Finding A Balance

Ah! The pleasures of autumn! What a difference a week can make. Since this past Saturday, it feels distinctly like fall. Crisp. That word defines the essence of the season. The air is crisp and cool. Crisp apples. Crunchy, crisp leaves underfoot. Even the light has a crisp clarity. I love it all.

Now that the greenhouse is winter-ready, the plants are slowly being moved in. Trimming, picking off dead limbs, washing plant and pot is time consuming. But there is a certain comfort in the ritual as it helps the mind adjust to the inevitability of impending winter. Preparing the plants for that season also prepares me. Inside the house, I’m getting out the shawls and throws, setting up the fireplace with kindling, logs and matches, placing fresh candles, pulling out cool weather recipes, putting away summer linens and stocking up on ingredients for mulled drinks and thick, smooth cocoas. Summer’s bounty is being stored as pesto in the freezer, large canning jars of thick, roasted tomato sauce and pickled cucumbers in the pantry, loaves of zucchini bread also filling the freezer, dried herbs refreshing the spice rack and surplus fruits twinkling in jam pots.

As I trim the plants, I indulge in memories of the recent summer. These are what keep me going when the winter gets unbearably long and severe. And when I’m full of such appreciation, the chores at hand don’t seem so tedious. Sometimes, life is all about tricking the mind. A shift in attitude can make all the difference between whining and celebrating.

I’m also adding plants in the garden – this is a great time to get mature plants into the ground. They’ll settle in nicely and be ready to start growing when spring comes around. I’m expecting my rather large order of bulbs in mid-October and so, I’d like to get all the other chores done before the bulb-planting marathon.

When the weather feels so perfect with just the right combination of sun and temperature, it is hard to get work done. It seems a shame to keep plugging away instead of hanging out with family and friends on the terrace. So, I’m determined to keep a balance. All garden work must cease by Sunday noon so we can sit back under the pergola with the sunlight filtering through the yellowing leaves of the wisteria, get the outdoor oven fired up and while away the rest of the day with gourmet pizza, drink and conversation. What a civilized way to get ready for the work week ahead don’t you think?

Here are a few images of things I’ve enjoyed this past summer:

How many tiger swallowtails can you count?!

How many tiger swallowtails can you count?!

The titan-arum

The titan-arum

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Love this façade in down-town NYC

Love this façade in down-town NYC

Edible window-boxes. Beautiful too.

Edible window-boxes. Beautiful too.

Roasted tomatoes.

Roasted tomatoes.

One of several memorable farm to table meals

One of several memorable farm to table meals

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

 

 

Falling Into Place

Having been away a whole month, I confronted the garden with trepidation. I did have someone checking on things but as we all know, nobody can tend to one’s garden as oneself. What I see is that the garden does not look as awful as I feared but neither does it look as good as I’d like. So it’s been a matter of getting down to basic tasks like weeding, staking, cutting back and general tidying.

Those fundamental chores alone have got the place looking more attractive. But with autumn officially starting in two days, I’m also addressing seasonal work. The summer plantings in pots and window-boxes while still looking kinda okay were on the wane so they’ve been swapped out with fall plants. The fresh appearance has quite transformed the atmosphere – instead of seeming like it is desperately clinging to summer, it feels more ready for autumnal pleasures. My own reluctance to let go of summer has shifted to welcoming fall.

In the potager, cool weather greens such as Swiss chard were replanted. The collards, kale and arugula are still going strong so we can expect delicious, fresh garden produce well into late November/early December. Assuming of course we don’t get unexpected storms or blizzards. These days, who knows!

Just ahead of the much needed rain yesterday, the ‘lawn’ in front was raked, aerated and reseeded. This ought to have the grass up and growing before I need to tread on it to get the fall bulbs planted in the perennial beds in late October/early November.

It is too late to stake some of the plants and there are some bald areas in the perennial beds. Not the best sight for this street facing part of the garden but it can’t be helped. The drought like conditions and string of heat waves have slammed down some plants. I have no idea if they have it in them to return next year. I need to examine which plants still look good and plant more of them instead. I fear the climate shift is here to stay.

In readiness for cool weather, the greenhouse has been washed and cleaned. Starting next weekend, the tender perennials will be pruned, washed and moved into their winter quarters. While it might still feel like summer, the arrival of a severe frost in early October is not unheard of.

And so it will go as the weeks lead up to bulb planting and getting winter-ready. Lots to do. But, the quiet days of winter await. And once again, while we rest our bodies, our minds will be plotting the next growing season.

[ I apologize in advance for the photos being on their side to those of you who read my article on your phone or on Facebook. It happens when I take the photos on my phone instead of my usual camera and I cannot seem to fix the problem. Any advice?]

Note: This coming Sunday September 25, at the Concert Across America to End Gun Violence event at the FCC in Chappaqua NY. I will be reading one of my topical poems.It is at 4:00 pm and admission is free. Please come.

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

What I Miss When I’m Away

I’ve just returned from a month long sojourn. Four weeks of wonderful. But, there is nothing like coming back home is there?!

So this week, I offer you a poem I wrote about how I feel when I’m away. Let me now if you agree or not!

What I Miss When I’m Away

Do you think the plants will be all right?
Will the squirrels get at the fruit?
I hope it rains a little each day
May the lilac not bear offshoots.

I heard the weather back home is balmy
The roses must love it so
No doubt the weeds are frolicking
And the tomatoes beginning to grow.

Read a storm hit the east coast
I had left a few windows open
Maybe no harm was done after all
Nothing felled or broken.

I wonder if the blue bird’s nest is now empty
Have the phlox begun to bloom?
Did the cicadas begin their noon chorus?
Will moths seek Brugamansia’s perfume?

Forgot to pinch back the asters
They’ll get leggy very soon
It’s too late to stake the lilies
They’ll flop like deflated balloons.

I’m headed back right now
It has been fun to travel and roam
My mind took in the new sights
My heart never left home.

Note: My recent travels included a visit with the children at Mukta Jeevan. You can read about it here.

Here are a few photos from my trip(s):

From India:

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Huge statues of Ganesha the Elephant God were being sculpted at this atelier.

Huge statues of Ganesha the Elephant God were being sculpted at this atelier.

From Provence, France:

Farm to table. Delicious.

Farm to table. Delicious.

Which is better? The view or the ice-cream?!

Which is better? The view or the ice-cream?!

Still life of perfectly ripe figs

Still life of perfectly ripe figs

Sunflowers in Van Gogh territory.

Sunflowers in Van Gogh territory.

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Remembering August

Being fully present in the moment is something I consciously try to do at all times. And being present in the garden, in nature, results in such a sense of well being and connectedness to the world around us that I cannot imagine a day without time spent simply immersing oneself in it. Personally, being in nature, observing what is going on, appreciating the nuances and transitions, centers me in a way not unlike the way prayer or meditation works. It gives me the focus and energy to get on with my day and projects. At the risk of sounding clichéd, it makes me a better person.

Yet, the month of August, bathed in sunshine and wreathed in sunflowers can be a challenge to sit still and take it all in. Summer vacations, preparing for the start of school, grabbing time to make the most of the season often leaves one in a whirl of albeit fun activities but with no opportunities to stop and quite literally smell the roses. We pine for this month all winter long and then, when it is here, we are too caught up in the trappings of what we think we ought to do instead of simply letting ourselves quietly soak in the many delights only August can provide.

Now that the month is coming to an end, I’m determined to hold on to the memories of it. They’ll warm my heart on those days of winter when it feels like summer will never will come. I want to remember the mornings spent watching a young pigeon practicing to fly. From way on top of a white pine, it took brief sorties testing its wings and no doubt, testing its courage. With each attempt it went a wee bit further before returning to its perch to catch its breath and perhaps determine how to do better. Practice, practice, practice.

I want to remember the colors of August. Vivid yellow sunflower faces tracking the sun, plump tomatoes ranging from vermilion to Alizarin red, juicy peaches echoing the hues of the sun that ripened them, melons with flesh so sweet and so coral pink, figs in plummy purple bursting with goodness, skies awash in blues matched only by seas skirting inviting beaches, sap green basil leaves perfuming the very hands that pick them.

I want to remember the sounds of this special month. From the early morning atonal chorus of the birds to the ascending pitch of the cicadas in the sultry hours of the afternoon to, the clicks and the hums of the crickets and bees and finally to the soft whispers of moths and bats as they swoop and circle as dusk darkens the day.

I want to remember the warmth of the month when the skin can feel so hot that a plunge into a pool comes as a shock, the illuminated winks of fireflies keeping me company as I sit with that glass of rosé that goes perfectly with every summer meal, the clove-like fragrance of phlox glowing in moonlight, the soles of bare feet cooled by morning dew as they make their way to pick flowers for the table.

So many joyous memories! Please let me not miss a single one.

Enjoy some images of my August below!

Note: You can read about my latest visit with the children at Mukta Jeevan here.

Sunflower field in Provence

Sunflower field in Provence

Tomatoes ripening

Tomatoes ripening

Summer phlox

Summer phlox

August bounty at the farmer's market

August bounty at the farmer’s market

Zucchini blossoms galore.

Zucchini blossoms galore.

Zucchini blossom fritters stuffed with fresh goat cheese. Delicious!

Zucchini blossom fritters stuffed with fresh goat cheese. Delicious!

Figs, glorious figs!

Figs, glorious figs!

Red hot peppers

Red hot peppers

Trumpet vine

Trumpet vine

Spent sunflowers still charming enough to adorn this doorway

Spent sunflowers still charming enough to adorn this doorway

Blue, blue skies.

Blue, blue skies.

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

 

Art In Progress!

In past posts, I have often mentioned the role that sculpture can play in the garden. From giving it gravitas to whimsy, a garden or, for that matter, any space is much elevated by art. In my own garden, I have a few small pieces but I’ve always hankered for something dramatic and large yet one that is empathetic to the surroundings. Art that was site specific. Which of course meant having the work commissioned.

Meanwhile. I’ve had to confront the reality of losing the tree that is supporting the Paul’s Himalayan Musk rose in the meadow. The tree is quite dead. or the present, It is only a matter of time before a big storm easily brings it all down. It needs something to step in and take up the role of rose upholder. Soon.

Hmmm. Perhaps I could combine the two needs? A sculpture that will also brace the rambler would do the trick. Enter Domenico Belli. A metal sculptor and all round nice guy.

Together we’ve worked out what is needed, wanted and downright fun. A work of art that will bear the additional responsibility of taking over from the tree. And in the future, if for one reason or other the rose ceases to be, the sculpture will still be intact and relevant.

Commissioning a large work ( 8 feet high and all stainless steel) feels so grown-up and glamorous. I’m excited, nervous and impatient all at once. Domenico has begun working on it and sends me photos to keep me updated. It’s like waiting for a baby and becoming ecstatic over each ultrasound image. How amazing and what will it finally look like?!

I’m sharing with you the images and you can have a go at guessing the final design. Let me know what you think. After the piece is completed and installed, I’ll tell you more about what I envisioned, how we collaborated and still permitted Domenico to have artistic freedom.

Domenico still has lots of work to do. We are looking to install in mid-fall and I’m thrilled to keep everybody in the loop. Process in any sort of creative effort is instructive. Together we can be inspired.

Note: You can read  about my latest visit with the children at Mukta Jeevan here.

The first shipment of metal arrives at Domenico's studio

The first shipment of metal arrives at Domenico’s studio

Domenico gets started

Domenico gets started

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Bringing Summer To Her Senses

It is already week 3 of August. Summer is a hasting. Have you been making the most of it? Before another day goes by, lets promise ourselves to take in all the pleasures the season offers. High heat and humidity notwithstanding, there is much to savor and it’d be such a shame to miss out. After all, these are the memories one clings to during the seemingly endless cold days of winter.

For now, let’s think less about the chores both in the garden and out. Instead, give yourself the gift of being fully present in the garden. Soak in the the sights, sounds and smells. Absorb every exquisite detail, every last drop. Breathe deeply and inhale the season. Let all the warmth and colors course through your veins and nourish your soul. You will emerge a better version of yourself – I promise.

Enough said. Enjoy the images below. Be inspired.

Follow me on Instagram @seedsofdesignllc

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

 

 

Gardening In The Green

A gardener by occupation is simpatico with the environment. We are therefore acutely aware of what we do in the garden having a direct impact on the environment. Likewise how any change or fluctuation in the surroundings and/or climate immediately affects the garden. There is much in the hands of the gardener to do his/her part in preserving and conserving their alloted corner of Eden.

One is often told what not to do. So working from a positive attitude, lets look at a few things one should do.

Do please compost – This is perhaps the single best thing to do. Yet, I constantly encounter gardeners swearing up and down the garden path their devotion to organic, environmentally conscious practices but not composting at all. Beats me why this is so. Composting is easy.

After all, at its very simplest, it is nothing but tossing garden and kitchen waste in a pile, stirring it now and then and making sure a splash of water is periodically directed its way. Set it up some place discreet and you’re cooking. Well, the compost is cooking. Granted an open pile can look unsightly but setting up a contained area or a commercially available compost bin will eliminate that problem. I compost garden waste in the woods at the back of my property and use a small compost bin for the kitchen scraps of veggies, fruits, egg shells, tea leaves and coffee grounds. This bin occupies a corner out of direct view but is still easily accessible.

Apart from reducing the amount of weekly garbage and eliminating the need to bundle twigs or bag the leaves for pick-up, all of which makes for less work, obtaining one’s own compost to nourish the garden plants and suppress the weeds is hugely gratifying. And very kind to the wallet to boot. Applying compost to lawns, trees, shrubs, flower and vegetable beds puts paid to any need for fertilizers and herbicides.

A healthy compost bin does not smell foul. Like I mentioned, aerating and giving it some water permits the natural decomposition of the plant waste. The worms and microbes do their job quite thoroughly. There is no malodorous effect.

I have been composting for more than twenty years and have not had critters like raccoons, skunks and such raid the compost bin. I do believe they will if the composter is not kept healthy.

Compost is vital for recycling trace elements and replenishing the organic matter in the soil. So much good from so little work.

Do give up using fertilizers – this is a natural follow up to composting. All fertilizers, synthetic or organic, release some of the nitrogen into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, which has 300 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide. In addition, it takes a lot of energy to manufacture synthetic fertilizers so the carbon footprint of a garden is increased.

The run off from lands using fertilizers is full of nitrogen which has become a serious environmental issue. Nitrogen pollution threatens the health of humans and all other animals.

So, why bother with fertilizers when you can use wholesome compost? After all, like a physician who attends to all manner of human health, a gardener too takes care of the health of the earth, environment and all living creatures. So the first motto of a doctor should be the same for the gardener – Do No Harm.

Do reduce water consumption – private spaces consume more water than public parks. That is a fact. To reduce water consumption, mulch everywhere! The aforementioned compost laid over a layer of old newspaper in garden beds acts as both mulch to retain moisture, smother weeds and enrich the soil to feed the plants better. Pine needles, chips of tree bark, cocoa hulls are all useful mulches.

Installing rain barrels to catch storm water run-off will cut down on that water bill. I can’t even begin to describe how virtuous you will feel.

Drip irrigation systems should be on timers so watering is done during the cooler hours of the day. These days, systems that register rainfall and will not get turned on if it is sufficiently wet are available. What a relief to save on wasteful watering.

Do stop tilling – that’s right, do not turn over the soil. Less work again! By leaving the ground undisturbed, the earthworms get to do their God-given work of decomposing the organic matter of plants as they die and return to the soil. As a result, much of the carbon is sequestered in the soil and not released as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By allowing the garden to become a carbon sink, i.e. removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the ground, the gardener is doing the world good. Think local, act global.

Do change the garden tools – as much as possible get rid of gas-powered tools. According to the EPA, 800 million gallons of gasoline are used per year by the 54 million Americans mowing their lawns each weekend. Is that not shocking?
Here is another fact that ought to make you desperate to do something – one gas powered mower emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55mph for the same amount of time.

Instead, use battery-powered or better yet, human powered tools such as push/reel mowers, clippers, rakes and the like. Go one step further and cut down on the lawn by planting native ground covers, trees, shrubs, meadows.

There, you see, none of this is difficult. The problem of climate change demands that each of us become part of the solution. Gardeners can make a significant difference. Collectively, we have the power to make manufacturers, growers, nurseries and politicians listen. Garden by garden we can lead the way. And cover a whole lot of turf! 

Follow me on Instagram @seedsofdesignllc

The rain barrel

The rain barrel

Another view of the barrel.

Another view of the barrel.

Groundcover

Groundcover

The only 'lawn' that gets mowed weekly by a human powered push mower.

The only ‘lawn’ that gets mowed weekly by a human powered push mower.

My meadow with natives and bulbs

My meadow with natives and bulbs

Alliums in the meadow

Alliums in the meadow

The compost bin for kitchen waste in the upper right corner. Do you see it?

The compost bin for kitchen waste in the upper right corner. Do you see it?

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Scent Of A Flower

Every now and then, there occurs an event that lifts us out of our routine, somewhat self-absorbed lives and reminds us that there is a bigger, incredibly fascinating universe of which we are just a tiny part. Events that are rare and uncommon like the aurora or polar lights, frost flowers, super cells, fire whirls in a bush fire, water spouts, ball lightening, the chance to view Haley’s comet. Or, those that recur more widely but still powerful enough to get our attention every single time such as a solar eclipse, the annual migration of the Monarch butterflies, meteor showers, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, forest fires, tornadoes, hurricanes. Each of those occurrences , be they breathtakingly beautiful or devastatingly powerful, brings us down to our knees.

We acknowledge forces at work mightier than ourselves. Our part in the big drama is made clear – we are not center stage.

And so, this past weekend, just such an opportunity came my way. The corpse flower or titan-arum ( Amorphophallus titanum) at the NYBG was in bloom. The plant takes years and requires considerable energy to form buds and then, once there is a bud, the flower matures quickly. It opens over a period of 36 hours and then withers away. So the window to catch it in bloom is narrow. Its characteristic aroma of rotting flesh notwithstanding, the titan-arum is a sight to behold.

I was not going to miss this event. After all who knows where I might be the next time it graces us with a flower! Standing in line along with so many others just as eager and curious as I, it occurred to me that when it comes down to it, we are all the same. Fellow humans trying to make sense of our world and in doing so, understand ourselves a little bit better. What a wonderful, diverse crowd I was privileged to be a part of as we wound our way through the conservatory and approached the guest of honor. Jockeying for a proper view, I heard a myriad of languages and I’m certain they were all saying the same thing – “ Wow! Look at that!”.

There in the reflecting pool, rose the flower of the hour. The spadix looked like a 7 foot finger pointing to the heavens above and the frilly spathe wrapped its base as elegantly as a Fortuny-pleated skirt. In green to cream ombre on the outside, the spathe opens out in a flare to reveal a deep red to maroon interior. It was not quite open when I was there. Even so, I felt quite blessed to have seen this once-in-a-long-while flower.

For the fifteen minutes of audience I had, I was oblivious to the all the news that was being reported on our political goings-on, the dreary to-do list that lingered on my phone, the quotidian worries both real and imagined that dog us all and, the twinges and aches that I woke up with that morning. For that quarter hour, I was given the gift of stillness and a deep sense of connection to every living thing on this magical, blue planet. My take home message – it is worth the hard work and time to do something extraordinary.

As for the famous odor? I hardly noticed.

At a more accessible level, we are given daily and seasonal nudges to put our lives in perspective. Sunrises, sunsets, the smile of a baby as it reaches for your embrace, the honeybee making its daily rounds in the garden, the night sky glittering messages from distant galaxies, the periodic love song of the cicadas. We are equally seduced by rainbows and the autumnal colors of the leaves announcing the close of the growing season. The thawing earth pierced through by tiny, brave crocuses, the unfurling of the summer roses, the deepening blush of the apples in October, the tranquility of the first snowfall – all reminders that miracles happen all the time. We just have to become still and notice. Every time that happens, we become better versions of ourselves.

Please follow me on Instagram @seedsofdesignllc

All of this month, some of my botanical art and poems are on exhibit at the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library in North Salem NY. I hope you will visit!

The titan-arum

The titan-arum

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Music In The Meadow Part II

The ongoing heat wave and drought like conditions that we are experiencing in my corner of the country, is a wake up call to how we use our land. Other parts of the country and indeed, the world, are also being confronted with devastatingly atypical weather. Unprecedented, destructive flooding/drought/heat – take your pick, it is happening. Gardeners must adapt to changing climates and lead the way in sound environmental practices.

That being so, creating native plant meadows is a timely subject to explore and implement.

While my own meadow project has been underway, the trend to create meadows has gained attention and dare I say it, popularity. When I first started my meadow over two decades ago, it was viewed as odd, messy and ‘hippy-like’. My compost bin and rain barrel were also tossed into that category. I even recall my attempts being described as quaint and old-fashioned. So, please pardon me if I feel vindicated now that meadows, composting and, catching rain water have not only become accepted but are official stamps of the environmental conscious. I think I’ve earned my smug face don’t you?!

In creating meadows, we are in essence, restoring a resilient landscape to support bio-diversity and creating a balance in nature. This equilibrium resists invasives, creates a healthy matrix and withstands fluctuations in the climate admirably. Native plants co-evolve with native insects and animals. Like a world class orchestra, such a meadow performs in complete harmony giving us the most uplifting, life affirming concert.

Here are the proven benefits of a native meadow –

There are fewer ticks. Out here, Lyme disease is a real and serious concern. As a result, homeowners feel justified in contractual agreements with landscaping firms to have their property routinely sprayed with chemicals to control the ticks. What they are not taking into account is that even the “organic” applications are not tick specific. All of the insect population is affected. One loses the good guys with every application. Thinking beyond the insects, the chemicals, organic and otherwise, ultimately get washed into the water table. Pets and children who play in the garden, roll on the lawn, nibble on plants are all coming in contact with any and all insecticides, pesticides and fertilizers. Shouldn’t that alone be a serious concern?
When the environment is in balance, the ticks are eaten by other insects, birds and animals. And that is how their population is well controlled.

Once established, that is as soon as the young plants are settled in, a meadow needs no further watering. Think about that.

At no point is there need of fertilizers. Not even compost. And the soil is never turned over nor is new soil introduced. The land is kept as it is. Imagine all the time, energy and dollars saved.

The meadow is cut down just once a year. Mowing becomes a non-issue. Now, traditionally, a meadow is burned annually in early spring. One needs a permit from the town and fire department because burning must be done correctly. However, if you live like I do, cheek to jowl with the neighbors, that is not an option. I do an annual mow down in the fall.
But, if you happen to live on a large enough property with neighbors at a proper distance, burning is much preferred and more effective. Weeds will be significantly reduced and even those that regrow, will be shaded out by the native grasses.
Here is an interesting fact – native plants burn well and burn gently. Those big conflagrations one envisions when we think of burning a meadow or field are created when non-native plants burn.
The dangerous forest fires that rage every year in some parts of the country are primarily in areas abundant with non-native trees and shrubs.

A thriving meadow is utterly beautiful. At every season it offers a different view. And oh the insect and bird life! Watching the wildlife is fascinating and often mesmerizing. It’s better than watching the Discovery channel!

Meadows are naturally productive and nutritious. All creatures benefit from them.

So, are you motivated to give up a part of your garden/property to a meadow? If so, start with small acreage. Learn the process.
Know your plants. Identify the natives, weedy non-natives.
Become familiar with water (rain, ground water flow) and reproductive patters, seed dispersal methods, animal habits.
Whenever one plant, native or non, appears to take over, that is a sign of imbalance.

We introduced the wrong plants, that means we can also remove them. If each of us commits to doing our part, we can restore the environmental balance. The parks, reserves and public gardens alone cannot carry the weight of safe-guarding this glorious land of ours. The responsibility rests on each of us.
We can and must do better than we have thus far.

Enjoy the photos I took recently of the meadow at Linda Horn’s in Spencertown, NY:

The native monarda is a huge draw for all sorts of pollinators

The native monarda is a huge draw for all sorts of pollinators

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Music In The Meadow. Part I

The meadow has been on my radar this year. And judging from the requests I’ve received, it seems so have many of you. Primarily, you have asked to know the full story of my meadow and what ever else I can share on that topic. Here goes!

Ever since I decided to do away with the lawn in the back garden about twenty years ago, I’ve pretty much let whatever grows remain as is. Except of course for scourges like garlic mustard. At the time, this was almost unheard of. I myself had never seen such a thing in a small, suburban garden. There was no handy literature on the subject available and it was way before Google. But I was very eager to try making a meadow ( of sorts). So I applied a dash of common sense and dab of creativity.

“ Like The Bumble-bee, What I Do Not Know Will Let Me Fly” Shobha Vanchiswar
Yes, I have often charged ahead based on that thought. Feel free to adopt it. It works.

The very idea of a meadow is romantic right? One pictures a spread of assorted wildflowers dancing in the breeze, butterflies flitting around, birds singing in chorus, the sun shining, a blue sky dotted with fluffy, blue clouds. All inviting one to run through it carefree and laughing. This is actually not far from the truth. A healthy, robust meadow is a habitat in balance. The diverse plants and animal/insect life make for a self-sustaining environment. So much more attractive than a lawn! How could I resist trying to create such a place in my corner?

Like I mentioned, I stopped mowing the lawn and simply let it go ‘natural’.It took a few years for the lawn to give itself over to new settlers. Much slower than I’d expected but I had to see what really would grow. Turns out lots of green things. Not familiar at that time with the many native, wild plants, I had no idea what was what. But I did know that for the most part, wild plants are generally not given to big, showy blooms. If one compares a wild monarda to a cultivated variety, you will see what I mean. So apart from the happy splash of dandelion yellow and ajuga blue in spring, my meadow appeared mostly green. I wanted a little more oomph.

For spring color, not wanting to inadvertantly introduce herbacious plants that could upset the natural balance, I hit upon the idea of putting in bulbs. Not given to being invasive or harming the environment but instead bringing in beauty and cheer, they are a perfect choice. I started by planting hundreds of daffodils and over the years, I have added a whole host of minor bulbs such a crocus, wood hyacinths, leucojum, scilla, iris reticulata, anemones, ornithogalum (not so minor), small frittilaria along with a slew of alliums and camassia. The ajuga, mysotis and dandelions joined in quite naturally. All of spring, this part of the garden reigns supreme.

But for the rest of the growing season until the whole area gets mowed down, it looks kinda ‘meh’. And until recent years, I was gone for a good chunk of the summer so I didn’t particularly care. Out of sight, out of mind and all that. About four years ago, I started feeling a mix of guilt and responsibility to do right by the environment as well as my garden’s appearance. While the ‘meadow’ such as it is, is not harming anything and actually supports a variety of creatures, my state of inertia was losing ground.

In my mind (okay, also my heart), a meadow is like a symphony. The myriad flora and fauna make up a full orchestra. Every meadow-member has a part to play. Nature is the artistic director and conductor. She is also the composer. The gardener is the manager. The four seasons are like the movements in a piece of music. The tempo, rhythm, mood, melody, instrument voices, expressions can all be compared to how life in the meadow plays out. The slower, quieter winter movement, the fresh, eager, excited spring movement, the loud, exuberant movement of summer, and finally, the poignant, somewhat melancholic autumnal one. Yes, kind of like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

So you can understand my restless mind – I needed to improve my own meadow so it could play a strong, empowering symphony. It had not been allowed to perform at its fullest potential thus far. Many important sections of this orchestra were missing and so, the current concert was lackluster.
With this in mind, I began researching (three cheers for the Internet), talking to those more experienced with native plants, visiting native plant gardens like those at the NY Botanical Garden, Teatown Lake and Reservation, private properties, attending talks by the likes of William Bryant Logan and Edwina von Gaal. On road trips, I braked for meadows and investigated them. Behind the ‘researching’ hides my propensity to procrastinate. It buys time before screwing up courage and launching into big projects. I took my time.

Meadows are generally seen as large open spaces blessed with sunshine. My meadow is assigned a small space in semi-shade. The word meadow is a slight stretch. But it is too open to call it woodland. So meadow it is.

Native plants that could accept being in a suburban, somewhat obscure orchestra were sought out. They might seem unambitious but their skills and ‘sounds’ are no less commendable. I had to give them a fair audition.

Given that there were already many bulbs in place, there was no question of risking losing them by digging up the ground to plant mature native plants. Bulbs are expensive and so are mature plants. I had to source native plant plugs. Being small, plugs are easier to plant and in using them, the bulbs stood to go unscathed. Perfect solution right? Well, native plugs are not so easy to find. Then, last fall, a friend with a penchant for gardens and an interest in native wildflowers shared a source he had recently obtained. That single piece of information was received with the same enthusiasm as some of my friends demonstrate for sample sales at haute couture fashion houses

Finally, this year, I introduced a number of different plants to the meadow. Given the time pressure of my annual Garden Open Day in early May, getting these new additions in was something of a scramble. But it got done. And then I turned my attention to all the other demands of the season.

Native plants are hardier and tougher than non-natives – that gave me permission to not worry about the meadow. In the frenzy of getting the garden ready for Open Day, I failed to consider that it had not rained sufficiently and young plants need some extra TLC. By the time it occurred to me, we had already had a few super-hot days in addition to the lack of rain. And given that the meadow was now thick with growth, telling the young, new plants apart from the old, was near impossible. It was a sea of green. So I’m not really sure whether some if not all of the plugs have made it or if some decided to go dormant or if all bit the dust. I have since done some intermittent watering but it feels like closing the barn door after the animals have escaped.

Still, I’m optimistic. I suspect at least some of the plants would have pulled through. Patience is called for – I must give the meadow another full year before determining anything.

Meanwhile, I’ve been investigating meadow establishment further. Stay tuned for part II next week!

Early days. May 2005

Early days. May 2005

May 20006

May 20006

June 2006

June 2006

May 2007

May 2007

June 2007

June 2007

May 2009

May 2009

May 2010

May 2010

May 2012

May 2012

Up close May 2012

Up close
May 2012

June 2012

June 2012

May 2016

May 2016

Late May 2016

Late May 2016

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar