Sunday, June 20, 2010

growing madder

Today was a gardening day. I thought I'd share with you the full extent of my dye garden: one rambling madder plant

Last spring, I had exceedingly ambitious plans for a dye garden. I planted woad, lady's bedstraw, madder, kota, and dyer's coreopsis. Between the arid air, the harsh sun, and the insects, only a single madder plant made it to maturity.

But that one plant is thriving. It survived last summer and stayed green through the winter freezes, and it's been growing like mad (ha!) this spring and summer.

It's completely filled the whiskey barrel and is overflowing with spindly stalks and scratchy leaves. I must say, it's not a very appealing plant. But it makes my heart swell when I peek underneath the plant and see those ruddy roots, knowing that they'll one day be simmered up into a earthy brew of orange dye:

Madder plants need to be at least three years old before you can harvest them for the roots, so this plant has one more year to go. I'm trying to encourage the stems to set more roots by layering them under the soil here and there where they flop on the ground. With luck, I'll have madder for years to come!


kathy b said...

It will be a great achievement when you dye with it as it is ready. :)

Julie said...

what a great idea!! It's going to be amazing.

Rachel said...

Thanks for sharing...I love reading about your natural dye endeavors!

Iris said...

Lucky you to be able to grow madder. It just isn't hardy here.

BUT! I was out in the field feeding the chickens the other day and came across a big patch of lady's bedstraw that has survived and thrived completely neglected in our old garden of 10 years ago!

I'm not sure whether to dig it up and move it closer to the house or just harvest some and let it continue to grow where it is.

When I tried dyeing with it several years back it only gave a very pale pinkish shade. Like the madder, it isn't the prettiest of plants but the yellow blossoms are sweet, sweet, SWEET scented. I had a patch growing right outside our bedroom window until digging it all up for that dyebath.