“If I were a plant, I'd be a blackberry bush.
I'd wake in late winter full of determination. I'd send out runners and roots in every direction, careless in my joy and heedless in my ambition. I'd invade your carefully cultivated spaces and upturn fences, overrun perennial beds, and choke out pastures. I'd unapologetically take up space. I’d be overlooked by most, a forgettable tangle of brambles and thorns in the landscape. But I’d also be a safe harbour for those in need, the soft and easily-preyed upon, like rabbits and the wrens. I’d stand proud while they hollowed my core in a labyrinth of dens and barrows. I’d be an adoptive womb for those in need. I’d grow thorns to keep you out. In the early spring I’d offer my flowers to the bees. And in the summer I’d share my fruit with the birds and mice, or maybe a lucky toddler, with juice-stained cheeks and skinned knees. I’d be delighted of the company! Should you wish to stay a while, a lazy evening in the late summer sun is the perfect time to pick a punnet or two. Please take enough to bake a pie, or perhaps put up a few jars of jam. I’d put on a show as the nights cooled with the onset of autumn, my leaves turning a deep red and the soft growth of spring hardening against the frost. Watch as my branches curl in then tuck up, closing the gateways and game trails. I’d sleep soundly for months, sacrificing the beauty and fragility of warmer months for strength and endurance in the cold.” -April 2018
One of my botanical teachers, Asia Suler of One Willow Apothecaries, says to “embrace your woo” as a means of tapping in to the multidimensional world of plants. For a long time I didn’t think that applied to the science and often exact alchemy of plant dyeing; embracing your woo was better left to the softer corners of plant appreciation. But as a Woo Woman through and through, the more time I spend among plants the more I understand that you can’t separate the science from the magic.
The passage at the beginning of this post was taken from my plant journal. I like to start all plant studies with a little short story from the point of view of the plant I’m working with. Woo, I know, but it’s my version of a sketch. Many people who study and work with plants keep a sketch book as a means of recording what they see and getting to know plants more intimately. This is something I have a really hard time doing, and not for a lack of trying. I have a condition called aphantasia, which literally means I cannot see images in my head. It makes recording what I see on paper impossible because what I see vanishes the moment I look away. I get around this by translating botanical observations into stories.
By this point I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with plant dye. Essentially, I have the heart of an artist but the mind of a writer. Botanical dyes are my artistic expression, my boundless love and reverence for the natural world, worked in a medium I can freely explore. I can see the colour in the skin of an avocado and the texture of eco-printed leaves on cotton cloth. It’s still there when I look away. Capturing colour doesn’t require me to hold a detail in my mind.
This blog will never be focused, I can promise you that much. I’m treating it like an open-ended song of celebration for the botanical world. Gardening, wild-crafting, medicine making, cooking, exploring, late-night musings, and of course, lots and lots of dyeing.
Thanks for reading!
The Witch of Hedgerow Cottage