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.

The Pause That Refreshes

Nothing like homemade biscotti and a cup of hot tea to get the creative juices flowing. A friend came over and baked four gigantic batches of heavenly biscotti with me last weekend: anise, chocolate-almond, lemon-walnut, and chocolate-hazelnut-ginger. She was the smart one, and gave most of hers away.

To restrain myself from devouring all of mine in one gluttonous sitting, I bagged them and stowed them in the freezer. Every few days, I pull out half a dozen and put them on a plate to share with the family. What’s that? They don’t care for biscotti, you say? What a shame! And here I was thinking I’d been the soul of generosity…

Outside early this morning, while weeding and pulling out a pitiful fraction of the California poppies that proliferate like a noxious plague self-sowed in a generous spirit of volunteerism among the rose bushes and irises, I caught the dew still clinging to the leaves just out on these roses:

and – be still, my heart! – the ruby flowering quince actually in flower! It looked like a goner earlier in the spring, and my fantasies of elegantly austere floral arrangements seemed in vain. Then this morning I noticed all these blooms. Not enough to pick, mind you. Those sculptural bouquets will have to wait until next year, but I can be patient. Really, I can.

ADD or Multi-Tasking? You Decide!

Last night I just had to bring my knitting to the high school basketball game. I have no son on the team to mortify with my multi-tasking; rather, my daughter is a varsity cheerleader and I go to the games to make sure she isn’t injured or worse while hoisting one of her teammates up into a paralyzingly terrifying masterful “basket toss” or a ohmigod are they absolutely f—ing crazy?! really cool “liberty.”

In order to maintain a modicom of composure, I knit. And knit. Interspersed with cheers or groans as the actual basketball playing requires. But mostly I knit. So last night I completed a sleeve for the Lotus Cardigan. It was mindless stockinette with sporadic increases and then decreases, the kind of knitting one can do in one’s sleep. Perfect.

When I returned home, however, I picked up the Swallowtail Shawl again. That project requires a little more concentration, since lace is not my middle name. And again, progress was made. I’ve completed eleven out of the fourteen repeats of the buds that make up the center of the shawl. Don’t ask why I’m knitting this on straight needles so far; it just seemed to be the right thing at the time. When it gets a bit larger, I’ll make the switch to circulars. There is so much of the Sundara Fingering Silky Merino I may even size it larger by doing several extra repeats before beginning the Lily of the Valley border.

The garden is a daily delight. In fact, why am I sitting inside at the computer when I could be out wandering around in this:

And this: The plum tree in full bloom. Should every one of those blossoms transform into a plum, we could be in trouble come summer. I love trouble.

Here, There, and Everywhere

Call me crazy, but I think it’s just spring fever that’s making me unable to focus on one project at a time. I, who have always prided myself on finishing one thing and one thing only before starting on a new one, am hopping around in a state of fickleness that is most unlike me. To wit:

Just talking about Sundara’s magnificent Seasons Club yarns a couple of days ago got me hankering to try one of them. The Autumn Rose was calling to me no doubt because once the torrential rain stopped we’ve had sun and blue skies every day… it feels like spring, and my fingers crave softer, lighter yarn instead of the heavy wools with which I’ve been working of late.

I’m making Evelyn Clark’s Swallowtail Shawl from the Fall 2006 issue of Interweave Knits. So far so good, although as you can see not a great deal of progress has been made. I suffer pangs of envy looking through samples on Ravelry, and seeing notes from other knitters who made the entire shawl in a single day.

More glory in the garden. Every day I step outside and find something new in bloom. These cymbidium orchids were potted up on the back patio last winter. I never know with orchids whether they’ll make a comeback or not. Friends of mine have perfected the mysterious art of getting their orchids to rebloom but I am not a member of that club. Certainly the ones I keep inside have seldom rebloomed, to the point that I ask myself why I’m keeping around all these pots of long green leaves. The cat occasionally enjoys munching on them, but making her barf all over the house has never been a goal of mine since I’m usually the one who gets to clean it up.

These violets have naturalized under the back pear tree. I originally planted them about five years ago as two tiny six-packs of seedlings. Now they form a gratifying carpet under that pear tree, and the fragrance is heavenly.

The Rough and the Smooth

In the last few days, the postman has rung the doorbell to deliver some fabulous stash-building additions – as if I needed them which I can always use. Leanne at Beaverslide Dry Goods sent these tweedie beauties, both of which are 100% fine wool:

Prairie Aster, on the left, is a deeper, richer purple in real life. It’s a 2-ply fisherman’s weight, 210 yards per 4 oz. skein, and knits up at 4 st to the inch on #8 needles. Wild Myrtle, on the right, is truly indigo, with lovely neps of softer blue and purple. Also 210 yards per 4.5 oz skein, with 3-4 st per inch on #8-10 needles. I first heard about Leanne’s lovely yarn over at Jared’s blog brooklyntweed, and can’t wait to try it. Thanks for the tip, Jared.

I also received the latest installment of Sundara’s yarn through the Autumn Seasons Club. It’s the Autumn Rose Silky Merino at the bottom of the following group photo. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. But is it autumnal? I’d say no. And that was also my immediate impression of the Copper Over Bamboo Silk Lace (at left in photo) which was my first introduction to the Season’s Club. I’d been expecting a series of yarns in deeper colors like the top two, Bronzed Sienna and Mossy Sock yarns. I agree with Amy at Stash, Knit, Repeat on this.

After reading about Sundara’s yarns for months on other blogs and always missing out when I tried to purchase them from her website, I was excited to sign up for the Seasons Club when she announced it. To be fair, I have never been disappointed in either the quality of the yarn or in the colors themselves. Sundara is an extremely talented colorist with some of the highest standards I’ve ever seen. It’s simply that I gravitate toward the warm, rich fall colors and expected from her description that that’s what I would receive. So although I may not sign up again for a yarn club because obviously the color choices are at the discretion of the seller, it’s been a valuable experience.

More excitement in the garden! With a couple of sunny days in the 60s following hard on the heels of a week of soaking rain (and we seem to be out of danger… looks like we don’t have to worry about another drought summer this year), spring has popped. A walk around the house revealed the following yesterday: Narcissus everywhere.

We had given up the vinca for dead once we ripped out all the nasty junipers from the front yard and started from scratch. Slowly over the last year it has made a come-back and now is in full bloom, creating a carpet of ground cover among the roses and daffodils.

Of all the hellebores planted around the garden, these dramatic burgundy ones are my absolute favorites. Vaguely sinister, they face the ground, concealing their dusky beauty until you turn their blooms upward for a closer look.

Of course, we could get another month or more of rain, but the respite is lovely. Last year, the new plum tree produced sparse blossoms, and even sparser fruit – in fact, there was exactly one plum on the entire tree, and that was IT. So I find it vastly encouraging that this year the tree is covered with buds. We pruned it back hard last month when it was all just bare twigs, and it seems to have appreciated the effort. Now if only some of those blossoms will develop into fruit for this summer.

More of the crocuses opened in the rain. Lots of the yellows, a few of the whites like these, veined with the faintest lavender, and I think I spotted a couple of purple ones getting ready to bloom as well. More soon!

Sick of Being Sick

Still sick… a full week and counting. Back to the doctor tomorrow if I can’t shake this lung-rattling cough by morning (Oh, yeah, as if another twelve hours will make a difference when an entire week hasn’t been long enough to get it out of my system). Finished the antibiotics yesterday… shouldn’t I be feeling at least a LITTLE better by now?

Managed to pull myself together sufficiently to go to Stitches on Friday with a friend who is also recovering from a cold. We tried not to cough all over people, but frankly I’m not sure it mattered because everyone there seemed to be either getting over a cold or in the middle of one just as bad as mine. Lots of nose blowing going on. Shopped with greater restraint than usual, since my stash has clearly met that “can’t possibly use it all up in my lifetime” level of abundance. In addition to a few pairs of Lantern Moon needles and some short DPNs in a variety of sizes, I couldn’t resist the gorgeous yarns at the Brooks Farm Yarns booth. This deep, rich eggplant purple one is “Mas Acero,” a wool, silk, and viscose blend that has a lovely sheen and soft hand:

“Solo Silk,” below, is a 50/50 fine new wool in a stunning geranium color that the photo does not accurately replicate. It is next-to-the-skin soft and I can’t wait to make my first project with it.

At Stitches I met Jess and Casey from Ravelry.com, who are even more delightful in person than they seem on their blogs. Although they sold out of tee shirts and tote bags within a couple of hours of Stitches opening for the day, you can tell that success has not gone to their heads.
This week, in addition to plugging away on the Lizard Ridge blanket, I made these two swatches for a project I have in mind:

I’m not saying any more for now… have to see how it all knits up. Swatching is fun, though. I always love to see if the yarn behaves the way I think it will and if the idea in my head will translate accurately. Some experiments are more successful than others.

In spite of another day of torrential downpours, spring has sprung and every day I see more flowers bloooming. The primroses in this pot by the front door return year after year, but since I always add a few other things during the dark weeks when the pot looks bare and I convince myself that the brown stubs in it won’t amount to anything, they always surprise me. It’s the 50 First Dates of entryway flowers.

I also planted about 100 crocus and narcissus bulbs last fall and they are really popping now. Having them line the front walk adds some color and cheer to even the crappiest day.

Hacking and Wheezing and Sniffling

I don’t get sick very often, but when I do it’s as if my body is determined to make up for all those healthy months by knocking me flat on my ass. Well, on my ass I am, and I’ve landed in the squishy middle of a pile of used tissues and cough drop wrappers. The doctor says bronchitis and I say flu (in spite of the flu shot for which I dutifully rolled up my sleeve last fall), but the bottom line is I am effing miserable. So miserable that I spent all day yesterday in bed, moaning and dozing. Too miserable to knit even though I had the entire day to myself… and that’s pretty miserable. Every-muscle-in-every-body-part-aching-miserable.

I even succumbed to the lure of a good squirt of Affrin knowing full well I’d pay the price when it wore off and I suddenly couldn’t breathe again only even worse than before I used it. You know what I’m talking about.

Even this doesn’t make me feel much better:

Well, maybe a little.

Confessions of a Cheating Knitter

What you see above is the back of Berroco’s Lotus cardigan, which I started over the weekend. See, the Lizard Ridge blanket is really, truly about 75% done, and my darling daughter won’t be leaving the nest to start college for another year. I thought I’d do a square here and a square there, taking my sweet time to find twenty-five different colors of Kureyon for it, but found myself obsessed. I finally mastered short rows, and couldn’t seem to get enough. And, there was the bonus technique I had to learn of knitting back backwards… well, I just couldn’t stop myself. And then, suddenly –

BOREDOM reared its ugly head. I needed a quick and easy distraction from the very same, but suddenly interminable short rows and knitting backwards of the Lizard Ridge. So I started the Lotus cardigan. I’ve had the Noro Kochoran in my stash for a couple of years and even though it sheds like a himalayan cat in the middle of summer it is also very soft and the color transitions are so delectably subtle… I had to do it. Quick and dirty stockinette. Love it sometimes. I did the back in one day in between other things, something to occupy my hands while hubby drove or watched yet one more basketball game on TV.

I may be cursing the distraction once I get to the “skirt” section that attaches to the bodice. I already noticed the part where the pattern says to cast on four hundred and twenty-two stitches. Might not be quite so speedy when I get to that point in the pattern. Meanwhile, a little more mindless knitting for the fronts and sleeves should inspire me to get back to the blanket.

Meanwhile, the garden continues to surprise: Camellias –


And an early spring bouquet to inaugurate the beautiful vase my friend Allison gave me for Christmas:

Hellebores and Hardenburgias Galore

Camera in hand, I stroll the grounds of my little patch of northern California dirt and am astonished to discover that suddenly, when I turned my attention momentarily to other, indoor-type pursuits, the garden absolutely exploded with early spring blooms. White, pink, and burgundy hellebores bow their heads toward the ground as if they are terribly self-conscious about their adorable freckles: if these plants had feet they’d be scuffing the ground in an “Aw, shucks” manner.

Photographing them in their natural faces-to-the-ground position after nearly two weeks of rain is quite a trick. The ground is wet-sponge sodden; the knees of my jeans soak through in an instant as I bend and twist trying to capture the hellebores’ faces. I’d need a heavy tarp if I wanted to lie down on the grass and get a really good angle on them.

The hardenburgia is in full bloom, like miniature wisteria only not as messy and without the heady fragrance. These were planted exactly a year ago, and a killing frost burned them right back to the ground. Not a single flower opened last spring, so this year’s display is most welcome. I just hope they don’t get too attached to the fence, since as soon as our next-door neighbor’s renovation is complete (yes, that’s still in progress. The siding is up, the roof is on, and the hammering and pounding is – thankfully – mostly inside at this point) we will replace that section of fence with a taller one.