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

Life Goes On

The early hours of summer mornings often find me puttering in the garden. I wish I could say that I’m out there staying on top of the weeding and what-nots. While I take note of the weeds and to-dos, I don’t necessarily feel moved to get busy. These moments in the garden have become my ‘centering time’. I observe what’s doing and what’s not doing. I watch the birds going about their business – the early birds really do get the worms. Listening to their different songs compels me to seek out where the singers are. Parents warning their babies to stay still in the nest because the squirrels are near by. The crows chasing a hawk away from their neighborhood. The cardinal calling its mate to a veritable feast of berries. Baby nuthatches squawking nervously as they test their wings. Much is happening in the many storeys of the garden.

I see that the columbines have finished scattering their seeds. The pods no longer rattle in the wind. The foxgloves are almost ready to do the same. Maybe in another week or two. The perennial geraniums are blooming and setting seed simultaneously. The amsonia and baptisia seed pods are still green. They will take it slow all the way to early fall. At that time, the purple-black baptisia pea-like pods are ready to be collected for posterity. The color contrasts very nicely with the ochre hued slender amsonia beans.

As seeds are being set and dried, they symbolize the springs to come. So full of promise and continuity. But as reminders to the season at hand, the mallows, echinacea and cleomes are madly livening up their corner in shades of pretty pinks. The elegant, white candelabras of cimicifuga are rising gently to cast a soft glow at dusk. The acanthus however commands everyones attention. The large, glossy, deeply cut spiny leaves and the spikes of white flowers tinted with reddish purple are so impressive. The phlox near by are yet to bloom. When they do, their fragrance will perfume the air from sunset to sunrise.

Way back at the bottom of the garden just beyond the ‘meadow’, the lone oak-leaf hydrangea is holding fort. Its white flowers are the only color against the all green in this area. The other mop-head hydrangea suffered this past winter. The old growth bearing buds for this year were destroyed. As a result there are no blooms this year. Thankfully, the plants themselves did not succumb. New growth has emerged from the base so perhaps next year I will enjoy their blue flowers. But here is an example of how the native (oak-leaf) plant does better than the non-native.

The Concord grapes look smugly expectant. The pale- green clusters, shaded by leaves grow big every day. If the birds don’t get to them first, I’ll be making delicious jam in late September. The preserve will brighten winter breakfasts and remind us that the cold weather will indeed gave way to spring.

Right here, right now the garden demonstrates that birth, growth, reproduction, death are all happening at the same time. No matter what happens, life goes on.

I get back to the house centered and ready to make my own contribution to the world.

Echinacea

Echinacea

Clematis

Clematis

White Echinacea

White Echinacea

Amsonia with bean pods

Amsonia with bean pods

Baptisia peapods

Baptisia peapods

Cimicifuga with spent foxglove.

Cimicifuga with spent foxglove.

Mallow

Mallow

Cleome

Cleome

Concord grapes

Concord grapes

Columbine

Columbine

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Pause Between Acts

Nothing much appears to be happening in the garden right now. All the spring drama has subsided and the summer madness is yet to happen. It is quiet. Given the unusual weather patterns this year, there is a sense of being somewhat out of sync. Things are not normally this quiet in July but I’m not complaining. The lack of rain has been a bigger concern.

While we have not yet declared that we are experiencing a drought, it has been a challenge to keep the plants hydrated. Finding that sweet spot where I’m comfortable with how much watering I’m doing and the minimum it takes to keep the plants happy is critical to the general well being of both garden and gardener. It’s a very fine line.

This moment of horticultural hush is the perfect occasion to take in the soft elements in the garden. The details that get easily overlooked in the fanfare of other loud bloomers. Though these plants were selected deliberately, they perform mostly as supporting characters. While the overall play of colors and textures in a bed are appreciated, these ‘minor’ actors are seldom noted as relevant. Yet, they complement the main guys immeasurably.

Case in point – Sanguisorba tenuifolia Albiflora. I purchased this plant at a rare/unusual plant fair several years ago. Struck by their finely toothed pinnate foliage, I thought they would combine well with other tall, airy, spired and whorled plants. The white, catkin-like fingers of flowers at the tips of slender stems. wave gracefully in the wind. Softened by fluffy stamens, these diminutive bottle-brush blooms are highly tactile. At night, they take on a ghostly glow.

The plant blends well in the naturalistic plantings and watching the individual flowers open top down is fascinating. Yet, if juxtaposed with brightly colored and/or large flowers like Asiatic lilies or hollyhocks, one would hardly see these pale, ethereal blooms.

This variety of Sanguisorba is Asian in origin. It was purchased long before I became conscious of planting mostly natives. As per my rule, non-natives are permitted to remain only if they are not invasive. What a relief that this charmer has not gone amok. It has grown bigger but not spread anywhere else. The foliage alone is striking and I’d miss it very much if it had proven to be a thug.

Without the attention grabbers, I’m at liberty to observe the routine machinations in the garden. The bees on the hydrangea. The birds splashing in the bird bath. The papery, pink mallow swaying in the breeze as though listening to music only it can hear.

I note the still young grapes growing bigger and then I become aware that the birds are keeping tabs on them too. The columbine seed pods are rattling – I can only imagine their seeds finding homes that will become apparent next spring. All of the columbines in my garden are essentially squatters. Yet, I love them so – they seem to know much better than I as to where they should grow.

The fans of blue-green Alchemilla leaves hold beads of rain that sparkle bright in the sun. An otherwise ordinary area suddenly gets its moment to be extraordinary. I wonder if thirsty butterflies ever stop here to get a drink.

It is these days of silent wonder that nurture the soul and set fire to the imagination. Savor them slowly.

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Sanguisorbs tanuifolia AlbifloraNote the foliage!

Sanguisorba tanuifolia Albiflora. Note the foliage!

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Sizzle, Sparkle, Celebrate!

July arrives with the gift of a long weekend. And right away, summer goes into high gear. As though on cue, one slows the normal, frenetic pace, puts down the spade and picks up the lemonade.

This is the month when there is not much new to do in the garden. It is all about maintenance. Weeding, watering, deadheading, mowing. There is something reassuring about the rhythmic pattern of the mundane chores.
Time appears to expand. The days open up to all sorts of fun possibilities. Books are read. Parties happen spontaneously and summer meals linger long. Sparkling in sunshine, the days are lulled by the call of the cicadas and sway of the hammock. The nights glow with starlight, fireflies and flickering candles. They are the what we long for all the other months.

Lets resolve to not waste a single moment of summer in July. Make that lemonade. Place the books in the porch. Commission the ice-cream machine. Clean the outdoor furniture, toss on the pillows, spread the tablecloth. Raid daily the salad patch. Count dragonflies and fireflies. Go off the electronic grid as often and as long as possible. Trade FaceTime for pool time. Turn every meal into a celebration. Let your feet rediscover the pleasure of grass.

With this in mind, I’m gearing up for the Fourth of July weekend. A large pitcher of rose geranium and ginger infused lemonade is chilling alongside other potent libations in the refrigerator. The grill on the BBQ is clean and ready. The potager will serve up fresh salads. A basket of books, a choice playlist and favorite boardgames await. Lanterns hang from trees. I’m prepared to celebrate. And I’ve even taken care of the fireworks. Check out the photos below!

Happy Fourth one and all!

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The first two photos are of Heidi and Stephen Ford’s garden in Chicago.To extend the life of the alliums, Stephen decided to spray paint the spent alliums for a fireworks display!

 Heidi reports – ” We used Rust-Oleum  spray paint ( fluorescent, and glossy enamel ) and when spraying we used newspaper to shield the surrounding flowers from the paint . We held the spray can about 6 inches from the alliums and held the newspaper behind or under as we sprayed.”

 

Photo credit - Heidi Ford

Photo credit – Heidi Ford

Photo credit - Heidi Ford

Photo credit – Heidi Ford

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My meadow is full of alliums but it is not practical to paint them in situ. So I harvested the alliums ( below). By themselves, they make a charming ‘shabby chic’ display don’t you think?

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Here they are all set for the holiday!

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Recreation of Celia Thaxter's porch at the American Impressionists exhibit at NYBG. Note the red, white and blue flowers!

Recreation of Celia Thaxter’s porch at the American Impressionists exhibit at NYBG. Note the red, white and blue flowers!

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

 

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