The Dye Garden - Garden Update

Happy Summer!
Here in Northern California our weather has been warm and sunny.  This means a lot of exciting news around the garden.  Let's take a tour and see what is growing right now on our back patio.

In the raised bed to the right we have the madder growing strong.  It's about 3+ years old now and producing the most incredible reds.  With madder we use the roots of the plant.  They grow like long skinny carrots underground creating an amazing network of roots.  Madder is a rhizomatic plant that sends out underground runners in every direction creating new plant growth.  This past Spring we harvested more than 600 grams for a special order.  Friend and weaver, Adele wove cloth using natural colored and madder dyed Sally Fox cotton. You can see her work at Voices of Industry.  She has featured it in her Drawing with Madder limited edition garments.


In the new raised bed to left we have marigolds, Hopi black dye sunflowers, and Japanese indigo.  I anticipate the sunflower to grow up to 10 feet tall.  They have the most beautiful and strange, dark purple sunflower seeds.  The seeds are used with an iron dip to achieve an amazing black.  The marigold flowers have been used for the dye garden classes I have been teaching at the shop.  The flower tops give a bright orange.  The Japanese indigo are large leafed, herbaceous plants that we use for the color blue.  The leaves of this plant are harvested, composted, and then fermented to extract the natural blue hidden inside.  The plant will grow all summer long and we hope to harvest multiple times, gathering leaves as they mature.  

In the seedling nursery we have a variety of flowers and plants growing. We have started Weld, a plant that has a spiraled rosette of leaves and a flower spike in their second year.  We use the extract of this plant in the production studio for our electric yellows. We plan to pluck the leaves in the first year and then use the flowers in the following year. I planted a few cosmos and dahlias for their flowers. They both give a buttery yellow.  This year i planted a lot of coreopsis for its rich orange hue.

In a pot by itself, I have the prize of my garden. Are you ready for this?! It's my prickly pear cactus and it is infested with bugs! Not just any bugs but bugs that give a hot pink color.  The bug is called cochineal. It typically grows in Mexico and the Southwestern U.S., including at my parents house on a cactus in the Coachella Valley. Last month I went to visit my parents and collected a piece of their cactus with the bugs. I brought it home to AVFKW and now they are thriving on my plant! Eventually they will suck it dry, but in the meantime they are eating and growing larger. I cannot wait to harvest the big ones to dye with my own cochineal.  Typically we purchase them as an extract or as whole, dried bugs, that we grind up. So to say the least, this is an exciting addition to the dye garden.

Last, but certainly not least, we have another amazing addition to the garden. Another fermentation indigo vat! We acquired it after the Berkeley Art Museum show, The Possible. Kristine helped build, tend, and assisted other artists to dye in the vat as part of the exhibition. Like our other older vat, built in September of last year, it houses 55 gallons of fermented Japanese indigo leaves from a Fibershed project, grown 90 miles away and lye water we made from scratch, using hardwood ash.  We will watch closely these two vats and continue to learn more from them and share the wonders of indigo.

Take a class to learn more about dyeing with plants in

Growing, Gathering, and Dyeing with Plants, on Sunday, June 22nd

That is all the news for now, but I plan to post every week with a garden update. Until next time. Happy gardening, dyeing, and crafting!


Adrienne (Aday)