May 26: birthday of Stevie Nicks (1948), John Wayne (1907) and Dorothea Lange (1895). It’s also the date that Napoleon became King of Italy (1805) and Nicholas II the last Tsar of Russia (1896). Equally momentous for those who love it — though hopefully less ill fated than those last two events — the 2016 Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden was planted. Flats of seedlings arrived from the Denver Botanic Gardens’ greenhouses, met by eager volunteers ready to plant them. On the 2016 inventory* are Japanese indigo, cota or Navajo tea, several species of cosmos and coreopsis, dyers broom, Hopi black dye sunflowers, French and African marigolds, black-eyed Susans, and zinneas. Black hollyhock, weld, yarrow, and madder survived the winter in style and are already growing well.
That old saying that many hands make light work proved its aptness once again as the garden was fully planted in just over three hours, with Mother Nature providing some extra watering throughout the afternoon. We’re a friendly group and it was good to share the experience on such a beautiful day.
As noted, the yarrow and weld are robust growers and boundary busters. We’ll be weeding them — and dyeing with them — soon!
* For anyone interested in the botanical names, here they are:
Japanese indigo: Polygoum tinctoria
Guatamalan indigo: Indigo suffruticosa (one brave little plant is trying out our climate)
Cota/Navajo tea: Thelesperma filifolium
Cosmic Yellow, Cosmic Orange, and Cosmic Red cosmos: Cosmos sulphureus
Dyers coreopsis and red coreopsis: Coreopsis tinctoria
Dyer’s broom: Genista tinctoria
Hopi black-dye sunflower: Helianthus annuus macrocarpus; Hopi name: Tceqa’ Qu’ Si
French marigold: Tagetes patula
African marigold: Tagetes erecta
Black-eyed Susan: Rudbeckia hirta
Zinnea: Zinnia elegans
Black hollyhock: Alcea rosea
Weld: Reseda luteola
Yarrow: Achillea millefolium
Madder: Rubia tinctoria
Welcome to Growing a Dye Garden, the blog of the Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden and the Rocky Mountain Weavers Guild Natural Dye Project which tends it. We are a group of fiber artists, working in diverse media, with a shared interest … passion … obsession … for natural dyes. Posts will highlight our various interests, experiments with dye extracts and the plants we grow, best practice when dyeing, and efforts to share our knowledge with the public.
The Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden is located at the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms, and is a joint project of Gardens and the Rocky Mountain Weavers Guild. Janice Ford was a talented weaver, seamstress, and dyer. When she passed away in 2011, Janice’s family donated funds to the guild to create a dye garden in her memory. The Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms supported the dye garden by providing the site, as well as technical and physical assistance from growing seedlings in its greenhouse to working the soil, installing an irrigation system, providing mulch for walkways, and building a fence to protect the plants from wildlife.
The Rocky Mountain Weaver’s Guild initially thought to use the Ford Family donation to fund a workshop with natural-dye expert, Donna Brown. However, Donna suggested the funds be used to start a dye garden in Janice Ford’s memory. In the fall of 2013, with the support of the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms, the guild formed a natural dye study group to begin researching and selecting plants appropriate for this location. The following January, seeds were ordered and the Chatfield staff grew the seedlings in their greenhouse. The first garden was planted in 2014 and continues to thrive with the support of its parent organizations and dedicated volunteers. A program of outreach classes continues to evolve, including classes for adults, children’s summer camps, and dye demonstrations for Chatfield visitors. In these ways, Janice Ford’s creativity and love of dyeing will benefit a wide audience and provide a long-lasting legacy in her name.
So, that’s a bit about us! Stay tuned because Planting Day 2016 is just around the corner!