Hugelkultur Is Happening!

If you haven’t as yet heard of hugelkultur, you will soon enough. Its time has come. Which is ironic when you consider that the concept is hundreds of years old. When I learned of it, my first thought was that this harked back to agricultural practices when nothing was allowed to go to waste. Environmentally sound, sustainable and actually quite intuitive, hugelkultur makes so much sense. You’ll see.

The very first time I saw hugelkultur being implemented was on a property in southern Vermont. What I saw looked, frankly, a bit appalling. The house and its corner lot looked shabby which in itself was not awful – the kind of place I assumed the owners were either physically or financially unable to maintain it. It happens. But what looked to me as deliberately messy was the front right quadrant. It had these big compost heaps on top of which grew haphazardly some tomato and other plants. There appeared to be no attempt to have it look tidy or purposeful. I took pictures of this because I loved how plants will grow wherever they can. It was a couple of years later that I read about hugelkultur and then recalled this property. It was not the best example but clearly the gardeners knew what they were doing. Just not very attractively. But, who am I to judge? I’m the one with the wild ‘meadow’ after all.

Hügelkultur is a German word meaning mound culture or hill culture. It was practiced in German and Eastern European societies for hundreds of years.
It is a process of composting in place using raised beds built in layers of wood debris and other compostable plant biomass. The method improves soil fertility, water retention, keeps the soil warm, supports microbial life that in turn enrich the soil, Traditionally, these beds are mounds or hills. The beds can however be built up like more traditional square or rectangle raised beds. A lasagna of sorts!

At a time when we are doing our best to recycle, reuse and reduce, hugelkultur is a godsend. It is in essence a permaculture technique and the beds are raised by layering organic material. Starting with the roughest material like rotting logs, topped with layers of thin branches followed by twigs and such, then grass clippings and other compostable garden waste, and finally, a layer of top soil. As the lower levels in the bed break down, they create most suitable environments for microbes necessary for healthy soil. This in turn permits better moisture retention and slow release of nutrients.

As the materials break down, there is some settling but by adding leaf mould and compost regularly, an ideal height can be maintained.

Instead of bagging the leaves and twigs for curbside pick-up, the materials can be put to use in the garden itself. No chipping or shredding needed.
As the wood decays gradually, it becomes a constant source of nutrients for the plants. In large beds, the nutrient output could be sustained for as long as twenty years. As the composting occurs, the heat generated extends the growing season.
When the logs and branches break down, there is an increase in soil areation. Hence, this method requires no tilling or turning over of the soil.
Wood can act like sponge. Rainwater is stored in the logs and branches and released during drier periods. Apparently, after the first year, with the exception of droughts, one may never need to water again.
Hugel beds also sequester carbon in the soil.
In essence, one can start such a bed by simply starting by building the layers from the ground up on the selected site. However, it is recommended that if you are starting on sod, then cut out the sod, dig in a trench with a depth of about a foot and then place the logs. Add the thin branches, the twigs and then the cut out layer of sod face down, followed by the other materials. A bed with steep slopes is the most recommended. This increases the surface area for planting and also avoids compaction from increased pressure over time. The steep sides means higher height and so easy harvesting. Greater the mass, greater the water retention.
Types of tree wood make a difference. Hardwoods are best as they decompose slowly but softwoods can also be used. A mix is ideal.
Woods that work best: Alders, apple, aspen, birch, cottonwood, maple, oak, poplar, willow (make sure it is dead or it will sprout).
Consider woods that are naturally anti-fungal, decay resistant or produce saps and tannins only if they are already well rotted. These are cedars, juniper, yew, eucalyptus, black cherry, camphor wood, osage orange, pine/fir/spruce.

Avoid altogether – Black locust (will not decompose), black walnut (juglone toxin), old growth redwood (heartwood will not decompose and redwood compost can prevent seed germination).

At this time, my small garden has no spot for experimenting with hugelkultur. But, I’m hoping one or more of you will give it a try. Please tell me if have already or are ready to try this method. I’m so excited about hugelkultur – it could be a game changer in our efforts to restore and maintain a healthy, ecologically sound environment.

Don’t forget – you can follow me on Instagram seedsofdesignllc

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The lot in Vermont I

The lot in Vermont I

Lot in Vermont II

Lot in Vermont II

Lot in Vermont III

Lot in Vermont III

Bonus picture! A New Dawn rose in my garden.

Bonus picture! A New Dawn rose in my garden.

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Growing Peace

You must be the change you wish to see in the world -Mahatma Gandhi
I had been thinking of a very different topic to write this week but, the tragedy in Orlando has channeled all thoughts to what we can do to heal our hearts and become whole again. This being a space for garden related matters, I don’t usually speak on other topics but this horrific event affects us all. It must affect us. I refuse to believe that mass shootings and other expressions of hate and intolerance have become the new normal.
And yes, gardens do indeed have a positive role to play.

We appear to have lost our way in this busy world. Somewhere along the line, we have become disconnected with each other. As much as we have more ways than ever to stay in contact, we are actually more distant than ever before. Is it really more satisfying to communicate via texts and tweets than taking the time to talk in person? Is FaceTime preferable to face-to-face time? Admittedly, these digital, electronic modes of communications are marvels and they certainly have a place in the big scheme. However, in no way do they replace the effectiveness of personal contact.

One could very well derive satisfaction from having a vast numbers of ‘friends’ and ‘followers’. But what does that really mean? Being a friend or a follower has responsibilities in both the real and digital world. What we say or do has impact. Does one not need to actually get to know people well before calling them friends? How do we become followers so readily and easily when we know nothing much about those we choose to follow? I seriously believe we have permitted ourselves to dull our innate instincts and social cues by the virtual ‘community’ that we have created.

Think about this hypothetical situation – you send a text or email to a friend asking how she is doing. She replies she is fine. And your day goes on its course. Later you hear that said friend has moved and you, while surprised, think nothing much of it. Weeks or more go by before you learn that your friend now resides in a halfway house and has lost custody of her kids. What? But her texts sounded fine! You feel terrible but how could you have known! We’re all guilty of similar lapses on our part – when we failed to do better.

So I ask, would it have been different if you had actually met? Looking into her eyes, reading her face might have indicated something was amiss. Her physical appearance could have said all was not well. Her tone of voice, her slowness to smile, the state of her hair or nails might have alerted you. Noting such details is only possible when we actually see the person. If we cannot make the effort to know the true state of our real friends, how then can we possibly gauge the state of the world around us?

It’s kind of like checking the health of the garden from the kitchen window. Until you go out into the garden and walk the paths around beds and borders, you cannot see the weeds, the pest damage, the growing buds, the emerging fruit or smell the roses. All might look well from afar but only on close examination can the ‘dis-ease‘ be observed.

I am convinced that while it can be daunting for any one of us to solve a crisis, if each of us just did our small part in tending to our neighbors, neighborhoods and participating as a community on a daily basis, we’d be making a real difference in the big picture. If we talk to our neighbors regularly, gather with family and friends often, volunteer weekly in community events, then we’d have a finger on the pulse of our surroundings. Any type of change will not only be noted but appropriate action can be taken as soon as possible. In the same token, we can share in each others good fortune. To celebrate the joys of those we care about enriches everybody.

While we cannot presume to remove or solve all the problems plaguing the world, there is a great deal to be achieved by our own small endeavors to make the world more beautiful and peaceful. If we want kindness, love, harmony and laughter in the world, then lets start by living more deliberately as kind, loving people. Live and let live.

While you’re at it, grow gardens of peace. An organically cultivated space free of toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers, rich in flora and fauna, brimming with beauty and life affirming bounty can only improve the world. These gardens should not be restricted to our own private retreats. Imagine such thriving loveliness in our parks, playgrounds, traffic islands, median strips on highways, once abandoned land, anywhere that could use a dose of plant power. Gardens draw people to itself. They are meeting grounds. Just as it has been proven that by addressing the ‘broken window’ syndrome to decrease the crime in a neighborhood, making gardens in otherwise neglected areas serve to uplift a community. As communities get healthier and happier, the world gets healthier and happier. But, it must start with you and me.

Note: I’ve included images of the five flowers that are symbols of peace. My garden grows four of them. I’m now looking for white poppies to plant …

Apple Blossom

Apple Blossom

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Basil in pots

Basil in pots

Lavender

Lavender

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White Poppy

Violets

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

June Showers, Arbors And Super-Towers

The peonies are coming into their own. So, thundershowers cannot be far away. It is inevitable. Just when the peonies in my garden froth over in pinks and whites, the weather turns ugly. First, temperatures will rise ‘unseasonably’. As this happens every year, I seriously question the weatherman’s idea of unseasonal. Then, the days portend thundershowers. Humidity rises, skies stay overcast. Should I or shouldn’t I? As much as I love seeing the garden glow in peonies, I know the rains will finish them off. Not only will the flowers be destroyed, they will make a real mess. Brown, slimy masses of petals will cling to the plants and more will mat the ground. Ugh.

The question is, how long can I let the garden keep itself pretty in peonies? If I harvest too early then there is that sense of depriving oneself of the show. If I wait till the first fat drops of rain hit, I might not be in time to get all the flowers. And while it is so deliciously decadent to have bowls and bowls of peonies on every surface in the house, the blooms don’t live on as long as they do on the plants themselves. All dilemmas should be this superficial! Still, I suffer. Briefly.

The roses have begun taking center stage. Soft shades of pink cascade on the two arbors. Like vain beauties they appear to beckon passing photographers but I’m all they’ve got. The white Paul’s Himalayan Musk roses form a spectacular canopy on the old apple tree in the meadow. The heavenly scent of this rose is lost on the myriad birds sheltering within. But the very notion of living under a bower of roses appeals enormously to my sentimental side and so I allow myself to think that my feathered friends appreciate their prime real estate. They had better because, the apple tree is now dead, its structure is on its last legs and I am trying to come up with a solution to keep this rose bedecked aviary securely held up. Something functional and tasteful. A sculpture with a purpose.

Meanwhile, the alliums are going strong. Taller than most other plants, they are having their fifteen minutes of fame. Like exclamation points they bring a degree of mirth to the spring garden. Even after they are done, their seed heads command a certain stature. But, I’ve found that if I let them stay on, the alliums do not come back the following year. So I’ve taken to cutting them down once flowering is over. If any of you have other suggestions, please do pass on your tips.

The foxgloves in the herb garden are stunning. They are bigger and taller here than anywhere else. A different variety whose name I must hunt down. The spires keep getting taller and presently I’m concerned they will be toppled by the fierce rain.

Oh the petty worries that plague! We gardeners thrive on tormenting ourselves over stuff like this. One should always be so blessed.

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Before the storm

Before the storm

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Paul's Himalayan Musk

Paul’s Himalayan Musk

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Boundless June

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June. – Al Bernstein

What comes to mind when you think of the garden in the month of June? Hands down roses. Right? But in truth, June brims over in flowers of all sorts. Peony, iris, wisteria (American variety), foxgloves, astilbe, alliums, columbines, clematis, camassia, geraniums, baptisia, amsonia … the list is almost endless.

It is the garden’s enactment of ‘schools out!’ Restless, youthful energy unleashed.

Here in my corner, we are still experiencing weather that can only be described as peculiar. Too cold/too hot/too dry/too wet. Goldilocks is having a hard time pronouncing a day ‘just right‘.

The past week sizzled well into the 80’s. While it put us humans in a ‘high summer’ frame of mind, the flowers already on show were rudely booed out and the ones waiting in the wings found themselves rushed to stage front. I personally feel cheated of at least a week. A week in which I could’ve enjoyed the warm-up acts whilst in eager anticipation of the main show to come. Only a month ago, the unseasonably cool temperatures delayed the opening of myriad buds. And now the unseasonable warmth and humidity have done their deed. Not fair at all.

But enough of my kvetching. It is what it is. There is no more time to waste. The garden is there to be enjoyed. Weeding, watering and deadheading are the quotidian chores – all easily kept up with if done regularly. So there are plenty of hours each day to revel in the riot of flowers and lush growth. After all, who knows what turn the weather will take next.

In the potager, the leafy greens are already being picked daily for delicious, fresh salads. And the assorted herbs brighten everything from cocktails to sauces to grilled vegetables and seafood to fresh fruit desserts. Did I mention cocktails?!

Summer has indeed begun.

Enjoy the glut of photos this week! And please follow me on Instagram

Also, check out new additions of my fabric designs here

Peonies

Peonies

Iris and allium

Iris and allium

The meadow

The meadow

An explosion of alliums

An explosion of alliums

Foxgloves

Foxgloves

Allium

Allium

Camassia

Camassia

Amsonia

Amsonia

Bleeding hearts

Bleeding hearts

New Dawn roses

New Dawn roses

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Ornithogalum

Ornithogalum

Baptisia

Baptisia

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Debunk, Demystify, Disguise. Part II

In coming up with solutions to problems or changing unsuitable conditions inorder to create a better, more beautiful garden, I find it particularly gratifying if I can meet the challenge in the simplest yet, most creative manner. Given unlimited funds, one can easily vanquish all sorts of impediments. But make new, buy new is too easy. And not always the road to thinking out of the box. I absolutely enjoy stretching my mind to find the least complicated answers. It is also pure fun.

While there are myriad such applications in the garden, for the purposes of brevity, I’m focusing on what I think are the most instructive ones.

Taking it from last week, we continue on the path past the espalier and peonies. This path links the front and back gardens. So, to imply that one is entering a new space, I placed another rose arch at the end of the walk just before one steps down to the herb garden and potager. In placing elements like arches, varying height levels of garden spaces and using low walls to separate the different areas, the small garden gives the illusion of a much larger one.

My herb garden is located over the concrete top of the old septic tank. As a result, the soil here is only about two feet deep. No deep rooted shrubs could grow here. By making it an herb and vegetable garden, it seems natural as the terrace/outdoor dining area is right by. Picking salad fixings for al fresco meals and adding herbs to liven up pizzas and other dishes that get cooked in the outdoor oven is not only a romantic image but a reality.

When I first got this property, apart from the weedy jungle that had taken over, this space had two distinct elements that had to be dealt with. The first was a basketball hoop and stand. Since there are no basketball players in my family, the hoop had to go. In attempting to remove it, I found that only the top two-thirds could be lifted off. The lower third was a steel pole set in the concrete of the aforementioned septic tank. To get rid of it would be a huge project. So, I left it in place and topped it with a birdbath. A simple solution that the birds have happily endorsed. It is used by them constantly. Oh the responsibility of keeping it filled!

The second element was the old depository for the garbage pickup. It is a lidded bin also made of steel and also set in concrete. The ‘dustman’ would pick up the garbage bag from here. The solid container kept out rodents and other inquisitive critters. Again, I was not about to embark on eliminating it. Hence the artichoke sculpture that sits atop the lid. Surrounded by lily-of-the-valley, most of the garbage is hidden and the patinated copper artichoke looks quite well placed and comfortable. In keeping with the potager theme too!

An ugly railing set in the retaining wall at the end of the driveway always bothered me. The railing itself is a necessity and I could have considered cutting the railing off and placing a more attractive one. But I thought that kind of money would be better spent on plants, outdoor furniture etc., Instead, I’ve been wrapping the railing with grapevine prunings. Easy to do each spring after the grapes have been pruned. And couldn’t be cheaper! Eventually, the climbing hydrangea that currently grows over a fourth of the railing will cover the whole.

The last significant feature in the garden is also one that draws all sorts of reactions. (Thankfully, all good ones!) This is the vertical garden of course. For all it’s interest and visual drama, this wall garden conceals a really dreary stretch of cement wall. Sitting right alongside the driveway, there is no room to hide it with pots of plants or any sculpture. The moss and lichen covered, fern and heuchera sprouting wall is one gorgeous cover-up. Ingenious. Even if I say so myself.

The meadow right now! I love it so.

The meadow right now! I love it so.

The path

The path

See how the peony plant now blends well with the grapevine covered support

See how the peony plant now blends well with the grapevine covered support

Arch leading into the herb garden

Arch leading into the herb garden

Herb garden

Herb garden

Birdbath on steel pole

Birdbath on steel pole

The grand artichoke

The grand artichoke

The railing wrapped in grapevine.

The railing wrapped in grapevine.

See how the railing is barely noticeable? Note the climbing hydrangea that will eventually billow out all over the railing.

See how the railing is barely noticeable?
Note the climbing hydrangea that will eventually billow out all over the railing.

The wall garden

The wall garden

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Debunk, Demystify, Disguise. Part I

Okay, I’m going to tell secrets. I didn’t think I had any but apparently, some seem to think I do. I generally go on the assumption that do what I think is right by the environment and goes with my sense of aesthetics. Once I explain certain features or reasons for their existence in my garden, they have been rendered anything from “cheap” to “ingenious”. What I thought was solving a problem in my particular garden appears to have more widespread appeal. After my most recent garden day and noting the most frequently asked questions or features most photographed, I thought I’d simply put down all the whys and hows. By doing so, if it helps any other gardener, then I’ll consider myself honored.

Lets start with my front fence. Since the garden starts right at the street, there is a tendency for people to step on to it without observing that there is a bed of early bulbs and a nice spread of vinca defining it. Clearly, something to ward off such wayward wanderings was called for. A fence was the obvious answer but I wanted it to look friendly and attractive. So I came up with the post and rope design. Solves the problem, defines the garden and still blends well with it. Easy to maintain too.

The walkway used to be a boring band of concrete. Really dull looking. Given the short distance from street to house, a winding or curving path was out of the question. Would be ridiculous and pretentious all at the same time. Simply replacing the concrete with another material would still just be a wide band. Better but no oomph. Then, inspiration hit and you see what I came up with. This feature is one most frequently commented on, photographed and has made it on Pinterest boards and real estate publications.. The manual, reel mower is all that is needed to keep it looking neat. Boiling water over the bricks puts paid to weeds creeping inbetween.

Again, playing on the very small size of the front garden, I thought it needed something to make one distinctly feel they were stepping away from the garden to enter the house. Easily served by the rose and clematis arch. It gives one pause to view the front garden before stepping forward towards the door. As a bonus, in June, covered with roses, the arch softens the heart and puts a smile on every face. All who enter the house do so in a better state of mind. Sly move right?!
I’ve been asked why I chose a rose that is not an all season bloomer. Personally, I think having an annual showing gives one opportunity to anticipate, appreciate and then archive into the memory banks. It compels me to live in the moment. If the arch was in bloom all the time, I ( and you) probably wouldn’t notice it as much. The special-ness of the display in June is exactly that. Special.

Before we started on the espalier of fruit trees separating my property from our neighbor’s, there used to be a rather wild, untidy hedge of privet, hibiscus (Rose of Sharon), several nondescript, unknown plants and autumn clematis. Not the worst looking hedge but still quite unattractive and leggy. No amount of trimming and grooming improved the appearance.

While I mulled on what to replace this hedge with, trips to Belgium and France exposed me to the elegant yet practical tradition of espaliered trees. Started around the 13th century, this practice allows one to have more trees than would otherwise be possible in a limited space. Additionally, by restricting the height, it is easier to prune the branches and pick the fruit. I desperately wanted to have my own espalier. The Belgian fence style specifically.

Voila! The perfect solution for replacing problem hedge as well as satisfying my espalier craving was born.

I believe in concealing the ‘mechanics’. Just as one wouldn’t want to expose the pins and potions that put a hair coif together or flaunt the underpinnings of an outfit, the elements that support or make a certain garden look happen ought to be hidden. Showing them detracts from what we want one to see.

That said, the peonies that line the right side of the ‘espalier’ path always need to be propped up. The weight of their blooms would otherwise cause the plants to flop down. It is fairly routine to place peony supports/cages just as the shoots emerge in spring. The plants grow through the cages and stay upright. However, the tops of the metal supports are invariably visible. To hide them and at the same time give an organic appearance, I decided years ago to weave the prunings from the grapevine all through the tops of the cages and across the entire length of the peonies. When the plants are fully grown, no metalwork shows and the grapevine blends in nicely. Because my open day is in early soring before the peonies are mature, this design element is visible to visitors. Never fails to be noticed, noted and photographed for copy!

I do think this article is long enough for now and I’ll reserve the rest of the features for next week. There is more so stay tuned!

Here are images of the aforementioned features. I’ve also included a photo of my booth at the Surtex expo that I just participated in. It was new grounds to me and a big deal. I’ll report on it another time:

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

A Garden’s Tale

Open Day came and went. The weather cooperated to the extent that it did not actually rain. A drizzle hung around for hours and it was chilly. A steady trickle of visitors braved the damp, cold conditions and for me, that made the day A-alright. Old and new faces brightened my outlook. Although colors are more vivid when it is overcast, garden visitors tend to come out in much higher numbers when the sun shines. I get it. I too do so much better when the golden rays are present.

I’d worked hard to prepare for this big day. All through April temperatures flip-flopped. Winter felt like spring and spring now is behaving more like winter. There was hardly any precipitation till April. How then was any self-respecting plant supposed to know what to do? But still, I endeavored. Caution has been the name of the game. Tentatively putting out leaves and buds, I’ve been risk averse. There was no way I could rush into full growth mode only to be felled by a severe cold snap. Besides what would’ve been the point, the bees and other pollinators were also playing it safe. Nothing was stirring in a hurry.

Despite the difficult conditions, the gardener worked industriously to get me ready. She cleared winter debris and tidied up everywhere so I could breathe freely. Fed on rich compost and judicious drinks of water, I was nurtured and cared for. I got new companions and said farewell to those whose time had come. Happy to be rid of thuggish weeds and all things harmful, I am aware that I’m amongst the fortunate suburban spaces where my health is of utmost importance. It’s a good life.

But I could sense her frustration. Where were the flowers? No doubt, at an intellectual level, she knew why. But, knowing that visitors adored pretty blooms, she was naturally concerned. While I’d have loved to oblige, it would’ve been fool hardy to ignore the weather conditions. I had to keep the long term in mind.

That caution has paid off. Little has been lost. However, it did mean that the flowers were delayed. With hardly any sunshine to coax the buds open, understandably, there is a hesitation to bare all. A little warmth and light goes a long way in the garden. To make up for the paucity of other blooms, the tulips have lingered longer than usual. They have held the horticultural fort so to speak. Thank goodness for that. I was afraid I’d lose face on open day by having nothing to show.

Meanwhile, the vertical garden had come alive with its many mosses and lichens and young ferns and heuchera. It was deeply satisfying to eavesdrop on all the positive comments on its beautiful, abstract appeal. I am not immune to compliments. Clearly, flowers do not own the show.

Gardeners are notorious for bemoaning to visitors “you should have come last week, the garden was spectacular!” For them, it is never the ideal visiting moment in the garden. Their eagerness to have everything looking perfect keeps them from ever being satisfied. It is the nature of the beast.

Coming back to this most recent open day, I too have to admit that while still charming and full of clever details and design, I looked less than stunning. Sodden after days of rain, it was hard to be very perky.To be fair, the slowness of the plants actually permitted those design elements to show with clarity. Without the distraction of the flowers, visitors noticed the grapevine cuttings that are used to conceal the mechanics of propping up the peonies. The stone ‘books’ got lots of attention. Likewise the different ways brick has been used. The espalier maintained its position as being pretty darn cool. And the checkerboard garden made a good impression despite the fact that all of the phlox had not quite bloomed. I admit that while the whole garden was burgeoning with buds that were just a few days from blooming, I still cleaned up pretty nicely. So on this day, my gardener said “ it’ll look terrific in a week to ten days!” Rightfully, she was not apologetic. Merely wistful. After all, she would have liked everybody to see me at my very best. Still, I was pleased to see her look proud of how I came through.

I will try to do even better next year. I promise. Do be sure to come and see.

Open Day photos –

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photo credit - Dave Fleck

photo credit – Dave Fleck

The 'shop' in the greenhouse

The ‘shop’ in the greenhouse

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

The Darling Buds Of May

Dang! It is cold! Winter is still maintaining a tenuous hold and April showers have spilled into May. Isn’t it time for spring to step up and show who is boss for these months?

If it weren’t for the resilient bulbs, my garden would be hard pressed for flower power right now The hellebores managed to get into the game just in time but the apples and pears were pretty much shut out. They were granted a couple of days before the temperatures plummeted and put paid to the blossoms. I have yet to see any bees so it looks as though my trees may not produce fruit this year.
And the lilacs didn’t stand a chance. The buds succumbed to the sudden cold.

The creeping phlox is scrambling to cheer me up and it’s working. Their exuberance is as effective as toddlers running after waves. Always a happy sight. The broom, full of butter-yellow flowers sends its fragrance wafting into the house as a reminder to come outside and look. Dandelions, ajuga and forget-me-nots are picking up the slack in the meadow and rendering it the horticultural interpretation of the Swedish flag. All blue and yellow. Sky and sun. Lovely. Yes, I can just visualize the lovers of pristine, monocultural lawns cringe! Sigh. They know not what they miss.

Elsewhere, what would typically be in full bloom are only just getting ready to do so. Buds everywhere. Columbines, camassias, alliums, amsonia, baptisia, foxgloves, tree peony, clematis … all in bud. But the buds are growing and growing! Any day now. I’m giddy with anticipation.

I so love the month of May. It has so much to offer along with the promise of still more to come. Peonies, roses, astilbe, irises, heuchera, wisteria, sanguisorba, filipendula, hydrangea …. and on and on till October!

By my Open Day this Saturday, I’m hoping the weather coaxes more buds to bloom. It should be pretty. I’m looking forward to seeing many of you. Come on over!

Creeping phlox

Creeping phlox

Tulip mania

Tulip mania

Blue and yellow

Blue and yellow

Vertical garden

Vertical garden

Allium bud

Allium bud

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Showing Up

From the perspective of a human, the weather these past couple of weeks has been glorious. Sunny, dry and deliciously pleasant. The right degree of warmth during the day to permit one to work long in the garden without getting hot and sweaty and, delightfully cool at night to snuggle under the comforter for oh so cozy sleep. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.

This made it so much easier to attend to the seasonal demands in the garden even though it didn’t look like it usually does at this time of year. At times it felt as though I was operating blind. Catering to the needs of plants that were not quite visible or hadn’t yet shown signs of new growth, felt like my commitment to the garden was being tested. Nevertheless, I went about my work. It actually never occurred to me to not do the chores. Besides Open Day looms near!

From the view point of plants however, things have probably been challenging. With virtually no snow packs this past winter plus what has turned out to be a very dry April, the plants are parched and thirsty. Getting on with the business of growing must be a real struggle. Imagine trying to run a marathon following weeks of dehydration.

In response to the warming up as well as my ministry, the garden has returned the favor by greening up and putting forth all manner of growth. The tulips are staging a very rewarding display. They appear to be a bit shorter in height but still quite fetching. The wisteria have suddenly woken up and the roses are off to a good start. Everywhere, the garden is looking lively.

Showing up. That’s what it’s all about.
Spring Cleaning

Sweep away detritus
Winter’s wild remnants
Prune roses
June’s dress code
Straighten borders
Summer edges to spill

Outside order
Inside peace
Clearing, cutting
Room to breathe deep
Opening, widening
Mind broaden fast

Plants get bigger
Spirits grow higher
Colors multiply
Senses infused
Days lengthen
Smiles brighten

Outdoor classroom
Paradise within

– by Shobha

Note: Don’t forget Open Day is May 7. I’m working hard to get the garden and pop-up shop ready for you!

Pear blossoms

Pear blossoms

Moss and lichen on vertical garden

Moss and lichen on vertical garden

Tulips

Tulips

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Frittalaria persica

Frittalaria persica

American wisteria emerging from hibernation

American wisteria emerging from hibernation

Tree peony

Tree peony

An area in the meadow

An area in the meadow

The checker-board garden

The checker-board garden

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Blind Faith

Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. – Saint Augustine

The calendar says late April but the garden registers early April. The plants are late. In normal years, the apple espalier would be radiant with shiny young leaves and burgeoning flowers. Right now, I have to look so close to notice the tiny bumps of nascence. The native wisteria, for whom the new pergola was built, still appears dormant. Were they traumatized so badly when the old pergola was removed that accepting their new support is too much to ask? I anxiously scan the limbs. What appear to be minute spots of furry gray must certainly be early signs of active growth right? I reassure myself. There is no reason to worry. I must believe even if I cannot see.

With the days finally warming up, as I go about my garden chores, I’m constantly searching for signs of new growth. To determine which plants have survived the winter and which ones didn’t is imperative because the garden needs to be in ship-shape form for Open Day. I do not have the luxury of waiting and seeing. Even while my brow furrows in worry, a voice in my heart reminds me to trust that it’ll all be okay.

We become conscious of faith mostly in times of crises. But in reality, we take leaps of faith all the time. Simply getting up each morning and starting the day is all about the conviction that today will be okay. Perhaps even better than hoped. Getting married, having babies, buying a house, making meals, taking our medicines, forging friendships, sending children off to college, planning vacation, listening to roofers saying the roof needs repairs or replacement ( who actually goes up there to verify?), are all possible because we trust in something bigger than ourselves. God, the Universe, Spirit, Energy whatever we choose to believe, we place our faith in that higher entity because we know we cannot go it alone.

I have learned that having faith is not easy. Fears have to be conquered and that nay saying voice in the head must be vanquished. Doubt, pessimism and cynicism are not compatible with trust. But that isn’t all. A surrendering of control is called for.

One does what one must and then leaves the rest to that force that will take it all the way. Leaps of faith are exercises in patience and trust. Reminders that we are not the boss of everything. Having humility cannot be overstated. It is remarkable how the mind is put at ease when we allow faith to become our partner.

True story. When I was a very young student and nervous about an upcoming test, my father said “Do your best and God will do the rest”. In my desperation to believe, I heard – do your best and God will do the test. And I totally blew off studying for the test. The dismal grade was evidence. You see? I had failed to do my part.

As I go to bed each night, I’m certain the sun will rise again. The garden will grow as it must. And it will reveal what I, the gardener, must do. Tomorrow, I will see what I believe. I just know it.

Reminder! My garden Open Day is May 7. Please come.

Next week :

 Rocky Hills Environmental Lecture by Edwina von Gal

Turning PRFCT: The Evolution and Adventures
of a Rational Naturalist

Wednesday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m.
Chappaqua Library
195 South Greeley Avenue
Chappaqua, NY

Admission free. No registration is required.

Window box

Window box

The wisteria right now

The wisteria right now

Look closely. Do you see the furry grey buds? Growth!

Look closely. Do you see the furry grey buds? Growth!

Apple blossom.

Apple blossom. Went from tiny red bumps to this in a single warm day!

 

Snake's Head fritillaria

Snake’s Head fritillaria

Climbing hydrangea

Climbing hydrangea

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar