Getting Dirty

IMG_3005We’re back outside at last! The Natural Dye Garden Project launched its 4th season on April 20 with a full day at Chatfield Farms.

Larry Vickerman, Director, Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms and Molly Hayden, Volunteer Coordinator

We started things off with an interesting – if really disturbing — presentation by Chatfield Director Larry Vickerman titled, Sustainable Soils. Larry outlined the problems inherent in the overuse of inorganic, nitrogen-rich fertilizers and described how the Denver Botanic Gardens is working to create and support healthy soils with organic fertilization, minimal tilling, and use of ground cover.

With much to think about, we headed out to prepare the Janice Ford Memorial Garden for planting in May. Proving yet again that many hands make light work, we trimmed, thinned, weeded, raked, trenched, mounded, spread compost and mulch, caught up on all the news, and pulled up an obsolete irrigation system.  It was great to see familiar faces and welcome new ones!

Some of us took a trip to the Chatfield greenhouse to check on the progress of our seedlings.  Marigolds, hollyhocks, cosmos, coreopsis, cota – all very tiny – but we trust they’ll be ready for planting on May 25. Fingers crossed! We’re looking forward to another good, fun, and — inevitably — surprising growing season. Our new volunteers can anticipate the truly miraculous process of nurturing plants and then producing dyes from them; while our veterans (never immune to miracles!) look forward to sharing our knowledge and experience with them and botanic garden visitors. We even have a research project to look forward to, as our garden is one of several around the country participating in John Marshall’s Japanese indigo study — more on that in future blog posts!

One last thing:  founding members Donna Brown and Jánet Bare have co-authored “Growing a Dye Garden,” an article in the Spring 2017 issue of Shuttle Spindle & DyepotIf you’re a member of the Handweavers Guild of America, check it out! If you’re not, your local public library may have a copy, or be able to get you one via interlibrary loan.



Author: Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden

The Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden is a joint project of the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Rocky Mountain Weavers Guild, established by a donation from the family of Janice Ford. Janice was an enthusiastic and energetic dyer, weaver, and seamstress who passed away too young in 2011. The garden has been flourishing since 2014, enriching and coloring the lives of visitors, artists in many media, and especially those whose privilege it is to tend it. The garden is located at Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms. From June to September, we are there most Thursdays, 9-12, to weed, harvest and dye. Visitors are welcome to stop by to see what we're up to!. Admission is free to Denver Botanic Garden members, with a $5.00 fee/car for non-members.

2 thoughts on “Getting Dirty”

  1. Hi I was wondering if you’re going to offer any classes this summer on natural dying or if you know of any coming up ? thanks so much love following your work and I want to visit sometime soon Best wishes

    Mindy Upton Blue Sky School 303-819-7248



    1. Hi Mindy and thanks for your comment! We don’t have any classes scheduled at the moment but, if we do, they’ll be listed on the Denver Botanic Garden’s Education page at:

      Both the Rocky Mountain Weavers Guild and the Boulder Handweavers Guild have natural dye study groups and occasionally offer instructional programs. Both take a hiatus over the summer but you might check their websites for anything coming up in the fall. Textiles West in Colorado Springs will be offering a natural dye workshop in the coming months. You could sign up for their newsletter here:

      Do you follow the Janice Ford Memorial Dye Garden on Facebook? If our group offers classes, they’ll be posted there. Finally, you’re welcome to come by on Thursdays throughout the summer when we’ll be working and, once the plants start blooming, dyeing fiber.


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