Imagine a perched village in the Southern Luberon Mountains, with a castle overlooking the Durance Valley, terraced gardens cascading down the hill and a panoramic view from the Alpilles Hills to Montagne Sainte-Victoire… This is Lauris, home for the past twelve years to Le Jardin de Plantes Tinctoriales (Natural Dye Garden) and the Couleur Garance Association. Tours with the gardener, plant-dye workshops, botanical outings: these specialists of colour can captivate all audiences, those who love botany, natural dyes, the industrial heritage or simply glorious landscapes.
In a region where growing dye plants, dyeing and weaving fabrics was long a prosperous industry, creating a natural dye garden seemed obvious to recall a major part of local history.
The plant known as “garance” in France (madder in English) was grown in Provence until 1900 to produce the red dye used in particular for French Army uniforms. Other related activities such as collecting scale insects (cochineals) for red dye, harvesting endemic plants from the Luberon Massif —nerprun (dyer’s buckthorn or Rhamnus tinctoria) to make “china green” dye used for maps and fustet (smoke tree or Cotinus coggygria) whose wood was used to make orange dye— and raising silkworms once brought prosperity to Lauris and the surrounding villages..
Couleur Garance was founded in 1998 by one of the world’s finest specialists of natural plant dyes, Michel Garcia, who settled in Lauris and contributed to creating the Jardin Conservatoire des Plantes Tinctoriales (Dye Plant Conservatory) on the terraces of the castle. Over 250 dye plants are now grown there: all species used for extracting dyes for the textile, paint, ink, food and cosmetics industries. Both a conservatory for species and an educational venue, it is open to everyone from mid-May to the end of October. Many explanatory signs (in French) dot the garden’s 3,500m² for an informative visit. An illustrated discovery trail makes it more entertaining for youngsters.
For groups, several options are available (in French, or in English on request):
- Guided tour of the garden with the gardener (1 to 1½ hours long, 12 to 25 participants): €6/person
- Tour of the garden and the village of Lauris: €10/person
- Plant-dye workshops (for groups on request or on scheduled dates): a half-day or full day during which participants create a scarf (of silk or cotton) of the colour and with the patterns they like according to the dye plants available. These workshops are open to adults and children (maximum of 8 participants): €30 to €90/person (lunch break included in the full-day rate).
- Botanical outings: discovering useful plants (medicinal, aromatic, tinctorial, etc) near Lauris and the strategies of Mediterranean plants to withstand drought. Duration: 3 hours (maximum of 15 participants): €15/person.
And there are: 2-day dyeing classes (€180/person, lunch included, maximum of 8 participants), sowing and transplanting workshops to learn to grow plants (4 hours, €30, maximum of 10 participants) – also available on request or according to the calendar. NB: from 11 to 13 October, the 5th International Forum of Plant Dyes will feature lectures, workshops, arts & crafts markets, tours, etc.