Introducing… The Ruffled Cardigan

Ta-dah! Is it obvious that I’m mighty pleased with myself? My head is so swelled that it wouldn’t fit in the photos!

Finished the ruffled bed jacket from Knitting Lingerie Style, with my modification of a different ruffle pattern (didn’t care for McGowan-Michael’s version), namely “Fern Lace” from 365 Knitting Stitches A Year, a worth-its-weight-in-yarn little pattern bible. Here’s a detail of the pattern from the sleeve ruffle:

Chose it as much for its tendency to create a lovely rippled edge as for the pattern itself, which decreased nicely on the final repeat so I could stitch it neatly to the cardigan body.

Loved the basic cardigan pattern idea; so feminine, such a lovely fit, and doesn’t it go perfectly over this dress? I never know where inspiration will strike; I’d held onto the Manos del Uruguay yarn for a couple of years, loving that palest shell pink color but not finding quite the right pattern to make best use of it.

Once I found that dress, the proverbial lightbulb went on. I could see it in my mind’s eye, a soft, delicately ruffled jacket to wear over the dress on our cool summer evenings. Then I got my copy of Knitting Lingerie Style, saw the bed jacket pattern, and everything clicked.

If I were to make the cardigan again, I’d do perhaps three additional repeats of the Fern Lace pattern, and stitch the ruffle onto the cardigan body so that the extra fullness settled at the center of the back, to give the overall fit a little more swing and a little less cling. And of course, the crowning glory is this gorgeous carved shell button from my collection of vintage buttons:

Zucchini Anyone?

It’s beginning: the annual summer glut of veggies and fruit. Herewith are Early Girl, Banana paste, and Pineapple tomatoes; zucchini and sunburst squash; and the first of the Bartlett pears:

The peaches are done (and at my husband’s behest I made another dozen jars of “unfancy” peach jam, adding only lemon juice and vanilla bean to brighten the flavor – so much for my fear that the peaches were too small to make jam) and the pears are just beginning.

In a week or so, those that haven’t dropped to the ground will be at the perfect underripe stage to pick and set out on the kitchen counter. These Bartletts definitely ripen best off the tree: I no longer even have to touch them to gauge their readiness. When they reach a particular shade of chartreuse, and perfume the kitchen with a subtle pear-y note, I know it’s time to bake an upside-down caramelized pear tart (from Patricia Wells’ Bistro Cooking). That, as well as pear marmalade, pear butter, and any other pear preserve that strikes my fancy. The local hardware store kindly special-ordered eight dozen jars for me, and I guarantee they will all get used. After pears, there will be FIGS (Proof that Mother Nature saves the best for last).

Little Gardens Everywhere

Visitors bring out the tourist in me. What can I say? With two city kids in tow (my niece and nephew) just waiting to be impressed, I felt it incumbent upon me to show them something impressive. In this case, it was Muir Woods. Nothing like a stand of centuries-old redwoods to silence a couple of urban, easily underwhelmed, talkative kids.

The redwoods worked their magic to be sure, but so did the two-hour hike that on our (not very detailed) map appeared easy and short but in reality involved climbing what seemed to be HUNDREDS of steps up the “Lost Trail” and then curved along the rim hundreds of feet above the valley floor. All I could hear, after a while, was the sound of them panting. And sweating.

“How far do you think we’ve walked?” they asked in hollow and piteous voices after the first hour, stopping again to swig from their water bottles. “It must be MILES by now.”

You’d think so. Back down at the paved trail where less hardy souls strolled in flip flops, seemingly oblivious to the staggering natural beauty all around them, we discovered from a look at the big trail map that in fact we had hiked all of 2.6 miles, although it felt more like 26.

We also visited the Ruth Bancroft cactus garden, which I remembered from my research for a regional magazine article I wrote this spring. In summer, the cacti are astonishing as their blooms open and the flower stalks swarm with bees and hummingbirds. My niece and nephew were suitably captivated.

No one wanted to touch these, but god were they gorgeous:

Having been off-line for a while, I offer a one-word explanation for the lengthy silence: Houseguests. Specifically, my sisters: one at a time, the youngest one with both her children. Enough said.

Have been picking peaches, peaches, and more peaches. My niece and nephew discovered their ripeness despite their being the size of runty apricots (the peaches, not my niece and nephew). I learned that one cannot have both children and fruit trees loaded with fruit in the same garden and expect the fruit not to end up in the children’s mouths. Since their departure, I’ve picked HUNDREDS. No joke, as you can see:

Made two dozen jars of jam so far, and have hundreds still to eat, bake into tarts, donate to friends, and put up into more jams. The top row is peach jam with lavender honey, and the bottom row is peach and raspberry with cardamom. Both recipes are from Christine Ferber’s jam-making bible, Mes Confitures .

The most spectacular of the oriental lilies are in bloom right now. These pink freckled ones with dinner plate-sized blooms are my husband’s favorites.

My own preference is still for the roses, which are in the full flush of a second bloom cycle. These Summer Wine climbers are finally putting out longer canes, giving me hope that they will someday drape seductively and fragrantly over the back fence and trellis.

Since today seems to be all about all things luscious and pink, I can’t resist showing my new cardigan; the modified bed jacket design from Knitting Lingerie Style by Joan McGowan-Michael. I didn’t love her ruffle detail, so chose my own – lacier- version. As soon as it’s dry and can be removed from the blocking board, I’ll model.

Peas On Earth… Everywhere

I have cause to do a happy dance this afternoon. I spent the e-n-t-i-r-e morning cooling my heels (actually devouring Marisha Pessl’s AMAZING first novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics) at the county court house, having reported like the good citizen I am for jury duty. Around lunch time, a nattily attired judge climbed the podium (not exactly like a rappeler or fence-jumper, but with a sprightly bounce in his step nonetheless) to let us know that despite expectations to the contrary all of that day’s cases “had resolved.” He thanked us for our “service” and dismissed us. And that’s it for another year, folks. Is this a great country, or what? I would have been glad to serve, actually. I keep showing up when they call me, thinking finally my day has come, only to have all the perps cop a plea.

And I was afraid it would get too hot too soon for the peas to offer a decent crop this year. Silly me. I give away bagsful every week, and the rest go into salads and stirfries. No, they are not covered with powdery mildew, or fusillarium rot, or whatever it is that plagues peas. That’s merely microscopic condensation from their hour in the refrigerator.

A few more firsts. Optimistically planted a large Costco bag of crocosmia bulbs early in the spring, not quite believing that something so tropical, so exotic, so hot-looking, would actually want to bloom in my garden. And despite my lack of confidence, this is what they look like:

Oriental lilies are everywhere. Ordered the bulbs from Jackson and Perkins, expecting lots of the gorgeous freckled ones with creamy centers and pink-tinted petal edges. Don’t get me wrong, these are attractive. Just not quite what I expected.

I cavalierly tossed a couple handfuls of sunflower seeds into the ground at the fence line in the side yard, where they receive very little water and even less attention. My reward for this neglect is the first bloom, below. Many of the stalks are double the height of the 5-foot fence that separates us from the neighbors, which is a good thing because their (noisy and messy) longterm renovation is well underway to double the size of the house.

Let the Harvest Begin

The vegetable garden is in full swing; I pick sugar snap peas every day, green beans twice a week, a handful of strawberries now and then (and they’re sweeter and more intensely flavored than those at the farmers market), lots of little artichokes, zucchini and yellow scallop squash each week along with Swiss chard and the last of the lettuce, which is bolting now that we had a few Inferno Days last week when the temperature went up over 100 degrees and stayed there until the marine layer came in to cool us off. Needless to say the lettuce, a “cool weather” crop, did not approve.

In the flower beds, pink astilbe is in bloom far later in the season than I would ever have expected. It lives in an area with fairly constant deep shade, which surely had something to do with its June burst of flower. Gives new meaning to the term “late bloomer.”

All pieces of the bed jacket are done and on the blocking board. The jacket’s border is giving me fits, however. Short-rowing just isn’t that difficult, but I’m having problems with the row count (only ten; I can certainly count that far) and getting them to end up on the correct side of the pattern to begin a new repeat. I’m determined to figure this out, but admit I’ve been perusing my pattern books to see if I can’t find a subdued ruffle or edging I might like better than the one specified by McGowan-Michael in her book.

Fifty Down, and Fifty To Go

As of yesterday, I am fifty years old.

Just this once, I don’t have to share:


Yeah, right. Multi-tasking. I’ll just keep telling myself that. Baby sweater obligation completed, I find myself once again with two projects on the needles. The green cardi from Nashua Handknits #3 you’ve already seen in progress, and I’d set it aside to make the baby sweater. Looks like it will remain on the back burner for a while longer, although I do love it and intend to finish it in time to wear in the fall:

I got as far as completing the shaped bottom, which is sort of a modified version of the traditional feather and fan stitch (and I’m doing it in one piece on circular needles to eliminate side seams), when I was struck by the desire – the need – the compulsion – to make a completely different cardi from Knitting Lingerie Style by Joan McGowan-Michael. Needed something subtly amazing to wear over a rather bare summer dress, a nude color with a cream paisley pattern. What a fabulous, feminine collection of patterns she has given us! In my stash, I happened to have (what a coincidence!) enough Manos in an ethereal shade of creamy pink to make the bed jacket shown here:

I know the Manos will pill, but I’ll treat the jacket gently. On size 9 needles it’s a quick project, at least so far. Haven’t yet gotten to the short rowing for the ruffle… always a challenge for me no matter how often I try to master it. I finished the back in an evening, and am a good way up the two front panels today. I’m already trying to decide which of my vintage mother-of-pearl buttons will make the perfect closure at the side.

Have I ever mentioned hollyhocks here? Don’t think so, yet look at this specimen. Taller than the 6′ fence behind it, sturdy of stalk and prolific of flower. My, oh my – gorgeous. I planted several of these about five years ago, but only this one and a couple of the others return year after year. Guess I ought to plant a few more.

This afternoon, in yet another attempt to keep the peach tree from keeling over before the fruit ripens, I culled at least another hundred babies. So sad. Does anyone have a recipe that calls for seriously underripe peaches?

Happy June!

The (Very Big) baby sweater is washed, blocked, and finished except for the buttons: Yippee! The child may not be able to wear it until he enters toddlerhood, but at least I know he’ll fit into it at some point! Made a collar instead of the hood, and my co-knitter found bright toggle buttons to finish it off.

My husband loves these calla lilies, and the color is so unusual. We transplanted them out of a pot into the ground in several locations, and they are just now coming into bloom:

Here are the first strawberries, nice and high up in the pot where Vincent van Bunny can’t reach them. Mr. Lizard is made of plaster, so he remains untempted by their approaching ripeness. Nonetheless, I check them every day just in case. So far, no competition.

This clematis is living proof of the persistence of nature. Every year, the vine gamely poked up out of the ground at one corner of the iron fence. Thinking it a mere weed in my first couple of years tending to this patch of ground, I yanked it up and tossed it into the green waste bin. No pesky kudzu-like vines were about to offer competition to my prized climbing roses! Fast forward six years and suddenly this spring, having planted several other clematis… I realized with a slightly sick feeling that the leaves on this errant vine bear a suspiciously strong resemblance to the clematis that I had planted with such tenderness and care in other parts of the garden this spring. So I let it stay… just to see what it would do. Lo and behold, as the saying goes, this was the beauty awaiting my mortified eyes the other day when I noticed it had burst into bloom, mocking my faithlessness:

Baby zucchini are appearing in the vegetable beds, and tonight I steamed the first little yellow scallop squash to have with dinner. These remind me of little jewels, and this yellow-green color combination thrills me. If only I could find some hand-dyed yarn in this range!

Vincent Van Bunny Makes Himself At Home

Strolling around the garden early this morning, camera in hand, I surprised Vincent Van Bunny (Surely there’s no better name for a one-eared rabbit!) hiding in a corner of the back patio. He bolted out, hopping straight toward me in a panic before veering to the left and under the fence into the neighbor’s yard a la Peter Rabbit. Time to spray that Liquid Fence again. I’m not too upset by his presence – in fact you can probably tell I get a kick out of seeing him – because after all these weeks I’ve seen no evidence that he’s eating my plants. As a precaution, I netted a lot of the vegetables, but even the unprotected ones seem fine. And believe me, I check them every day. Some would say obsessively. I justify that obsession this way: yesterday in my lunch salad I was able to include a handful of tiny, sweet Blue Lake green beans fresh off the vine. Yum.

Lots of new blooms to report. Darlow’s Enigma is another of the heirloom climbing roses we planted early in the spring. The flowers are tiny and sweetly scented, but a LONG way from covering the trellis by which they are planted.

The hydrangea is loaded with flower clusters this year after a particularly hard pruning last fall. The color, although perhaps not so interesting or intense, mixes well in bouquets. Like the lady’s mantle, it adds a note of the green I love as a foil to the other flower colors.

The Zephirine Drouhin climbing roses, nearly thornless as promised by J & P, are just beginning to bloom. They will eventually climb the trellising over the front and back gates.

Reclaiming its regular patch of ground is the bee balm (Monarda) I planted a few years back. Every year it spreads a bit further and by mid summer has gone all leggy and unattractive. But now, in late spring, it attracts the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds in abundance, more than living up to its name.

The baby sweater is nearing completion, especially if I decide to leave off the hood and make it a simple cardigan. I want to be done with it by the end of the first week of June, and since the only seams will be at the shoulder (three-needle bind-off: easy peasy and good-looking to boot) and fitting the sleeve caps into the armholes, that should be doable. After I wash and block it to soften up that Tessin yarn, I will return it to my friend who made the sleeves so she can sew on some cute and colorful buttons.

With my 50th birthday fast approaching, I’ve decided not to indulge in any age-related angst and simply to milk it for all it’s worth. Any friends reading this who’d like to take me out for lunch, dinner, or a drink, I’m saying YES to all offers. And I promise: no whining, no pity parties, no pulling my eyelids up or my neck down to ask, “What do you think? Eyes or neck first? Botox or collagen?” Nope. You won’t hear it from me. The women in my family have good genes; my paternal grandmother lived to 94. If I’m lucky, I’ll do the same, and I’ll be one of those in the scarlet high tops, whacking disrespectful children out of the way with my cane as I skateboard past them in the mall. Then I’ll climb (slowly and carefully) back on my Vespa and putt-putt back to the senior living community.

It’s My Blog and I’ll Knit If I Want To…

Having admitted to myself (the first step to recovery is to admit there’s a problem, right?) that when I’m not in the garden it’s because I’m knitting, and when I’m not knitting it’s because I’m in the garden, I’ve decided to include knitting in the blog (so much for the concept of recovery). For those whose interest is exclusively the gardening, I will continue to post photos of my garden throughout the seasons. But for those who share my alternative passion (knitting, that is) my projects both on the needles and off will now get air-play as well. Such as these tipless gloves I made last fall out of Koigu KPPPM from Sandi Rosner’s little book Not Just Socks.

I try really, really hard to stick to one project at a time. I like to think I’m disciplined when it comes to knitting, although anyone who has seen my yarn stash is falling on the floor laughing by now. But the actual knitting, come on. Seldom will you see me with two or more projects in progress simultaneously. Although below is one project that languished in oblivion – I mean in progress – for the better part of three years while I attended to other urgent matters such as my husband’s birthday sweater which he received mere days after his actual birthday and weeks before Christmas so there.

Shadow the Queen of All Cats loves this beaded shawl, made out of Schaefer Helena from a pattern by Lily Chin. I figured out where to place the beads (not part of the actual pattern) using the “Hoisted Atop Stitches” method in Chin’s book Knit and Crochet with Beads . I had only the one skein, so the shawl is more of a shoulder wrap, but cozy nonetheless.

Thus, we reach my present conundrum. No sooner did I start a new cardigan for myself out of the soft Classic Elite Princess (40% merino, 28% viscose, 10% cashmere, 15% nylon, 7% angora):

than a friend and I decided to share the work of making a baby sweater for another friend’s daughter, who is due with her first baby in mid-June. She’s making the sleeves (read: has already completed the sleeves), and I am to make the body and hood. Well, this morning I finally cast on… because I’d really like to finish my cardigan first but let’s face it, Little Miss Alacrity is making me look bad.

The good news is, the hooded baby sweater is a quick and easy Noro pattern: simple six-stitch cables down the front and around the edge of the hood, on size 9 needles (we’re using Muench “Tessin,” a machine-washable wool blend that gets softer with each laundering).

Spent a solid hour dead-heading the roses yesterday, and realized that the first flush of bloom is nearly over. Time to fertilize the plants and do the Full Moon Dance to the Gods of Rebloom. There are still buds on several of the rosebushes, and if memory serves (god only knows who memory serves lately – certainly not me.) some of them are late season bloomers anyway. This Crown Princess Margareta from J & P has loads of new buds on it and new growth appears virtually overnight just below the latest dead-heading cut.

Below is the first bloom of a new “Arctic Queen” clematis from Chalk Hill Clematis, which I planted early in the spring by the back gate. It has only two forlorn and skinny shoots at this point, and they are so wobbly I had to prop them up with plant supports. The flower, however, is gorgeous. I look forward to the day a couple of years from now when these blossoms smother their section of fencing:

Unidentified Flowering Objects (UFOs)

This was given to me by a friend who couldn’t remember its name. It is an evergreen perennial, and the original clump has doubled (perhaps tripled) in size since she gave it to me. I think, from a perusal of my Sunset Western Garden Book, that it’s Stokesia laevis, or Stokes Aster, but if anyone knows differently, please educate me. Maybe sea holly, or sea lavender?

Our front garden is full of volunteer California poppies in the standard neon orange-yellow. I love their cheerful brightness among the roses, and encourage them to spread. The following, however, brought me up short. Never before have I seen anything like this in the California poppy family:

That’s it for the UFOs, but here are a couple of new flowerers I particularly like. This geranium is of the “Firecracker” variety, with brilliant magenta flower spikes. They’ve been very happy to share a pot with the pink snapdragons.

One of the new climbing roses from Heirloom has begun to climb and bloom. Frankly, the climbing is a little slow for my liking, but the blooms are lovely. The variety is “Super Dorothy,” and the deep rose shade is absolutely splendid. If I close my eyes, I can already see them covering the pergola in the back garden… although that is years into the future. I hope I’m still living here then to enjoy them. The blooms are teeny-tiny bits of rose perfection, and the buds – well, we’re talking the size of my pinkie fingernail. Lovely delicate fragrance, too. One floribunda stem would make a bouquet worthy of Tinkerbell.

Holy Pond Scum!

Oh, how quickly the pristine trickling waters of the new “water feature” devolved into algae-coated, mosquito-infested sludge… and so much for the advice of the delivery guy, who blithely suggested, “Just pour a capful of Listerine into it from time to time: No Problem.” Hah!

The local nursery offered Pond and Fountain Water Cleaner, and I hope it works, because you can see the less than satisfactory results of the Listerine Solution above. Blech! And since I just learned that the new owners of the house next door are planning a 1,700 square foot addition that will virtually double the size of the house, the sound of that fountain may help me keep my sanity while the project is under construction. So much for my fantasy of sitting outside under the pergola this summer, writing and knitting to the splashing sound (not jackhammers and drilling) of the fountain.

That Wascally Wabbit

A distant cousin of Peter Cottontail’s seems determined to take up residence in the garden. I’ve spotted him sitting still as a stone among the primroses, and cozying up to the strawberry pots with their unripe berries dangling temptingly from each pocket, and even – not surprisingly – checking out the vegetable garden. How do I know it is always the same rabbit? Easy. He has only one ear… definitely a distinctive feature, or rather LACK of feature, among the rabbit population.

This guy is obviously a tough customer. No shy little Easter bunny is he. Oh, no. More like the mafia capo of the rabbit species, surviving in the wilds by dint of his cunning and speed… except for that unfortunate incident that cost him an ear. The only rabbit allowed to stay in this garden is this one here: A gift from my daughter for Mother’s Day.

You’d never know it to see this tree, bowed as it is under the weight of ripening fruit, but I have pulled a couple of hundred baby peaches off of it, to try and give these thin, young branches a fighting chance. Sacrificing any of the fruit is always hard; every handful that goes into the green waste bin is one less pie or tart, or one less jar of peach jam I’ll be able to make in July. Better to be noble now than to watch the whole tree rip out of the ground because the peaches are too heavy for it to support their weight. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

The first baby artichokes are making their appearance on the new plants. I’m hoping for three this season, so we can each enjoy one without having to share… because if there aren’t enough artichokes to go around, dinnertime can get ugly in this house!

Floribundajulie’s Amazing Technicolor Dream Joseph’s Coat

I still remember visiting the garden of my daughter’s fourth grade teacher not too long after we’d moved to the Bay area. She had, among many other wonders in her garden, a magnificent Joseph’s Coat climbing rose in full bloom on the afternoon we saw it. I remember being astounded that a single rose plant could host blooms in such a wide variety of colors, splashing across its leafy green backdrop in clear shades of yellow, apricot, orange, coral, and rosy pink.

It is a considerable thrill, then, to look out at my own back yard now and see a Joseph’s Coat rose clamouring across our wrought iron fence with an equally stupendous show of blossoms. It took four years to reach its present glory, but every time I look out the back door I know it was worth the wait.

This is probably anticlimactic, but a few postings ago I promised a photo of that Banana Flambe tall bearded iris that was recently added to the front garden. Although it is disappointingly fragrance-free, the stalks are enormous, easily 36″ high. The flowers themselves are probably close to six inches in size. Here it is: