My indigo has been sown and is growing happily ready to be planted out at the end of May along with Coreopsis and Weld.
Spring leaves have been steamed in handwoven khadi cotton and prints and last years indigo vat has been revived for some mud resist printing.
I was invited by my friend and Potter Noriko McFarlane to show at her studio at Manor Farm in Stanford in the Vale for Oxfordshire Artsweek. The exhibition opened last Saturday with a stream of people coming through the door and is open until the 11th of May.
Walking in the mud and puddles between showers in an unseasonably warm February I have come across uplifting signs of Spring. There are Crocus’s and daffodils flowering, of course, and carpets of Snowdrops lighten the forest floor even primroses are blossoming.
Elders are starting to produce leaves and dandelions are showing themselves with short necks keeping their heads close to the ground for now. Soon the fields will be glowing with successions of untamed plants which will give plenty of opportunities to experiment for the botanical alchemists amongst us.
The time for planting has begun. My sweet peas have emerged and broad beans and onion seeds are planted. Next it is time to plant Woad, Coreopsis and Weld and then April for the less hardy Persicaria Tinctoria. I plan to grow much more Japanese indigo this year to add to last years harvest with a view to ferment at some point. This won’t be on the scale of Rowland Rickets project though I have been encouraged by a post here to ferment on a much smaller scale. The first harvest is in August which will give me an opportunity to perhaps incorporate it into a workshop. Shibori and a fresh indigo bath could be a happy addition to the the mud resist workshop.
Working with plants as a gardener, grower, cook and mark maker is great for your health. It heightens your awareness of time and sense of place. I go wandering with a deeper appreciation of my environment and a quest to know more about the seemingly endless variety and potential of plants. In Spring plentiful wild plants regarded as weeds can be gathered, including docks, dandelions, nettles (which are also good for soup, gnocchi and butterflies) and brambles which are rich in tannins will between their leaves flowers and roots give a variety of yellows, greens and browns.
My reading has led me to find out other interesting things about wild plants used for dyeing including, that common Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is used to stop bleeding and was carried into battle in medieval times. Comfrey, is also known as knitbone, is another addition to the natural medicine chest as a poultice for breaks and bruises, and plantain has leaves which are better for Nettle stings than Dock leaves and are also good for bee stings.
We are bracing ourselves for the storm due to hit tonight and have been gathering the last of the dye plant seeds from the garden.
I’m very pleased with my crop of Japanese indigo (Persicari tinctoria) this year of which 3 plants were encouraged to go to seed. The last of the flower heads are now hanging and drying to add to the harvest. I have a very good supply of seed this year and hope to sell some to anyone wanting to grow and dye with this wonderful plant. You have to use fresh seed as it isn’t viable for long. The good thing is that it is easy to grow and will layer easily. Look at my Indigo page for more information.
I have dried both my first and second harvest and hope to ferment it as they do in Japan. I don’t have enough to create a pile as Roland Ricketts is doing in Indiana. However, I have been looking at Bryan Whiteheads blog and he ferments smaller quantities using another traditional method which I might try this year or wait until I have another harvest next year. It would be wonderful to make a natural fermentation vat using indigo that I have grown from seed.