Head Gardener’s Notes: March
Sadly you won’t be able to visit Ditchling Museum Dye Garden for some time. So instead, over the next few weeks, I hope to take you on a virtual tour of the garden and how it develops and grows through the seasons. The garden is not big, but it does, at any one time, contain 30 – 40 dye plants. It is designed as a dye plant library, to showcase as many dye plants as possible, rather than to grow them in the quantities one would really need if you wanted to use them for dye production.
Even though we don’t have many of each type of plant, we still harvest from the plants and the produce is either used by the eminent natural dyer, Jenny Dean on the course’s she teaches at the museum, or by the garden volunteers (some of whom are also experienced natural dyers).
The recent weeks of rain have stopped myself, and the rest of the team of volunteer gardeners, from being able to do much in the garden. Instead we have been getting together, to work with wool, dyed mainly using plants grown in the garden, to produce a piece of craft that we will show you when we have finished. A few weeks to go yet! The other home activity we do, especially at this time of year, is sow seeds to produce plants for the garden. This evening I have been working at my dinning room table sowing Tagetes, Dahlias, Cosmos, Japanese Indigo, Coreopsis, Rubeckia, and sunflowers.
The best display in the garden during March, is of the daffodils. The other beauty is the heather.
Daffodils are a good dye plant. Easy to grow and joyful in the garden, when most plants are still pretty dormant. To harvest you collect the flowers as they go over. This is true for many of the flowers used for natural dyeing. There is little conflict between producing a beautiful garden that is also productive. The colour you produce depends on many things involved in the dyeing process, but daffodils can produce beautiful yellows. You do need a lot of daffodils to get enough for a good colour.
Other signs of spring, and the garden coming to life, are; the shoots of the madder breaking through the soil, the pink bud of the rhubarb (above), and the fresh green rosette of weld (below).
Rhubarb isn’t a dye plant but can be used as a natural source of mordant, so it is allowed in the garden. Jobs we are doing in the garden at the moment include; weeding, sweeping paths, turning the compost, raking the lawn ready for mowing and we will do the first mow in the next couple of days.
Over the winter I have been finding out about no dig gardens which use compost and hay to mulch the garden, greatly reducing the need for weeding, watering and fertiliser. I am very excited to start using this technique, so I will be drying the cut grass to produce short cut hay. Wishing you all health and safety during this challenging time.
Head Gardener for Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft