Madder

I have been growing it for four years. The excitement I felt at first seeing its spiky little squareish stem poking up out of the earth has never really left me.

I have watched it sprawl and colonise, and have – every spring – searched amongst the other gubbins in the garden for a trace that it has made it through the winter. It always has.

Every winter, the sprawling tops of the madder have dried into prickly husks. Every spring, small, tawny shoots have poked up through the earth again, the deep nexus of ruby-coloured roots thicker, and the sprawling powers of the plant enhanced. Every summer, it has wound its way lazily through everything nearby, and pushed its roots determinedly onward through the ground.

It was time to harvest it this year; the mulberry tree is growing really well, and I didn’t want to risk undertaking a dig deep near its roots next year. The area where both mulberry tree and madder grow is a tangled jungle of sprawling things; bindweed; an indestructible rose-of-Sharon bush; a low, creeping plant the name of which I don’t know; ivy; and something else which has furry stems and thick, brittle, long white roots. But hands and eyes can be clever and sensitive when sifting through endless roots looking for the right ones, and madder is unmistakeable in its rubbery brittleness and distinctive, tawny colour.

What a very great pleasure to kneel under the mulberry tree all day digging out the ground where I planted a small shoot four years ago…

…and acquiring all this.

There are many roots here, and some show the promise of new growth. All the roots were moving towards the margins of the mulberry tree’s shadow, edging towards the sun. I will replant the salvaged shoots in a sunnier spot, and hopefully there will be more in 2015.

I had a wee companion for most of the day. I called her Queen Latifah, because she looked like a warrior, and her determined reappearances throughout the day reminded me of the 1980s riff “once again Queen Latifah is back” from the wondrous song “Mama Gave birth to the soul children”. This seemed kind of apt, given how many babies this spider is evidently carrying.

Hopefully next year there will be many garden spiders and yet more madder in the garden.

4 Responses to Madder

  1. colleen says:

    It’s always exciting when something starts to really take off, isn’t it. I would not worry too much about harming the mulberry. They are pretty hardy. In fact, the one planted in next door’s garden is a pet hate of mine. It went in as a little thing 30 years ago and it’s now around 30 feet high and takes ALL my light – and that’s after twice being seriously damaged in great storms.

  2. Nancy says:

    Great pictures and good information about madder that took me on a search for this perennial. Have used rose madder as a color in painting for years, and never knew its origin. :o)

  3. tomofholland says:

    And what yarn will you be dying with the madder? I’d love to see how the red comes out.

  4. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Archive » Wovember post-script #1: The Slow Wardrobe

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