Every year I have garden dreams. I enjoy the planning stage to improve on last year’s garden.

Every year I have garden dreams. I enjoy the planning stage to improve on last year’s garden.
This year I will try new flowers with brilliant colors, some green foliage in hopes of finding better greens and some roots that hold the promise of rich colors. Many of these plants are medicinal herbs.
Common comfrey or (symphytum officinale or symphytum x uplandicum) Russian comfrey, is allowed to grow wherever it wants, can be used to make an olive-green dye (leaf), a soft brown (root) and maybe a soft lavender blue (flower).
Comfrey is so much more than a pretty plant that many think of as an invasive weed. It loosens compacted soil with deep roots. Leaves are cut and chopped for compost.
Comfrey compost tea can save many plants showing signs of stress. Mucilaginous roots are heated in water to make an excellent product to hold foliage spray on the leaves.
It has been used for thousands of years to help heal wounds and broken bones. Studies conducted seem to show that the whole plant has the ability to draw infection from the body and speed the healing process.
Some plants for coloring already may be in gardens. The darkest hollyhocks give us lavenders, mauve or purples.
Woad, an invasive plant in the northern U.S., makes a breathtaking baby blue to sky blue. Blue false indigo, baptisia australis, gives blue jeans their color.
Bronze fennel makes a clear, yellow dye and has a wonderful flavor. Lady’s mantle catches the eye with its dew-cup holding leaves and produces a beautiful rich, yellow dye.
Madder, when not overheated, gives turkey red, which is found in many of the oldest fibers, maintaining the deep, rich red. Black is hard to get without over dyeing, but Hopi black sunflower and gypsywort come close.
Many dye plant are easy to start from seed, but some make me want to throw in the towel.
Woad, brassicas family, is so easy to grow that you will want to harvest all of the leaves. It needs rich soil. Few plants will grow in the same place woad has grown. As soon as the harvest is finished, remove the plant. Don’t forget: Red cabbage makes a great pink dye.
Blue false indigo is part of the legume family, meaning it will enrich the soil where it is growing. It is easy to start with fresh seeds harvested in the fall. When using seeds purchased in the spring, assume the germination will be lower.
Using hot water, soak the seeds for 24 hours. If starting indoors, use 4-inch pots and set out as soon as the last frost is over. It resents being transplanted.
False indigo usually takes four years to bloom pale-blue, fragrant flowers, but reseed freely. Once established, it will grow for decades. Plant it where you want it for a long time. Never harvest more than a third of the leaves at any time.
Bronze fennel first was used for settling the stomach. It was used so often that it became common fair on the dinner table. If you would like to have swallowtail butterflies, fennel feeds their caterpillars.
It is so easy to start that you can keep fresh fennel by planting every two weeks. The plant is pretty enough to grow as a back-border flower. It produces green and yellow dyes. Its only drawback is other plants don’t like growing near fennel.
Madder, rubia tinctoria, is a member of the coffee family. The color can be orange, reds or purple. It has been in use for more than 5,000 years as a dye.
Use fresh seeds and start them indoors. The plant climbs and can be invasive. The root takes three years to reach harvest size.
There are two plants bearing the Hopi name. Hopi red amaranth produces a beautiful red dye used to color food. The color is so distinctive that the artificial dye still bears the name amaranth red. The plant can be eaten.
Of all the colors to find in dye plants, true black is one of the hardest to find. The Hopi black sunflower is the closest we have to black. It’s more purple than black, except on silk. It is grown as any sunflower and easily reaches over 8 feet. The darker and shinier the seeds, the better the color.
The wonderful thing about using plants for natural dyes is the discovery of how each plant colors wool, cotton, linen and silk differently. Variations are caused by the soil the plant is grown in, the season the dyestuff is harvested in, the amount of water and the amount of sunlight the plants get.
Let’s all dream a garden in full Technicolor.

Linda Simmons writes a weekly gardening column.