've had the same problems with madder seeds - until I started to sow them right away, after they ripened on the plant! this gave me much better results - though this year it's either very late in reappearing - or totally gone?:(( and baptisia tinctoria didn't grow too well outside and dyed off after a few years, without me having the chance to try dyeing with it:(( the good and the bad in gardening:))

  2. Hi Bettina we have not tried with our own madder seeds so may be we will next time.Enys's DH also an expert gardener suggested she had planted them too early but yesterday she sent me a triumphant email to say 18 had come up.Calloo Callay! We haven't had the B.Tinctoira only the australis,the Tinctoria is the one that was supposed to give blue. Did you ever get blue from it? And where did you get the seeds from?
    My Australis has died off ;(

  3. Helen, I got the B. tinctoria seeds from a company in oregon, horizon herbs! they are online, too, don't know if they still have that variety though. and no, I only managed to grow a single plant that did't put up enough growth to do any dyeing with it.
    so you're all set for plenty of madder plants - I guess patience is a good thing not only for dyers, but also for gardeners?:))

  4. Hi Bettina I might try Horizon Herbs for the Tinctoria then. I would like to try it but looking at the amount of dye plants in my garden I wonder when I will have time! Thanks for the info. :)

  5. Helen, I think it might be best to concentrate on basic dye plants, where you know what you get - and only try a few new ones each year. I made the mistake of cramming in too much - and never got around to try them all out in dyeing, because there was just no time left:(( gardener's greed is just as bad as dyer's greed:)) (or the desire to try everything out at once...)

  6. Ah Well I agree with you- dyers greed too true.:)However I run workshops have"shopping days" -new this year-and the dye garden is open as it will be this autumn when I am part of an art trail, so I like to have lots of different dye plants,even if I have to admit" this is a dye plant or so the book say-I haven't tried it yet!" I am even putting horseradish into a small corner for that reason! I have to blame Enys for this! When we started I wanted weld,madder,woad,goldenrod.Enys kept popping in plants she found in her herbal books that were said to be dyes and consequently I tried quite a few I had not before.Ground ivy is such a one ,purple loostrife another.