Over the last couple of weeks, I have planted more seedlings in flats than ever before. And, for the first time in my life, I have enough space to grow them. Warm, sunlit indoor space. A real greenhouse, in fact.
I have partnered with the Green Quad of the University of South Carolina to start a dye garden on campus, right in downtown Columbia, SC. In a conversation with their staff, it came up that they wanted ideas for their student garden, known as the Carolina Community Farm & Garden. I, on the other hand, have been dreaming of starting a garden devoted just to dye plants, but don’t have the space in my own yard. The idea of a campus dye garden was born. Two days later, everything was settled, the first seeds went into the flats, and I have been beyond excited to be planning the garden.
My hope is that this small garden of botanical dyes will serve as a demonstration site that gets students and other visitors to the garden to think more about where our textiles come from, and to start making connections between the fibers and dyes that make up clothing, and the environment. In the fall, I plan to do dyeing demonstrations for students using the dyes we harvest on site. I will also create signs and a map that identifies all the plants in the garden that can be used for dyeing. Some of them, like blackberries and fig trees, are already well established. Others — the ones I’ve planted — are just germinating. I have sown indigo, Japanese indigo, madder, sunflower, fennel, Rudbeckia, purple basil, marjoram, dyer’s chamomille, Our Lady’s bedstraw, hollyhock, nettles and yarrow… plus heuchera, or alumroot, to be used as a natural, non-toxic mordant. It’s a potential rainbow of colors, just barely emerging from the tiny seeds. This is how color begins.