sowing seeds for urban brooklyn dye gardens

This year is the first that Sam and I have been settled enough to thoroughly approach planning garden spaces for dye plants (and some great veggie plants too for our roof!)

The dye garden in London was so dutifully and generously cared for by a group of wonderful community gardeners and a few fellow peers/students from my course, so I cannot take all the credit for how wonderful our late summer and autumn harvests were. And the Sewing Seeds Dye Garden garden I spent much time tending with the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn in the summer of 2012, was also built and cared for by an amazing group of natural dye experts, interns, and volunteers.

The group of amazing volunteers and garden members at the Cordwainers Community Garden dye bed build day at the London College of Fashion in Hackney 2012

Teaching a workshop in the Textile Arts Center Sewing Seeds CSA Dye Garden in 2012

This year I will be going at it again with an amazing partner. With the help of Sam's buidling and landscaping expertise and the new design of The Brooklyn Tree Guard set, we have unlimited opportunity to grow dye plants here in the heart of urban Brooklyn. The tree guard can be custom built by the Urban Landscape Company and comes outfitted with a comfy bench-top (which really is an added benefit not only to the local community members, but also provides a great support for those days when the purple basil and coreopsis flower harvesting seems endless) and the sides are high enough to generally keep out dogs and soil compacting foot traffic.

The bench-top Brooklyn Tree Guard Dye Planter, Summer 2013. Flowering coreopsis, black-eyed susan, hollyhock, alkanet, purple basil and more!

The tree guards provide needed protection for the many saplings and young trees planted by NYC's One Million Trees initiative, and are uniquely suited to growing non-edibles such as natural dye plants. We will be growing our veggies and edible herbs on the roof where the denser-than-air particulate and pollution from the busy streets does not drift up.

Brooklyn Tree Guard Dye Planter mini harvest in September 2013. Purple basil, coreopsis, marigold, and black-eyed susan.

This year I've ordered from seed suppliers and saved from last year's plantings enough seeds for nearly 30 different varieties of dye plants. Everything from japanese indigo to yarrow to hollyhock. I saved seeds from last year's indigo crop and hopefully they'll prove viable, and I've also ordered more from a grower in my beloved and much missed pacific northwest (just in case mine aren't up to snuff).

Japanese Indigo seeds saved from my 2013 plants

It is delightful to me how varied in size, shape and color all these seeds can be, many of which posses a physical character similar to that of the plant they produce. (the hollyhock seeds are shaped like a hollyhock leaf or flower petal and the woad seeds have a blue tinge indicating their color potential). And some of the seeds appearances just surprise and baffle me. The zinnia seeds have a bright green almost chartreuse hue, and the nasturtium seeds resemble little stones, while the St. John's Wort produces the teeniest tiniest little spec of a seed I have ever seen. Like little flea baby seeds.

It's a bit difficult to discern from the photo, but the woad seeds have a subtle blue tone and they are shaped just like a woad leaf!

While seed organizing this weekend in my sunny front window I was overwhelmed with gratitude and contentment I now have for our place in Bed-Stuy and our wonderful neighbors who have lent a helping hand building our first 15 Brooklyn Tree Guards. Saturday's nearly 60 degree temperatures and sunny skies made apparent the entrance of spring. Happy Vernal Equinox everyone! And stay tuned for the progress of our 2014 urban dye plant adventures!

Woad seeds ready for sowing. Don't mind my baby bump making it's blog debut.

Sowing woad seeds

Pots labeled and seeds planted awaiting germination!

Sam of the Urban Landscape Company and his expertly devised indoor seed starting installation!