To make colors ranging from clear sunshine to ocean blue and all the greens in between, plant Weld (Reseda luteola) and Japanese Indigo (Polygonum tinctorium) in your garden now. They are easy to grow and very useful for dying. Don’t worry about the commitment: even if you don’t get around to using them for dye this year, you’ll have beautiful plants in the garden, a year of experience growing them, and, while Japanese Indigo is an annual, the Weld plants will return next year.
Japanese Indigo leaves can be used in a variety of ways to make gorgeous blues. Weld flowers and leaves create a strong clear yellow that can be beautifully overdyed with indigo to make greens. Both plants are ancient dye plants, used for their pure colors in a variety of cultures.
Japanese Indigo needs to be planted in a deer proof area. I haven’t noticed a problem with deer eating Weld, but it might be nice to have the Indigo and Weld near each other. Weld can grow tallish, up to five feet high, and indigo is a midsize bush, about two or three feet tall at its maximum, so they could be layered in the garden.
I like to grow indigo in a patch, but a thick border might be interesting. Bees love both indigo and weld, and the pink and white indigo flowers in the fall are beautiful. Both respond to regular watering (I lost a few Welds during the drought) but neither seem that picky.
Let some of both plants go to seed and you can save the seeds for next year’s crop.
Starts for Japanese Indigo and Weld can often be found at either Wild Garden Farm just outside Petaluma, California, or Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Occidental, California. Seeds can be found online if you don’t have a local source; seeds should be started very soon—with starts you have a few more weeks.
Enjoy your dye gardening—and let me know how it’s going—I’ll share some dye recipe ideas for both Weld and Japanese Indigo when they are at their harvesting time later this summer.