Garden report, 10 March

Hello hello. The snow and frost are gone and we’re back to our normal springtime weather, which is to say, it rains a lot less and sometimes the sun comes out, but it still isn’t very warm, though this weekend might creep into the 60s. OooOOOooh.

I have the greenhouse going and all’s well there, though. Lots of bareroot hostas, peonies, bleeding heart, and tricyrtis are potted up and sprouting in big pots, and I have several seed flats doing their things. I have tomato seeds sprouting on a heat mat indoors, and wow, are they ever gratifying. So vigorous compared to the perennial seeds out in the greenhouse.


I saved seeds from a punnet of Trader Joe’s “heirloom” cherry tomatoes. They came in four colors, red, orange, yellow, and chocolate, and I wanted to see if they’d 1. grow and 2. come true to their parents. So far they’ve done item 1 in abundance, with a germination rate of over 75%. If they really are heirlooms then the fruit will be like their parents and I’ll be in clover as far as tomato seed is concerned.

As far as actual blooming plants, those are still pretty thin on the ground. Hellebores and snowdrops are the main show.

The last two years, I bought half-price clearance hellebores from an online retailer I’d been used to ordering from. Their plants are quite small though, and don’t hold up well to the fungi and viruses that are so rampant around here. I haven’t lost any, but some are puny even after having a year to get their roots down. So this year I sprang for two full-price, big, healthy new hellebores from a nearby nursery. This is a better way to do it. They’ll bloom–a lot–next year, and resist disease.


The camellias are also blooming, which is the latest we’ve ever seen them do it. I think this is because I pruned them too late last summer and took off many of the developing buds, but they’re probably due for a solid dose of compost and some special feeding this year, too.


I planted a lot of fritillary bulbs last fall, but this spring I couldn’t resist buying some pots of them already in the green. Those are beginning to bloom for me now, and they make me want to grow nothing but fritillaries, everywhere, all the time.


Besides seed starting and bud-watching, gardening at this time of year is about cleaning up. The new shade garden–I call it the Secret Garden–is under a line of black pines that drop needles and sticks in the winter windstorms, so before everything begins to grow I’m raking out the big chunks, leaving the rest to rot into ericaceous compost, which is what the plants in that area like. It’s not glamorous work, but it’s necessary. Also on the docket: use sharp sand and a push broom to scrub moss off the hard surfaces; spread nutritious compost in beds that want it; and for pity’s sake, keep a record of where the spring bulbs are planted, so I know where to plant MORE in the fall.

That’s it for the garden round-up. I am writing more books, baking bread, KonMari-ing the house, and cooking up more knitting patterns, too. Look for a new sock pattern release as soon as I can finish knitting the model. I really love this one!


The garden begins

Okay, here we go. We’ve just had a horribly cold, snowy week but the weather was nice before and after it, and we’re eight weeks out from the average last frost of the year, so I’ve put a new cover on my little greenhouse and sown the first round of seeds.


My kid was…holy cats…SO happy. She danced and sang and wrote out the markers for me, carried pots here and there, even poked her fingers in the dirt, which was unimaginable last year. She wanted to “garden all day,” and ate her lunch in the greenhouse. Life felt very, very good.

I’ve started the flower seeds marked as to-be-sown 6-8 weeks ahead of the last frost, including three varieties of foxglove, lavender, cerastium, rockcress, bergenia, dianthus, sweet peas, and I don’t know what all else. I also tried the marigold seeds I saved from last year and, because I’ve never grown them and don’t know what I’m doing, sowed all the annual artichoke seeds. It will be a learning experience.

Then we potted up all the cheap bagged hosta roots I’ve bought. Fourteen so far. Is that enough to be going on with…? Today is looking like another nice day. We will pot up the peonies.

I’m older and wiser this year, in my gardening and in my writing. I feel like I’ve completely given up on clinging to first efforts, or the idea that anything lost is a failure. I have sown seeds here that I hope will grow into plants I won’t use, because a good garden is as much about what you don’t put in as what you do. Ditto books. I am ready to rip out a whole sub-plot. A little nonplussed that no one who read the MS told me to. We’re still in the early stages with it, but it’s moving ahead faster than I thought.

Which I hope the garden will, too. Everyone said that last spring was the coldest and wettest on record. Gardeners were livid. Stuff that needed warm soil couldn’t be put out until June. Here’s to a better, happier year.

Leyline Socks

Hello everyone! I’ve uploaded a new sock pattern to Ravelry (they really make it so easy).


First coined by archaeologist Alfred Watkins in 1921, the term “leyline” refers to alignments of landforms and ancient manmade structures in the landscape. They likely came about as a line-of-sight navigation system in the prehistoric world, but some think they might have had spiritual significance, too.


Leyline Socks are knit toe-up with a Turkish cast-on and short row heels. The easily memorizable chart ensures that you won’t need a line of sight to the instructions after you get going, leaving plenty of brainpower to ponder your own spiritual significance.

Parritch Socks

Parritch Socks designed by me


I’m completely sold on knitting socks with solid-colored yarns, these days. I had fifteen years’ worth of fun with stripes and hand-dyes, and now I’m enjoying the serenity and control of working with single colors.

Which isn’t to say I don’t like to mix them up. Contrast-color toes, heels, and cuffs are so cute, especially when done in white or cream.

For these socks I used Hawthorne Bare from Knitpicks for the contrast tips and Regia 4-ply #2143 for the main body of the sock. This gray is a special gray–a little creamy, a little warm, just the color of oatmeal. The first row you knit after doing the cream-white toes is almost indistinguishable. Only when you get an inch or two into it does the contrast become apparent.

I have published this pattern on Ravelry, which is a first for me. It’s available here. If you try it and have any problems please let me know…and also send me photos of your finished projects.


Winter projects

January is usually one of my favorite months. I love Christmas, but it’s a relief to have it over and the decorations packed away–to eat simple food again and look forward to the year ahead with all that holiday pressure off.

I knitted these nubbly-chevron socks out of KnitPicks Hawthorne Bare, which I may or may not have blogged about. I bought a bale of twenty skeins of it in late 2016. It’s a nice yarn to knit with, texturally similar to Koigu KPM.

And these broken seed stitch socks were knitted from Knitpicks Hawthorne Speckle in a colorway I don’t remember–one with primary colors–and Cascade Heritage Sock in red. That’s another lovely sock yarn.


Here’s the new sock. Hawthorne Bare toe, then on to Regia 4-ply in embossed stitch for the foot. Historically I haven’t liked to knit with Regia sock yarns; they have a crackly, kinky feel that put me off. I recently discovered that they come in a rainbow of neutral heathers, though, and this one (romantically named 2143) is my favorite. Warm, creamy gray.

I’ve also been turning leftover Christmas clementines into pomanders. Don’t ask me why; I’m not entirely sure myself. As my collection of them has grown, so has their orangey, spicey scent, and I’ve begun to hope the whole thing hasn’t been a total waste. I got the curing mixture recipe from The Scented Room by Barbara Milo Ohrbach. It’s also inspired me to grow some sweet herbs for potpourri making, this summer.

Doesn’t that throw you right back? Potpourri? Dried-flower wreaths? Making sachets with your mom in 1984, out of leftover dark-green calico from your mother-daughter Christmas dresses?

No? Just me, I guess.

Since the pomanders gave me a taste for long-haul kitchen projects, I started the Deep-Sea Purple Kraut from Recipes from the Herbalist’s Kitchen by Brittany Wood Nickerson. This book held me in thrall all through the holidays, when I was too busy cooking family recipes to make anything from it, but no more. I procured some dulse, and the kraut is now quietly fermenting (and running over…) in a corner of the pantry.


Garden time is sneaking up on us. Here in the Puget Sound area there’s no hard freeze, so perennial beds need weeding all winter. I’m working on cutting back perennials and shoveling out the previous owners’ muck-mound into the rest of my veg patch. I’ve also sowed some columbine seeds–Barlow mix–to eventually plant out in the Secret Garden. If they grow. I’m doing it now because they need stratification. They’re resting in cell packs beside the barn, soaking up the chilly rain.


One more winter project, though it’s more of a yearning. I have this collection of tiny glass bottles. All shapes, some amber and some clear. What the hell do I do with them? A teeny apothecary seems called for; one for my Sylvanian Families mice to maintain. There are a lot of sensible things to occupy me, though, so for now I only get the bottles out to admire them.

Hope you’re having a quiet winter, too, and yearning for spring.

The snow and the dark



My spirituality is a slowly evolving thing. I grew up in a culturally-Christian but not-a-church-member No Man’s Land, and after spending a little energy as a teenager investigating whether I really wanted religion (I didn’t), gave up spirituality altogether. Life in one’s twenties is hard enough without these questions.



In the early days with my husband, maybe on our first date but certainly within the first month, he told me about a Green Man in the woods near his house. He showed me it, and it was a good one: visible from exactly one spot, at exactly one angle, created by the juxtaposition of about three trees. It was undeniably a face. There were a lot of oaks in that wood; he called us Druids.



Now that we’re farther north (above the 47th parallel), the Solstices seem important. Summer days become so impossibly long, winter days so impossibly short. Loving the Wheel of the Year seems, to me, as natural and universal as it comes. I’ve put one on the wall in our kitchen–a nice one with eight hooks so you can turn it around as the seasons pass, with the solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days at the top as they come and go. We go to the Julefest in a nearby Scandinavian-heritage town, where men in Viking helmets and fake furs row a longboat to shore, recite the litany of time, and light a bonfire to celebrate the returning light. This year, too, we went on a Solstice walk in a nearby woodland: two hundred people carrying lanterns, walking single-file through the forest at night. It was. . .very dark. I’m glad I did it. I don’t know if I’ll do it again.



And Christmas. I love it with all the standard American trimmings: a lighted tree, decorated with glittery ornaments and little forest animals. Cards to people far away. Extra-special baked goods. Special music. The Christian aspect is lost on me, but I do see that after the Winter Solstice we hold our breaths for three or four days, to observe that the light really is coming back, that that at least we can depend upon–and then we celebrate.

So that’s what it is to me. Happy post-Solstice, everyone. Here comes the sun.




Fall is here, for real. After a terribly dry summer the rains have come. It’s a little disorienting but also comforting. We can stop trying so hard now, out in the gardens. The compost is turned. The harvest is in. Time to rest.

I canned 27 pints of applesauce made from our own apples, this year. The best kind has lots of fresh ginger in it, so as soon as I figured that out, I did the rest that way. I made 24 half-pint jars of blackberry jam from our blackberries, too, and heaven knows who’s going to eat it. The tomato harvest was late but bountiful and we ate as much caprese salad and BLTs as we could hold, never mind eating them out of hand, while still standing in the garden. Basil was good, too. I’ve made pesto three or four times.

And now that it’s rainy and chilly, everything outside is succumbing to the inevitable creeping mold, and we turn our attention to the real “fall foliage” around here: mushrooms.

I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll keep saying it: I love all these beautiful things that grow in the damp. Fungus, lichen, slime mold, primitive plants. The desert is interesting to visit, but give me trees and moisture. My skin needs to suck it up.

And since it’s coming on mushroom season, my husband is starting some of his own: shiitake and oyster mushrooms. We have plenty of old logs sitting around the place. He drilled this one full of holes and inserted the mycelium plugs. Fingers crossed that they grow.


I lost my words this summer.

I don’t know why, just that I lost the desire to write things down. Stories. Blog entries. Lists. Daydreams. My imagination stopped working.

Maybe I haven’t been feeding it enough books and music, or maybe I’ve been feeding it the wrong ones. Maybe having my daughter home for the summer, with all her still-only-six-years-old demands and no reliable respite from them, sent my creative mind into hibernation. Maybe I worked so hard in the garden that there was no energy left, or maybe–maybe–my life has finally become full enough that I don’t need to live other ones on the side.

Or maybe the long wait for approval is grinding me down. I’ve had all my books out of sales for a long time, which means no one is reading them or reviewing them or saying anything to me about them. And I thrive on outside attention, yes I do.

Anyway. I was here this summer. I summered hard. We walked in parks, we swam in the pool, I put in a flower border and a shade garden and a vegetable patch, we picked blackberries and I made jam and canned plums and got a lot of sunshine and sweated my ass off.

And now school’s back in session and it’s time to slow down. I’m back to writing. Back to trying to love some other characters. And I’m afraid, so very afraid, I won’t.

But I’m trying.


We’re back from a week in the desert, where my parents have moved. I was looking forward to some heat and sunshine after the cold Pacific Northwest spring we’ve had. I got it, but my body is getting older and adjusting isn’t quite as quick as jumping into a cold swimming pool, anymore. My husband went fishing in the hills of Santa Fe County and came down with a severe fever and weakness the next day. I was worried he might have plague (three confirmed cases there in the month of June, if you think I’m joking) but no buboes formed and the fever went away, and though he’s been dragging himself around as if half-dead, I think it was only Airport Germs.

Coming home was instructive, as always. The gardens flourished without me. Things in the veg patch are three times as big. Only the newly-planted things in the raised beds, which dried out rather badly, didn’t thrive, so I’ve been tearing them out and replacing them with nearly-forgotten corms. I have sixteen dahlias I hope will come up, and a row of five cannas that are growing so well that I’m ashamed of myself for having neglected them.

And it felt cold, here. Pleasantly wet though. A week of Russian sage and cholla and artemesia makes a stark contrast with the hardhack, daisies, and blackberries of home. Foxglove season is coming to an end. The swathes of them along the highway have bloomed up to their tippy-tops, and the fireweed is opening, looking like their skeletal ghosts.

While my husband was sick in the desert I took Benadryl and slept on the sofa. It’s surprisingly okay, if you hug a pillow and put another between your knees, but drugged sleep isn’t real sleep and now that we’re home, I’m diving into bed each night and sleeping hard. I am working hard at sleeping well. Age comes into play again, though, and I’m not recovering very fast. My brain is fuzzy, my temper short, and the very thought of trying to write–especially since our daughter is on Summer Break and needs perpetual companionship–is unthinkable.

And so I wander. My favorite book is Howard’s End. I wish I could be a Mrs. Wilcox. Or maybe I am. It feels conceited to say I am, but I’m not a Bast and the Schlegels of the world frighten me. Left to my own devices I’m interested in all sorts of things, and come up with all sorts of clever things to say, and start to feel good about myself. So I say one of my clever things to a Schlegel and she comes right back with something cleverer for which I have no reference point, and I’m lost. Quietened. There is nothing impressive about me; my stories, my degrees, my work history aren’t stellar compared to any Schlegel’s. All I have to fall back on is myself, and the place I go when I’m alone. I wander and I rest and, after a long time, I find something new to feel happy about.

Like the wildflowers. God, I love wildflowers. Everywhere I’ve lived. They’re particularly impressive here, though, and we have over three acres of them, so I cut bouquets. I have to put my vases on mats of aluminum foil to keep the cat away, but I lay down the foil and bring the bouquets in anyway. My house is a mess. The bouquet is lost in the coats and shoes and unsorted mail of the front hall. I try to remember what it was like when it was just me–in my small single-person space–in complete control of where objects ended up. I think I was tidier. I would have straightened up the whole hall and taken pictures of it, then. Now, I don’t have the time or energy to seek approval. I am me. I ramble in the meadow. I have fuzzy thoughts. I live in the midst of my slightly messy but plague-free family. And one day, after I’ve been home enough, I’ll start to feel clever again and I’ll write.