From the Homestead: In Bloom This Week

In the Texas Hill Country, May is the loveliest month. This May is one to remember: the blooming, buzzing bounty, I’m sure, of our rainy December. Remember? April showers bring . . . Here, it’s October-November-December showers that bring May flowers, and for the past few weeks, we’ve been surrounded by them. The coreopsis–the cheerful yellow blossoms you see here, filling a quiet corner we call Meadow Marsh–brighten my path to the chicken coop.

But Coreopsis tinctoria (as you might guess from its Latin binomial) isn’t just pretty to look at. It’s also a great dye plant. It can create a vibrant yellow-orange on wool, cotton, or linen–with a mordant (a fixative, like alum) or without.

I like to use the herbs I write about, and when I was working on Indigo Dying (China Bayles #11), I did some dyeing with coreopsis. I picked the flowers, dried them in a dehydrator, and made a yellow dye. There’s a University of Florida tutorial here that outlines the dyeing process, so I won’t go into the details.  It’s easy to do and would be a great craft project for your kids and grandkids. You’d like to try it but don’t have access to the flowers? No worries. Dried flowers (like everything else under the sun) are available on the internet.

Coreopsis dye was used for the two small yellow test skeins in this photo, top right and left. The orange skein in the top center was dyed with Osage orange. See that tree on the left in the Meadow Marsh photo above? That’s Osage orange. Its grapefruit-size fruits–enjoyed by our resident deer and wild turkeys–litter the ground in the fall.

Like many other plants we grow and appreciate for their beauty, coreopsis was used medicinally by Native Americans, who brewed a tea of the roots to ease stomach ailments and “strengthen the blood.” Recent scientific research has confirmed the plant’s traditional uses in anti-infection and treatment of chronic metabolic disease.

All that, from a pretty little yellow flower. The world is full of marvels.

On the writing desk. In an upcoming issue of “All About Thyme,” I’m expecting to interview Marta McDowell, the editor of  a wonderful full-color facsimile edition of Elizabeth Blackwell’s  A Curious Herbal, just published by Abbeville Press.  You may remember that Blackwell’s Herbal (published 1735-37) served as the backstory of Hemlock (China #28). Marta has some fascinating new information about Elizabeth that I’m looking forward to sharing. (If you’re not a subscriber to “All About Thyme,” you can remedy that below.) Look for it in the June issue if we get it together in time; if not. July.

I’m currently working on Forget Me Never (China Bayles #29) and thinking about another in the Dahlias series. I’ve promised myself to blog more regularly this summer, so you might be hearing from me a little more often. In the meantime, go outdoors and linger among the flowers.

Reading note. If the poem is thin, it is likely so not because the poet does not know enough words, but because he or she has not stood long enough among the flowers.–Mary Oliver

Your civil comments and questions are always welcome. I read each one and reply when I’ve something to add to the discussion.

24 comments on “From the Homestead: In Bloom This Week

  1. Exciting to hear you’re thinking of another Dahlias book! I am about finished with The Poinsettia Puzzle. Totally hooked on this series.

  2. I’m sure it’s been even prettier down there, Linda. Gillespie County got more rain (a few months ago, when it mattered for the flowers) than we did up here in Burnet County. Wildseed (the flower-seed farm) is gorgeous this time of year. And 281 is a nice drive, especially north of Burnet.

  3. We just got home from spending four days in Stonewall. The flowers are magnificent! Thought about you today as we drove north on 281 on our way home.

  4. It truly is lovely to think of them, Diane. In TOGETHER, ALONE (2009), I wrote: I sometimes imagine the advance and retreat of the seas that flooded this place during that splendid infinity: the shallow waters teeming with fish, the land blanketed with giant ferns and tropical trees, the air thick with insects, the skies alive with wings. And animals, too. The huge dinosaurs of the early Cretaceous wandered the jungles and wetlands and river deltas across this part of Texas: witness their million-year-old tracks found not far to the north, at Glen Rose. Sometimes at dawn on a steamy July day, as the sun rises over the changeless horizon, I conjure up a gigantic Pleurocoelus with a giraffe-like neck and sloping body, taller than a tree. Her calf at her side, she lumbers through my garden in a tropical downpour, the rain sheeting off her massive back. The ground shakes under her feet as she and her calf snack noisily on palm fronds and ferns and grasses taller than my head . . .

    Thanks for prompting me to remember that bit of writing!


  5. Amazing how resilient plants and trees can be surviving when those great mammals became extinct. I know the trees as bois d’arc and we have a street name called that here. It is lovely to think of all of the many species your Meadow Marsh has supported over thousands of years.

  6. Usually, when folks refer to the Bible story about mustard, they focus on the size of the seed, rather than the resulting plant. Some of you may remember the mustard seed bracelets and necklaces. The passage (Luke 13:18) continues with a mention of birds nesting or perching in the branches depending on the translation. It’s not common, but it is possible.

  7. Loved the story about A Curious Herbal. Sorry that her husband was of low character, but she certainly rose above to create something beautiful. And thank you for mentioning the Osage orange. We have them all over here and I have read that some wildlife rehabbers like to feed them to squirrels because hunters think it makes their meat taste funny (I don’t eat squirrel so I wouldn’t know). Looking forward to your future books and thank you for your creativity.

  8. Here in Oregon we had more cold than is typical in late winter/early spring, and now we are finding our blooming season is compressed, with some plants that are usually early coming later and intermingling with the later season blooms. My yard is a sea of pink and purple — rosemary, iris, salsify, dianthus, lavender, sage, thyme, chives, Cecile Brunner rose — with a smattering of bright yellow California poppy and softer yellow kale rabe for accents. A bright patch of Jupiter’s beard showing off in the SE corner. I just want to sit and soak it all in!

  9. We have a lot of wild mustard around here (altho none at MeadowKnoll). Pretty along the roadsides and yes, a fire hazard when dry. Nice to know they can be sturdy enough to host a family of birds.

  10. Wild mustard is one of the major invasive plants in Southern California. It looks good on the hillsides right now, but will dry out and become part of the fire hazard during the summer.. Many years ago, in one of the canyons near the beach, I saw a tall mustard plant with a bird’s nest (neither birds nor eggs in the nest.).

  11. Your yarn is so beautiful! I just love your skills and how you teach us all!

  12. Spring is pretty in PA, with the rhododendrons, azaleas, spring flowers, dogwoods but I’m also partial to the “weeds” buttercup, wild mustard, rockets dame. Here purple Loosestrife an invasive is not usually a problem, but I drove The Northern Tier Expressway in lower NY state and I understand the problem. I always love Coreopsis and your Texas Blue bonnets

  13. Here, too, Pud–we’ve seen more early butterflies than any year we can remember. Just now, I’m looking at a giant swallowtail on a purple thistle blossom outside my window. Spectacular, and a reminder that the ecosystem is an interwoven network of interdependent lives.

  14. I got to join my sister’s weaving group when they experimented with natural dyes. Great fun but messy. We set up outside at a park for easy clean up.

  15. The photo of your coreopsis brought a big smile to my face. I can imagine hand dying is so satisfying, and then using the wool you’ve dyed to make something to wear. I’m excited to read that you’re thinking about another Dahlias book, and I’m looking forward to your interview with Marta McDowell. I just finished listening to THYME OF DEATH (I love revisiting China and Ruby), and just started listening to WITCHES BANE. I’m so happy they’re out in audio format now. Thank you for all that you do for your readers.

  16. It has been one of the prettiest wildflower seasons in North Texas that I can remember. And the pollinators have been in heaven!

  17. Looking forward to another adventure with China and missing my time in the Hill Country. Lived in Lampasas and worked in Burnet. Loveliest commute in the whole world

  18. I do so love the Texas wildflowers. I have not been to Texas since before the pandemic and I miss seeing all the lovely blooms. I hope to travel to Texas this September to catch up with some of my writing friends and it will be interesting to see the landscape at this time of year. I love the colors in your test skeins. Happy dyeing!

  19. I’ve been craving China and the Dahlias lately! The meadow is Awesome! Can’t wait to see what they’re up to!

  20. Beautiful flowers! When my small garden of spring flowers starts to bloom, after a drab winter..I always think of Lady Bird’s quote “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” Especially in these times we are living in!
    Can’t wait to visit China again! : )

  21. I have hand dyed the fabric for my cross stitch projects for years. I didn’t know about coreopsis though. Thanks so much for the information about that. I love it!

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