October 23, 2009
I took a visit to the source of my emerging home dye garden– Larner Seed Company in Bolinas California. A place so ecologically stimulating it requires repeat visits at different times of the year to begin to understand the beauty of the indigenous landscape that has been lovingly created and tended. Upon entering, Paige Green the wonderful photographer– asked, ‘is this what it would look like in the wild? it is so perfect.’ The answer to that question emerged later on, when we met up with Judith Larner Lowry– author, restoration gardener, and native seed purveyor.
As we walked past the sculpted coyote brush, ceanothus, and California sagebrush in our tour with Judith, the answer to Paige’s question surprised us– ‘no, it was not pruned that way, that is the way it grows,’ Judith explained. There were of course varying degrees of tending that went on in various parts of the garden. I had just missed the figwort pruning- (a wonderful dye plant). While we were there we helped cut back some native hazelnut. Human’s intervening and tending native flora is not an invention of the restoration gardener– in fact the restoration gardener seeks to mimic the tending practices of old– the work of those who tended with fire, digging sticks, knocking sticks, seed beating baskets, and of course hands. In our area these are the people we know as the Coast Miwok, and the Kashaya Pomo– the original stewards.
As a natural dyer– I made a conscious choice to work with and use the native plants as my source of color. I knew that using them for dyes would inevitably bring me closer to understanding their intricacies, and the ecosystem for which they are essential members. Coyote brush, sage, and sticky monkey flower have been planted in every garden I’ve had a hand in making. The native plants grow vigorously, and yet harmoniously, this is a perfect blend for the natural dye maker. We rely on an abundance of growth to fill our dye vats, and the variety of species is important to achieve a range of color.
I grew and am growing many of my dye plants from seed. Having Larner Seed Company practically in my backyard is a blessing. If you live in the bay area, I highly recommend a visit. The demonstration garden is open Tuesday and Thursday 10-2, and Saturday 12-4. The onsite seed cottage has a collection of native seed that is a true feast to behold. There are some lovely books and various well chosen garden tools as well. If you live a bit farther away you can click here for the website- Larner Seed Company