In the Netherlands most painting plants are part of what’s known as the ‘wild flora’. They grow in nature, but it is important to collect these plants with consideration and not to ‘use up’ all of them. Even better is to grow the painting plants yourself. This way there’s no pressure put on nature and furthermore easier to have a desired amount locally available. One of our goals for this site is to give cultivation recipes for as much painting plants as possible. The seeds of a lot of these plants are sold at the AGA.
Like all plants, painting plants can be cultivated as long as the correct growing conditions are present. An important aspect is the composition of the soil. Potting soil can be used for the first year, but it’s preferable to use a specific soil composition after that. For example, half sand half garden soil, or half clay half garden soil. The direct surroundings determine the humidity and the amount of sun and shadow.
On this site we documented both the optimal soil composition and the amount of sunlight the painting plants need. Other growing conditions are stated in the cultivation recipes. In nature different plants occur together in one area, and plants that can’t grow well in each other’s presence don’t grow there. When cultivating plants this is something to consider. Onions and cabbage are a bad combination, for example, but onions and carrots grow very well together.
Not all plants sprout well in spring: some are light germinators where the sowing depth is small, others are dark germinators, which thus need a think covering layer. Then there’s cold germinators as well; these have seeds that are produced early in the year and have a hard seedcoat. These should be kept moist at first, and will only sprout after a short time in the fridge (or outside, if it’s cold enough). This mechanism prevents young seedlings from sprouting early and having to survive the winter. These seeds are usually sowed during autumn.
The pigments aren’t readily available inside the plants. Often at first only preceding substances exist and only later a specific pigment, of which the production differs at different moments in the season. The hue of the colour is influenced by the time of harvest. Roughly, roots and bark are best harvested during fall; when the whole plant is used it should be harvested shortly before or during bloom, and leaves are best harvested before bloom. This can of course differ per plant. If so, it is mentioned in the cultivation recipe.
Natural, but not edible
Even though paint made in the described fashion can be called natural, this doesn’t mean at all that painting plants are edible as well. Rather, some are poisonous. It’s important to take caution when cultivating painting plants; when (small) children are involved, it’s better to cultivate edible painting plants (for example: beets or figs), and to avoid painting plants containing poisonous berries. When producing the paint, it’s advisable to process the pigments and inks separated from places where food is prepared.
Some pictures of the cultivating process: