black elder

It’s been lovely to see the elders coming into leaf and now bloom in my neighbourhood, along the trains tracks and out in Mugdock Wood where we go most Fridays.

Elder

Elder

People tend to either love or hate elders and, sure, they certainly are voracious growers and the leaves smell funny… but they give in so many ways that they’ve been a favourite of mine for a long time! Although they’re also a weed in Australia, I’ve never had much access to them but have used the flowers for teas (I’ve never made the classic elderflower cordial- have you?!) and the berries for soothing sore throats and, now that there are so many around me, I’m really excited about their dye potential! I love weedy dye plants because you feel like you’re providing a service by harvesting them : )

Elderberries are a favourite of new dyers because they give such lovely shades- depending on the strength of the dye bath and mordant used, from soft pinks, mauves and greys to crimsons, blues and purples- but their dyes are fugitive and don’t last very long… which, of course, is not necessarily an issue and there is real beauty in ephemeral colour but, as a knitter, I want to know that my yarn is not going to fade too much over time, especially in colourwork. So I’m really keen to harvest and try dyeing with the leaves and bark- my favourite Jenny Dean suggests that leaves give golds and tans to greens and greys and the bark buff to grey. I’ll keep you posted as to my results!

And then, this morning (while out on my early morning walk, a new practice partly due to the 5am sunrises over the Glasgow summer!) I stumbled on this beautiful ornamental variety…

Elder

Elder

Elder

Elder’s characteristic flat plate of flowers

bloom2

Soft, deep shades

With those almost black leaves and pink buds and stamens, it sure is a beauty. And looking at the flowers up close was heaven…

Elder

Pink stamens

Elder

Pink stamens

Elder

Leaves and flowers

Elder

Beautiful crimson new growth

Elder

Elder’s characteristic warty bark

Elder leaf

Elder leaf

The green of the original plant coming through

The green of the original species coming through

Older flowers

Older flowers

So, now I’m asking myself, what colours might this cultivar yield?! Purple-leaved plants, especially trees, often give greens (one of the most elusive colours in natural dyeing) so I’m thinking that this warrants it’s very own dyebath. Now I just need to find a friendly gardener who won’t mind sacrificing a little for me!

4 thoughts on “black elder

  1. Freyalyn

    How gorgeous! I’m particularly interested to see how the black elder works out. In my early dyeing days I got wonderful colours from blackberries and elderberries, but they faded to a wishy-washy green-grey even out of light.

    Having said that, I once achieved a fast neon green with bracken tips which I have been unable to reproduce since.

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  2. Clare

    I absolutely love these images – stunning photos. I love how you look at plants – a real eye for the details that I often don’t notice. Utterly magical blog post. Thank you

    Reply
  3. Mary Hawkins

    When I was into home winemaking in the 70’s down Southampton way, the local circle held an Elderfest. They found no fewer than 14 varieties of elder in the hedgerows. For winemaking, the smaller florets were the best (I always cook a sprig with gooseberry pie). The worst were the “dinner plate” variety that smelled, and tasted, of cats p***. Stand to reason that each variety will probably contain different amounts of dyestuffs as well.

    Never came across a pink variety though, well done you.

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