The Colors of Autumn


Elizabeth JanoskiSeptember 1 marks the first day of meteorological autumn. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains that meteorological seasons are based on changes in temperature and are therefore more accurate predictors of weather changes than the solstice and equinox dates of the astronomical calendar. The air is indeed a bit cooler here in the upper Mid-Atlantic. The available gardening hours between too hot and too buggy are extending while at the same time daylight hours are decreasing, which is rather unfair, when you think about it. Here in Zone 5A, we can expect light frost from mid-September onward and some years it feels like autumn is just a short, steep slide into winter.

Taken on its own merits, however, autumn is a wonderful season as it is all about color. As we nudge toward the astronomical autumn equinox, the huge blooms of the Pee Gee Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) begin to blush in Grandmother’s rock garden and the apples are also taking on cheeky colors. Sunflowers nod their heavy seed heads for the goldfinches and blue jays. A stand of goldenrod surrounds a large patch of native milkweed from which one glorious year Ken saw a host of Monarch butterflies rise in flight against a sky that has never seemed so blue.

In September I take a break from the heavy task of avoiding gardening chores and think about dyeing wool. I generally stick to commercial dyes because I am looking for dependable, repeatable results. Dyeing wool with naturally made dyes is more of an art as results can vary widely depending on when the plant material was collected and what mordents are used. It also requires a great deal more time because it can take a day or more to extract the dye from the plant material.


Found in abundance in autumn, goldenrod is a perfect plant material for a first natural dye project.

I began my journey toward natural dyes with goldenrod, available in abundance in autumn and the dye bath is relatively easy to prepare with just a few steps and a simple, safe mordant.

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