Sittin’ on the Knittin’

Contrary to the impression readers may form from all the garden talk lately, there has been progress on the knitting front as well. It’s just that I can’t talk about the big project, for which I have a deadline. Swatching is complete and the actual knitting is well underway, but that’s all I can share for now.

I can, however, keep posting about my husband’s birthday sweater (thank goodness his birthday isn’t until November, and I have a chance of completing it by then). I’ve begun the staggered cable repeats, and the body, knit in the round, is taking shape nicely.

I’ve made so many modifications to the pattern in Linden Phelps’ and Beryl Hiatt’s book Simply Beautiful Sweaters for Men , that in fairness I can’t even call it their design anymore: I’ve changed the gauge, the cable design, the neckline, and the rib pattern for starters. The Blue Moon Fiber Arts “Twisted” yarn, color “In the Navy” is a treat to work with – springy and soft. I imagine it will keep him nice and warm during our damp, chilly winter months.

Here’s a close-up of the cables, which show up better on the real thing than they do in this photo. In real life the yarn variegation is not as pronounced and the cables pop more.

Flowers and Candy

The last remaining vestiges of my birthday are the flowers in this gorgeous bouquet my husband and daughter gave me to mark the occasion. They are from my favorite nearby florist, Florali, where every arrangement is so utterly stunning I wish they could last forever. Try as I might with the blooms from my own garden, I can never quite duplicate the elegant simplicity and panache of Florali. They know peonies are my favorites, and always combine them with something unexpected, in a simple glass vase that I reuse all year. See for yourself:

Here’s another angle; English roses, hydrangea, and clematis make up the balance of the flowers, but those burgundy peonies (fragrant, too!) are divine.

This was another gift, but sadly it is all gone. I wasn’t a very good sharer, either.

Open Wide and Say…

Lilleeeee…Want to see more? You know you do.

There are definitely lots of them, all around the garden, both front and back. These creamy ones freckle up in the sun, just like me. Also just like me, when it gets too hot for them they begin to lean toward any little speck of shade, stems teetering in their effort to escape the sun.

Spiky and Prickly and Pokey Say Hello

A couple of recent arrivals in the garden have announced they are ready for their close-ups. For starters, the heavily divided agapanthus is making up for lost time:

Say hello to Mr. Prickly.

I thought the clematis below had given up the ghost; dry and brown looking stem, one limp tendril weakly clinging to the fence. It amazes me how they resurrect themselves from the most unpromising conditions and appearance to burst forth with the most luscious blooms.

Say hello to Miss Spiky.

These tropical crocosmia hang out by the front door, where they swan about over all the neatly potted petunias and sage like exotic dancers in a roomful of librarians (no offence to the librarians out there… I’m talking stereotypes, obviously). They are so hot and so orange that every time I open the door they are the first thing I see – sometimes, if I’m tired or hungover distracted, they are the only things I see. I should probably stake them, but they look as if they’d take offence at the notion that they might need support.

Say hello to Red Hot Poker.

51 Pick Up

It’s my birthday, and never a more anti-climactic birthday have I experienced. My daughter is in the middle of final exams and my husband is out of town on business until tonight. What surprises me is how little I mind.

50 was a big deal. 51 is not. I consciously enjoyed my final hours of being 50 last night while watching Keith Olbermann on MSNBC (T. says he’s the “other man” in my life), knitting, and sipping a glass of white wine. Now that’s the kind of multi-tasking I really enjoy.

This morning I ran errands, fulfilling a quest for stronger, broad spectrum sunblock, hunting down the perfect Father’s Day gifts for my husband, who seems to be feeling a bit under-appreciated lately (aren’t we all?). I finished making a batch of fresh mint (yes, from the garden) chocolate chip ice cream – a Father’s Day gift we can all enjoy. The fresh spearmint gives the ice cream a very pale green tint, totally unlike that suspicious bright leprecaunish color of commercial ice creams. The flavor is lovely – intensely minty yet subtle because there’s very little sugar (does that compensate for the half-dozen egg yolks? I wish.).

A friend is taking me out to lunch this afternoon, and several others will be treating me to lunch or dinner next week… I love these birthday celebrations that continue for days, if not weeks. My friends are the best!

What’s In a Name?

By now the new blog name has been up for a couple of days. There was nothing wrong with Floribunda except that it didn’t represent all the subjects this blog now covers. And this is the first of what will be many exciting changes to this space over the next several months.

At first, this blog was simply intended to document the maturation of my garden and to indulge my snap-happy camera habit. Then the knitting crept in, and although it has not become the blog’s dominant theme it certainly holds its own as I complete more projects and develop more original design ideas. Even food and cooking have their place, especially at this time of year when the vegetable garden and fruit trees begin to produce and I am on a steady quest for more interesting recipes to take advantage of the bounty.

For years, my family and friends have called me a ‘domestic goddess’, and have compared me snarkily favorably to Martha Stewart. It seems appropriate, given the topics that get regular play in this space, to stop fighting it and just embrace the label. Years ago when I started designing small knitted gifts for those same friends and family members, I had real labels made that read: Domestic Goddess Handknit. So really, it’s about time I went all the way.

What’s up, Tiger Lily?

Yes, I’ve been watching the spikey stems grow taller and spindlier by the day, but nonetheless was gobsmacked to come outside one morning last week and find that suddenly, during a moment when my back was turned, the lilies bloomed. These are the early ones; the freckled oriental lilies will open later in the summer.

I had plenty of opportunity to admire them this afternoon as I deadheaded roses and pulled out the last of the California poppies before they can spread their seed too exuberantly around the front garden. The roses are spent; I’ve cut off almost all of the dead blooms, and last week I fertilized them in hope of inspiring a second round of blossoms before the end of the month.

Now that it has warmed up – suddenly and dramatically, from low seventies the last couple of weeks to high nineties today – we’ll see how the drought water management works. All the plants are well-established by now, so I’m hoping all of them can tough it out on 20% less water than they got last year. At least the lilies seem happy, and any day now the first agapanthus will be in bloom.

Moo To You, Too

Major excitement around here: I received a phone call from Eunny Jang (Yes, the Eunny Jang, editor of Interweave Knits.). I sent in a design proposal for the Winter 2008 issue and Eunny called to let me know she loves my idea and wants to publish it in the magazine! I can’t say more about it for now, but aside from the immediate thrill of having my design chosen for publication in my favorite knitting magazine, there is the additional thrill of knowing I’ll be keeping company with such illustrious designers. Many of my favorite knitting bloggers are featured regularly in IK; for now, I can only aspire to such success. And to that end, I recently mailed off a design proposal for the Spring 2009 issue of IK. You never know; sometimes lightning strikes twice.

A tip of the hat to Knit and Tonic, who turned me on to the British company Moo MiniCards. I ordered a box of 100 cards (which came in the mail today; they are absolutely adorable) and pretty much the instant I looked through them, I decided another 100 with different images would come in handy. Clearly I take too many photos, since I had a very hard time deciding which ones to use on the fronts of the cards.

The clematis climbing the back garden trellis has turned into quite the show-off.

The nearby hydrangea is evidently so stunned by the gorgeousness of the clematis that it has turned a paler shade of blue with envy.

Speaking of blue, the first blueberries are RIPE! And delicious… not enough for a blueberry pie (maybe next year), but enough to sprinkle into a bowl of yogurt or over my morning cereal.

June Bugs

In addition to the ladybugs, the box elder beetles, and the assorted other winged and shelled insects alighting in the garden these days, I’ve got the knitting bug, and I’ve got it bad. Finished the little Koigu parachute scarf over the weekend, and although the dye ran significantly in its blocking bath, the grainy Dijon mustard color is relatively intact.

I tried my new lace blocking wires and became an immediate convert. Why did I wait all these years to invest in a set? They make the job of blocking lace so much easier!

Some of the calla lily plants have grown so huge and heavy that they simply toppled over and had to be cut back. Not so with these three, settled into shade so deep they can’t seem to grow that large. I’ve christened them the Three of Hearts, so perfectly valentiney are they, and so – to quote one of the early English poets (John Donne, perhaps?) – “so lovingly contiguous.”

These clematis made an appearance here last year around the same time, but they merit a repeat photo because of their sheer simple persistence. For the first five years we lived here, I thought this vine clamouring up the pool fence was a pernicious weed, and I pulled it out as soon as it made an appearance in the spring. It was so persistent, thought, that one year I decided to let it grow just to see what it would do. At the time, I had not yet planted any other clematis vines around the garden so I had no basis for comparison regarding the leaves and bud shape. Imagine my amazement when it flowered for the first time on my watch, and I realized what I’d been consigning to the green waste bin all those years! Never too old to learn, right?

New Knits, Take Three

Knitspot is one of my favorite blogs, and Anne Hansen is one of my favorite knitwear designers. Aside from the fact that she is an adorable little pixie person whose gardening and cooking exploits are almost as charming as her knitting, she is a prolific designer. Her lace shawls and scarves are always stunning, and meticulously charted, and carefully test-knitted. If she had ten feet instead of only two, she would nonetheless have more than enough pairs of socks to keep them all warm and beautifully shod. I suspect Anne has discovered a way to survive without sleep because how else could she accomplish as much as she does?

In any case, I have been enchanted by her Little Nothing scarves over the last several months. Just the kind of instant gratification I crave, they inspired me to crack open my Barbara G. Walker Treasuries and identify some easy, short-repeat lace patterns. They reliably provide the means to creating little FOs that make the long-term projects seem like less of a chore when I’m knitting the millionth cable or the umpteenth row of stockinette.

Here is one such project, for which I raided the orphan balls of Koigu in my stash and found this warm, speckled golden wool that reminds me of grainy Dijon mustard.

Although it will block out longer than it appears at the moment, I expect this to be a rather short little neck warmer, perfect to tuck into the neck of my leather jacket in the fall.

In the garden, new things are blooming as well. My mother-in-law amaryllis keeps pumping out magnificent candy-striped flowers; truly the gift that keeps on giving!

The newer climbing roses have sprays of tiny little blossoms that scamper up every available trellis. They’re so completely different from the hybrid teas and floribundas that they hardly seem like roses. And yet, from fragrance to thorns it’s clear they are members of the family.

New Knits, Take Two

Interweave Knits always inspires me. Sometimes, however, an issue that seemed only so-so when I first received it turns out to be filled with treasures upon further inspection. Such was the case with Summer 2007.

I’ve seen many fabulous completed projects from this issue posted on Ravelry, and none more fabulous than the Josephine Top. There are so many wonderful Josephine Tops, in fact, that I decided to make one of my very own. I just happen to have enough skeins in my stash of Karabella Yarns’ Breeze in a warm ivory color. The 40% cashmere and 60% silk blend fiber will make it a perfect top for our cool northern California summer evenings.

With other, more pressing projects also in the works, this will take a back seat for the next few weeks. I’m knitting it in the round up to the armholes, and it’s going quickly so far. The lace pattern looks intricate but is deceptively simple (my favorite kind of lace, I confess), and I expect to wear it at least a few times over this summer (she said optimistically).

New Knits, Take One

It has been a while since my last knitting post, which doesn’t mean there hasn’t been knitting in the works. Despite my vow not to work multiple projects simultaneously, I don’t seem to be able to help myself; it’s better, I’ve decided to have a long-term project going as well as one or more quick little items for that all-important need for instant gratification to be fulfilled. Therefore, I have a few WIP’s to share.

I promised my husband a new sweater for his birthday last year, but it didn’t happen for a variety of reasons, the main one being that I couldn’t find what I considered the perfect yarn for the sweater I wanted to make. Now that I have it (Blue Moon Fiber Arts “Twisted,” color: In the Navy), and the pattern (From Simply Beautiful Sweaters for Men by the Tricoter owners Linden Phelps and Beryl Hiatt – the project is “Larry’s Cabled Cashmere Pullover”), I’m on my way.

Of course, I had to make certain mods to the pattern. The shadings in the yarn color seemed to demand fatter cables to really make them stand out, so I am doing a six-stitch cable rather than a four-stitch cable, and I am structuring them a little closer together.

More tomorrow!

Peonies in Paradise

When my own garden is full of flowers free for the picking, it’s hard to justify paying for them. However, I am nothing if not good with a quick justification. These peonies at Trader Joe’s were so lush, so ripely incipient in their bloomworthiness that I succumbed. Can you blame me?

My own peonies, gorgeous as they were this spring, never produced more than two blooms at a time, enough to add a bit of zest to a mixed bouquet perhaps, but never sufficient to make an exclusive arrangement. Sure, one or two stems in a narrow vase makes a statement of its own sort, but somehow peonies seem to beg for excess, lavishness and abundance. My pleasure in this bouquet is excessive and lavish, so to me they were worth every nickel.

Adjectives For Spring

Rosy: Frothy:


A friend took me to Monterey Market in Berkeley yesterday, and from my gleeful shopping spree you’d think I’d never been to a grocery store! I had two bulging bags of groceries when we left, and she had only one. The most precious treasure in mine were these fresh morels:

I haven’t seen fresh morels in years, and can’t bring myself to buy the dried ones because they always cost such a bloody fortune. However, I have very fond memories of my childhood when we would visit our weekend place in southern Vermont and find wild morels in the woods around our house. My mother used to saute them and add them to brown-butter omelettes for me and my sisters, and I never forgot that earthy, buttery flavor. Seeing these fresh morels in the market, I was inspired to buy just a handful (which nonetheless set me back $3.00!). This morning I made an updated version of the omelette – differentiated from my mother’s by the addition of goat cheese – and shared it with my daughter.
She enjoyed the trip down Memory Lane (God but that kid can make me feel old, as if my own childhood took place in the Dark Ages) and the omelette as much as I did. I have to say, though, that in my mind, the ones my mother made were better!