The North Stonington (Connecticut) Historical Society has refurbished an old dye house that was on the grounds of the Stephen Main Homestead, a property they administer. As part of that restoration, they proposed planting a garden of dyer’s herbs. Simple, right?
Their first stop was the North Stonington Garden Club, and that’s where I came in. I blithely volunteered to start the plants from seed which couldn’t be easily purchased locally. This began an odyssey involving a list of approximately 50 different plants, a dozen different seed houses and nurseries, and a whole lotta potting mix.
I rather fancy myself a sort-of expert on seed starting. “Sure,” I said, “I’d be glad to do it! Sounds like fun!” Well, truth be told, it really was fun. It took a lot of research, but I now have some pretty interesting plants growing in my seed-starting set-up. Woad, Weld, Madder, Japanese Indigo, True Indigo, Alkanet, Elecampane, Lady’s Bedstraw—the plants are as interesting and (literally) colorful as their names.
For example, Madder is the source of the red dye that gave the British Redcoats their name.
Indigo has been used for so long that it’s the Greek word for dye. Woad, originally grown in Europe, produces a dye which is chemically identical to that produced by Indigo, and was used as a substitute during the Middle Ages.
Alkanet provides the red color in New Orleans Style Fast Luck Powder. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as New Orleans Style Fast Luck Powder.
The Mediterranean herb Weld is the oldest yellow dye plant in the world, and is mentioned in the Hebrew bible and was used to dye the robes of the Vestal Virgins in ancient Rome.
All in all, I think this will be a fascinating and educational garden. I’ll keep you posted during its construction with pictures and I’ll let you know when it’s up and running.