This Bud’s For You

There’s a riot of budding out there. A little tour around the neonatal wing of the garden is in order, don’t you think?

There’s this:

And this, looking disturbingly deformed:

And lots of these on the big Meyer Lemon tree:

Finally, some knitting news! My Swallowtail shawl is on the blocking board! Here’s a detail photo, pre-blocked, with more to come soon. My first lace shawl, and once I got the hang of the repeats it was very much fun to make. I’ll definitely do another, soon!

Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head

Except this:There are several (well, to be precise: three) more ancillary babies. Much smaller than Godzillartichoke here, but undoubtedly just as tasty. And we are having them with dinner tonight because Ms. Instant Gratification can’t bear the thought of waiting another day.

Another of the giant bearded irises unfurled its ruffled petals into the warmth of the sun this afternoon: Banana Flambe. The color reminds me of lemon custard, and its looks remind me of a large poodle all dolled up with one of those outrageously slightly ridiculous show dog cuts. Except this poodle is sticking its tongue out at anyone who dares to mock it.

First Brat, First Rose

It’s official. While out combatting the aphid population explosion, I discovered the first rose in bloom. Although there are hundreds of buds, this is the first actual bloom, but darn the luck it is not a fragrant specimen. Beautiful but vapid. An empty suit, you might say. But oh, what a suit!

While out there doing my duty for the roses, I introduced myself to the contractor in charge of the renovation next door. And learned that contrary to my belief it was a spec house going on the market as soon as the construction is complete, instead the house has already been sold. A family bought it, and evidently they have three or four children. In my mind and in this day and age, that constitutes a rather large family. I like kids as much as the next person, but I admit it put a bit of a damper on my fantasy of quiet residential life once my daughter goes off to college in a year. Then there’s this:

One of the new iris collection, and on the label it says the name is, I swear, “Brat.” Why anyone would name an iris “Brat” is beyond me. It doesn’t throw temper tantrums, or wreck the car, or buy too many clothes. All it asks of life is a little sunshine. And as the mother of a teenager, I appreciate that.

The Faster I Pedal, The Slower I Seem to Go

Spent the entire bloody day running errands… and almost none in the garden. Trolling around the grounds for a few precious minutes this afternoon, I noticed new encroachments of aphids on some of the roses where none had ventured as late as the weekend. Aargh! It seems to be a losing battle, but I won’t give up easily. Tomorrow morning, bright and early, it’s me and the spray bottle of soapy water. Look out, aphids!

These appeared out of nowhere in the front garden, between two rosebushes where I remember there being nothing but nasturtiums last year. They must have gotten turned under when we put in the new flowerbed, and decided to thrill me with their appearance this year!

At least on my BART ride this morning I was able to knit many rows of my little orange creamsicle shrug. There is a tiny, pitiful hope that I will have some Finished Object photos to share within the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, say hello to Miss Ranunculus. I planted her and several cousins last summer, at which time they promptly turned brown and appeared to die. Imagine my surprise when several appeared, refreshed and renewed, over the last couple of weeks. Isn’t she a beauty?

Diggin’ It

Hands in the earth, dirt under the nails, stepping gingerly around the irises and roses trying not to knock buds awry as I weed, pruning suckers (of which there are many this year), and doing my best to assassinate the local aphid population. Aahhh… heaven on earth. And the abundance is beginning… a veritable bloom explosion.

After a week in colder climes, it is so good to be home. And it only took me about five years to begin thinking of the west coast as Home with a capital H after spending the first 40-odd years of my life back east. My CA friends comment that whenever I return from visiting family on the east coast, my speech patterns still change – I speed up, become more emphatic and definitely snarkier. I guess you can take the girl out of NY, but you can’t take the NY out of the girl! Or maybe it’s like that song – more of a recitation, really – in which a man states that everyone should live on the west coast but not long enough to make her soft, and everyone should live on the east coast but not long enough to make her hard.
The pink dogwood, always one of my favorite harbingers of spring when I did live on the east coast, is just beginning to bloom in my CA garden.

Home Sweet Home

After a week on the road back East, where spring is barely visible to the naked eye now that we are so accustomed to being spoiled by bloomiferous northern California, it is great to be back home. The trip really helped us narrow down the type of university our daughter will want to attend for four years. Big state schools are out, small private ones are in… good thing we had no plans to retire anytime in the next half-century.

I got a LOT of knitting done because my dear husband did most of the driving. Okay, he did all the driving. So, I’ve nearly completed my Swallowtail Shawl (photos to come), and made the back and fronts of the little orange shrug. Two tiny short sleeves and that, too, will be finished. Of course, the seven-stitch edging that has to go ALLLLL the way around the body and sleeves might just make it take a little longer.

Meanwhile, the garden continues to develop into what will be its first mature season. The aphids returned to the roses the minute our car pulled out of the driveway, as far as I can tell. I can just hear them whispering to each other as our tail lights dimmed into the distance, “Hey, they’re gone! Let’s get back to gnawing those rosebuds…” Time to get out there with the spray bottle all over again, I’m afraid.

Aphids don’t eat everything, however, as you can see. This is a “Social Graces” bearded iris from Schreiner’s Irises. It has the looks to be sure, but the fragrance is a bit on the stinky side.

We picked the only navel orange our tree produced this year. That little tree is a trooper, though: it is already covered with new growth and flower buds. I keep telling myself if I do a better job with frost protection next winter, it might just produce a respectable harvest. It could happen. Really.

The bleeding hearts are still among my favorites, and this year they seem to be particularly happy in their dense shade bed.

Weed, Spray, Love… the Garden, That Is

Was outside yesterday weeding on my knees until I couldn’t unbend them. This afternoon it was me against the aphids. Armed with a spray bottle of soapy water, I bombarded them until they ran streaming down the stems and onto the ground. A temporary victory at best, no doubt.

But what fascinated me was the discovery that from bush to bush, some of the roses were loaded with aphids and some didn’t have a single one. How does that happen? Do aphids have prejudices? Do they decide that certain roses taste better than others?

On a happier and much more exciting note, all the roses are covered with buds. By the time we return from college visits next week, I suspect there will be a noticeable change… many new plants will be poised to burst into bloom. Some, like these below, will continue to pump out color for another few weeks and then that will be it… the days will quickly grow too hot and they will die off to the ground for another year.

This will be my final posting for the month of March, so it is with pleasure I show the white California poppies I’d mentioned in an earlier post. They’re not really white, but rather a pale buttercream. I ask every visitor to the garden if they have ever seen CA poppies this color, and to a woman they all say no. It’s kind of wonderful to think we might have a one-of-a-kind, aberrant albino hybrid poppy in our garden.

More of the new bearded irises are budding and blooming, including this one I’m calling Swedish Blonde (mainly because I can’t locate the tag that identifies it). It smells deliciously like lemons and has that austere pallid legginess one might associate with certain Northern European types.

More of the Cymbidium orchids are blooming in their pots. My indoor orchids, as I’ve mentioned, only rarely rebloom from year to year, and it does get discouraging to water pots of leaves and nothing but leaves. So it’s a thrill to see that the Cymbidiums seem to have no such rebloom hang-ups, and instead seem determined to reward me with reliable appearances from spring to spring. Plus, I love that shade of green!

Seriously Bummed, or: Who Moved My Peas?

The pea vines have been shooting up, hugging the trellis, bursting forth with flowers and tendrils exactly as they’re supposed to do. So imagine my consternation (other words come to mind, but this is a family blog after all) when the first peas began to ripen, and I noticed them looking different. Looking oddly… flat. Oddly… empty.

Yes, dear readers, these are snow peas. Not the delicious, crispy sugar snaps I’ve been so eagerly anticipating. Someone at the nursery must have mixed up the seedling six-packs, and like a nurseryful of newborns, I couldn’t tell them apart. In future, I will stick to planting the actual dried peas rather than rely on the nursery to sell me the right seedlings. Sigh… not that there’s anything wrong with snow peas, it’s just that I prefer the snaps. Darn it.

Unidentified Flowering Objects (UFOs) Spring Version

For the life of me I cannot remember the names of these two plants. The little white lantern- shaped cascades of flowers are planted in enormous pots on the back terrace, and the lavendar clusters are perennials blooming in the shade bed along the side of the house. Both are lovely, and both have me convinced that Alzheimers must be right around the corner. I mean, I knew the names of these plants last year, so why can’t I remember them now? It’s very hard to sound like the knowledgeable gardener I aspire to be when I can’t even recall the names of what are obviously regular residents in my flower beds.

On the other hand, these babies below are ones I know well. I finished dead-heading the biggest, earliest daffodils just this evening, for all are spent. The narcissi, however, continue to cheer every visitor approaching the front door. They create a sunny welcoming committee along the front path and around the side garden, where they are interspersed joyfully among the roses and irises.

Today was in the mid-seventies. Last week I was afraid to say anything because it might have jinxed what I now know to be true: spring is upon us. There’s no denying it a moment longer.

I called the nursery to find out why there are only two cauliflowers among the eighteen plants I put in the ground in January. After reviewing my soil amendments, sun conditions, and watering frequency, the nurseryman offered the following possibility: perhaps they are not producing because they were planted too late in the season. And this is the only reason that makes any sense to me. I have a friend who planted her cauliflower seedlings last September, and her efforts produced such an abundance of cauliflowers that she made a deal with a local restaurant to sell them part of her crop. Lesson learned; next time mine go into the ground in the fall!

I might not have cauliflowers, but I will soon – very soon – have sugar snap peas! The first ones are already forming on the vines, which climb higher on the trellis every day. Yippee!

The Hills Are Alive With California Poppies

The poppies add a swathe of orange to the front garden, bringing a smile to my face every time I walk outside. No sign yet of the pink or white ones, but they may just bloom a bit later in the season than the creamsicle orange variety. Talk about delayed gratification!

I even have some California poppy colored yarn: several skeins of Noro Cash Iroha that has been burning a hole in my stash as the weather warms up. This photo doesn’t do it justice, because it truly is just a tidge deeper in color than the poppies, and has none of the coral color that gets picked up in the photo.

The gentle sheen, soft texture, and happy color of this yarn combine to make me crave a sweet little shrug to wear over my summer dresses, such as this one from the “Sweet Tart” section of Vogue Knitting’s Spring/Summer 2005 issue:

Yesterday some friends came to visit from the city and seemed quite taken with our bucolic little corner of suburbia. Although I give the grand tour only when asked (and it doesn’t take much to twist my arm, if you must know), it was as much fun for me to walk around the garden as it was for them to see everything – even though not much is blooming. A month from now – look out!

Evil Genius

That’s what I thought when I discovered this Arum italicum, otherwise known as Italian Lords & Ladies (or in a nod to its rather phallic-looking spadix, as “Willy’s Lily” and “Dog’s Dibble”). It’s a volunteer in the front garden, hiding in a rather out-of-the-way corner as if hoping to escape my notice. I’ve never seen such a sinister-looking plant in my life, and I’ve seen some pretty odd specimens.

What amazes me about this is how completely different it is from all the other Arum italicum plants we’ve been trying in vain to eradicate from the garden since moving in almost eight years ago. The usual suspects have white spathes, veined with green. The spadixes are pale yellow, and eventually mature into stalks of red berries which are striking to look at but proliferate like a flu epidemic if allowed to spread unchecked. The Evil Genius, however, appears so deliciously malevolent that I’m tempted to let it spread out of sheer contrariness…

At the other end of the volunteer spectrum, please give a friendly hello to “Monkey Face” pansies, hundreds of which currently populate a tiny bed right near the front door… and what better welcome could there be?

You can see where my loyalties lie.

Short Row Overindulgence

The Lizard Ridge takes shape! With only one block to go and all the others blocked, it’s beginning to look a lot like a blanket. It’s amazing how much the Noro Kureyon softens up when rinsed and blocked. But Jeez Louise we’re talking a lot of short rows, and a lot of knitting back backwards. I could do both in my sleep by now. Once the blanket is finished, I’ll just mothball it until my darling daughter leaves for college – a year from now!

My road warrior husband has been traveling almost non-stop this month, to the extent that in the last three weeks, he has been home for a grand total of three DAYS! Good thing the only clinging vines around our house are the ones growing outside. Every time he returns home, we make a long, leisurely perambulation around the house and garden so I can point out all the new blooms. It’s amazing how much happens in just five days (he’s been gone Monday to Friday), and how much more I notice when I’m giving him the grand tour.

I planted these calla lilies especially for him since they are among his favorite flowers. We’ve got clusters of them in every shade bed, and all have acclimated happily. This is the first year they’ve bloomed so early, much to his delight.

One of my own favorites is euphorbia, of which this is the last remaining specimen. We planted a dozen of them in a border out by the pool last spring, and one by one they all died – except this one, which is strangely robust and beauteous for no reason I can fathom. That combination of chartreuse and burgundy gives me such visual pleasure… can’t explain why, but it does.

I Know It’s Spring Because My Allergies Are Blooming

… and my nose is dripping

and my eyes are itching…

and my throat is rasping…

Aah, spring has sprung! But at least it’s lovely to look at.

The wild currant flowers are available in several colors, and I am told the currants are edible. The birds beat me to them last year. Perhaps planting this shrub directly beside the bird feeder was not the most brilliant idea. Love the cascades of tiny flowers.

At least I had a two-year respite from allergies when we first moved to CA, during which my sinuses apparently were so confused by the brand new assortment of pollens and fungi and mold that it took several seasons for my allergies to reassert themselves. Thank god for small favors. And that includes the bleeding hearts, which are making their delicate return in the shade bed.

Every few days I find myself wandering around the garden, camera in hand, inspecting every corner for the latest developments. Don’t know where these grape hyacinths originated since I’m certain I didn’t plant them, but every year they reappear.

Brilliant dabs of orange are sprouting up all over the garden, and I do mean everywhere, because my interfering dear, helpful husband decided they were so pretty it would be a great idea to cull and scatter the seeds around the garden after they finished blooming last year. Not usually one to assume the role of Mother Nature’s right-hand man, he nonetheless managed to repopulate the planet with California poppies more successfully than nature ever intended. Never before have I considered poppies – weeds, really, in this environment – an actual groundcover candidate, but this year I am being forced to revise my opinion of their suitability… even after pulling out at least as many as I left in the ground. I’ll be interested to see which colors make the boldest show: there were lots of the orange last year, but we also had unexpected clusters of pure white and of a delicate pink. I won’t mind at all if those turn up in some new locations.

And finally, I’ve realized that my one-year anniversary of this blog passed a couple of weeks ago with no commemoration from me (nor, I confess, with even my realization that it happened), but looking back over my posts I can already see that this year is getting off to a great start. More happening in my knitting projects, and as the garden matures there is definitely more to talk about there, too. 2008 promises to be full of photos and blogging!


Yes, it’s Friday, and not a moment too soon. What a long week; the second one during which my husband has been out of town on business (and home for a mere twenty-four hours in between, poor guy), leaving me nagging and nudging duty exclusive oversight of our teenage daughter. Who happens to be grounded and ill-tempered because her feckless and irresponsible unfortunate habit of text-messaging her friends while driving recently resulted in an unexpected and expensive altercation between axle and curb. Teenagers: can’t live with ’em, can’t lock ’em up ’til they outgrow adolescence. Can you hear me sigh?

At least my daily promenade around the garden is still an effective means to lower my blood pressure. The first geum is in bloom! This division was given to me by a friend two years ago, and it has since quadrupled in size. I’ve added others from the nursery since then, but my friend’s particular patch seems to be of the super-size variety.

More flowering on the sugar snap pea vines, which suddenly seem to have realized that they were planted around the base of the trellis for a reason – that being for them to scramble up toward the ever-warmer sun. I was amazed to see how very vertical they have become just in the last week. There’s nothing more springlike, nothing more encouragingly green – than fresh pea soup.


Where did I hear them called that? Must have been during my childhood when my mother and I took walks through the neighborhood (and either one or both of my sisters were still confined to the stroller) in the early spring. My task was to name the flowers we saw – undoubtedly the beginnings of my love for gardening that has lasted lo these many years. Today I noticed these little-bitty things had popped up all over the garden; juxtaposed with the regular daffodils one can see just how small and darling they are.

Wandering into the vegetable garden, I discovered that the sedum (planted optimistically last spring to fill spaces in the stone wall) has settled in and is in full bloom.

Even more startling are the artichoke plants, suddenly looking like something out of “Little Shop of Horrors.” I salivate at the thought of their potential for prolific artichokage in May and June. If I can just figure out a way to keep the ants off them… or are they to be thanked for eating the equally pervasive aphid larvae?

Sugar snap peas are beginning to flower (which means the peas can’t be far behind), and amazingly I’ve found the first two baby cauliflowers among the dozen seedlings I planted about a month ago. These will be a first for me, and never known for my restraint I tried all the colors on offer at our local nursery: cream, orange, and green. Very festive, and undeniably delicious when roasted in my signature recipe that includes capers and chopped olives. Can’t wait!

The Swallowtail Shawl continues to grow, here bearing a strong resemblance to a sea creature (sting ray?). There is so much of Sundara’s skein of fine Silky Merino still to go that I’m having trouble gauging how much further to continue with the budding lace motif before I launch into the Lily of the Valley borders. Thanks to Anna of My Fashionable Life, I’ll attempt the nupps fearlessly rather than succumb to the temptation of adding beads.

I’ve completed both fronts of the Lotus cardigan as well as one sleeve. I’m about halfway up the second sleeve and have only what the pattern refers to as the “skirt” to go. That should be the fun part. The Lizard Ridge blanket is moving along nicely as well, so I hope to have some worthwhile knitting photos to post within the next couple of weeks.