Category Archives: Flowers

Dyeing with Hollyhocks

A year and a half ago I started Niger Hollyhock seedlings in hopes of dyeing with them. I ended up with about six plants, three of which blossomed, one that was incredibly happy, sent up many stalks and bloomed proficently (you can see them in the garden here). For months I collected the blossoms and dried them on my desk. Late last week, fed up with a desk full of dried blossoms, I decided to take the plunge and make up the dye. I had high hopes that this would yield me a beautiful blue, and it did, sort of. As you can see, I got two different colors, a blue on the left and a, well, what color is that? Greige? That’s because I divided the dye up into two batches. Half of my yarn was mordanted in alum and that was what took on the blue-ish color. The color on the right came from being dyed in a copper pot, which also acts as a sort of mordant (mordant being what makes the wool able to properly absorb the hold onto the dye.). What was most interesting is that at the last moment I dropped in a bit of left over yarn from a previous project that was 80% wool & 20% silk into the alum dye bath. That yarn soaked up the dye just beautifully! From now on, I know to use a mixed wool/silk yarn for any dyeing I do.

Already the blue yarn on the left is on the needles being knit into new fingerless gloves to replace my roadkill gloves.

85 dried niger hollyhock blossoms soaked in water overnight. Premordanted half the yarn in alum. Divided the dye into two, one half going into a non-reactive metal pot, the other into a copper bowl put over a simmering pot of water. Placed presoaked yarn into the pots as the dye water was heating up. Left all to simmer for about two hours. Turned heat off, let sit together for another hour, took the yarn out and let it sit for 20 minutes before rinsing it (as instructed by Harvesting Color) and letting it dry.




Filed under Flowers, knitting

Hurried Life & Slow Blossoms

There is some quote I keep seeing popping up on Pinterest that says something about how at the end of your life you should end up battered and torn with make up smeared, or something to that effect. Have you seen it? I understand the sentiment, you know live life to the fullest, squeeze every last drop out of it. But after living a weekend where quite literally my clothes have become battered and torn and my make up is visually smeared, a few new gray hairs have popped up, I’d like to offer balance to that quote. There is such thing as squeezing too much life out of a weekend. I guess it’s the culmination of the end of school approaching and the end of baseball and active, social, sports oriented boys that has produced a weekend that was planned down to the very last half hour.

We’re tired, I can’t remember the last time I pushed a button on the washing machine, we are seriously out of food…couldn’t even squeeze out a meager dinner, and there is possibly nothing in our drawers and cabinets because I swear its spread all over our floors and tables. We’re out of balance and I long for a few hours to reset our house and get us all back to ‘normal’. That said, we saw our oldest hit his last triple in this baseball season, our middle run his first running race (our second for the oldest), we talked and drank wine with friends until way past bedtime, celebrated a young friend going another year around the sun, and watched energy filled neighborhood kids perfect a limeaid recipe. Oh, and we painted and painted and sealed our new deck project (more to come).

It’s a full, full life these days, which makes the moments when I can go outside and watch the changing flowers blossom all that much sweeter.
In opposition to a hurried lifestyle, I’ve been slowly tending to these hollyhocks for well over a year now. Back when I was obsessed with dying yarn with plant materials to make my fair isle sweater, I searched for plants that would yield something other than browns and yellows. In Harvesting Color, Rebecca Burgess showed that niger hollyhocks give a pretty mint green to blue color, so immediately I picked up a packet of seeds from Baker Creek. Hollyhocks, being bi-annuals take their sweet time growing and blooming, so these missed being in my sweater. But I can always think of new plans for a knitting project. I grew about six different plants and they are finally blooming!


I have them drying in bowls on my desk waiting for activities to slow down, for summer to bring on long, hot, lazy boring days so that I can watch the alchemy that happens when you transform garden blossom to dye. Have a good week friends.


Filed under Flowers

Daffodils as Gopher Prevention


This past weekend we stayed home. I even wrote it very large on the calender, “busy on the homestead” across both Saturday and Sunday. Starting with September our calender and going through to December now our calender is full, full, full! It’s a great thing, but our poor garden is getting neglected. This weekend we set our sights on harvesting the last of the walnuts (6 grocery bags full!), tearing out old plants, turning the enormous compost pile and getting this above bed ready for next years bounty. Just a few months ago it looked like this below:

This past weekend we tore it all out. We had had a problem with gophers in this bed after trying an experiment of laying down black plastic for weed control. The black plastic seemed to attract the gophers even more. Having read that narcissus bulbs are toxic to gophers and seeing that our narcissus needed dividing I set it upon myself to outline each of our beds with bulbs. We have an area at the top of our property that has about four or five 15 foot long rows of various daffodils and narcissus. They are just gorgeous when in bloom but I noticed this last year their performance had dwindled. They badly needed dividing. In fact just 10 shovels worth yielded me a bucketful of bulbs.

It’s such a huge bed, I didn’t think I’d actually make it around the entire thing in one day, but I did! I have the sore muscles and calluses to prove it too. In addition to being toxic to gophers, narcissus bulbs make a good weed barrier (like the naked ladies). They come up in late winter and form a wall of sorts which make it hard for that early round of weeds to break through. In the spot where this garden bed is, we need all the help we can get in that area!

Ever since reading Gaia’s Garden, I’ve opened up even more to the idea of where and how I plant our plants. For instance I’ve lined my flower bed with amaryllis bulbs to prevent weeds from encroaching. Then in front of the bulbs I planted thick growing yarrow as extra protection against the wild field behind them moving in. Favas are growing in the middle of the beds to prepare the soil for next years flowers. And now our largest veggie bed is lined with a wall to prevent gophers and will also soon be filled in with cover crop.

Though we don’t have a robust winter garden planted this year, we are doing extra homework in getting the garden ready for next year. It’s making me already look forward to next spring.


Filed under Flowers, notes for next year, what we've learned

On Making a Wreath


Wednesdays are crazy days around here. It’s my marathon day. Three trips to school, three extra curricular activites afterwards, breakfast, lunch, dinner, clean up, teethbrushing, read aloud time. You know the routine, I’m sure. I start the morning up and at ’em at 5:30am and don’t sit down again until about 9pm. Normally I have each child in one extra activity outside of school, but this season I made an exception and added soccer to the mix without dropping their martial arts. At the end of Wednesday I’m dog tired and, to keep things honest, typically a little cranky too.

Yesterday, however, instead of going full throtal all day long, I took my couple of kid free hours and ignored the laundry and unkept house and unfinished work projects and did something just for me. I made a fall wreath for our front door. I had been slowly collecting materials the past couple of days, so once I got everything laid out it only took an hour to put it together. A completely enjoyable, hot coffee, quiet crisp morning sunshine, hour. All to myself. Not surprisingly the rest of the day sailed along quite nicely. And our front porch looks a little more autumnal too.

(in the wreath: grape vine base with olive & eucalyptus for greenery, corn, rosehips, curly dock seed pods, dried sunflowers & dried grasses for color. in my ears: mystic orb earrings)




Filed under Flowers

Growing Things from Seed


(echinacea purpuea started last spring)

Seems a strange time of year to be inspired by writing about gardening, but I guess as fall progresses and the garden is ‘wrapping’ up, it’s nice to look back at our growing season and look forward to the next…

Generally speaking, Scott is the vegetable grower and I am the flower grower around these parts. Generally speaking, Scott grows things from seed and I buy 4″ perennials at the nursery. Before the children came I grew flowers from seed quite a bit, but when I started having my babies there was only so much nurturing I could do. Starting from seeds had to go, for a while at least. Now that our youngest is 3, I started a few things from seed this summer and remarkably the majority of the seedlings have grown and flourished! There is something to be so proud of when you grow a successful plant from seed. First it’s so much more economical and the satisfaction of growing something from nothing is huge.

(hollyhocks started last spring)
In spring I started a tray of both echinacea purpurea and black hollyhocks. I kept them on my washer and dryer which is right in front of a window. Since I do at least one load of laundry a day it was easy to keep an eye on them. Once the threat of the spring bugs where gone, I planted them out with handfuls of Sluggo, copper tape and even netting over them to protect them. Only one of the echinacea survived, but boy is it a healthy plant. Most of the hollyhocks survived too and growing well in the garden. Strangely enough I planted them all within a few feet of each other, making sure to get them by the drip lines, yet some are just slowly growing while others are three times their size. Not knowing the rhyme or reason, I just sit back happy that none of them are dead!

(hollyhocks started 6 weeks ago and transplanted outside)
Hit by a streak of confidence I started another round of both echinacea and hollyhocks about 6 weeks ago in hopes of doubling my yield of flowers next spring. I grew the black hollyhocks specifically for dying yarn. The book Harvesting Color shows that they give a beautiful blue color, which is a rare color to get without indigo in the natural dye world. I’m curious to see if starting these perennials & biennials last spring versus this fall will show much of a difference once next spring comes.

(echinacea purpurea started six weeks ago, still inside)
For about 9 solid years my flower gardening got very basic and tough love. If the store bought plants didn’t survive with my haphazard watering routine or a soccer ball thrown into it at full force, well, then too bad. However I did feel bad when I looked out my window and saw another dying plant. Now though, I’m able to give a little more to the garden. There’s a saying I heard a while back regarding women trying to balance motherhood and their career. It goes, ‘You can have your cake and eat it too, just not all at once.’ I keep that saying in mind towards a lot of activities that I’d like to be doing, but have to make lunches or drive again to their school instead. All things in good time. You can have happy babies and a thriving garden, but maybe not all at the same time.


Filed under Flowers, Seeds

flowers & going wheat free


It has been brought to my attention that there are other things that need addressing besides dreamily walking around the yard with your felco’s cutting flowers. I have been told there is laundry to do and bathrooms to clean and meals to prep and a wage to be earned. But who wants any part of that at this time of year?

In other news our whole family has given up wheat for the month of May. This is the third time I’ve done this. I did give up wheat for week in ’08 and then Scott and I gave it up last summer for a few weeks. We found some interesting discoveries last summer when we gave it up, like how Scott’s allergies completely went away and how we both felt lighter. This time we gave it up to see if it could clear up our daughters eternal eczema and help my son’s asthma. We are 14 days into it and while it hasn’t helped her eczema yet, it does seem to have helped with the asthma. And my usual spring time allergy induced sore throat has disappeared. It’s hard though, for us bread eaters to be off of wheat. I haven’t felt as much sacrifice as our kids, especially our 8-year-old (the one with asthma), who thinks this whole giving up wheat is a bunch of hooey. He wants pizza and pasta and bakery pastries and that’s all there is to it.

We’ll give it another couple of weeks and if this doesn’t clear up the eczema we’ll try a dairy free month (oh that somehow sounds even more tortuous than a wheat free month! Especially during hot ice cream season!). Knowing now that wheat really tends to ease our allergies and asthma during the heavy season is a great bit of knowledge going forward. Maybe every spring will become a wheat free time for our family.

Have you ever given up something? Did you see noticeable changes in your body because of it?


Filed under Flowers, what we've learned

* l o v e *


* l o v e *

happy mother’s day to all you mothers this sunday & every day!


Filed under Flowers

bees & flowers :: successes & failures


It’s that time of year where the flowers are coming inside. Our beautiful new windows (such a treat to have new windows!) are getting opened everyday to enjoy spring breezes. Slowly the line between indoors and outdoors is getting blurred.

It was a welcome side indeed to walk into a house filled with flowers on a day like today, when upon complete inspection of my two hives, I realized both are in a sad state of decline. One is queenless, has wax moths and appears to have sent out a well populated swarm. The other, also in low population, has a queen but appears to have a fair amount of dead, almost mature larvae still in their cell (chalkbrood possibly?). Neither hive looked good. It was supposed to be a good day with only my oldest son at home. We went out to brunch and then were to have a happy, learning filled hive inspection together. We learned, for sure, but having mama walk back into the house with a heavy heart and tears in her eyes was not part of the plan.

I’ve been told that this happens. Colonies die. To not give up. But it is hard not to feel incredibly guilty. What was I thinking in believing I could keep tens of thousands of bees happy when I have such little time to give them? And now I have to find time despite foreseeing a busy weekend. Do I combine them? Do I get a new queen? Do I call it all a loss? Oy!

The good news is that the garden is booming along and I’ve learned a few new tricks that I’m looking forward to sharing with you. In a rare instance, plants that I thought I had killed over the winter are making a strong comeback and the new plants I got this year are growing just great. (Usually I always kill a few new plants.) Maybe I should keep my focus on growing plants and not an apiary.

…at least there are flowers…



Filed under beekeeping, Flowers

Flower Farmer

Flowers have started coming into the house again. Since moving here, I have this ridiculous dream that someday I will be a flower farmer. I call it ridiculous because I’m certain that it would be a tremendous amount of work, as though I didn’t already have enough to do around here. I even went so far recently as to message a woman I know who owned a flower shop if she knew anyone who would buy my flowers. There are hundreds of narcissus and snow drops here. Rows and rows of them. Immediately upon hearing her encouraging reply I realized, what was I thinking? Flowers need to be picked in the early morning and adding things to my morning routine of getting three kids out the door is not a good idea.
So for now I simply enjoy them. And wistfully read Floret Flower Farm’s blog.
A few months ago I ordered The Flower Farmer, which is a great book if you too are flower crazy. I learned that daffodils & narcissus shouldn’t be cut, but rather you grab them at their base and pull. You get another inch or two of stem doing that. Also you need to seer the ends to seal in the sap. So that I did.
Another flower tip I learned many years back is that denture tablets are your best friends when it comes to cleaning vases. For vases that are too narrow to clean, just drop a denture tablet in it, fill with warm water and let sit overnight. The next morning your vase will be clean!


Filed under Flowers

Cut, built, caught


The boys went on an adventure with new friends this past weekend which left the little girl and I alone to pick flowers…

…and watch a pair of mocking birds build a nest below our kitchen window. I’ve never watched a bird make a nest so closely before. They spent all day Saturday and Sunday bringing sticks and Monday and Tuesday bringing fluffy things. Wednesday it was finished and the pair were nowhere to be found. Maybe on a honeymoon. Can’t wait to spy on their eggs and babies in the coming months!

The boys returned with four fresh caught crabs! Two red crabs and two dungeness! A surprising success!

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Filed under Flowers, Life in Sonoma