Work in the pigment garden began in February of this year, with volunteers pulling up dead or dying plants from the plot we inherited. Our biggest challenge at this stage was making the plot useable for our purposes. We quickly discovered that there were several invasive plants, such as mint, that would need to be pulled up. The potatoes, rosemary, and currant we inherited we decided to keep. Before we knew it, it was the end of March and nothing had been planted in the garden, but we were spending hours each week tending the plot – mostly fighting against tenacious weeds and turning the soil in preparation for the seedlings.
Meanwhile, we began to plant seeds in a team member’s flat. Once they seemed old enough, they were planted in the garden. Almost immediately, the birds ate the woad, and appeared to have eaten the madder. Unfortunately, the indigo did not survive. We put weld straight into the ground in the garden plot since it had not taken to the indoor conditions. It didn’t seem to be taking root outside, either.
A few weeks of desperate soil turning and lots of weed-pulling, we started seeing plants we couldn’t quite identify. But as many of us were (are) still learning a lot about gardening, we let them grow a bit more. In the end, some of the plants turned out to be nasturtium and borage. The nasturtium quickly took over the two beds they were in. In one bed, they were competing with a vine-like weed that we think was responsible for choking out what indigo there was at the time of transplanting. We thinned them out and pulled up all of the weeds (which took a few goes before it was completely gone) in the hopes that maybe some indigo would appear. We also thinned out the nasturtiums in the woad bed on the hopes that maybe some woad survived.
Meanwhile, over in the weld bed, weld started appearing at an alarming rate. We separated the plants in late July and they’ve continued to do well. Hopefully, we will bring some of the mature plants into the greenhouse before they die of cold, as well as start experimenting with young weld and making yellow pigment! The currant is also in this bed, and seems to be thriving alongside the weld.
The plants we thought may be madder, but may actually just be a weed, are in the bed with the potatoes. It’s our miscellaneous/madder/no idea/potato bed. We’ve spent a few hours researching madder and what it looks like when young, as well as comparing it to pictures of young madder, mature madder, and various weeds to try to determine what it is. And we just aren’t sure. It didn’t pop up where we were expecting the madder to be, but with bird activity and heavy rains earlier in the year, we didn’t want to discount it on the off chance it is madder. Thus, we’re still contemplating the maybe madder…
So far, we have all learned loads about gardening, especially about how little control we have over the elements and actually making things grow. We decided very early on that we would start each plant from seed again in the greenhouse so that we had more control over things like birds and weeds. Further, due to the struggles we had in finding pictures of the plants at each stage of growth, we decided we would document the plants in the greenhouse each week. Hopefully, this will help anyone in the future who wants to try to grow these plants. (Look for the progress reports here soon under the In the Greenhouse tab!)