I research a lot of gardening trends to bring you all the very best in my column. Usually, the trends are reimagined names for things that have always happened in the garden. Basically, nothing much has changed in the ages-old area of growing plants.
Last week I was reading up on trends on Garden Design Magazine’s website when something caught my fancy. It seems homesteaders are planting gardens specifically for natural dyes, which are used to dye yarn and fabric made from natural fibers. Because I am an amateur knitter, this trend combines two of my favorite things.
To learn more about dye gardens, I took to the library. I found the book “Harvesting Color” by Rebecca Burgess. This book is very detailed and includes a rich history on how natural fibers have evolved over time and how the first dyers could impart color onto them by using plants, roots, minerals and anything else found in nature.
Now, people are continuing this time-honored tradition by purposefully growing plants that can be harvested for dye making. Burgess has many natural recipes to follow to get the desired colors and shades. I recognized a lot of the plants she includes in her recipes. If you look around your landscape, you might find some of them yourself.
Coreopsis — This landscape plant, also known as tickseed, is found in most garden centers and makes a sunny addition to any yard with its bright yellow blooms lasting all summer. Using this plant to dye natural fibers results in golden yellow to orange hues, depending on the variety used. Add coreopsis to a pollinator garden for added use.
Zinnia — Annuals are usually planted for beauty, pollinators or for eating, but in this case, zinnia can be used in dye making. Start zinnias by seed in a sunny place in your garden and harvest them while in bloom. Burgess suggests harvesting the brightest reds, oranges, yellows and pinks to use for dye. These will result in light yellow to pale green dye colors. Surprising, right?
Elderberry — This deciduous shrub’s berries are not only great for the immune system, but they also make a great dye. Harvest the berries in summer when they begin to turn purple. It is no surprise that they will turn natural fibers hues of purple, as well.
Black walnut — These trees are a pain for most homeowners because they release a toxin in the ground that is known to or stunt the growth of other plants around it. The nuts it produces can be useful in herbal medicine and can also be eaten (although I find them unpalatable). The husks have also been used as a dye by Native Americans and, according to Burgess, were also used to dye Confederate soldier uniforms in the Civil War. Black walnut will present itself as a nice golden brown when used as a fabric dye.
Hollyhock — This tall, gorgeous plant looks wonderful in the back of the border where it…