Behind the Pelargoniums

Hello!

In Dutch, we have the expression achter de geraniums zitten (sitting behind the pelargoniums). It’s hard to explain exactly what it means, but on the whole it’s considered a Bad Thing. Not quite as bad as pushing up the daisies…

… but it comes very close. Sitting behind the pelargoniums, you’re a dull old stick-in-the-mud.

I never particularly liked pelargoniums. But since we came to live here, almost 20 years ago, we’ve bought them from our local brass band every year to sponsor their uniforms and instruments.

Ironically, last year – when we spent more time behind the pelargoniums than ever before, figuratively speaking – we had to go without them. Fortunately this year, the brass band players were able to go round the doors selling them again.

I don’t know if I’ll ever love pelargoniums, but I’ve come to like them over the years. They provide some nice splashes of colour around the house.

And how about sitting behind those pelargoniums?

According to our government, it is no longer necessary to do so. I don’t know what it’s like in your part of the world, but here almost all of the covid-measures have suddenly been dropped. As of last Saturday, we don’t have to wear face masks anymore, and almost everything is allowed (with 1.5 metres distance). It’s a BIG step, and I wonder where it is going to take us.

It is not going to take us (my husband and me) anywhere much in the foreseeable future. We don’t have big plans. I mean, it would be a shame if we weren’t here to enjoy our wonderfully fragrant miniature strawberries, wouldn’t it?

And who among our neighbours would be crazy enough to pamper my little woad seedlings the way I do? Yes, the seeds have germinated! Well, most of them anyway.

We will just continue living our lives, and doing the things we normally do this summer. But we are planning to take a day off now and then to venture away from behind our pelargoniums. I hope you’ll virtually join us on some of our outings.

One thing we have planned, is a visit to our niece. She left home last September to go to uni and I am really looking forward to finally see where she has been studying so diligently on her own this past year. Before that trip, I am crocheting her a pair of old-fashioned pot holders from blue and cream cotton.

On the knitting front, I don’t have any big plans either. I’ll focus on small projects from those yarn remnants I talked about last week. There is one big project I want to finish, though – the soft, light and relaxed cardi I started earlier this year. Only, I found out that I’ve made a mistake in one of the front bands. Oops.

I think I know how to fix it, but I need to pluck up the courage for that.

Some crochet is also on my list of things to do this summer. Not a big blanket or anything – I’ll keep it small, too.

For the rest, I’ll keep enjoying the small miracles surrounding us and sharing them with you.

The other day, when I was starting to lower our awning, I heard a dry, crackling sound. Like something dropping down from it. And this is what I found:

An emperor dragonfly. I couldn’t see it breathing, and after observing it for a while concluded that it was dead. A rare opportunity to study it more closely. Such a beautiful creature.

Another thing I found just outside our backdoor this past week is this:

I’ve zoomed in on it; in reality it is only about 3 cm long. At first I thought it was a bit of moss fallen from off the roof, but when I looked more closely, I saw ‘things’ in it and realized it was a pellet. Probably regurgitated by this sparrowhawk.

I may seem like a dull old stick-in-the-mud to others, spending so much time behind the pelargoniums. But life never feels dull to me. To close off, here is one of the young woodpeckers who visit our garden every day.

Wherever you are in the world, and whether you are staying behind the pelargoniums or not, I wish you a safe and enjoyable summer and hope you’ll pay me a visit here from time to time.

PS If you’d like to see a dragonfly breathing (they breathe through the lower part of their body), here is a lovely video I found on YouTube.

Sowing Woad

‘Urgent: Woad Growers Wanted’, a newsletter that landed in my inbox said. At first I thought, ‘Go away, I’m too busy.’ But after a while I thought, ‘Oh, why not? It sounds really interesting, and it won’t take any time at all!’ So I answered that I’d like to be involved and received a packet of woad seed.

It came with a lovely postcard of a blanket knit from local and hand spun wool. It is one of the blankets that was made last year, as part of a community project aimed at rescuing local wool from being labelled as waste and shipped off to China.

The call for woad growers came from the same people who organized the blanket project. They are now working on more ideas for things to do with local wool, and one of them is dyeing it with locally grown woad.

I won’t pretend to know everything there is to know about woad. In fact, I knew very little about it before I became involved in this project.

From the newsletter, I learnt that for centuries, wool was dyed blue with woad in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe. In the 18th century, Frisian wool comber Eise Eisinga won international awards for his beautiful blue wool. In his spare time, Eise built a planetarium that is now a museum (I knew that, I’ve been to it and it’s great!). The museum still owns his original dye recipes, including one for dyeing with woad.

The seeds themselves vary in colour from pale yellow and green to a deep purplish blue.

They measure about 2 cm/¾”.

When I thought ‘it won’t take any time at all’ I was kidding myself. When I get involved in a project like this, I can’t just plant a few seeds. I take it seriously, want to do it well, and want to know more than the newsletter tells me. Here are a few things I found out:

  • In Latin woad is called Isatis tinctoria. In het Nederlands heet de plant wede, auf Deutsch Färberweid, en Français pastel des teinturier, och på Svenska vejde.
  • Tinctoria in a plant name means that the plant can be used for dyeing, as in: Indigofera tinctoria (indigo), Genista tinctoria (dyer’s broom), Cota tinctoria (yellow camomile) etcetera.
  • Woad belongs to the brassica family, which also includes broccoli, mustard, cabbages and oilseed rape.

I was going to sow the seeds directly in the garden. But the instructions say that they should be kept moist at all times, so because of the hot and dry weather, I decided to sow them in pots first.

I didn’t use special potting soil, but just dug some soil from the garden, sowed the seeds, covered them with a thin layer of soil, and carefully moistened the soil with a plant sprayer afterwards. Although I placed the pots in the shade, the hot wind had already dried out the soil several hours later. So I spray-misted them again and covered them with plastic.

Now, several days later, I’m really glad I planted the seeds in pots. If I hadn’t, they wouldn’t have stood a chance. Some other plants in the garden are already wilting in the heat.

I was sent 1.25 grams of seed and selected some of the plumpest, most promising looking ones.

Using only 3 seeds per pot, I have quite a few left. I thought of giving them to a friend, but I’m keeping them for the time being, in case the seeds don’t germinate and I need to try again. I’m hovering over them like an anxious mother hen. Am I using the right kind of soil? Are the seeds still moist? Aren’t they too wet? Are they getting enough sunlight?

I’ll keep you updated about their progress. In the meantime, here are a few links for those of you who’d like to know more.

Links:

  • A picture of Eise Eisinga’s woad-dyed wool samples with his handwritten notes can be found here.
  • An interesting short video about the wool comber/dyer and astronomer (with English subtitles) can be viewed here. It was filmed in Eise’s beautiful blue living room with his working model of the solar system on the ceiling. (Scroll down to second video. Be patient – it continues after the quote.)
  • If you’ve missed the blog post about my humble attempts at rescuing some local wool and about the Wool Rescue Handbook, you can read it here.

Incubation

On weekdays, when I come downstairs my husband is already at the table having breakfast and reading the morning paper. But one morning a few days ago, he wasn’t there. I found him on the veranda with his camera and binoculars. ‘Shhh,’ he said, ‘the blue tits are fledging.’

I grabbed my small camera, too, and together we sat watching the blue tits leave the nest box just outside our living room window (some of the pictures in this post are his). First one stuck its head out. And when it got a little bolder, its feet came out as well, grabbing the edge of the opening.

Then it decided ‘no, I’m not ready yet’ and popped back inside. They took their time fledging. While the young were plucking up courage, the parents kept plucking caterpillars from trees and bushes.

They kept feeding their young all the time.

And then, one by one, the young birds decided that the time was right. With a wriggle and a wrench they flew out.

When we had counted 7, we thought that the nest box was empty. But after a while, another little blue tit came out. The others all immediately flew up into a tree or onto the fence, but this one seemed weaker. It flew down to the rubber mat in front of the French windows.

And while it was sitting there, looking around at the big wide world, a great tit flew onto the threshold. It took one look around and then disappeared into our living room. I wonder what it thought when it came flying out a few minutes later. ‘Goodness, so much space! And what do they want with all that stuff inside their nests? Aren’t humans weird creatures?!’

After a while, the last little blue tit scurried away to find cover.

That evening we cleaned out the nest box. Unlike us, the blue tits didn’t have much stuff inside their nest – just a thick layer of moss and some feathers.

We heard that it’s a difficult year for blue tits. Because of the cold and wet spring there were not enough caterpillars when they needed them. With 8 healthy chicks, ours were lucky. Maybe the peanuts from our feeder also helped a little.

The parents will keep feeding their young until they can fend for themselves.

Now we’re waiting for the great tits. They have nests in two other nest boxes in our garden. And also for the second nest of the blackbirds in the beech hedge.

Meanwhile I am incubating a clutch of knitting ideas. It’s not a straightforward as with the blue tits’ eggs. I don’t know how long the incubation will take and exactly what I need to feed them when they hatch. What kind of TLC do they need if I want them to fledge? I can only go by what my intuition tells me.

One thing my intuition told me was, ‘Buy yarn’. I wondered at the wisdom of this advice at this early stage, but I let myself be led by it anyway and bought some yarn in blue tit blue.

And some more yarn, also in beautiful hues of blue.

Time will tell whether this was a wise thing to do. At least browsing around Wolverhalen was a very enjoyable thing to do. (You may have read about it in a previous post.)  Leafing through some pattern books and magazines…

… immersing myself in colour…

… and swooning over skeins lovingly hand dyed by Catharina.

I don’t know yet what shape my ideas will take. I’ll do what I can to make them fledge successfully and hope to show you more if and when they’re ready to fly out into the big wide world.

Until then, I’ll try to keep feeding you/myself/us all kinds of other tasty morsels. Bye for now and take care!

Feels like Spring

Hello!

Today I’m writing to you from and entirely different world compared to two weeks ago. The snow melted away in no time, and suddenly it feels like spring. The spring bulbs in our garden are bursting into flower.

It’s not just crocuses and snowdrops, but also winter aconites,

and dwarf irises, yellow and blue.

It’s so lovely to feel the warmth of the sun, hear the birds sing their hearts out, and enjoy the flowers and the buzzing of the first bees.

And yet… there is this gnawing feeling.

It shouldn’t be like this in February – it’s unseasonally warm. The highest temperatures ever measured in this month for 5 days in a row. I don’t want to be a spreader of doom and gloom, but I can’t just ignore such signs of a changing climate. I’ve heard that it affects different parts of the world differently. Here in the Netherlands the climate has changed noticeably even in my lifetime (less than sixty years!).

Seems to me that if we want to leave our children, grandchildren and their children with a liveable planet so that they, too, can enjoy the beautiful signs of spring…

… we urgently need to learn how to be good ancestors.

Speaking of ancestors, on Sunday we visited a lovely place our ancestors left us. It’s a country estate that for centuries belonged to a wealthy family and is now owned by a nature conservation organization.

The 17th century house with stepped gable, surrounded by a moat with a bridge leading to the front door, is no longer there. The only buildings left are five tenant farms. These are the stables of one of them, now converted to living space.

The estate is part woodland,

part pasture (the cows are still inside at this time of year.)

Like many other farms in our region, the farms on the estate all have their own little baking house. Can you see the small white rectangle on the wall of this baking house?

Let’s zoom in – it’s a face! A person with a high forehead, no nose to speak of, and an elegant hairdo. Is it just a decoration, a household deity, or the likeness of somebody who used to do their baking here?

Going for a walk here, is like traveling a century or so back in time.

Apart from going for short walks, enjoying the garden, worrying about the climate and the pandemic, and generally doing what I need to do, I’ve also done some knitting. My blue Panel Debate cardigan is nearly finished and I’m knitting swatches and prototypes for a pair of fingerless mitts.

The yarn I originally had in mind for them didn’t behave as I thought it would. Looking for an alternative, I found several skeins in my stash that were meant for something else, but will be just perfect for my mitts.

I want to make a single colour and a 2-colour version. It is hard to capture the colours exactly. There is an off-white undyed cream, a dusty blue and a warm cherry red. What shall I do? Cream and blue for the 2-colour version, and red for the single-colour one?

Or cream and red for the 2-colour version, and blue for the single-colour one?

What do you think?

I hope you’ve enjoyed the flowers and the walk, and would be grateful for some help with the colours. I’m in doubt. Is the blue-and-cream combo nice and subtle or too bland? Is the red-and-cream combo nice and cheerful or too Christmassy?

Thanks and take care! xxx

Saturday Knitting

Hello! This week I’m writing from a white and frosty village. We’re not entirely snowed in, but last Sunday we were treated to a beautiful thick blanket of snow, blown up into dunes here and there by strong gusts of icy wind. And because it’s stayed (far) below freezing even during the daytime, the snow is still here. A rarity nowadays and utterly lovely!

Before anything else, I need to show you this. The snow-shovel guy reversed and drove up several times specially so that I would be able to take a good picture for my blog.

Thank you Mister Snow Shoveler! Enjoy your moment of fame 😊!

It’s tempting to natter on about the snow, but I have made quite a bit of progress on the knitting front, and I’d like to talk about that, too. So let’s do that first, and have a few more snow pictures afterwards.

Recently, I wrote a very long post about my possible need for a little more focus. I don’t know if you’ve been able to plough through it all, but one of the insights I gained from a book I read on the topic was: ‘Different (knitting) tasks use different parts of the brain’. I realized that for certain aspects of my knitting projects, I needed to find moments during the week when the active thinking part of my brain would be fresh.

Saturday seemed like a good time, especially Saturday mornings. So I thought about what I would like to accomplish and noted it in my planner. The first thing I wanted to focus on was the sleeve cap of my Panel Debate cardigan. A puzzle because I’d enlarged the armhole and could no longer follow the pattern – how could I make a sleeve cap that would fit into the armhole and around my shoulder?

Spending several hours tinkering with it with a well-rested brain really worked.

I finished the sleeve cap. And using the parts of my brain that do the more automatic tasks, I was able to almost finish the rest of the sleeve in the evenings. Yes, progress!

The next task I wanted to tackle was finishing one of my UFOs (UnFinished knitting Objects that have been lying around for a long time). I chose a scarf and wrote that down in my planner for the next Saturday.

All I needed to do was weave in the ends and give it a Spa Treatment. Here it is, doing a stretching exercise after its bubble bath.

As always, the transformation was magical – the lacey holes opened up nicely, and the rest of the knitted fabric did too.

Before blocking
After blocking

This is what the scarf looks like when ‘worn’.

It is the Polka Dot Scarf by the Churchmouse design team. The pattern describes two sizes and I made the larger one. The yarn I used is Debbie Bliss ‘Rialto lace’, a very soft merino.

For a long time I disliked polka dots. I think it was because of that horrible sixties song about the Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. Do you know it? But these subtle ‘dots’ made me overcome that.

Looking around for matching things for pictures of the scarf, I discovered that I actually have several other items with polka and other dots.

All in all this has become a generous airy shawl that will make a lovely gift for someone. Happy with it.

I’m also happy with my new Saturday knitting plan. Being able to make considerable progress with such a small adjustment to my life, has really given me a positive boost. In addition to these two projects, I have even made some progress on a new design of my own.

Until now, this winter I have felt sort of lost on Saturdays, with nowhere to go and no one to visit. This focused Saturday knitting has also solved that. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep it up once we get back to a more ‘normal’ life and the gardening season starts again. But I won’t look too far ahead.

For the time being the garden doesn’t need anything doing to it. All I need to do at the moment is admire the hyacinths I planted in pots in November…

… enjoy looking at snow-covered shapes, like the dead flower heads of the Marjoram…

… and feed and talk to the birds.

I hope you’re all snug and safe, wherever you are. Bye for now, and ‘see’ you again soon!

A Cup of Tea in the Garden

Hello!

First of all, thank you for all your kind comments about my new pattern, here and on Ravelry. Thús has already been downloaded many, many times. It’s been rather overwhelming, but very nice too. Maybe you’ve already noticed – there is a new button in the black bar ↑↑↑at the top↑↑↑ saying ‘Patterns’. If you click on that, you are taken to a page where you can always find ‘all’ of my patterns. There are not all that many yet, but I hope to add a few more over time.

But let’s not keep standing here in the driveway. Please come through into the garden! There’s a chair waiting for you in the shade of the old pear tree. Placed at a safe distance from mine, of course. I have a day off today, so there’s all the time in the world to catch up.

Please make yourself some tea. There’s hot water in the thermos and a selection of tea bags in the bowl with the blue decorations. The Dutch Blend is really good. Or you can pick some fresh Moroccan mint, if you like.

Looking up, you can see that there are already lots of small pears on the tree. It wouldn’t be safe to sit here later in the year. You’d need a helmet with pears falling from the tree left and right. But right now it’s the best spot.

And look, there is one of ‘our’ young great spotted woodpeckers. Several of them and their parents are in and out of the garden all of the time. Only the youngsters have red caps. Their nest was probably in a tall tree in the nearby wood.

This particular youngster is slightly clumsy. It has difficulty climbing up the stem of the apple tree, and last week it dropped down – thud – right in front of me into the long grass, squawking, squawking for its parents.

It will have to learn how to climb up, because it’s what woodpeckers do, and also because that’s where the food is. Here’s another youngster with dad. First they sit looking at the feeder filled with peanuts together…

… then dad gets a piece of peanut with his son or daughter looking on…

… and feeds it to his offspring (we know it’s dad, because unlike mum he has a red spot at the back of his neck).

I often sit here watching them. And knitting.

I’ve just finished a pair of socks, knit from the toe up to the cuff. There’s enough yarn left for another pair with the colours reversed. I’m knitting those from the cuff down to the toe. I’ll tell you more about them when the other pair is finished.

If the socks look slightly on the big side, that is because they are. I made them for someone with bigger feet than mine.

I’ve also been thinking about the pink striped cardi I wrote about two weeks ago. My friend Marieke suggested hanging it up with some weights on it to see whether it would sag. That was a great idea and I used clothes pegs as weights. Not only did it show that it didn’t sag, it also gave me the opportunity to look at it from a distance.

It’s fine. There is nothing wrong with it at all. It’s just that I’m not crazy about the stripes and can’t see myself wearing it. So, rrrrrrrip! There it goes! I’ll put the yarn away for a while and think of something else to make with it.

But here I am, wittering on about my knitting. How about you? How are you doing? I hope you and yours are well. Does your government still tell you to stay home? Or can you go out and about a bit more now? Do you have some nice knitting on your needles? Or do you prefer crochet, or embroidery? Or a good book?

Oh, how time flies. It’s been lovely to have your company here. Thank you for stopping by and I hope to see you again soon!

A New Visitor to our Garden

It was on a Saturday morning while I was vacuuming the living room that I saw him, the main character of this story – a sparrowhawk. He (we think it’s a young male) was sitting on the fence close to the house. I’d seen him several times before recently, but always in a flash.

This morning, he gave me all the time in the world to get my camera and take pictures. Many pictures. Before I show you some of them, here’s the ‘scene of the crime’:

Looking through our living room window you can see an evergreen shrub, behind the hyacinths. It plays an important part in this story. To the left of it there’s a rain meter, to the left of that a tepee filled with sunflower seeds, and further to the left (not on the photo) there’s a bird table.

That’s where it all happened.

And here are some of the other characters in the story – a large and noisy family of house sparrows:

The sparrows love the sunflower seeds in the tepee, the seeds and grains we put out on the bird table and the peanuts in another feeder. They have lived in our garden for years, but it is only now that the sparrowhawk seems to have discovered them.

A sparrowhawk isn’t called sparrowhawk for nothing. It doesn’t care for sunflower seeds or grains. And peanuts? Blech! Their favourite food is… sparrow!

As soon as the sparrowhawk flies over the garden, the sparrows and other garden birds are gone. They hide in the beech hedge or in the evergreen shrub in front of the living room window. The garden seems deserted.

For the sparrowhawk, it takes a while to sink in. Where are they? Normally there are lots of sparrows on this bird feeder:

He looks down. No, no sparrow in sight.

Then he seems to hear something in the evergreen shrub. Aha, there they are. He looks at it from the rain meter. No, he can’t get at them from there.

Then he tries a different approach. Sitting on the grass he looks up. Hmmmm…

He walks around the shrub and looks and looks. But there’s no way he can get at the sparrows.

Finally he perches on top of the shrub, waiting patiently for the sparrows to come out of their hiding place.

Beautiful bird, isn’t he?

The sparrows wisely stay where they are. But suddenly, whoosh, the sparrow hawk grabs another hapless little bird from the honeysuckle against the fence. It went so fast that I could hardly see it, let alone photograph it.

Wow, what an amazing bird.

Apart from the birds, there isn’t much to see in the garden at this time of the year. The only other thing that catches the eye is the witch hazel we planted last autumn.

I’m very grateful for its cheerful yellow flowers.

Everything else is brown and grey, with a little bit of green here and there. If I want more colour, I have to look for it elsewhere. Fortunately there’s always yarn! (More about what I did with it soon.) 

I can only show you static photos of the sparrowhawk here, but there’s an amazing 3-minute BBC video of a sparrowhawk if you’d like to see it in flight.

Soup and Socks

Over the years, our front garden has become a bit of a mess. Some conifers and shrubs that started out as cute little things, have become unwieldy monsters. We could live with that. In a busy life, the garden doesn’t always get top priority, and it’s impossible to have everything perfect all the time. But now that several trees and some plants have died after two very hot and dry summers, it’s high time to take action.

So we’ve taken this week off for a big overhaul. Fortunately we have some help with the planning and the heavy lifting.

(This may make it look as if we have a huge estate. We don’t, but this is the only way to dig out the tree stumps.)

Because the garden work comes first this week, I’m keeping everything else as simple as possible, including our meals. Soup is ideal for weeks like these. One of my all-time favourites is mushroom soup, and I’ll share my recipe with you here.

I could have used these shaggy inkcaps, but left them in place.

Although I know these are edible, I don’t feel very comfortable eating wild mushrooms. So I bought a mixture of mushrooms from the supermarket instead. If you can’t get a variety, any old mushrooms will do. White button mushrooms, chestnut mushrooms, flat caps, whatever is available is fine.

Simple Mushroom Soup

Serves 6 as a starter or 3 as a main course

Ingredients

  • 250 g mushrooms, chopped or sliced
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp mild curry powder
  • 1 tbsp butter or oil
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 750 ml water
  • 250 ml cream

Method

  • Sauté the onion in the oil or butter over medium heat until soft.
  • Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the curry powder and sauté for about 1 minute, until it releases its fragrance.
  • Pour in the water, add the stock cubes and bring to the boil.
  • Turn down the heat and leave to simmer with the lid on for 15 minutes, stirring now and then.
  • Add the cream and heat through gently.

Ladle into bowls and serve with some bread and a salad for a complete main course.

Enjoy!

Taking these pictures has taught me that food photography is not as easy as it looks. When I take pictures of things I’ve knit and am not happy with the result, I can always do them again. But with food, well, if you’re not happy with the photos, you don’t get another try because the food is gone.

With the photo above, I wanted to show that the soup is steaming hot, but it just looks hazy. And the mushrooms have all sunk to the bottom of the pan. I can only hope that it still looks tasty enough anyway.

One of my husband’s hobbies is baking bread, and he baked these beauties. We ate some straightaway and put the rest in the freezer.

What with all the physical work and fresh air, I’m rather drowsy in the evenings. All I have energy for is writing a blog post, bit by bit, and some simple knitting. For me, socks are the ultimate simple knits.

I’ve just started some from a yarn that will make an identical pair. This kind of yarn is sold under names like ‘pairfect’, ‘perfect pair’, or something with ‘twin’ in the name. Some of these yarns work with a starter thread.

In this case, the neon green thread in the photo below is the starter thread. This is pulled from the centre of the ball until you get to the first bit of yarn in a ‘normal’ colour. Cast on the required number of stitches, then knit, knit, knit stripes until you come to a solid bit. Then start the heel (heel and foot are knit in solid blue in this case), and when you get to the toe, stripes appear from the inside of the ball again like magic.

For the second sock, pull the yarn from the inside of the ball again until you come to the end of the next starter thread and start knitting again. It’s really clever how this yarn has been dyed.

I’ve knit many, many pairs of socks over the years. I always have a sock on the needles. Sometimes a pair is finished in a week, sometimes it takes a lot longer. It depends on how much time I have, and what other knitting projects I’m working on, but there’s no hurry.

I like wearing them myself, but also give many away. They make welcome gifts. Sometimes I choose yarn specifically for a certain person. But often, I just choose yarns and colours that I like, and when the socks are finished, I look at them and ask them, ‘Now who would like to wear you, do you think?’

Herb Teas and Honey Bees

Hello again! I hope you have some time in your busy day for a leisurely scroll through our garden, a visit to a beekeeper, and a cup of tea and some knitting afterwards. Or perhaps you’re on holiday and have all the time in the world. Wherever you are or whatever your day looks like – welcome!

Today, I’d like to show you a new part of our garden. A part you haven’t seen yet – our herb patch. It isn’t very big (about two by two-and-a-half meters) but I’m very happy with it. Here it is just after we planted it mid-May:

And this is what it looks like now, two months later:

Isn’t it amazing how quickly things grow? There’s parsley, chives, thyme and sage for all kinds of savoury dishes. There’s rhubarb for stewing, nasturtium flowers for decorating salads, and ‘wild’ strawberries for enjoying straight from the plant. I don’t know what to do with the marigolds yet. I could use them to dye some yarn, but what would I do with yellow yarn? For the time being I’m just enjoying them for their cheerful colour.

And finally, there’s chamomile, peppermint and lemon balm. We’ll be making herb tea with those later. But first, let’s get some honey to sweeten it. If we hop on to our bicycles we’ll be at the beekeeper’s farm in under an hour. It’s a nice route along a canal, past some allotments, through a wood, and along a country lane.

Here we are. There are jars of honey and an honesty box at the roadside. We could just grab a jar and head back…

… but it’s much nicer to have a chat with the bee keeper and take a look at the bees. We need to put on a special beekeeper’s jacket with hood first. The bees are very quiet today, but it’s better to be on the safe side.

Do you see the line of trees the beekeeper is pointing at? Behind them there’s a nature reserve, with heather and all kinds of other flowering plants, shrubs and trees where the bees get the nectar for their honey.

The beekeeper deprecatingly says, ‘Ah, it’s just a hobby. My dad used to do it before me, and I’ve followed in his footsteps.’ But to her own astonishment and delight both her bright and her dark honey won gold medals at the London Honey Awards 2019!

Most of the bees are housed in modern beehives:

These are far bigger than traditional hives, or skeps, and it is much easier to collect the honey from them. But she also has some traditional skeps, a sort of upside-down baskets. And even a wooden beehive in the shape of a house. It looks a lot like their own beautiful wooden house:

Zooming in on one of the skeps, the bees can be seen coming in and out of the opening:

It’s that dark clump at the top left. Can you see them?

This beekeeper isn’t complaining, but behind her words I can hear her worries about the threats her bees (and bees everywhere) face. They’re threatened by the varroa mite, pesticides and the drought caused by climate change. Things like this often give me a feeling of powerlessness. Yes, it’s worrying, but what can we do about such worldwide threats as insignificant individuals? Fortunately, in this case, there are a few easy things we can do to help the bees.

Apart from organic honey in jars, this small family business also produces other bee products, like beeswax candles, lip balm, soap, shampoo and so on. There’s more information on their website.

Well, high time to cycle back and pick some herbs.

One of my favourite herb tea blends is chamomile and lemon balm. A small handful of chamomile flowers and lemon balm leaves is enough for a cup or two of tea (dried herbs work just as well as fresh ones). I have a small teapot with a built-in strainer, but any pot or mug will do.

Add honey to taste and enjoy!

Next to this cup of tea is my first dishcloth in progress. I was skeptical about knitting these (I mean, how twee can you get?), but the enthusiasm of two of my knitting group members made me give them a try. And I must say, I’ve been bitten by the dishcloth-knitting-bug too!

Another favourite is mint tea. There are many varieties of mint. Wat we usually get when we order mint tea at a cafe is Moroccan mint, with a fairly mild and sweet taste. The mint in our garden, peppermint, has a stronger taste. It really is more peppery. Two or three small sprigs straight into a mug make a refreshing drink. I like it even during the very hot weather we’re currently having – I just leave it to cool first.

The blindingly white knitting on the needles here is the start of my Sideways Tee. There isn’t much to see yet, but as soon as I’m a little further along, I’ll show you more.

Well, that’s all for today. Thank you for sharing a cup of tea with me!

Sweet Peas and Summer Knitting

Before launching into a discourse on summer knitting yarns and projects, I just have to show you our sweet peas first. They are doing so well. In just a few weeks they grew from tiny little seedlings to tall flowering plants.

I expected lots of different pastel shades, but almost all of our sweet pea flowers are the same – a velvety dark purple combined with a deep burgundy. In reality the colours are even darker than in the pictures. Very different from what I expected, but lovely nevertheless.

Among the dark flowers, there are a few pale pink ones:

We have to keep picking them if we want the plants to keep producing flowers throughout the summer months. So, from now on there will be posies of sweet peas on our table, perfuming the room with their heavenly scent. Simply luxurious!

That’s one thing I like about summer – sweet peas. They’ll go on my list.

List? What list? Well, summer is my least favourite season. I know this may sound weird, as most people seem to love it, but the truth is that I don’t feel at my best during the summer months. For years I’ve tried to ignore it and told myself to stop moaning. But this year I’m trying to find out exactly what makes me feel this way, so that I can do something about it. Plus I’m making a list of things that I do like about summer, and sweet peas definitely deserve a place on it.

One of the things I’ve found out so far, is that I miss my knitting. When temperatures rise, I tend to put my knitting aside, because the yarn is too warm in my hands and on my lap. I find other things to do instead, like reading and crochet. But that’s not quite enough for me. I still miss my knitting!

So what would make knitting possible on hot days? After giving it some thought I came up with two simple criteria:

  1. Yarn for summer knitting should be either cool and crisp or fine (and have zero mohair content), so that it doesn’t stick to clammy palms
    AND/OR
  2. Projects for summer knitting should be small, so that they don’t feel like a warm blanket on one’s lap

Pretty obvious, really. With these two criteria in mind, I first looked at what I had in my stash and came up with some leftover yarns that I could use for small projects. This is some yarn left over from a shawl I once knit:

It’s Tosh Merino Light in five matching shades. I’m using these little balls for another Tellina cowl. This yarn doesn’t fall into the category ‘cool and crisp’, but it’s smooth and fairly fine, so OK for small projects even on warm days.

The yarn I used for the original version was a fine fingering-weight. Now I want to try the pattern out in some heavier fingering-weight yarns, like the Tosh Merino Light you see here.

After finishing the purpley one, I am also going to make one from some average, ordinary fingering-weight sock yarn:

By knitting several versions, I’m testing out how many stitches and how many rows are needed to get approximately the same size cowl with various yarns. I think it’ll be a great little project for all kinds of leftovers.

As I didn’t have any yarn worth speaking of in the category ‘cool and crisp’, I browsed around on the internet and in a brick-and-mortar yarn shop. Usually I don’t give the ‘cotton corner’ a glance, but this time I specifically headed for it. And although I think I will always prefer wool, I must say that I found some beautiful non-wool yarns, too. There are so many summery yarns available now! Not just all kinds of cotton, but also linen, hemp, viscose, yarn spun from recycled jeans and much more.

In the end I chose a mixture of cotton and linen in plain white:

It’s going to be a plain white Tee. Do you remember that band, The Plain White T’s? With their sweet song ‘Hey There Delilah’? That’s the song that I’ll be humming when I’m knitting this oversized summery T-shirt.

Another idea for summer knitting that ticks all the boxes comes from a comment on a recent blog post left by Marieke. She recommends a booklet by Helle Benedikte Neigaard:

It’s a charming, inexpensive booklet that’s widely available, and I bought it straightaway. Thank you for the tip Marieke! In English it’s entitled Easy Knit Dishcloths. (When adding the link, I discovered that it’s not all that inexpensive in English – Sorry.)

Handknit dishcloths seem to be a Scandinavian thing – I’ve come across them in Norwegian and Danish books and magazines before. This booklet is also by a Danish author. And I recently heard about a Danish designer who built up an entire yarn emporium around these humble cloths. What’s the attraction? I’m going to find out!

Finally, I’ve bought a big yarn cake in a colour gradient:

It’s cotton, and I’m going to use it for a new design I’m working on. I’ve already knit it twice, but want to try it out in at least one other yarn before I publish it.

Uhm, exactly how many weeks does a summer have again? Together with the cooler weather knits still on my needles and the shawl with a crochet border I wrote about last week, I now have so many plans for summer projects that it’s beginning to look slightly unrealistic that I’ll actually finish them all. Well, we’ll see. At least I feel good about using up some leftover yarn, and I’m very happy to have so much to look forward to.

All around us, people are busy packing for their holidays. We aren’t, because we’ve decided to stay home this year. We will be taking some time off, though, for a ‘staycation’. That may mean that I’ll be blogging less frequently or on different days of the week, or write shorter blog posts. Or maybe I’ll continue as usual. I just don’t know yet. So if things are different, or you’re not hearing from me for a while, don’t worry. I’m just sitting in the garden, knitting, reading, enjoying the flowers and the birds, and gathering fresh inspiration.

Whether you’re going away or staying at home, I wish you a happy and relaxing summer!