Pinkness in Paradise

Paradise being my own back yard, of course. This summer, with high gas prices and many work and social obligations, we are taking what has come to be known as a “Staycation.” Plenty of time to relish things I might ordinarily take for granted, such as the reappearance of the sole remaining hollyhock that blooms year after year. Somebody forgot to tell this gigantic specimen that it’s supposed to bloom every other year. The back patio under the shade of the pergola has become my private little oasis, and if the pool ever heats up we will use it.

That is, if the smoke ever dissipates from Northern California’s terrible fires. I begged off meeting a friend to walk this morning because, when I went outside early to pick up the newspapers, the smell of smoke hung in the air like cheap aftershave splashed on by a heavy-handed teenage boy hoping to impress his favorite girl. I didn’t spend ten years taking asthma meds for nothing. No power walk for me.

Before returning inside to get started on my Big Secret knitting for the morning, I snapped these reminders that pink is good.

Sometimes, pink is very good. And sometimes, it’s just pristine.

Scones with Jam, Anyone?

Still no new knitting content to share, but last night I took a break from the Big Secret Project to make cherry jam with my friend Diane, who brought over a cooler filled with about 16 pounds of sour Morello and sweet Black cherries from the trees in her orchard. Here’s what we made over the next three hours (We’ve got this canning thing down to a science, let me tell you. What would once have taken me the better part of a weekend I can now do in half a day, and with a second pair of hands it goes even faster.) in our own patented assembly line fashion:

Morello and Black Cherry Jam with Kirsch

Sour Cherry Preserves with Almonds (Lip-smackingly good over cheese)

Black Forest Preserves (Sweet cherry jam infused with cocoa and amaretto… unbelievably delicious over ice cream. We had to taste test, naturellement!)

We made roughly fifteen eight ounce jars of each, and Diane left the last four-cup baggie of frozen cherries in my freezer. Thanks, Diane! They won’t go to waste.

It was a fabulous break from the deadline knitting (which I have to do with my right elbow resting on an icepack at this point, due to a sudden case of the dreaded Knitter’s Elbow), even though I felt a little guilty taking the evening off. There’s something so satisfying about making preserves: that sense of connection to our past, the camaraderie of shared labor, the glistening jewel-like colors of the final product and their delectable flavor. All this rolled into an activity that makes me feel productive and frivolous at the same time.

Blue Tuesday

Although I have no knitting content today because of the top-secret project that is taking all my spare time, I can still share color. Today’s palette is blue and all its’ cousins.

The blueberries are doing exactly what they are supposed to do as they ripen, providing me with a handful every couple of days to top off my bowl of cereal or yogurt:

After a pallid and truthfully rather blah beginning, the hydrangeas have blued up nicely, quelling my fears of insufficient nitrogen in the soil. Against the backdrop of white climbing roses (shown in earlier posts), their blue intensifies dramatically.

Up front, clusters of transplanted agapanthus have finally settled in, going in short order from this pod which strangely reminds me of one of the Seven Dwarves (must be the rakish angle of the little peaked cap):
to this:

And finally, the asters are in full bloom, swarming with bees (no colony collapse in my neck of the woods, as far as I can tell). Not exactly blue, these are the cousins I mentioned above.

Squash on the Barbie?

It’s begun! The vegetable invasion, I mean. The last two evenings, I’ve had enough green and yellow squash from the garden to grill it with the rest of dinner. This is my favorite time of year.

There are also baby tomatillos and tomatoes. I go out to the garden every day to check on their progress, drooling in anticipation.

It will be a few weeks at least before I can actually pick any of these, and experience in this case does not make me more patient. It’s quite amazing how three little tomatillo plants can produce what appears to be several hundred tomatillos. This just might be the year when I set up that table at the top of the driveway to sell surplus produce.

And on my way to the vegetable garden, the asiatic and day lilies catch my eye with their tidal wave of warm color.

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).