Privet and Aronia
A very good friend, Steph brought me to her neighbor’s garden – a vintage home near the St Croix River. This turn-of-the-century Victorian is almost hidden from view as the amazing garden takes over.
I find a collection of plants that thrive in the sunny location- and our weather this summer has provided the perfect conditions for growing. The owner has offered everything- ‘take what I want’ and climbing through this amazing forest of plants, I try and decide what to gather without disturbing this wonderful environment.
Seasoned professionals in the natural dye world recommend that only 1/3 of a plant’s blooms should be harvested at a time so you do not damage it.
Some plants are easy to for me to identify- other’s I am not sure and without the owner there to ask, I test things by picking a berry or bloom and rub it between my fingers to see if color emerges. Berries on the hedges that grow directly in front of the house, turn my fingers dark purple. This makes me pretty excited. I have been looking for a blue all summer.
My friend and I pick berries and I also collected pink hydrangeas, as well as coneflowers and marigolds to add to my stash. Both, I've found dry out nicely and still produce good color when rehydrated in a dye bath.
At home, I identify the berries as Privet- large leaf variety and find that it too, is a staple in the dye making community. The hedge, was once a popular garden wall- fast to grow, hearty and thick to provide privacy and mark the edges of property. It is native to Europe and grows wild throughout England. Boiled down, it is reported to make green with alum and dark rose with wool and in my method- it makes a light blue/purple on my cotton paper, but I need more.
As I hunt in my neighborhood, I find little of this hedge. Perhaps its use as a natural wall has lost its popularity. I do find a few varieties around Como Lake.
This 1.6 mile route that circles this man-made lake is one of my daily walks and has been a test for me all summer long, ethically as I know it's frowned upon to harvest from public lands. Como Lake is a host to many native plants that the park board has added to naturally restore the land. Each time you circle the lake, you notice the landscape evolve and change each day. Its a great tool to see what's blooming and ready during the year- and then find it in a willing gardener's yard, but sometimes the temptation to gather is still there:).
So, I find Aronia- another hedge that is available in a nearby yard. It's an interesting dye- the berries when picked are full of fluid and soon your arms are dripping with juice. The dye is a mix of purples and greens, different from privet but a great addition to my palette.