Meet Rita Buchanan: author, gardener, and craftswoman extraordinaire

Rita Buchanan is an accomplished garden author and expert on plants used for dyeing.

Photos courtesy of Rita Buchanan
Author Rita Buchanan uses home-grown fiber plants to incorporate into her crafts, such as with these boxes.
Photos courtesy of Rita Buchanan
A box enhanced with cotton and flax.

Getting to know a powerhouse is daunting. In this case, she's accomplished in so many areas, and so generous with her time, that I feel quite lazy by comparison.

Rita Buchanan first showed up on my radar screen with the detailed and accessible book, "A Weaver’s Garden." It discusses fiber plants – such as cotton, flax, and ramie – so the reader can grow, harvest, and turn them into usable fiber for spinning or weaving fabric. The same for the world of dye plants and soap plants. How to grow them and use them successfully is all there.

Later, I attended a two-day dye workshop that Rita taught at a sheep farm in Bunker Hill, W.Va. She was friendly and patient, but mostly excited about what she was showing us. We saw yellow indigo-dyed wool turn bright and gorgeous blue in the air. It was like magic.

Rita has continued to write garden books, including an indispensable guide to dye plants and several Taylor guides, including their landscape book. Her writing style is so clear and free of obstacles that following her advice is natural and easy.

Our acquaintance continued and every once in a while I have had the opportunity to visit her in Connecticut and share a bowl of soup. On my most recent visit, Rita was making a new blanket (from scratch), designing beautiful rugs based on garden photos, and making boxes from iris leaves, stems, and bits from the garden.

At the same time, we talked about feeding citrus plants through the winter, groundcovers that tolerate wet areas, and some of the exquisite artwork that her husband, Steve, has been doing.

Just thinking about accomplishing so much is daunting. To observe her footsteps is an inspiration. She is a no-nonsense gardening author who exemplifies clarity, simplicity, accessibility, generosity, and fascination with the natural world. Pick up one of her books as the snow melts and think spring.

Donna Williamson is one of eight garden writers who blog weekly at Diggin' It. She's a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.” She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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