Category Archives: petit teint yellows

The plants for lesser yellows

Cota tinctoria

Growing Dyers Chamomile

An article by Ashley Walker
© copyright 2016

Dyer’s Chamomile or Golden Marguerite (Cota tinctoria also known as Anthemis tinctoria) is described as a hardy but weak perennial because it usually dies in the late summer of its second year. It is a sprawling daisy-type plant, growing from one to two feet high. The leaves are feathery and often look blue-green. It originates from Southern, Eastern and Central Europe. The fragrant flowers last a long time (two to three weeks) and are not bleached by direct sunlight. Incidentally this is a good way of assessing just how light fast the dye from flowers can be.

There are numerous sub-species, hybrids and garden varieties e.g.
Grallagh Gold”, A yellow orange hybrid of Cota tinctoria and Cota sancti-johannis
Kelwayii”, Deep yellow petals
Charme”, Yellow petals
E.C Buxton”, Pale yellow petals
Wargrave variety”, Pale yellow petals
Sauce Hollandaise”, A hybrid of Cota Tinctoria and Cota punctata. White with yellow centre
Suzanna Mitchell”. White petals

I have only grown the unnamed variety of Dyer’s Chamomile (sourced over 8 years ago from Suffolk Herbs, now King’s Seeds), so I cannot comment on the quantity or quality of dyestuff produced by these named varieties. This  is an experiment waiting to be done! My guess is that probably all produce some dye and that “Kelwayii” may be the best for the dye garden as it has completely yellow, large flowers and will self-seed if the conditions are right.

Propagation

Cota or Anthemis tinctoria

Newly planted Dyer’s Chamomile seedlings

Cota or Anthemis tinctoria

Dense planting of Dyer’s Chamomile seedlings

Cota or Anthemis tinctoria

Dyer’s Chamomile coming into flower

I usually grow Dyer’s Chamomile from seed which I saved from the previous year’s flowers. Its seeds have a good shelf life of three or more years if kept in dry cool storage. The small seeds should be sown thinly in seed trays from early April. They germinate easily and can be planted out when large enough to handle. The plants are hardy so can be planted before the last frost. Cuttings can be taken and will root readily – indeed this is the only way to propagate the hybrid varieties. If you have excess seedlings don’t discard them. If regularly watered, they can be kept for at least a year without flowering. Restricting their roots arrests their development but does not prevent them from springing into action when planted out. There are few plants that can be mistreated in this way, but chard is another plant with the same properties.

Dyer’s Chamomile will also self-seed but the tiny seedlings usually get eaten by slugs. After growing the plant for several years now, I notice there are an increasing number of self-seeded plants in the garden.

Cota Tinctoria

Dyer’s Chamomile in full flower

Pests and maintenance

For a good display, the seedlings should be planted closely (about six to eight inches apart) in a mass or as a border around a vegetable or flower bed. Close planting will also help to keep the weeds at bay. The plants will grow in all types of soil including poor soils low in nutrients. The plants benefit from some fertiliser so it is probably best to crop rotate, growing as a second crop after heavily fertilised Woad or Japanese Indigo. My seedlings need protection against slugs and snails. These pests can easily eat a plant faster than it can grow, with a tendency to munch on a particular plant until it is completely eaten, while nearby plants may remain untouched. I use organically approved slug pellets until the plants are big enough to fend for themselves. This can take quite some time (two to three months). When in full flower the slugs often climb up the stems and chew through the flower stalks, but the damage is usually small. The plants can withstand drought but regular watering in hot dry weather will ensure rapid growth and a good harvest.

The first year plants come into bloom from August and flower until late September. Towards the end of Autumn the plants start to look straggly and untidy. If the plants are cut back close to the ground before the flowering finishes, in September, they will produce some new growth before the growing season ends, which helps the plants to overwinter. In the second year the plants will flower early, from June to August, In both the first and the second flowering seasons, regular picking of flower heads will encourage new flowers to bud.

Harvest and Storage

Cota or Anthemis tinctoria

The top flower is mature and full size, nearly all the small florets are open The smaller flower, below, has not long been open.

dyers-chamomile-harvest2

Harvested flowers

Cota or Anthemis tinctoria

Storage Jars of Dried flowers

 

 

 

We harvest the flowers every two to three weeks. When the flowers first open they are quite small but increase in size and weight, so we try to only pick the more mature flowers. Once harvested, we dry them in a herb dryer and keep them in storage jars. Drying usually takes several hours and then it is best to leave the dryer switched off overnight before giving it an additional hour the next day. If the flowers are stored even very slightly damp they can become mouldy. It usually takes two or more harvests to fill one large storage jar, which provides enough dyestuff for a 10 litre dye bath. The stems and leaves of the plant also provide some dyestuff, so we sometimes cut the plants back at the end of the season and dry these too.
A word of warning about storing Chamomile flowers in poorly sealed containers. The mature flower heads contain a lot of nutritious seed material. One year we stored mature dry plants in paper sacks inside snap-top plastic storage boxes. But this attracted the attention of “Pantry” or “Larder” beetles which caused an infestation! We now only store dried flowers in fully airtight containers.

Seed Saving

Cota or Anthemis tinctoria

Old flower heads can be picked and dried for seed. These flower heads are not yet too old to be picked for dye.

Cota or Anthemis tinctoria

Seeds with drawing pin for scale

Seeds can be obtained from the old flower heads which have lost their colour and petals. These can be picked and allowed to dry in the sun or left on the plants until dry. The second year plants, having flowered first, will have ripe seeds by August. If you are growing a named variety it is likely that over a few years of seed saving the plants will revert to the normal wild type, so may not be as decorative as the original plants but will still produce plenty of dyestuff. Separating out the seeds from the chaff is done by rubbing the dried flower heads to release the seed and then shaking in a tray while blowing the chaff gently out.
The seeds, though small, will collect at the bottom of the tray.
If you are growing several varieties of chamomile be aware that the plants will readily cross-pollinate. If you want to keep the variety true it’s best to keep them in very well separated beds.

Cota Tinctoria

Dyer’s Chamomile in a cottage-garden style planting with Vipers Bugloss, Lavender and Feverfew.

Cota or Anthemis Tinctoria

Cota or Anthemis tinctoria

Dyer’s Chamomile is not a strong bee or butterfly plant and only attracts the occasional solitary bee and flies. All the above are flies.

Cota or Anthemis tinctoria

Dyer’s Chamomile flowers on Chamomile dyed fleece

Coreopsis tinctoria

Growing Dyer’s Coreopsis

An article by Ashley Walker
© copyright 2016

Dyer’s Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) Plains Coreopsis, Garden Tickseed, Golden Tickseed, or Calliopsis is an annual flower growing from one to two feet in height from the prairies of North America. It is very pretty with bright red and yellow flowers, now grown primarily as a decorative garden flower or as part of a “wild flower mix”. There have been several attempts to cultivate varieties better suited to the garden. I list some of the more successful cultivars below.

Mardi Gras” – Suttons seeds
Mahogany Midget” an all-red dwarf variety – Chiltern seeds
Roulette” a semi-double variety – Mr Fothergills and Kings Seeds
Quills and Thrills” a variety in which the petals form tubes – Thompson and Morgan
Incredible” a mixed variety – Dobies seeds (contains seeds of a white and red petal flower)
Radiata Tigrina” a jazzy variety – Chiltern Seeds
Coreopsis hybrida Incredible Dwarf” – Kings Seeds

All of these varieties have been created by careful and rigorous selection and the resulting cultivars will generally breed true. However they will easily hybridise with each other if grown close together. For the novice the best of these may be the dwarf varieties which do not require support.

Dyer#s Coreopsis

Variation in flowers

For several years we have been using saved seed, originally from a wild-type variety from Suffolk Herbs (now Kings Seeds).  This has produced a diversity of flowers, some almost identical to the varieties above. There is a huge natural variation in flower type which is passed on via cross pollination from year to year. The only named variety we have grown is “Roulette” which was not much different from the wild type.

Coreopsis tinctoria

An all red variety with pointed petals.

Coreopsis tinctoria

An average flower of Dyer’s Coreopsis. Some flowers have more yellow others less.

Dyer’s Coreopsis is part of a huge genus of plants in the Asteraceae family, many of which have also been used as dye plants. Tinctoria is distinctive in having a large proportion of red in the petals, so perhaps most of the dyestuff is in the red pigment? In this case, pure red flowers would be the best for dyeing. The majority of our flowers are deep red with a yellow outer edge. Some are completely red. A smaller number are intermediate. I would like to know if the red petal colour contributes a different pigment, but as all the flowers have a yellow underside to the petals, regardless of the surface colour, this isn’t an experiment I can do easily. Coreopsis, like Dahlia, contains dye pigments not found in the classic yellow plant dyes of the European Medieval Petit Teint. These are called chalcones and aurones. For a note on the chemistry and history see Dominique Cardon, Sources Traditions, Technology and Science (2007, pp683,4).

Dyer’s Coreopsis is invariably described as “Perfect for pollinators” by the Royal Horticultural Society, however, we have not seen any evidence of this over many years of growing.

Propagation

Coreopsis tinctoria

A young “rosette”  of Dyer’s Coreopsis with rounded leaflets

Coreopsis tinctoria

Another young seedling with narrow elongated leaflets. This plant has broken out of the rosette stage and is producing narrow mature leaflets and a flower stalk.

Coreopsis tinctoria

A densely planted bed of Dyer’s Coreopsis just coming into flower.

Dyer’s Coreopsis is prone to slug and snail attack so is best sown into seed modules (two or three seeds per module) in April and planted out in May with organically approved slug pellets. Root damage during transplantation will stimulate the plant to flower prematurely so care must be taken. It is generally considered to be hardy and in some areas of North America can be treated as a biennial and directly sown in Autumn for a spring flowering the following year. We have not tried this for fear of slugs.

There is great variation in habit, with some plants producing flowers early when the plants are small and others remaining as “rosettes” until late summer. Planting out early, after only a short time in the seed tray, will discourage early flowering. The plants will grow to a good size and give a much better display/dye-harvest. For spectacular displays plant seedlings close together (4 inches apart).

Here in Hertfordshire we rarely get any self-seeding (just the occasional plant) so we have to sow from saved seed every year.

Care and Maintenance

Faces to the sun
The flowers of Coreopsis all point south towards the sun, so in order to get the best display, grow them in a place where you can stand and admire them with the midday summer sun behind you. We usually plant these ‘en masse’ in a bed of their own. The photograph shows Coreopsis in a narrow bed alongside the southern edge of the greenhouse. In their natural habitat they get the support of other plants. In this location they would have benefited from some support to stop them flopping all over the path.

Dyer’s Coreopsis will grow in any soil type and does not require much fertiliser. Like Weld, it is best grown in rotation with Japanese Indigo or Woad. In the wild it likes to grow in damp places but prefers a well-draining soil. Coreopsis roots are shallow so the plant needs regular watering to grow larger and flower for longer.

Slugs have the habit of chewing through the main stem which usually kills or seriously delays the plant’s development. Apart from this they do not seem to suffer from other pests or diseases.

Seed Saving

Coreopsis tinctoria

Dyer’s Coreopsis seeds

Once the flowers have “gone over” the small rod-shaped black seeds start to mature. As a rough guide, the seed-heads will be ready for picking after a month. Bring them indoors to dry out completely. Rub the seeds out from the dried flower heads with your fingers into a shallow tray which can then be shaken from side to side and blown gently to remove the chaff. Stored in sealed bags and kept in a cool place, the seeds will remain viable for around three years.

Harvest

Dyer's Coreopsis in full flower

Dyer’s Coreopsis in full bloom in August with all flowers pointing towards the South

Dyer's coreopsis after picking

Dyer’s Coreopsis after picking flowers.

Before and after picking
Here you can see the same bed before and after picking. It took about half an hour to pick all the flowers in the above photos. A small footstool makes the job easier. It’s very calming to slow right down and enjoy the process. Only pick the flowers in full bloom, or those that have gone over. Leave the buds.  If you are in a rush, you can pick the whole plant, stalks and leaves included, but it is a terrible waste as the plants will come back into full bloom within a week.

Tools of the trade

PIcking dye flowers

PIcking dye flowers

We have a weakness for baskets. This is one of a set of five fairtrade baskets Susan bought from Oxfam years ago. They are perfect for flower picking. There’s no need for any cutting tools to pick the flowers. They pinch off very easily, but be careful not to pull them off vertically as the whole plant may come up with the flower.

Herb dryer with flowers

Close up of herb dryer

Herb drier

Herb drier is well suited to drying dye flowers

Dry flowers in storage jar

Dry flowers in the jar

We use a Stockli herb dryer which has served us well over many years. A fan in the base blows warm air up through a stack of trays. It’s well worth buying extra trays. We also use it to dry basil, oregano, rose petals and apple rings. Some flower heads, like Coreopsis, will dry in just a few hours but fatter flowers like Dahlia need a couple of days. To store well, herbs and flowers must be absolutely dry. Keep going until they feel dry to the touch. Then leave them for 24 hours in the trays in a dry place for any moisture remaining in the flowers’ centres to be drawn out. Then give them another short drying session (about an hour). This will reduce the risk of the flowers going mouldy in storage.

Make sure your container is truly airtight and store in a cool, dark, dry place. If you have done a good job the dried material can last for years.

dry dyer's coreopsis

Dried Dyer’s Coreopsis flowers

Dyeing with Coreopsis

The dyes in Dyer’s Coreopsis are highly soluble, so all that’s needed is to pour on boiling water and leave the flowers to soak. Susan added the dyestuffs to the baths in two batches. The yarn and one silk/cotton swatch went in with the hot water at the start. These were left for several days, removed and rinsed. The paler coloured cotton drill, cotton jersey and the other swatch of silk cotton were left in the exhaust bath for 48 hours. Again unheated. The results tend to confirm Jenny Dean‘s note in her book Wild Colour, that there are at least two pigments in the flowers, a red and a yellow. The red is probably taken up quicker than the yellow, hence the orange tone (yellow+red) is restricted to the early phases of the bath. The exhaust bath only contains the yellow.

Dyer's Coreopsis on silk cotton, main bath (left) and exhaust bath (right).

Dyer’s Coreopsis on silk cotton, main bath (left) and exhaust bath (right).

Exhaust bath Dyer's Coreopsis on alumed cotton jersey and cotton drill

Exhaust bath Dyer’s Coreopsis on alumed cotton jersey and cotton drill

Here are some samples dyed with flowers dried in a previous year. The yarn is cotton mordanted with alum. The various fabric swatches were cold mordanted by a long soak in 5% aluminium acetate. All samples were photographed just after rinsing so the colours will lighten on drying

DyersCoreopsis on cotton

Alumed cotton from strong Dyer’s Coreopsis bath

.