Friday, 21 March 2014

Dye Garden March 2014

The petals on this daffodil did not reach their prime and fade, ready for me to dry and keep as dye material.   This flower experienced the perfume and suppliance of a minute. No more.  Then, like Ophelia, its coherence was eaten away by one who loved it.  
The loss was a shot across the bows from my garden slugs. Rejoice in the mild spring, enjoy the sun on your back, but fear it, my dear sisters. Those ravening little fiends are frisking about early this year.

 'When the ground warms up' is a gardener's way of saying 'When you can still feel your fingers after five minutes working with the earth'.  Strictly speaking, it means the ground temperature is over 7 degrees C. Even my wet clay soil has already passed the numb fingers test. Unlike Hamlet, slugs don't seem to have a taste for the madder.  A good few shoots emerged last week and their leaves remain intact. Since the seed was only sown in 2013, I don't know when one might usually expect to see new growth, but I reckon the ground really has warmed up.  Only another year or so till I can harvest some roots.
Trays of coreopsis, marigolds and exciting new seeds, sent to me from America, have germinated and already gone out to the greenhouse.  Weld, woad and Japanese Indigo were sown earlier this week.  I have gambled long odds on a frost free March, transplanted a line of spinach seedlings and sown some lettuce outside in the veg patch.   Never accuse me of treading the primrose path of dalliance with the slugs, recking not my own rede.   The spinach and lettuce are to be tethered goats in this arena of hungry predators.  I am no puffed libertine when it comes to my dye plant seedlings.  

My cunning plan is to lure the slugs in and deal with them in advance of the main planting out.  The spinach is my chaste treasure, open to their unmastered importunity. Before they gall the infants of the spring, the slugs are to fall into my cut plastic bottle beer traps. In the morn and liquid dew of beer, contagious blastments are most imminent.  

The immediate flaw in this plan is the risk of my husband and son drinking the cheap beer bought specially for the traps.  Casual banditry.  It wouldn't surprise me to find them with their noses under the saucer.

The camelia is flowering as never before. Usually, a night frost turns each day's blossoms brown.  I had been told that red and pink camelia flowers give a purple dye. Enjoying such superabundance, I picked twenty flowers, added 100ml white vinegar to 1,400ml water and macerated for a day, as suggested.  

The fluid looked a promising pink, so I put in 20g fleece mordanted with alum.  Though I left it for the advised three days, the wool took up no colour at all.  Maybe not enough vinegar, maybe with too credent ear I list the dyers' songs.  I haven't yet found precise directions.

Last year, I germinated Dyer's Greenweed seeds.  Six little shrubs were about 20cm high by last autumn.  Weeding and clearing the borders, there is not so much as a dead twig to mark their graves.  I know they like a dry and open site. Although they got a good amount of sun, the drainage in my garden was probably not good enough. 

We had no floods locally, but it has been the most sodden winter. Even with normal rainfall, plants that do not like wet feet never do well here.  I have killed off more thyme plants than I care to recall. The fleece balls I made last spring did not retain moisture well. Most of the little plants I tried to grow in them got parched in summer. Stood in a saucer of water, saxifrages coped.  
The only ones that thrived as hanging balls were the two containing thyme.  Most pleasingly, these have survived the winter rains and the fleece layer is more or less intact.  These thymes I have, and their adoption tried, shall be grappled to fresh fleece with hoops of steel.
In the border I call the Dye Garden, an edging line of Rudbeckia has only a few of last year's leaves to show they are still living.  The Dyer's Chamomile plants have fresh growth showing. Since they proved prone to aphid attacks, I have tied together a bundle of Lycestra stems, hoping this will entice ladybirds to set up home close by. Some think this is a mad idea, but who knows? Worth a whirl, it could protect my green girls, unsifted in such perilous circumstance. When the summer air is ablaze with tiny red wings, the doubters will stop pointing and laughing and stand amazed at my foresight.  
Whatever.  This above all, to thine own self be true. Exit left, pursued by a slug.


  1. We have similar gardening here in the Pacific Northwest. I do have a slug solution. You probably won't like it -- no one does, but it works. A Swedish lady told me about it.

    When you are angry, grab a machete or big kitchen knife, and cut them in half. They don't like it, and they will leave after a few attacks. The Swedish lady told me they would stay away for 5 years after being eradicated, and that's exactly what happened.

    Now snails are something else altogether... cute little leaf-gobbling machines.

    1. I have used the secateurs on random slugs, when especially enraged, but never a concerted series of attacks. Will try this.