Everything’s Coming Up Roses

I go out of town for three days (but more about that later) and come back to find a veritable rosefest taking over the garden. There’s this:

And this:

And something I’ve been waiting for, these Zepherine Drouhin climbers winding their way up and around the trellis by the back door. They have the most heavenly fragrance, which hits you the minute you step out the door:

Not to mention the Joseph’s Coat bursting out on the back fence:

Getting in among the thorns to dead-head can be a bitch but I learned my lesson last year. It’s gloves and long sleeves for me from now on. Last year I scratched up my arms so badly it looked as if I had some terrible skin disease most of the summer. A friend turned me on to the benefits of those latex medical supply gloves which allow all the sensitivity of bare fingers but protect me from the worst of the scratches and dirt embedded under the nails.

FO Doubled

Hallelujah and pass the clamatis! Although these were planted last year, this is their first bloom season. Well worth the wait they were, too.

The second FO (although requiring no less effort on my part) is this cropped cardi (From an old summer issue of Vogue Knitting magazine) with lace trim, for which I used five and a half skeins of Noro Cash Iroha from my stash (that orange seemed so “Gotta have it” at the time, but it took me how many years to put it to use?).

I completed the project in a couple of weeks on size 6 needles, and that endless lace trim going ALL THE WAY around the body and neck took as long as the rest of the pieces combined. Not that the seven-stitch, four-row repeat was complicated, just that it required a lot of turning. Here’s a detail of both lace and clematis:

One Tomato, Two Tomato, Three Tomato, Four!

Make that twelve tomatoes. Which was not my intention this year. I planned to cut back. Really I did. After growing nine different tomato plants last summer, I restrained myself at the nursery early this week and purchased only seven seedlings, and that was supposed to be the end of it. Then my husband said (in his patented plaintive murmur that I can never resist), “What about paste tomatoes? How are you going to make pasta sauce and roasted tomatoes for winter soups without paste tomatoes?” And you know, he really did have a point. So it’s HIS fault that I went back the nursery and bought three of these:

and two of these:

Of course, by the time I brought them home there was no space left in the vegetable garden to plant them, as you can see:

That left me with only one option. I co-opted a section of the side garden (well out of sight of the roses and other showy flowers that fill the front beds) and stuck them there. My husband, even after his intensive lobbying for paste tomatoes, wasn’t happy about the location, but I really had no other choice. The soil in that section is especially crappy relatively unamended, so they should be very happy and produce prolific quantities of paste tomatoes. And when he gets to eat them, my husband should be very happy, too.


My Swallowtail Shawl in Sundara’s magnificent Fingering Silky Merino yarn (colorway: Autumn Rose from her lovely Seasons Club) finally makes its debut here:

How anybody could complete this project in a single day is beyond me unless she made it doll-sized. Of course I did size mine up a bit, but not that much. There are errors; this is the first true lace project I’ve done and I understand my limitations well enough to know that if I frogged back to the points of the errors, there was no way on earth I’d be able to pick the stitches up again accurately. So it’s not perfect. But I did my best to make it so, and didn’t catch the mistakes until many rows later, hence my reluctance to rip back.

What a gorgeous, but HOT weekend – we’re talking in the 80s – which I spent sweating to prep the vegetable beds in anticipation of getting these into the ground:

Did I mention I’ve decided to plant blueberry shrubs? I found varieties that supposedly do well in our climate, and I hope they live up to their advertising because there’s nothing I love better than blueberry jam spread on my morning toast, unless it’s fresh blueberries stirred into my yogurt or a liberal handful sprinkled over my cereal.

Now the news tells us it’s going to cool down again, and sure enough today I’m back in my wool socks and a sweater. That’s spring for you. More blooms to share as I sign off:

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.