Garden Spaces: Plant a Dye Garden

Try our plans for a garden full of color ready to be harvested.

| June/July 2010

  • Illustrations by Gayle Ford
    Click on the IMAGE GALLERY for the planting key.
  • Illustrations by Gayle Ford

• Design Plans: Grow These Herbs to Make Dyes 

• Online Exclusive: Learn How To Make Dyes Naturally 

Traditional dye plants offer intriguing materials for the gardener who is also a spinner or weaver, or who just wants to experiment with the vast usefulness of the natural world. Nature has its own subtle palette of colors and this little garden represents a few of the dozens of plant dye possibilities, which even include some nuts, fruits, vegetables and other common foods.

And even if you’re more inclined to pick up some easy powdered dye at the corner store than to make a dye bath from the plants in your garden, you still might appreciate this connection to history and tradition. All of these plants are desirable garden plants.

About Dye Plants

A separate garden isn’t necessary to grow dye plants, as you can incorporate them into an existing flower border or bed (and you might unknowingly be growing dye plants already), but this small corner bed can give you ideas. Some, such as indigo and weld, are traditional dye plants, while others are more common garden plants and might surprise you. Growing the plants is easy, and if you have enough plant material to harvest, dyeing is a fun project and not difficult. But getting the most vivid colors from plant pigments and making more permanent dyes involves mordanting, or treating the fabric or yarn before you dye it with a metallic compound, such as alum.

Mordanting is a process that involves more than I can detail here, so do some research if you’ve never done any natural dyeing before. Different parts of the plants can yield different colors. The type of material you’re dyeing, the length of time you leave it in the dye bath and the type of mordant you use to pre-treat can also vary the colors, sometimes dramatically. Allow for some unpredictability; it’s part of the charm of natural dyes.

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