I’m beginning to move on from the idea of a dedicated dye garden.
I suspected this moment would come.
Originally, I had plans for a kitchen garden. I set up eight raised beds, and allocated the beds to different types of crop. I grew annuals on the square foot basis, where plant spacing is governed by how many plants fit in a square foot of the plot, so you might have 9 smaller plants, but one nice big cabbage. This system has lots of advantages. It helps you to move away from the initial pleasure of having a whole row of lettuce, and then realising that you have a glut, just at the same time as everyone else does. You plant a couple of squares with each crop, and as each is harvested you plant something else in that space. With a small amount of planning, you have a sensible quantity of a variety of crops, and you don’t have to think too hard about crop rotation. And on top of all that, the plot looks nicer, because if there are unsightly spaces, they are smaller and well distributed. As a theory, I can recommend it.
My garden is very windy, so I selected as many weatherproof varieties as I could find, giving priority to dwarf ones, on the theory that they had to be less vulnerable to wind damage. Then I sorted out some perennials. I had a bed of rhubarb (two thirds of which is still there), some raspberries and strawberries (a magnet for bindweed) and some asparagus (which did nothing at all).
The broad beans did well in the first year, as did the lettuce and some of the sprouts. But by the second year, word had got out. Before anything was near being ready for me to eat, it had already gone to a selection of slugs, rabbits, pigeons, and deer.
Last year I decided to try a dye garden. I planted up a couple of beds with perennial dye plants, and left them to settle for the first year. Obviously, all the plants were quite small, so I filled in the spaces with some annuals that would cheer things up and keep the dye theme going. I got some beautiful marigolds and some dark fuchsias and petunias from the local nursery. The next time I looked, they were gone. And yes, I did remember slug pellets.
I have had a couple of sessions over the winter combing the seed catalogues for entries including the words tinctorius or tinctoria, and had an interesting selection of seeds to try this year. Most are annuals. I suspect these will go the same way as the annual vegetables. Some are sunflowers, which I think won’t survive the wind.
I drew up a sowing plan, and put reminders in my calendar. But next door’s cat used the roof of my little greenhouse as a springboard to get back over the fence once too often, so I’ve had a bit of a bottleneck, with not enough space for growing plants on the window sill. So some seeds are still in the packet, and inevitably of course, some didn’t germinate.
So I reckon that annual seeds are probably not the way forward. Until recently, there hasn’t been much sign of life in those raised beds, if you don’t count dandelions, nettles, and docks. The comfrey and the woad are making a good effort, but there was no sign of anything else.
I had a massive weeding session over the Bank Holiday weekend, and discovered a few tentative shoots emerging. The rosemary and sage are still there from the kitchen garden, and although they show signs of being attacked by the Beast from the East, they are trying very hard to get over it.
So I am going to leave last year’s planting to sort itself out, see how far I get with this year’s annuals, and fill up the rest with perennials and shrubs. I’ll plant dyestuff when I can, but you have to be realistic, don’t you?