Notes on a small dye garden

Colours from my garden

Gardening season has started with a bang and I am lucky enough to have a small garden. It is largely taken up by paving and a patch of very shaded grass. Not much grows in the grass as builders have filled the ground with rubbish. Most of what I grow, is vegetables in pots with my 5 year old, but I have managed to use it well to grow a bunch of dye plants for personal dyeing. As much as I love foraging, it is so much fun being able to grow different colours yourself and learn more about the plants this way. You appreciate the dye process even more.

I am in no means an expert gardener, but throughoully enjoy doing it. I will try and point you out to good websites for advice. I also find following dyers on instagram super helpful as many have dye gardens and share great advice. The current world situation has made it difficult to source compost, seeds and pots which are normally readily available in nearby garden centres. This has changed my plans a little this year as I wanted to expand my garden and build larger raised beds for my dye plants.

Here are the plants I’ve been growing

Woad (Isatis Tinctoria ): This will be my third year growing woad. I have my own seeds this year, which I planted few weeks back. I have tried few times germinating these indoors, but they never seem to survive the move outdoors. I now sow the seeds directly into larger pots and thin out as needed. Woad is an easy plant to grow and needs very little attention. They do suffer from snail and catepillar attacks so covering the plants with netting is advised. Last year I lost most of my plants to catepillars so I am being extra cautious this year. Woad can be used to dye with on it’s first year. On it’s second year, it goes to seed and spreads these wildly so make sure to harvest them swiftly. It can spread a bit too much and become a pest.

Indigo (Persicaria Tintoria): I am very exited this year to grow indigo for the first time as the seeds I purchased from Bailiwick Blue have germinated beautifully and are almost ready to be transferred outdoors. I started them in the windowsill in small pots and had shoots within a week. They have grown a bit leggy as I have had trouble sourcing more soil, but hopefully will still be happy once in bigger pots in the sunshine. Susan Dye has great instructions on her website about growing Japanese indigo. I would actually recommend her blog for anything plant dye related.

Indigo seedlings

Madder ( Rubia Tinctorum) : This is a plant that needs both space and time and produces shades ranging from orange, pink, red and rust. This year will be my first homegrown madder harvest as my first plant will be three years old, which is the minimum recommendation for letting it grow. Optimistically I am hoping to have a madder harvest each year after this autumn. I grow my madder in pots as I don’t have enough space for them in the ground. I am hoping this will make harvesting easier also. My oldest madder plant is in a 100 litre pot and you can see the red roots peaking out just on top of the soil. The stems on top of the ground grow crazily and are very prickly to touch. End of summer madder has little flowers that turn to seeds.

Weld (Reseda Luteola): This is a biannual plant and needs two years of growing before it can be used for dyeing. On its first year it will grow as a small rosette on the ground that shoots up on the second year. I had some beautiful success on my weld last year, but a neighbouring cat attacked the pot this past winter and I am not sure if I will be getting any this summer. Weld produces one of the most lightfast yellows in the natural dye world.

Marigold: The perfect plant for a beginning gardener. It grows easily from seed and is available in most garden centres and shops, in different varities. They don’t need much space and produce blooms through the summer. I dead head them straight after flowering and dry for later use. The dye colour ranges from yellows to oranges

Hollyhock: The black hollyhocks yield blue tones on fibres. Another plants that needs a bit of time and will flower on its second year. My own is only now on its second year, but last year I was gifted some dead heads which I used for dyeing

Dahlia: There are so many dahlia varieties in the world giving shades of green to rust. I bought a plant from a garden centre last year with no knowledge of which variety it is. In the dyepot, its given me olive green colour and the blooms can be picked throughout the summer.

Coreopsis: Easy to grow plant that yields strong orange colours on fibres. Its a beefriendly plant that also produces a ton of flowers through the summer.


These are only few of the dye plants that can be grown. I have a small eucalyptus tree which I carried from a East London market a few years ago and have used for dye experiments as a well as a small goldenrod plant that hasn’t really taken off. If I had more space, I would definitely expand on my current range. Even having a small windowsill is enough to grow some blooms for dye experiments. Weld, woad and madder are some of my favourite dye plants so growing these in larger quantities would be amazing as I’m not a huge fan of buying dye material.

Some of my favourite websites:

Bailiwick Blue –  for seeds and dye stuff

Susan Dye – amazing information about growing dye plants

Chiltern seeds – for seeds

Riihivilla –  a blog in Finnish and English about growing dye plants and dyeing


2 thoughts on “Notes on a small dye garden

  1. Hi Thanks for the timely post about woad.I’ve had some seeds for a few weeks and was unsure whether to plant indoors or out. Now I’ll be sowing outside tomorrow. I, too, have a small garden and try to only use what I can grow, pick up from hedgerows nearby or from the supermarket ( which is nearby). I’m struggling with nettles at present. Thanks for your links, too. Best wishes Sue Crook


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