Introducing the Old Roots New Seeds Community Dye Garden est. 2021

Imagine a garden set in the boreal forest: vegetable beds for the market, orchard fruits for baking, wild and cultivated flowers are growing in pots, planters, on building railings, along the forest edge, and in a retro Volkswagen Beetle! Welcome to Willow Springs Creative Centre (WSCC) in Lappe, Northwestern Ontario. WSCC is a social purpose enterprise promoting community development through inclusive art, therapeutic gardening and food programs, food services and specialized training and employment opportunities.

Deep red hollyhocks growing along a green building at WSCC.

After years of enjoying their public programming I partnered with WSCC in 2021 to pilot a community dye garden project. I love sharing what I know about plants and plant-dyes with people, so it made sense to create a project that allows me to play in the dirt, demonstrate the possibilities of colours from plants, and develop relationships with community members in the rural area where my family lives and where I grew up. 

Tuija and a community member engage with plant-dyes in front of WSCC. Photo Credit Caroline Kajorinne. 

Despite ongoing pandemic restrictions from July-September, we planted seeds, grew seedlings, planted gardens, and I demonstrated my knowledge with both wild and cultivated plants weekly at the outdoor country market. This led to evening workshops dyeing silk scarves and canvas bags, and a co-created weaving using recycled bed sheeting, plant dyes, and a birch tree loom that developed as community members visited my demo table through the growing season.

Plant-dyed fabric strips on a table in front of WSCC.  Recycled fabric strips plant-dyed and ready to be added to the community-created weaving, 2021.Marigolds in a pot about to be simmered into dye.

Marigolds from the dye garden in a pot ready to be simmered into dye at the weekly market.Flower-dyed silk scarves hanging outside at WSCC.

Bundle-dyed silk scarves hanging to dry outside WSCC, 2021.

This project is now in its second year, and is supported by funding from the Ontario Arts Council, allowing me to expand the scope of my work. This includes hiring regional artists which not only supports those working in this region, but will also create opportunities for learning with even more community members as we explore many ways of working with plants while cultivating reciprocal relationships with the land in the process. 

A grandmother and child add plant-dyed fabric to the community weaving.

A grandmother and child add plant-dyed recycled fabric strips to the community weaving. Photo Credit Caroline Kajorinne. 

I’ve come to embrace that my artistic practice is seasonal, combining long periods of alone time in my weaving studio through the winter, and shorter bursts of activity with communities outdoors during the growing season.

Hansen with handmade birch-loom ready for community weaving at WSCC.Tuija with handmade birch loom, ready for community weaving at WSCC in 2021.

I couldn't be more excited to have you along on this journey and to see these plans and the plants grow!

Tuija with the rainbow of colours dyed with plants from WSCC dye garden in 2021.

Tuija with the rainbow of plant-dyed colours achieved with foraged and cultivated plants during the pilot year of the WSCC community dye garden, 2021. Photo Credit Caroline Kajorinne.

Email me at to subscribe to the “Old Roots New Seeds” Community Dye Garden project newsletter this summer, and to take part in our free-to-attend events and workshops!

Thank you to our funder the Ontario Arts Council | Conseil Des Arts De L’Ontario for supporting this important work!