More from the dye garden

Drying weld plants

Drying weld plants

I’ve harvested some weld plants from my other garden plot. This is a plot I’ve given up this spring as I just don’t have time for it this year. The wedding is coming up fast and there has been no time to do so much as order seeds. (Well, okay, I’m sure I could have found a little time to do that – but things do have a way of piling up and slipping by me.) I’ve posted some pics of young weld in the garden – here is a shot of some of the weld plants hanging to dry in the garage. I’ve read they should be dried like herbs: hung upside down so the good stuff stays in the leaves, so that’s the way I’ve always done it – although when I extract the dye I’ll be using the whole plant except for the roots. This drying process should really be done when the weather is warm and dry, and we’ve gotten some unexpected late El Niño rain… but these should still be okay. They should have some good strong yellow dye in there for making my yellow lake.

Blue bearded iris

Blue bearded iris

Also, in the main garden plot: the bearded irises are finally flowering, and spectacularly. These are an heirloom variety of rhizome I bought from a cooperative grower in Oklahoma about a year and a half ago, and I’ve been nursing them along ever since. They are blooming now at last, and the flowers are incredibly beautiful, an iridescent blue-violet. This is the first one to bloom, and I gave it to my lovely fiancée; there are more irises blooming now. Behind the iris plants are a couple of weld stalks.

Why are these iris plants in the dye garden? Well, I tell people they’re to make things prettier around there, since so much of what I grow is rather, well, weedy-looking. But I can get a special color from these as well. During the Middle Ages a remarkable green ink was used in manuscripts, called iris green. It’s visually similar to the sap green derived from buckthorn berries, and at times has even carried that name itself. I made a little iris green last year, from some store-bought blue iris flowers. It’s amazing to get such a pretty green from such a pretty blue flower!

Digging in the garden

Digging in the garden

Finally, to the right is the hole I dug today to bury a board – to try to keep the madder roots from invading that part of the garden again. My neighbor (a businessman) has been watching my progress with the dye plants and lately has been getting somewhat excited at the commercial possibilities of this “high-end” product. That all ended today when he saw how much labor I was having to put into this. I agree with his newer, less optimistic assessment – you really have to be fanatic about this stuff to even attempt it seriously. There’s a reason why alizarin crimson kicked natural madder out of the market. I may (probably will) sell a few tubes of homemade paint later on, but basically I’m doing this because I love it. I’m glad my neighbor has lost interest – when I begin selling I want to do it on my terms, and without a profit requirement. Just a natural extension of what I’m doing already.

The wedding is one week from today(!) – and after that we’ll be in Hawaii for a week. (I’ll try not to do any earth pigment harvesting while we’re there – don’t want to incur Pele’s wrath!) It’s likely I won’t post again until three weeks from now. I’ll pick up again when we return. – L.Lawrence


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4 Responses to “More from the dye garden”

  1. Announcement: blue iris rhizomes available « Sunsikell Says:

    […] These are the irises I’ve used to create the iris green ink, which you can read about here, here, here and here. I don’t know exactly how many I’ve got, but it must be several […]

  2. james wood Says:

    Thought you might like our project… I’m personally working on organic paint possibilities as well as trying to make a data base of possible plant based colours from ink with ph variations as well as different empty laking vessels.. anyway – I think it’d be good for us to be in contact some way.. the project:
    my site:

    • llawrence Says:

      Hi James, thanks for commenting. That looks like a really great project you have going there! I’d like to promote book arts in general, because it can allow for more natural organic materials (pigments won’t fade from the sun if they’re locked away between the covers). As soon as I get a chance I’m going to settle in for a good peruse.

  3. Lynn D Says:

    Thank you for the info on making ink from Irises. Have an heirloom iris but it only flowers 1/yr (April usually) and smells like root beer. Is there a variety name for yours?
    Did try Daylily once for yarn dye,diff color on wool than cotton. Also pH dependent. Am seeing what Myrtle berries do and purple carrot cooking water.

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