If You Believe In Fairies…

I clapped my hands all the way home from the nursery this morning, because I had found this:

Say hello to the “Tinker Bell” dwarf agapanthus, with those smashing variegated leaves. I bought two, divided them into four plants, and interspersed them among the other agapanthus along the front walk where they unquestionably rule this part of the summer.

On my way back into the house, I caught this little guy making eyes at me:

Seriously, he stood on his rock enjoying the sun (now I know I was a lizard in a former life!) and never flinched as I crept closer and closer with camera in hand.

Now that the Big Secret project is en route to Interweave Knits, I’ve been able to turn my attention back to other knitting projects. I completed the final block and stitched together my daughter’s Lizard Ridge take-to-college blanket, and am halfway around the edge with a crochet border. Will finish that up while I make eyes at Keith Olbermann on MSNBC later this evening. How dare they let him take such a long vacation? Not that Rachel Maddow isn’t wonderful in her own way, but she ain’t no Keith.

My attention is distracted by what to pack for my trip to NY. No, Silly, not the clothing. Who cares about that? I’m far more concerned with what to knit during those five and a half hour plane trips to and from CA. Yes, I know I need to make progress on my husband’s birthday sweater, but his big day isn’t until mid-November and I’m not quite over my lace cravings yet. Whatever else goes into that carry-on bag – and yes, it’s all carry-on these days – this little number is definitely coming with me:

Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend, 30% Silk, 70% Merino Extrafine Wool. Colorway 3113, in every luscious shade of spring imaginable. A subtle sheen to the fiber. Lovely. Makes me happy just to look at it. See what I mean?

Dog Days of July

No new knitting to show for myself (not again!), but very exciting news… The Big Secret Project is finished!!! It is assembled from stem to stern, and drying from its last blocking bath on the board right this minute. All that’s left to do is sew on the single button that goes, well – you’ll see where it goes… eventually.

Now I just have to send it off with the pattern written in five sizes (That has taken more time than I care to admit because I am so mathematically challenged) and I’ll be able to breathe again. And get back to my own projects for a while.

In the meantime, a few gardening photos to entertain you until there’s some knitting content I can reveal. I’ve been picking the first plums ever from our tree. These are Santa Rosas – deliciously tart on the outside but sweet closer to the pit.

I love the coral-bark maple, which especially in summer reveals its elegant color contrast. Something about that chartreuse and coral color combination sends a thrill up my spine every time I see it. It pops, it sizzles… it just gets me.

My fears about the agapanthus we divided and replanted have been put to rest after much fretting. The first year they struggled mightily for survival after we put them along the front walk during the relandscaping project. But as you can see, agapanthus, both white and purple, positively rules the walk this summer. Even during this miserable heat wave, they don’t show the least inclination to bow their heads.

Waiiit For It…

So close to ripeness… Candy sweet cherry tomatoes cooperatively climb the trellis that migrated from our front walk to the vegetable garden when we relandscaped last year. Soon they’ll hang down in clusters like small bunches of grapes from the top of the trellis. Planted red ones on one side, and yellow on the other. Pretty to look at, and pretty delicious, too.

So close to edibility… the first Satsuma plums from the new tree. As luscious as they look now, only when they turn deep purple will they be ready to pluck.

So close to sinking my teeth into pure homegrown goodness… Black mission figs from the Central Valley are flooding our grocery stores already, but mine are late bloomers. I’ll look forward to eating the first of these in late August if I’m lucky. But every day throughout September, I’ll pick a handful to sweeten my yogurt at lunch time.

So close… But not close enough.

A Week of Progress

The Big Secret Project is coming along. I can’t quite see a light at the end of the tunnel, but an important milestone has been attained. Despite the do-overs, the scratched-out notes on the pattern-writing, and my increasingly cross-eyed contemplation of the pile of knitting as it grows in my lap, I’m feeling more confident as I go along. To keep my strength up, I plot meals as I knit. I mean, a girl’s gotta eat, right?

Last night we grilled several of these babies:

And a half dozen of these banana peppers:

to have with our dinner. Mm-mmm. They were delicious!

Purple in Perpetuity

Still no new knitting content to share, but here is some natural color for your viewing pleasure. Today’s color, in many of its glorious permutations, is purple:

I’ve got a real passion for purple lately… when I consider that my last several yarn purchases fall into that color family. My hands down favorite at the moment is this lovely skein from Sundara:

It is her scrumptious Fingering Silky Merino in Amethyst Over Pearl. When I took it out of the packaging, I was gobsmacked by its loveliness. I’m toying with a couple of different shawl patterns that I think could do it justice. It is these things about which I fantasize while I’m plugging away on the Big Secret Project.

I also recently acquired some hand-painted merino from Lanas Puras, a semi-solid Melosa Worsted in Eggplant. Never have I seen a more aptly named skein. When I saw this, I had to buy enough to make a sweater. One of these days, I will.

I realize that photos of droolingly delicious yarn do not compensate for the lack of actual knitting on this blog lately. My husband’s birthday sweater was progressing so nicely, and I am still determined to complete my daughter’s Lizard Ridge blanket in time for her to take it to college with her. But for the meantime, I’m committed to meeting my deadline on the project for Interweave Knits’ Winter 2008 issue. That’s all there is to it. The design challenges of the project do make me occasionally question my sanity, but I think the end product will be well worth all the swatching and calculations.

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.

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.