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Last Gansey Update, Snakes and Ladders

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IMG00142-20170305-1254This is my son, Twin A and this is the Snakes and Ladders gansey sweater.  I finished his sweater a few months ago.  He wore it several times around the holidays when we were up north for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  He has worn it only a few other times.  We have had a disappointingly warm winter, for the knitter, that is.  This picture shows what is probably the last time he will be able to wear this garment since spring is here and his arms keep getting longer.  To put this in perspective, he has grown almost 6 inches taller in the past year.  I don’t remember growing this fast when I was young and I wonder when the boys are going to slow down.

To review, this is one of my most successful knits ever.  I wish I had entered this thing in the state fair before it started looking “lived in.”  This pattern, by Beth Brown-Reinsel was a pleasure to knit, and with copious swatching, the process went off without a hitch.  I am especially glad I swatched the cast on, along with the bottom band and first few knit rows a couple times. I found that I had to change up the needle sizes for each texture.  Without swatching, I would have wasted a LOT of time on that tedious cast-on (which looks great, by the way).


Knotted cast on

My son does not mind wearing the sweater, which says to me he is a stylish young man.  He has once or twice voiced the obligatory complaint that it is itchy.  I really doubt it!  But he wears it with a tee shirt underneath anyway.  The dk weight wool is Cascade Yarns Anchor Bay in Scarlet.  I wanted to try knitting with a washable wool cotton blend and this one was on sale.  This yarn was really nice to work with.  The color is rich.  It seems very soft to me.  I like the way the wool and cotton strands seem to have absorbed dye a bit differently.  There is a slight tweedy look to it that I dig, but this tweedy look does not seem to reduce stitch definition. It has held up to about 6 hand washings with very minimal fuzzing or pilling.  I will seek out this yarn again for a dk weight project!

Back to the pattern, the uncrossed cables making up the snakes were fun and easy to execute. While the gansey tradition is replete with ladders, I don’t remember seeing this particular motif while reading up on historic ganseys; the snakes may not be authentic.  However my son and I like this texture a lot–he is a fan of snakes and he can totally see them in this pattern.  Below is a shot of an underarm gusset–they were an interesting design detail, and the side seams that worked out great.


We give it 5 stars!


For Science

My five-year-olds and I have recently enjoyed Superhero, by Marc Tauss  in which a young man travels back in time to collect plant samples and formulate a chemical that saves the day.

My kids re-imagined that story, this time starring themselves, and the following transpired last Sunday.

They built a space ship in the front yard using their dad’s windmill (dont’ ask) and some curved corrugated metal pieces (old window wells) the handy husband has stashed in the back yard.


I went out to the front yard to see what they were doing with the metal and to make some plant cuttings from the garden.  I found them in the herb area of the mostly-dormant winter garden.  They were pulling leaves off plants and smelling them, a gardening activity I support for its learning value even though it’s hard on my lavender.

The boys informed me that they were exploring another planet and discovering things for their collection.  Twin A asked me to trim a piece off a berry bush growing in my garden.  I judiciously cut off a little dead brown twig that needed to be removed anyway.  “No, I want one of those red stems, a long one.”  He said, pointing to a nice long stem I wanted to keep.

“Are you sure it has to be that one?”

“Yes, it’s for science.” His brother came over and opened his fist to show me some wilty crushed specimens they had already collected.

“Alright,” I said, clipping off the nice branch.  “Only for science.”

He carefully transported it to the shuttle.

They then began to ask about some sticks they had found in the yard.  I explained that I had trimmed down some newly planted apple trees to knee-height.  I told them the idea was to keep the trunk short and the branches low so that we would pick the apples easily, a method endorsed by Ann Ralph, in Grow a Little Fruit Tree.

I showed them a small tree we had planted last year and how it had once been a shoulder-height stick but I had trimmed a few feet off of it.  We could see how the buds had branched out last summer and made 4 nice primary limbs a little below knee-height.  Twin B noticed the little scar left by the pruning.  It had almost entirely healed over in the last year.  I told them we would trim more off it this summer to keep it small and to cause each of the pimary limbs to branch out.

Later, in the back yard while I was pushing Twin A on the swing, my little scientist pointed 25 feet up into the giant oak tree and suggested that someone must have trimmed it right there (the spot where the lowest branches leave the trunk).  Probably not– but it’s a good observation, considering our earlier discussion.

Twin B came over while I was setting my plant cuttings in potting soil and asked me if he could prune off the flower from our Camellia japonica. I said “I don’t think so.  I like looking at it and I want to leave it on the plant.”


Camellia japonica, Governor Mouton.

“Please mom?  It’s for science.”

“Well, only if we can put it in a vase in the kitchen after we cut it for science.”

“OK, and I want to use those.” The pruning shears.

“Not even for science.”




For grandma, a gratuitous gardening and grandchild photo.

And here is a pic of Twin B with one of the daffodils we planted last summer.  They have started sprouting, just like we had hoped!



How does that happen?

My sons, age 4.5, are starting to ask important life-span questions.  They want to know how long they will live, relative to how long they have already lived.  They need help to put things in perspective.  They want to know the ages of certain people in their lives.  They want to know about stages of life.  They want to know about babies…  They especially want details of their own infancy.  (Mostly crying from what I remember).  I’ve been able to cleverly dodge the biology questions so far, and I don’t mind the philosophical ones so much.

Last weekend, I fielded a series of questions that went like this.

Twin B: “How old will I be when I have a baby?”

Mom: “Well, at least 25.” (I get to answer these questions in the way I want to.  I’m the mom, remember?).  “When you are at least 25 you will probably meet a woman that you really really love and the two of you will decide to marry.  After you are married, the two of you can have a baby.”

Twin B:  “I will have a baby with a woman?”

Mom:  “Yes, it takes both a man and a woman to have a baby.”

Then I named some couples in my family who have had children.

  • “Mommy and Daddy have you and Twin A.
  • “Mimi and Pawpaw had Mommy, Aunt Mommy’s-Sister, and Uncle Mommy’s-Brother.
  • “Uncle Mommy’s-Brother and Aunt Athlete have Matthew, Mark, and Moses.

Twin B:  “But Matthew, Mark, and Moses are all different ages.  How does that happen?”

Mom:  “Well, that’s the usual way of it.  Most parents have one baby at a time, then later another, and maybe another after that.  Not all parents are blessed with twins.”

That’s the last question about that for the evening.  I guess that was enough to think about.  But who knows which questions tomorrow will bring.*


*Two days later

Twin A:  “When we were babies in your belly, how did we get out?  Did you spit us out of your mouth?”

Mom:  “I wish.”

Halloween Plans 2016

Halloween is coming up and we get a Halloween costume catalog every fall.  This year and last, the twins seized the book with excitement, to see what they could become.  I’m not a huge fan of the dark holiday, but to my 4-year-olds, it’s not about celebrating the dark.  It’s about seeing who or what they can become.  I suppose that’s an idea they celebrate every day at this phase…

Last week, the twins enjoyed making a child sized jet pack prototype with their dad.  I think someone might be planning to dress as Buzz Lightyear for Halloween.  My spouse made the flying machine out of cardboard and duct tape and sketched a few buttons and a screen on the front with chalk.  On the back he sketched on the rocket boosters.  The wearer can manually fold in the wings to pass through doorways, etc.  When released, the wings spring back into position with all the force of folded cardboard.  I saw Twin A struggling to hold the wings in with his elbows so he could release them at the exact moment he pushed the “wings” button.

When I arrived home from work, the boys they were taking turns wearing the costume around the house.  They were having too much fun to eat dinner, so I sat down for my meal alone and listened to their conversation in the living room.

“Quit pushing that button or I’m going to go flying up there and bust through the roof!”

More fussing and a little scuffle.

And then came a tattle that I have never heard before.

“Mom, he’s pushing the wings button and the jet propulsion button at the same time and I keep flying up and hitting my head on the ceiling.”

“Be careful guys.  I don’t want anyone to get hurt or damage the ceiling!”

Knitalong: Casting on to Gansey

Ahoy and Bon Voyage!

We have embarked on our Knit to Gansey!  As for me, I have cast on Beth Brown-Reinsel’s Snakes and Ladders and have completed the bottom band and about two inches of the body of the traditional plain section.

Let’s start from the cast on, shall we?  There are several traditional methods of adding stitches to the needles, gansey style.  I have tried three of them, including

  • Channel Island cast-on, used in the sampler below left, is very pretty.  Beth Brown-Reinsel describes it as “pairs of stitches with a bead of doubled yarn between them” (Brown-Reinsel, 13).
  • Multistrand cast-on, used on the Jerod’s Sweater center, was executed by casting on with two strands and continuing to knit with them for several rounds before reverting to one strand of yarn.
  • Knotted cast-on, used on Snakes and Ladders right, is comprised of “little knots along the base of the cast-on and is formed by casting on two stitches and binding one stitch off” (Brown-Reinsel, 17).

All produce a very nice, sturdy, and decorative result.  I found both the Knotted cast-on and the Channel Island cast-on are a rather tedious exercise.  I wish my camera had focused on the knitting rather than the grass in the background but I don’t want to go back and try again.  Trust me, they all look good!

For the Knotted Cast-on, Snakes and Ladders sweater, I cast on with needles much smaller than I would use with the rest of the sweater to prevent the bottom edge from flaring and looking wavy.  I swatched the bottom band three times to be sure I had this right and I am really glad I did since I guessed wrong the first two times.

Snakes and Ladders features a garter welt, which will “cause the garment to hang straight down rather than hug the body, which decreases stress and wear at the bottom of the sweater”  (Brown-Reinsel, 21).  I think it’s going to work well for my son.

The plain area, between the bottom band and the textured patterning, is where some knitters add the initials of the wearer.  I decided against the initials since I thought the plain area would be too short to accommodate those details.  Wish I had thought it through better because I’ve now decided to add 2 inches to the plain area since I think the sweater should be 15 inches long, not 13 as the pattern indicates.

As a weekend knitter, who does most of my work… well, when I’m not doing other work, it took me a whole weekend to cast this on and start it.  A three day weekend!  The next few inches of knitting have gone faster.  A little more stockinette and I will be ready to start the fun part:  making the snakes and ladders texture.

It’s not too late (unless maybe you don’t know how to knit yet) to join in our knit-along!   We’ve just begun.  As always, stay tuned for more knitting.

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Brown-Reinsel, Beth. Knitting Ganseys. Interweave Press, 1993.

The Handy Husband, vol. 3

My spouse has done it again:  He sets his mind on improving our lives and then something we need materializes.


I would have cropped out some of the weeds and spare bricks you see here, but look at the bat-house, not our house!

Sometimes it’s something I didn’t know we needed.  Here is a bat house he made this summer to host those little mosquito-eating mammals.  He did this for me; of my family I am the preferred mosquito feeder and I do not suffer in silence.  As a human being I like to think I’m at the top of the food chain.  Yet I am preyed upon by small, blood sucking, vicious, insignificant invertebrates.   You can’t see much detail in this now that it has been installed about 15 ft in the air, but he put a lot of time and detail into making a comfortable place for them to hook their little feet while they sleep.  Through the building process Oso has become a student and advocate of bat needs.  I have asked him to write a guest column about bat houses but he will probably wait until some bats actually move in.  (Which, to our knowledge, they have not.)

Another nice  thing he made us is a squirrel deflector.  The back story to this is that after we moved into our house two years ago I was delighted to see a bumper crop of pecans festooning the branches of a tree in our front yard.  For perspective, the postman said he had never seen so many pecans on that tree.  Hundreds?  Thousands?  About 6 months later, I was dismayed to see a swarm of suburban pests we call squirrels absconding with ALL of the pecans.  They started in early September.  At all times during daylight, we could look out and see 4 to 6 squirrels crossing the yard.  The ones coming toward my tree had empty mouths.  The ones leaving the yard had 1 pecan or 2 in their mouths.  To be more specific, unripe pecans. Picking the pecans before the squirrels wasn’t an option for us; unripe pecans cure to nothing as they dry.  Those greedy little blighters pick them before they are even ripe and carry them off.  I don’t think they enjoy soft and watery pecans either, but they are compulsive and selfish.

My plans to raise my little babies on rich woman’s fare (pecans) instead of poor woman’s fare (peanut butter) failed.  But I didn’t give up.  I said “If I can’t feed my family pecans, I will feed them squirrels.”  I retrieved my trusty wrist rocket (a fancy slingshot for all of my cultured readers) from my home in WV (where else?) and practiced up.  A YouTube video on sling shot accuracy gave me a lot of tips.

I have made a few direct hits on the squirrels but they just laugh and scurry away.  I can’t even teach them a lesson because squirrels are unable to remember severe fright for more than a few minutes, if they did they would be paralyzed and fail to thrive (Adler, Bill Jr.  Outwitting Squirrels:  101 Cunning Strategems to Reduce Dramatically the Egregious Misappropriation of Seed from Your Birdfeeder by Squirrels, 1996)..

I’m still trying to find a humane, safe (for me), easy, and legal way to put the scourge of suburbia in a pot.  Shooting with a slingshot is not it, obviously.  But as a note to my family, next time we play paintball, my slingshot aim is much improved.

I decided the giant mousetraps I bought might catch our cat instead.


Squirrel barrier (foreground) with T-shaped props (background) supporting the lowest branches.

This year, my husband made our best advance yet in squirrel warfare.  The deflector is a sheet metal barrier positioned high enough on the trunk that they can’t jump over it and long enough they can’t climb up it (or they haven’t learned to yet).  My espOso also intrepidly braced up or trimmed all the sagging branches to deter branch climbers.

So far, it’s mostly working.  It has really slowed the squirrels down.  There is no longer a nut procession across the front yard at all hours.  There is still one squirrel (I really can’t tell them apart but since I only see one at a time I think it’s just one) that climbs into our oak tree and drops from there into the pecan tree and climbs around picking pecans.  A good number he takes one bite from and throws down because, as I could have told him, they’re not ripe yet.  Some he seems to completely peel and eat though, judging from the shell pieces under the tree.  The race is on, I guess.  Will he eat or ruin every single one before they get ripe?   Or will I get to make pecan cookies this fall? Stay tuned for what I hope will be recipe reviews!

Jerod’s Gansey for Twin B

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To Gansey, I have knit.

A little confession:  I’ve already been to Gansey, ssshhh!  I can explain.  Since I have 2 children and wanted them to both receive a sweater this fall, I did a little pre-trip knitting in the summer.


Having selected the “Snakes and Ladders” pattern as one of the Ganseys, I purchased Beth Brown-Reinsel’s book Knitting Ganseys.

Brown-Reinsel has organized the patterns by difficulty.  “Snakes and Ladders” is the second pattern by difficulty, in case you are wondering.  The first pattern, and easiest one, is called “Jerod’s Sweater.”  Both patterns are written for children.  This one is a real cutie, and it’s a pretty easy knit.  I should know, I made it twice.  My first attempt resulted in a sweater that fit my son but barely.  I knew he would probably outgrow it during the winter, and I was hoping he might get 2 years of wear out of it so I decided to make another attempt.

Here’s what I have to say about Jerod’s Sweater:

I knit it in Cascade 220 Superwash.  I like working with this worsted weight yarn.  The color, a deep blue, was chosen by the easy-to-get-along-with twin after I begged them not to both choose red.  I ordered plenty of yarn, so there have been no issues with dye lot.  I did have to take apart the sleeve of the too small sweater to finish the right size sweater.  The yarn is soft.  A few snags in the yarn have already appeared in the finished sweater that has been tried on for about 20 minutes.  The first time my son tried it on, he declared it itchy around the neck and removed really quickly; I didn’t think it could possibly be that itchy but he was adamant.  The next time he tried it on was a cooler day and he didn’t want to take it off.  I think the fiber will be comfortable for him this winter.  I hope to update this post in the spring with a report that this yarn sailed through many wash cycles and still looks great.

I got gauge with the recommended needle size with this pattern.  This is unusual, normally I have to reduce by a needle size or two because of my loose method of holding the yarn.  What a great feeling–or is it?  I mean, surely something must be wrong!  I read the gauge instructions over and over again.  Looks right–maybe BBR is my pattern designer soul mate!  I wonder if other knitters will have trouble getting gauge with her pattern since I didn’t…

The sweater turned out too short, even the larger sweater.  I snipped a stitch and picked loose a row from the plain section, separating the main piece, the upper sweater, from the bottom band.  Then I picked up the stitches, and extended the top section by almost 2 inches.  Then, in an amazing knitting feat that took about 2 hours, I grafted the bottom band back onto the sweater using kitchener stitch.  You can barely tell that I did this*, and, after blocking the graft may be completely invisible!


Jerod’s Sweater, pattern by Beth Brown-Reinsel.  Yarn is Cascade 220 Superwash.  Knitting by the Long Tall Yarn.

I really like this pattern.  I can’t say too many times that the finished sweater looks great!  The stitch patterns mesh well into a cohesive look.  The special bottom band cast on looks good and is plenty elastic.  The underarm gussets are satisfyingly symmetrical and didn’t require reinforcement with duplicate stitch.  The ribbed neck goes over the wearer’s head easily enough.

Overall, I recommend it.  All of it.  Join us for the voyage to Gansey!

*The graft is good but the purl side seams have a little jog to the side now.  It seems when you pick up and start knitting in the opposite direction it causes a slight shift in any patterned stitches.  After extending the plain section this is only visible at one spot right at the side seams.  It doesn’t bother me much and should be relatively unnoticeable.

Six month update:  I am not quite satisfied with this yarn.  My son only wore it a few times due to an unusually warm winter and his emerging dislike for sweaters.  The yarn has fuzzed and pilled much more than I expected.  To be fair, I had to wash it or repair it almost every time he wore it, so it did take some abuse.  However, it is supposed to be washable wool and I never put it in the machine.  I feel like it has lengthened with wearing so maybe the sleeves will still be long enough next year for him or his brother if they will agree to wear it.


Knit Along: Coming Soon, the Gansey Getaway!

If you are a knitter, you will understand what I mean when I say “I want to knit sweaters for my kids while they are still small.”  For the rest of you, be aware that the task becomes more daunting as the wearer grows taller and wider.  I decided this year would be as good as any.

Meanwhile, a dear friend, Polly, and I have long wished to collaborate on a project together.  Knitting is rather a solitary pursuit, and we live several hours apart, how could we work together?  Maybe a knitalong… but what to create?

Polly’s family hales from the British Isles part of the world, which is home to the Gansey and several other knitting traditions.  We found that we were both attracted to the gansey, and a little more research led us to a Gansey Getaway.

In addition to the historic interest, the Gansey sweater is quite a respectable garment.  With warmth and durability suitable for fishermen on the high seas, they also display appealing textures and other intriguing details. One interesting feature is the reinforced cast-on edge, giving added texture to the bottom band and resisting wear and tear.  Another feature is the underarm gusset which provides increased range of motion to the wearer, less stress and wear at the arm join for sweater longevity, and an interesting construction detail for the knitter.  The gansey can even, with historic integrity, feature deep colors.  I have decided to knit a gansey for each of my sons.

The durability of the garment is important to this project because the sweaters will be worn by active and messy children and often laundered by a stay at home dad.  Oso has been known to shrink woolen-wear in the wash; also he never treats stains.  He is an excellent spouse otherwise.  So in the interest of preserving domestic tranquility, I decided to knit the sweaters using washable wool or wool blends.

After the obligatory browsing of Ravelry, I found a child’s pattern that intrigued me:  Snakes and Ladders.  It looks squishy and dense.  It features an uncrossed cable pattern that I haven’t tried before.  I found that it was written by Beth Brown-Reinsel.  That name rang a bell for me and I remembered reading about her before.  She is a gansey historian and I had seen her pattern years ago for “At Sea Gansey” when I read Knitting in America; in fact, her gansey was my favorite pattern in the book but it was above my knitting ability at that time.  I decided to order Knitting Ganseys, Brown-Reinsel’s book.  It was published in 1993 and is easily and inexpensively available as a used book.

I have already knit the sample gansey from the book and I can say that I very much enjoyed the process.  (My idea to use up a partial ball from my stash backfired and I could only make one sleeve… sigh.)  The book is structured so that you can read about the different gansey techniques you will encounter from start to finish as you knit the sample sweater.  Simple technique illustrations and descriptions are provided.  The half-dozen or so patterns are written simply and refer back to technique illustrations earlier in the book for specifics.

I am optimistic that the required skill and patience will be within my reach, that my gauge will be spot on, and that my kids will love the sweaters or at least consent to wear them long enough for a photo.

If you want to join the Knit Along or read more about it, go to Polly’s blog, Knit me for a Loop.

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Update and Antics

Last weekend, in a failed attempt to destroy the outside of our house, one of our big oak trees dropped a large limb on our house.  This limb, weighing an estimated 1.5 tons, fell onto the house, rolled across the roof, and then fell onto the porch, leaving a small hole or two, scraped shingles, and some rough edges in its wake.  It was a futile attempt.  We didn’t even lose power, although we have suffered some inconvenience and some wracked nerves.  Next week we hope to get a new roof on our house, thanks to our home insurance company and our helpful neighbor who is also a roofing contractor.

Following the tree incident, there have been several incidents with our children, who have together, sought to destroy the inside of our house.  I guess they don’t realize they have to live in it too.  I think the root cause of these deviant behaviors is that espOso and I have been preoccupied with the roof and they haven’t been getting their usual levels of emotional attentiveness and physical exercise.  Here is a sampling from yesterday:

During the day while I was at work…

  1. Twin B spilled Twin A’s milk at breakfast, intentionally.
  2. A spilled A’s milk at breakfast, intentionally.
  3. One of the twins pooped on the floor upstairs. We aren’t sure this was an accident.  If you know our family well, you will know who did it, and you may suspect considering the age of the perpetrator, that it was an intentional.
  4. B smeared toothpaste around the bathroom, on surfaces including the sink, the door handle, and his father’s abdomen.
  5. During the cleanup from that, his father walked back into the bathroom and was astonished to see B standing upon the bathroom vanity systematically pouring water on each of the lightbulbs of the fixture above the vanity. He temporarily lost his speaking ability, but I assume he recovered it pretty quickly.
  6. Twin A immediately switched on the lights and verified that they still work.

I returned home from work so now both parents were on duty, having a quiet after-dinner discussion in the living room about how the day was going when….

  1. B poured out nearly half a gallon of vinegar on the kitchen table where he was lingering over his kale. He came into the living room to complain that his lips and eyes were burning a little.  We soon understood why.

Oso left for work and I was on duty for the afternoon.  As my first action I attempted to retire to my room for a moment of reflective solitude.  Twin A retired with me, however, and we both reflected on a book about landscaping for a few moments.

  1. Too much silence prompted me to check on B and found him standing on the top platform of the cat tree washing the picture window with a wet pair of shorts. Wet with water from the fish tank.
  2. Upon closer inspection, I found submerged in the fish tank a very clean pencil case and a turned-on flash light. “So the fish can see better,” B explained.   How helpful.  I guess he needs to see well for his pencil drawings.
  3. B asked if he could cut paper with scissors. “Sure, it will be a mess,” I thought, “but it will keep him busy while I reassure the fish and clean up this other mess.”  I gave him both paper and scissors to develop his fine motor skills. *  He  tested the sharpness of the blade by cutting the cords to the little fan we use in the kitchen and also his dad’s new phone charger.  Good thing we only use intrinsically safe tools around our house…
  4. Meanwhile, Twin A had gone to use the potty. When I went in for the wipe, I smelled a strong scent of Old Spice.  There, on the floor, were fragments of a stick of deodorant, smashed to smithereens by little fingers.

At 7 p.m. I hustled them out to the community garden to get out of the house so that there would be something left of it at bedtime.

  1. At the C.G., B picked an unripe tomato and over-watered the potted plants in an attempt to be helpful.

The rest of the day was, thankfully, uneventful.  Oso returned home from work and we kept a close eye on the boys til bedtime.  Does anyone want me to drop the boys off ant your house for a few hours?


*Yes, Barb, I should have watched him the whole time.  But I left him unattended for … just a minute.

Last week in the rose garden…

When I decided to plant a few roses I started by doing the research.  You know, the best thing about doing something new is the research.  The internet is great– I really like the gardenweb forums where I can look in the very active Carolina Gardening forum and several rose forums, and see which plants struggle and which are easy.  Our library system also has a good nonfiction dept.  I read a couple books about roses and I tried to pick out a few varieties that would combine beauty with scent and also be easy care.

I started to ask my spouse if he and the boys would like to tour a rose garden with me. Then I recovered my senses and asked whether he would mind me taking a day trip without him to see the Wilson Rose Garden.  As soon as he realized he was off the hook for looking at flowers half the day he was supportive and enthusiastic.  I have a coworker who likes gardening and is pleasant company, and she agreed to go with me.  We made our plans back in the winter to go in May when everything would be in bloom.

Located at 1800 Herring Avenue, Wilson, NC, the Garden looks small on google maps but it has a lot of roses.  It is about an hour from my home.

The main attraction for me was the Old Garden Roses section. I feel intrigued by these historic flowers, many of them come in soft colors and have famously lovely scents. Also there is the mystical idea that some of them are so ancient they could be clones of a flower that bloomed during the time of the Roman Empire, Christopher Columbus, William Shakespeare, etc.  These old roses have survived the decades or centuries because they are tough.  However, I am learning that location is everything.  A rose like the Damask from the Midde East might prefer drier climates than the Southeast(ern U.S.); a rose like the Gallica from France might prefer cooler weather than we can offer here.  So I was hoping to see how these beauties were coping with eastern NC.


In the Old Garden section there were several empty beds, some had labels in them for roses I had hoped to see.  Either they had been overcome by the shade on that side of the garden or by the climate extremes we have around here.  The example of the Damasks (Ispahan) had already bloomed for the year by the time we visited in late May.  I saw no Gallicas.

I enjoyed seeing the Peace rose, a modern classic popular from the time it was introduced at the end of WWII.  I have read about this one but never seen one outside of photographs.  The rose books do not exaggerate it’s loveliness.

My friend gravitated toward the more modern roses.  There were some brilliantly colored roses with yellow in the center, progressing out toward coral, orange, and red shades.  These were her favorites.  She also liked Mutabilis, a china rose on which the flowers change color as they age.

We saw a rose with small, purplish, fragrant flowers that we both liked because of the scent.  That bed was perfuming the whole garden.  I wrote the name “DayDream” in my notebook but none of the websites advertising the DayDream rose indicate that it is highly fragrant so maybe I misread the tag.

We both really liked the Rugosa roses.  They had beautiful folliage, some nice flowers, and lots of cute little rose hips forming.


When we had seen enough roses, we sat in the shade on the garden wall and chatted about our husbands and our careers and what our kids are up to.  It was a sunny morning with a  cool breeze scented by the roses.  For me that was a big highlight of our trip, beautiful surroundings, good fellowship, and the peace and quiet to relax and enjoy.

As noon approached we went to a Jamaican restaurant for lunch and decided to look for the Whirligig museum before we went home.

The whirligigs turned out to be the most interesting part of our trip to Wilson.  Wilson is an example of a town that once housed a prominent industry, in this case tobacco, that has moved on.  NC has a lot of towns like this that formerly housed industries like textiles, furniture, tobacco, etc.

Wilson is remaking itself into a destination town.  It has fast internet, lots of free parking, an Amtrak stop, and several tourist attractions besides the rose garden 🙂  Our tour guide told us that the whirligig museum will, when finished, be the largest free theme park on the east coast.  [Maybe he said the U.S. or the world.  I can’t remember but I’m trying to be conservative with my quote.]

Wilson was the hometown of Vollis Simpson, a creator of whirligigs.  You can read what a professional writer said about him in  NY Times “Junkyard Poet of Whirligigs and Windmills”.

Our tour guide said after Mr. Simpson’s retirement his wife asked him to tidy up his shop.  Instead of hauling away the odds and ends, he began to make whirligigs.  Mrs. Simpson, I know what it’s like…

Some whirligigs are large, some are small, they generally have a wheel that spins in the wind and powers a little man chopping wood or riding a bicycle or playing a guitar.  They are brightly colored and some have a lot of reflectors on them.  A large whirligig is featured at the NC Museum of Art.  We actually saw this one in the repair shop while we were there.  Mr. Simpson’s whirligigs were featured at the 1996 Olympics in Georgia and internationally.  He also had a pasture filled with whirligigs on his farm.

In Wilson, we walked down the street toward what we thought was the whirligig park. It looked disappointing– a run-down-looking paved area with a shop.  We wandered in and found that it was the museum-like refurbishment area for the Whirligigs that would be placed in the park.  Inside the shop was the work area and also some exhibits.  It was neat seeing them up close and in pieces like that.

A few things I learned

  • The reflectors used by Mr. Simpson were mostly cut from Dept. of Highways signs.  He sourced them from a prison where they were manufactured.  Part of the restoration process is to duplicate the exact lettering on the pieces of reflectors.  However, out of spec DOH signs are now contracted to one recycler and the restoration workers must duplicate their own sign pieces.  Our tour guide says this is probably easier anyway, since the fragments are so small it would be difficult to index the leftovers if they were cut from existing signs.

Part of a whirligig at the repair shop.  Note the reflectors.

  • Mr. Simpson used whatever paints he had on hand and did not take care to make the finishes weather resistant.  Now they are being sanded down and painted with a 30-year-grade, archival type paint for metals.
  • Mr. Simpson used whatever materials he could get from junk-yard establishments.  For example, one structure uses wind-catchers made from a bunch of metal wine-glasses with the stems cut off.
  • Some of the old whirligig parts will not be restored, they will be dismantled and the rusty, historic-effect pieces will be used for indoor museum exhibition.  Duplicates have been cut out to replace them on the refurbished whirligig.

Old Guitar man for the indoor museum and new guitar man for the park.

The park site is down the road from the shop and our guide walked down with us to see it.  There are plans for seating and informational kiosks, sidewalks, and food vendors.  Across the street will be a microbrewery.  In NC we have a microbrewery across the street from everything.

Eventually, Mrs. Simpson came out ahead as Mr. Simpson was able to sell some whirligigs to collectors and institutions, nationally and internationally.  I don’t know if he ever cleaned up his shop, but Mr. Simpson, in his 90’s, was able to sell his own whirligig collection, out in the pasture, to the town of Wilson for a tidy sum.  The town was told, by the appraiser, that they got a bargain.  Mr. Simpson knew that his creations would be restored and cared for.


Several refurbished whirligigs have already been installed in the unfinished park.

My friend and I left Wilson in time to get home about the time we would be getting home from work.  It was a nice break from my daily routine and I really enjoyed my day off.  If you decide to visit Wilson someday, stop by Raleigh and see me!

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