78. Big Garden Tour

This Green House 2.jpgSo, it’s all over. The Botanical Garden Society’s Tour of Private Gardens (ours was one of seven gardens) on Sunday was met with perfect weather, in spite of a 60% chance of rain forecast. Five minutes after the scheduled end of the tour, a few raindrops fell. Good karma was goin’ on.

My last post tells about some of our preparation work.Mary painting sign Today’s post attempts to give you the tour at This Green House experience in pictures.

Mary drew an amazing map for our visitors.This Green House Garden Map jpg She painted signs for our eleven points of interest. I wrote out and laminated informational signs, along with names of some of the interesting plants, mostly in the dye and medicinal gardens. artichoke dye sample

Now, I’ll just throw a bunch of pictures atcha:deer signDear deer.jpg

bear sign

nasties in rotting log

studio yard


quilters' workshop

patio and sky garden

birdcage planter

greenhouse insideMary demonstrated natural dyeing while I demonstrated some sewing in the studio.

mary tour guide dyeing

dye pots at garden tour

dye samples at garden tour

pizza patio

box planted 2.jpgThis Green House



red garden vignette

wilde land

greenhouse signs

lady's mantle

Medicinal garden.jpg

strawberry hills close

kitty resting

My friend brought me a big bouquet of peonies to grace the herb tea and treats table. Aren’t they gorgeous?

pink peonies

garden tour collage.jpg

thank you for visiting


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75. News From the Dye Garden

Three years from its first establishment, my dedicated dye garden has finally got the message – it’s growing!

Here are some encouraging photos:

Tansy (flowers- yellow dye):tansy in dye garden

Woad (leaves – blue dye):Woad blooming in dye garden

Indigo (leaves – blue dye):Indigo in dye garden

Indigo flowers (not a dye source):Indigo flowers in dye garden

Madder (roots and stems – red/orange dye):madder in dye garden

Elecampane (yellow dye and medicinal plant):elecampane in dye garden

Eucalyptus (leaves – green!):eucalyptus in dye garden

Now, I just need to get into the studio to use these mighty plants!

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21. My First Dye Garden 2012

It’s been an educational summer learning about growing dye plants (for dyeing cotton for my art). After the great stone retaining walls created terraces in our new yard, the WWOOFers and I developed a long narrow plot on one of these terraces to grow dye plants.

Finding the seeds for dye plants is a little tricky, and I share my sources in this post.

My mid-season failures and fights with deer, dogs, and slugs are noted here.

Now, we are nearing the end of the season, and I can report on what worked and what needs to be re-worked for next year’s dye plot. (NOT die plot, as in cemetery!)

So, failures:

The dye plant seeds that didn’t even germinate/grow/survive the slugs:

– Tansy (although I dug some up from the roadside, transplanted it and it is showing new growth now.)

– Stinging nettle (I know, why would anyone want to grow this????)

– Our Lady’s Bedstraw

– Elecampane (turns out it’s a medicinal plant as well)

The deer regularly hopped into the dye garden past my flimsy barriers. Next year, gates and fences that they can’t see through. The only plant that seemed to be tasty to them is the Sumac.

When the weather turned record-breakingly warm and dry, those pesky slugs ceased to be a problem. I don’t think it had much to do with my many slug remedies, though!

And, partial successes:

– Indigo (germinated, loved by slugs, but did not get very big – scarcely enough to harvest):

– Woad – only two plants survived the poor germination record here, but they grew quite big and I may get one or two Woad Balls out of them:

– Camomile – late season growth where there was irrigation, but thus far only a few flowers:

– Osage Orange – these tree seedlings survived, but have not grown much. We’ll see how they grow next year. Slugs and deer don’t care for them:

– Pomegranate – I bought a plant from the nursery, which has grown quite a bit, but no sign of fruit

Big Successes:

– Marigolds – in spite of their severe early scalping by the slugs, the hot weather proved to be a huge boon to them, and they produced like crazy

– Coreopsis – Huge bushy plants and so many flowers and seeds to plant next year, down in the lower yard though, because they almost took over the dye garden. Deer don’t like Coreopsis, so they’ll make great wildflowers:

– Madder – after a slow start, these vine plants got happy. They’re perennials, and need to grow for at least 3 years before their roots and stems can be harvested for the red-orange dyes they’re famous for. Neither slugs nor deer like them:

I’m looking forward to learning from my mistakes, once I make time to do more research.

7. In and around the Dye Garden

I have finally planted the dye garden. It’s not quite dog and deer-proof yet, but I couldn’t delay any longer. At each end of the long terrace, I pounded in some rebar and wove plastic netting over to dissuade mammals.

For the deer, who it is said are repelled by lavender or other strong-smelling herbs, I planted three lavender plants at each end and in the indigo bed.

I consider indigo, woad and madder to be my most valuable dye plants – their colourfast blues (indigo and woad) and orange-reds (madder, after a 3-year growth period) are the most difficult natural dye colours to achieve. Yellows and golds (most dye plants, such as osage-orange, marigold and coreopsis) are easier to find and grow.Also in the dye garden I have planted a sumac tree (in a large pot to control its spread), stinging nettle, tansy, Our Lady’s Bedstraw, Elecampane, and chamomile.

To dissuade slugs, I made a border of coffee grounds and black lava rock around the bed and around each seedling that I transplanted.

Slugs don't like to crawl over lava rock around this Indigo seedling.

Nearby, around the stone steps, Jordan the WWOOFer removed weeds (mostly horsetail), dug out little depressions, covered them with landscape cloth and Salish Soil, then planted the creeping thyme seedlings and seeds, so that thyme will spread out to soften all those hard edges.Selfishly, for me, this Victoria Day rain couldn’t have come at a better time for my seeds. It means I don’t have to hand-water the little guys.

4. Cold frame

This has been a remarkable spring. Remarkable because it’s so cold.

Looking back at my garden diary from 2011, I see that I had planted all the cold weather crops (brassicas, spinach, peas, lettuces, onion sets) PLUS beets, carrots, potatoes and marigolds, by this date. This year, just the cold weather plants, moved to different boxes than they were in last year. Every gardener is putting on her patience cloak this year.

One advance we’ve made this year, though: we built a cold frame. I found an old window sash in Father-in-law’s garage. He passed away in 2010, so the more things we have around us to remind us of our loved ones, the better. I think of him every time I look at the cold frame. D built a box out of 3/4″ plywood we had lying around. Our WWOOFer, J and I painted it black, although books say paint it white to get lots of light reflecting. It’s in such a sunny spot that it gets light all day.

I lined it with black landscaping cloth, then put a 4″ layer of Salish Soil into it. It has a stick to prop the lid up so it doesn’t get too humid in there, causing the seeds/plants to rot.

A good month and more ago, I seeded several dye plants indoors, thinking I was lengthening the growing season. The Osage Orange, Coreopsis, Indigo and Marigold germinated really well, and looked quite healthy. The Woad, on the other hand, made a skimpy appearance – I think 2 plants germinated.

Once the cold frame was built, I put the flats of dye plants in there to harden them off. The plants loved their new environment, and I was even able to leave them in the cold frame for plant-sitting while I was away for 5 days. Then, one morning I discovered 3 fat slugs in there! WTF? They had already eaten 1.5 Woad seedlings. I hastily chopped off their heads, and sprinkled egg shells all around the flats, plus salt along the top of the frame. I figure they had crawled into the Salish Soil while it was stored for a month under the tarp on the driveway. The slugs have had a field day in the gardens this wet cold year.

Slugged narcissus

But, there’s still no evidence of any in our rooftop garden. The soils (Salish and Sea Soils) we put into the raised beds there was sterilized from the composting process, and they don’t seem to have crawled up there yet. I will monitor carefully.

Speaking of garden pests, hoards of green aphids have already found the healthy-looking columbine (Organic gardening experts would have you believe that really robust plants are resistant to pests.) One day they were not there, the next day there was a population explosion. I sprayed them with the hose, then made a garlic spray with a tiny bit of oil and a tiny bit of dish soap. It seems to have helped, but I check them every day. Last year I noticed that the Columbine is prone to powdery mildew, so I will use the organic spray, Serenade, as a preventative.