A Dye Garden From History

See the plants that make up the dye garden at the weaver's cottage in historic Roscoe Village.

During a recent visit to historic Roscoe Village in Coschocton, Ohio, I was quite taken by the variety of historic gardens next to the village’s buildings. I’ve seen plenty of period-appropriate medicinal gardens and kitchen gardens, but one garden I hadn’t come across before was the small Dye Garden located near the weaver’s cottage. This garden contains plants that were (and still can be) used to dye fibers for making cloth.

A Dye Garden from History

There are a variety of plants that have been used around the world for dying cloth, but the ones shown here are those that grow well in central Ohio. For those interested in planting their own dye garden, try this list for some other plants you may want to include.

A Dye Garden from History
Clockwise from top left: Comfrey (Symphtum), leaves for green and yellow; Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis), leaves for green and yellow; Madder (Rubia tinctorum) Roots harvested in third year, produces red; Russian Sage ((Perovskia atriplicifolia), blue flowers for blue dye
A Dye Garden from History
Clockwise from left: Yarrow (Achillea), flower and stalk for yellow and tan, leaves for green; Daylily, blooms used for red and yellow; Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum), gives reds and yellows

The Roscoe Village Visitor’s Center offered a simple display of yarns dyed naturally. Sometimes the process is as easy as simmering the fibers and the plants together in a pot on the stove. However, some plants require the use of a mordant when dying. Mordants are substances that help the dyes stick to the fibers. You can learn more about using natural dyes here.

A Dye Garden from History

Do you grow any plants specifically for dying cloth or fibers? Share your suggestions in the comments below.

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Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.