No Summer Whine Served Here

We are in the last week of August and although the official end of summer is still a few weeks away, these days before school reopens seems like the last call of the season. Sigh. One feels the tug of reality and the obligation to get back to serious, grown-up life. The most carefree months of the year are over.

The days are getting shorter and the early morning air carries with it a sharp, cool edge. Nature is in the process of a wardrobe change for her next gig. She gives herself time to move from one to another. Time to decompress and time to get ready. I take my cue from her and go into transition mode. I’m using this week to get myself centered. Its been a good summer. Not because the garden looked spectacular but because I paid attention and learned from it. I let go of trying to be in control and allowed matters to evolve as they may. I spent more time being present in the garden and enjoying its beauteous bounty than I did tending to the myriad chores. With or without my efforts, the garden went about growing, blooming, fruiting. So things were far from impeccable but who noticed? There was enough to delight the senses and distract any critical mind.

This year, I am satisfied with my own engagement with the season. I managed to strike a good balance between working in the garden and playing in it. And I collected abundant good memories along the way. So, now that autumn is right around the corner, I’m getting set to transit. While the weeding is addressed and plans are being drawn up in preparation for fall tasks, I’m still getting immense pleasure in the way the white hydrangeas glow at dusk. As I bite into a freshly picked fig and my fingers get sticky from its sweet syrup, I block off days in October for bulb planting. My bare feet caress the mosses carpeting the ground shaded by the tree house even as I make a list of plants to introduce in the meadow before the cold sets in.

The fruit will be harvested, the last of the vegetables consumed, newly made jams and sauces canned. But for now, I’ll recall the highlights of my summer and relive the moments of wonder and laughter. Thats plenty. More than one dares to ask for oneself. And then, I’ll be ready to move into fall. Will you?
Here are some glimpses of my summer – away from the garden:

Eryngium outside a restaurant in Vermont

Eryngium outside a restaurant in Vermont


Hints of autumn - end of July in Vermont

Hints of autumn – end of July in Vermont


Birding in Ooty, India

Red-whiskered Bulbul – Birding in Ooty, India


Trumpet vine on a wall - Nilgris, India

Trumpet vine on a wall – Nilgris, India


Brugamansia growing wild - Nilgris in India. This was taken at night. Oh the fragrance!

Brugamansia growing wild – Nilgris in India. This was taken at night. Oh the fragrance!


A clearer but not as romantic shot with the flash turned on

A clearer but not as romantic shot with the flash turned on


Terraced farming - Nilgris, India

Terraced farming – Nilgris, India


Tea plantation - Conoor, India

Tea plantation – Conoor, India


Langur monkey - Modhumalai preserve, India.

Langur monkey – Modhumalai preserve, India.


Mama with baby. Modhumalai, India

Mama with baby. Modhumalai, India


Peacock

Peacock


Lantana growing wild in the forest - Modhumalai.

Lantana growing wild in the forest – Modhumalai.


(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Summer School

I adore discovering new and surprising information on perfectly ordinary subjects. Since the fabric of life is mostly woven with the routine and the mundane, learning something fresh on a regular basis is what keeps it interesting and exciting. I particularly enjoy facts that remind me that I am part of a much bigger, mysterious, absolutely astounding universe. No doubt you feel the same. Right?

Nature provides an endless source of knowledge and anybody who spends time in it cannot fail to acquire some wisdom. There is gain in every encounter with nature. As part of my Mid-point review (scroll down to see the article from two weeks ago) and my ongoing quest to learn something new everyday, I came up with what I learned since the start of summer. Personal observations, further investigations/research and input from others has kept things around here quite interesting.

I observed that hummingbirds do not like to share. Unlike many birds that feed together at a feeder filled with seeds, these tiny avians prefer to dine solo. A feeder with sugar solution invites them to stop by quite effectively but just watch – while there is plenty of room and libation for all, the bird who is there first will aggressively try to shoo off any other bird also wanting a drink. They spend more time sparring than sipping.

Spiders really do make their webs only in fair weather. IF they continue working during rain, it will be a short storm. You have a better way to predict the weather?

I’ve always known the perfume of flowers is stronger as temperatures rise but now I’ve learned that the fragrance is stronger just before a storm when the air pressure is low. I’ll use that as a reminder to cut flowers to bring indoors before the storm smashes them down.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence establishing a link between urban green spaces and a positive impact on human well-being. Unlike the short lived happiness of pay rises, promotions, purchases or that slice of cheesecake, the positive effect of time spent in nature is sustained for long periods. Reason to get outside and enjoy the green as much as possible. Its no wonder one can come in hot, weary and sore from working in the garden and still feel really invigorated.

Amongst many types of birds, the way to a female’s heart is through her stomach. A male bird will ply his object of affection with juicy morsels of worms and bugs. Charming!

The eggshells of wild birds may act like “sunblock”, scientists in the UK have said. A range of birds’ eggs showed adaptations in pigment concentration and thickness to allow the right amount of sun to reach the embryos. No doubt this information will lead to useful applications amongst us sun loving humans.

We are always wondering if there is life on other planets. But if there is, those life forms must be wondering the same right? If ‘people’ on a planet 65 million light years looked at Earth, they’d see dinosaurs not humans. Imagine that. For now, lets do right by our assigned planet. Because eventually, the time will come when the alien ‘people’ from all those 65 million light years of distance, will see us humans. And we’d better look our best.

As a biologist, I’ve known this next fact but when I mentioned it to some others, they were surprised. So I thought I’d share. Fireflies are not flies. They are beetles. Chemical energy is converted to light energy in a ‘cold’ reaction. This is unusual. Most energy conversions use or generate heat. Thus, fireflies are the exceptions that prove the rule. Huge scientific contribution from a very little guy.

Finally, something to ruminate over: Cows do not naturally eat corn – so why is ‘corn-fed’ beef touted to be superior?

Being curious keeps one engaged and connected to the world around us. There is a comforting reassurance in that. We are all part of the grand web – the spiders as well as the flies. Understanding the seemingly ordinary opens the mind, enriches the spirit. We get a sense of who we are and our place in the large scheme. Q.E.D.

Hummingbird at feeder

Hummingbird at feeder


Hummingbird

Hummingbird


Eggs of a dove.

Eggs of a dove.


Empty spider web in the rain.

Empty spider web in the rain.


#SummerSchool
(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Shaping Up

Its August, its summer, its time to ease up and chill. In my book, that means doing less in the garden. I cover only the bare minimum of required tasks. The fact that I go off on vacation this month does not help matters. As a result, my garden looks distinctly blah at this time. Shabby, shoddy and sad are how I’d describe certain areas.

It occurs to me that I really ought to follow my own advice and prepare in advance for precisely such eventualities. Grumbling around, I find I’m not alone. So, I’ve given the matter some thought and come next August, I’m determined that we present the world with much improved gardens

First and foremost, there is the watering. My policy of watering only the pots and not the beds works effectively for most of the garden. Except the two perennial beds in front. The very beds that are the first to be seen by anybody who approaches the house. The beds look very attractive all spring, and reasonably okay in early summer. But, by mid-summer, when temperatures have soared and rain is erratic, they start to look ragged and unruly. Its taken me a while to admit to myself that I’ve been much too rigid in my no-watering rule. I’ve been expecting too much from these hard working plants. They do indeed grow without extra watering but they simply cannot look lush and bloom prolifically which is what is needed in a flower bed. Mind you, the plants placed here for summer display are mostly native choices. Which is why they can survive okay. However, to thrive, even natives must be provided better conditions. While it does not matter how they do in the wild, within a contrived space like a garden, it does. Hence, my decision to water these beds more regularly. As much as possible, I’ll use rain water from the barrel and when that supply runs low, I’ll use the hose. I shy away from automation because I feel it disconnects me from the plants and leaves me unaware of their needs and progress.

Deadheading and weeding regularly will of course go a long way. Mulching well will reduce the time required for the latter considerably.

The remaining tasks need to be done in advance of summer:

Herbaceous plants need dividing every few years to keep healthy. Otherwise, they stop blooming well.
To do this, the plant is dug up and divided by prising roots apart. New growth from the edges are replanted and the tired, center of the clump is discarded. Fall is a good time to divide plants. Feed with compost. Water well till established.

Borders with many, established plants require staking to stop them from drooping or flopping. Placing the stakes as plants begin to emerge makes the task easier. Natural materials like twigs and bamboo blend into the background very nicely. This practice gives the beds a neat and cared for appearance.

Hedges, certain edging plants like boxwood, topiaries, rambling roses and other climbers need taming. Prune, trim, pin back or tie back as needed. Again, this tidies up the look of the garden.

Voila! The garden looks infinitely better.

I’m sharing images of gardens that look vastly better than mine at this time of year:
IMG_6794
IMG_6797
IMG_6846
IMG_6852
IMG_9229
IMG_9248
#summerplans#shapingup
(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Mid-point

The seventh of August roughly marks the mid-point of summer. The season is half over and how has your garden fared? This period can be extrapolated to the year. Mid-points are a good time to take stock. Enough time has passed to give a decent assessment on any project and enough time remains to catch up, do over or start to do. Its a good place to pause and take stock.

Unlike end of season or year end reviews, when its too late to change or rectify, a mid-point review gives one a chance to remedy or recharge. Like a benediction if you will – its a moment to invoke some guidance and wisdom to bless a project’s progress.

I had promised myself this year that I’d cut myself some slack and not get upset about neglected weeding and other chores. I’ve done well thus far. Mostly because taking it easy comes very naturally to me. However, despite the weeds having grown happily, matters have been just fine with my lessened vigilance. It was time well spent connecting with friends over lemonade and salads of freshly picked greens. The tall stack of beckoning books got a bit shorter while my literary appetite was increasingly satisfied. Creative output was given a freedom that only a relaxation of rules and agendas could achieve. I learned to identify the call of barred owls and taught someone how to compost. I spent hours in pursuit of photographing hummingbirds and harvested enough basil to make several batches of pesto which now rest in the freezer till called upon to perk up winter feasts. Loaves of delicious zucchini bread were made and given to friends or frozen for posterity while scoops of ice-cream were indulged daily. Night skies were gazed at and unfamiliar constellations identified right in step with discovering that a splash of lime juice in a 1:3 mix of St. Germain elderflower liqueur and club soda with lots of ice makes for a rather addictive summer drink.

Yet, advances were made in the garden – the foundation of the greenhouse was rebuilt, I designed a chandelier to be suspended from a tree and am now putting it together, plans to improve the meadow and checkerboard garden were drawn up, the watering system for the vertical garden was made more efficient, replacements for the lost apple trees in the espalier fence have been ordered, likewise, the bulbs for fall planting, ideas to make the perennial beds more attractive are under consideration and every now and then, the weeds have been given attention.

What about failures or lapses? I’ve realized that the front perennial beds do not look great in summer because of my reluctance to water any plants in the ground. Going on the conviction that they must be able to cope without help has not always been the best. When the weather has proven extreme, they do indeed need some kindness in the form of water. I have been negligent in keeping the walkway free of weeds and as a result, it looks shabby. For the rest of the season, this must be taken care of every couple of weeks. In the potager, several salad greens have bolted because they have not been harvested in timely fashion. That is wasteful. In future, I must either pick the leaves often or not plant as manygreens. Lastly, several plants need to be repositioned to make room for new introductions – this is not quite a lapse on my part but has come about due to an idea I have for the checkerboard garden. The to-do list keeps growing in any season.

Overall, I think the mid-point review has been useful and I’m not at all dis[leased. I'm just not sure if this is due to reasonable diligence or general low standards.
How have you come through?

January

January


February

February


March

March


April

April


May

May


June

June


July

July


#Mid-point #summerreview
(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Bulb mania And Other Sins

July is at an end and I have no idea where the time has gone. What I have to show for it is my order of spring bulbs for fall planting. I was rather pleased with the results of last year’s selections so I’ve mostly kept to the same list and substituted and/or added just a few. ‘Few’ being a relative perception.

Poring over the bulb catalogs is a time consuming activity that I enjoy thoroughly. Having visited the tulip fields in Holland and attended the “Bulb Stock Market”, I fantasize about my selections in their birth place, growing in thousands and brokers bidding heatedly for them. I imagine my choices to be the best and most prized. It doesn’t take much to transport me to the times of Tulip mania. No doubt I am the most manic of the lot. As it is, when I make up my annual order, I lose all sense of budget and other practical matters like how much time and energy will be required for planting. I’m lustful, avaricious, extravagant and gluttonous. How many Deadly Sins was that? I’m pretty sure I cover the remaining along the way.

In my pursuit for bulb happiness, I pay no mind to others who have thus far willingly put up with me under the roof we share. Their thoughts, interests and time are of absolutely no consequence. I assume they will be assisting me in getting the rotund treasures in the ground. And I’m prepared to threaten and bully. I’m also fully aware that afterwards, I will be contrite and win them over with my best, most loving behavior and reasonably good baking skills.

Some, okay several, bulbs are squirreled away for forcing – they are provided prime real estate in the family refrigerator where they slumber peacefully for the better part of four cold months. Foods considered non-essential or merely indulgent are refused space. Grumpy faces are studiously ignored.

I think this behavior has pretty much nixed my chances of an entry through the Pearly Gates. Then why am I presently feeling so smug and self-satisfied?

Note: Get your bulb orders in now! Then you can forget about them and get on with your summer. They’ll arrive at the right planting time for your zone.
I’m sharing images of bulbs rendered by me in watercolor. Because right now, spring is only in the imagination.

Hyacinth

Hyacinth


Tulip

Tulip


Scilla

Scilla


Crocus

Crocus


Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata


Lily

Lily


Bulb catalogs. I've ordered from John Scheepers for many years.

Bulb catalogs. I’ve ordered from John Scheepers for many years.


#SeedsDesignBulbs
(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Summer – A Seasonal Paean Or Pain?

Swelter, scorch, steam, sizzle,
Burn, blister, boil, broil
Frizzle, fried, feverish, fiery
Humid, hazy, hellish, hot
Summer is here
Winter is not.

To be perfectly honest, for the most part, I can skip summer. Its true. I succumb very easily to the heat and humidity and scurry to cool interiors faster than a New York cockroach can hide. The idea of summer is enormously appealing. Long days, slower pace, birds and bees in high gear, flowers exploding, fruits ripening, outdoor parties, picnics, bare feet, pool pleasures, lemonade, vacations and so much more. All good and much enjoyed. Yet, I spend a great deal of time longing for cooler, drier weather. Like spring or autumn.

My energy plummets severely in summer. I used to think I was just lazy. That always kept me in a heightened state of guilt which understandably was not happy making. It dawned on me only a few years ago that some people are not summer people. This is no different from those who cannot tolerate winter. They too, no doubt, relish the cozy times by the fire, the hearty stews, the warming drinks and the vigorous snow activities and in the end, be willing to by-pass the dark season all together.

If only one could choose the seasons one wants to enjoy. I know, I know – just move to wherever our preferences lie. Thats easier said than done isn’t it? Jobs don’t appear at will and more importantly, loved ones don’t necessarily want the same seasons. So what are hapless souls like me to do?

For a start, we plan our gardens for when we enjoy them most. In my case that is spring and then fall. In doing so, I’m not investing heavily for a time when I’m not around so much. Then, happily accompanied by birdsong and/or the trills of crickets, I spend only early morning and evening hours outdoors. The cooler times of day. Garden chores, moments of solitude and gatherings with friends and family all occur when the temperatures are tolerable.

The sounds made by the small fountain on the terrace soothes the over-heated mind and evokes images of crisp, verdant spaces by brooks and streams. Well sited benches and places for pause provide respite in shade whilst still offering choice garden views. As a matter of personal taste, my garden contains cooler colors like blues, whites and pinks. This too psyches my mind to think cool.

The part of my garden that is instantly refreshing and serene is the vertical garden. Deep burgundy heuchera contrasting with the soft greens of feathery ferns on a rich background of velvety mosses has the same uplifting effect on my spirit as the sight of the first honeybee on a still frost laced, early spring morning.

And what do I do when I’m seeking refuge indoors? I peruse spring bulb catalogs. Hence, there is a part of my mind that is in that season of rebirth as I imagine and plan. Once I place my order that will be sure to shock me at planting time, I’m already excited with anticipation. A good state to be in.

In creating a more supportive garden and atmosphere I find I’m so much better off. Removing any guilt for spending afternoons in air-conditioned comfort has not only been good for my mental and physical well-being but has considerably improved the quality of my life. And I still get to thoroughly partake in the many joys of summer.

As I always say – attitude is everything.

Young Echinacea opening.

Young Echinacea opening.


The vertical garden

The vertical garden


Close-up of heuchera against a backdrop of moss.

Close-up of heuchera against a backdrop of moss.


Summer pleasure

Summer pleasure


Astilbe and a White Admiral

Astilbe and a White Admiral


A place to pause

A place to pause


#gardenDesignSummer
(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Part II – On The Pesky Matter of Illegal Aliens.

Its been tough getting around to the weeds this time of year. The moment I step outside, I feel the heat heavy with moisture as though anointing and wrapping me up to send me into a state of torpor. Mostly, it succeeds. Its so much easier to simply give up and find solace in a cool drink and hot book. But the gardener in me is stubborn and cannot succumb to such temptation. At least not all the time. Snatching time in the transiently shady areas I do a bit at a time. This works somewhat as by the time the sun has made its quotidian circuit, a goodly portion of the garden has been weeded. It leaves me feeling smug and accomplished. Until I make the mistake of visiting gardens tended by obsessively compulsive friends. My own efforts look distinctly shabby.

To top it all, I’ve spied an army of Japanese beetles in the front perennial beds. War has been declared. Armed with a tub of soap solution, the enemy is picked off and tossed into it. I accept that each day is a battle to be won.

Back to the weeds. The reason weeds are so much more resilient and hardy is that the seeds of many species can survive for an incredibly long time (think decades) in the soil. When conditions are favorable, the seeds sprout. In addition, each weed plant produces hundreds of seeds. You do the math.
I did promise to impart some choice nuggets of wisdom and I realize that might well be a matter of opinion. So here goes.

The tip I give out most often and one that is universally liked is the simplest method for getting rid of weeds that show up in areas with flagstones, bricks or gravel. Its hard to tackle weeds in the spaces between. All too often, the chemical control is used. Instead, on a day when rain is not forecast, pour boiling hot water on the weeds. It will do the trick. Thats it. I’ve been doing this quite effectively for years. Frequently, the water from boiling eggs or vegetables is taken outside right away and dumped on the brick walkway just to take care of any weed contemplating a visit.

This next one is a preventative measure – Within a flower or vegetable bed, once the plants have been planted, cover the soil with a good four inches of newspaper. Conceal the newsprint with a layer of dark wood bark mulch. Please refrain from the red mulch as it not only looks like the landscaping in some industrial/commercial properties but it’ll draw the eye to itself rather than the plantings.
The newspaper will suppress weeds, retain moisture and eventually breakdown and integrate into the soil. Compost can also be used for the same purpose. I use newspaper in flower beds and compost in vegetable beds, lawn and other open spaces. The idea of recycling/re-purposing something is both boon and bonus.

In hot weather, weeding is best done in the cooler hours of the morning. This practice gives me enormous satisfaction as it keeps me motivated for the rest of the day. Weeding every other day keeps one on top of the problem and as a result the time required each day is considerably shortened. This is perhaps the strongest and most effective form of weed control. I cannot emphasize it enough. Research shows that being consistent and diligent with weeding, will, over time, reduce the number of viable seeds in the soil. So, fewer weeds and more time to enjoy the hammock and stack of books.

Finally, if you can’t get rid of them, eat them! Okay, maybe not all weeds are edible but many are. Combine young, blanched dandelion leaves, the smallest and most tender sorrel leaves in equal proportion. Dress lightly with lemon, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Add roast chicken and you have a simple yet lovely meal. To blanch dandelions – upturn a flower pot over a whole dandelion plant in the ground. Without sunlight the leaves grow paler, longer and sweeter. In a bit over a week, the whole head of the plant will bear such leaves. Pick, wash and dry thoroughly.
Another way to eat this plant is to take two blanched heads, washed and dried. Put in warm bowl. The bowl is warmed so fat does not congeal. Fry up thin strips of bacon till crisp. Add bacon and fat to dandelions. The warmth of the bowl and heat of the fat will wilt the leaves. Quickly deglaze pan with a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and tip the hot liquid over the salad. Serve right away with good crusty bread.
A friend of mine used to make wine from young dandelion leaves. It was not half bad.

In Greece, a variety of early spring leaves like chard, sorrel, parsley, mallow, dandelion, nettle tops, poppy tops and rocket are thoroughly cleaned and then boiled in salted water for five minutes. All the water is drained and squeezed out from the wilted greens. Dress with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Serve.

A common weed like purslane adds a nice, sour green note to a salad and cuts the bitterness imparted by arugula (rocket) or dandelion.

Through the ages, in many cultures all over the world, a number of what we, today, might call weeds were commonly used for food and/or medicine. They still are. Case in point is the Plantain weed or Plantago Major. Unless you use awful chemicals, and I have faith that you don’t, you have it growing in your garden somewhere. It is native to Europe and parts of Asia, but introduced to North America when the settlers came. The leaves are actually edible and somewhat similar to spinach, though slightly more bitter. They can be used in salads or other culinary uses. Medicinally, the leaves can be made into a tea or tincture, and this is said to help with indigestion, heartburn and ulcers when taking internally. Externally, Plantain has been used for insect and snake bites, and as a remedy for rashes and cuts which we use as a natural antibiotic ointment on cuts and bruises. The natural antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties of plantain leaf make it great for healing wounds, and for itching or pain associated with skin problems. A tea made from Plantain leaf can be sprayed on mosquito bites to ease the itch.

Thus, you see, its all in our perception. What we choose to include, what we’d rather not encourage and how we view them all is relative. So lets not sweat over the small stuff, theres a summer to be enjoyed.

Disclaimer: Please do not go on my word alone and ingest any weed I’ve mentioned. Personal immunities, allergies and tastes are subjective. Just as foraging for mushrooms in the wild assumes a certain risk, the same goes for plants not routinely cultivated. Do your research and really understand the plants and their properties before nibbling.
As I do not have photos of weeds, I thought you might instead enjoy some photos I took this past week.

This frog looked rather alert -  ready for the unsuspecting fly.

This frog looked rather alert – ready for the unsuspecting fly.


The pattern of the Echinacea 'cone' fascinates me.

The pattern of the Echinacea ‘cone’ fascinates me.


Fern in vertical garden. Such a cooling sight.

Fern in vertical garden. Such a cooling sight.


And what is July without fireworks?!

And what is July without fireworks?!


(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

On The Pesky Matter Of Illegal Aliens. Part I

I have very strong feelings about allowing in illegal aliens. I think it is a matter of cultural integrity and maintening ones special, exclusive status. Border control must be seriously tightened and constant vigilence is in order. How else can we preserve the integrity of our land? Have I made you feel a little uncomfortable? A tad unsure about where this is going? Worry not, I’m talking about a different type of illegal alien – an unsavory assortment lumped into one abhorrent group under the banner Weeds. Have I got you on my side now?!

Anything not desired in certain parts of the garden is a weed. In my garden, what is strictly not allowed in one area is permitted to run rampant in another. I’m fickle that way. See, its a case of behavior and purpose. While a plant is well-behaved where it is controlled by not-so-perfect conditions, it can run riot elsewhere when given all that it enjoys. Case in point are the hellebores. Given an extra dose of daily sunlight and a thicker layer of mulch in the perennial beds, they do not selfseed as prolifically as they do in semi-shade. I can only vouch for this in my own garden. And it suits me fine. Providing less than perfect conditions is a way to exercise some control over plants that are, in general, well liked and welcome.

But this practical approach has not the slightest impact on true weeds such as chick weed, crab grass, pigweed, curly dock, horsetail, bindweed and so many others. Those are the ones that are not to be tolerated any where. They behave like thugs, gang members and, murderers. Some are super sneaky and go unnoticed by blending in while others grow so fiercely that they can be mistaken for a genuine stalwart of my garden. The very nerve.

Now that we’re well into summer and the horrid, humid heat is on high, the weeds are about the only group of plants that are completely unfazed. Requiring absolutely nothing from me and my numerous horticultural services, they thrive in abundance. I find this quite unfair and take it as a personal affront. After all, I permit just about anything in my ‘meadow’. (Garlic mustard and other invasives are of course forbidden). Even in my handkerchief size front lawn, I’m not going for pristine. Clover, burdock and anything that is green participate in giving me the desired verdant counterpoint to the perennial beds. Between the two areas they must make up at least half the size of my garden. I feel I’m being mighty generous and accomodating to the weeds. But no, they are greedy. They want to trample all over the flower beds, paths and any place restricted. I work so hard to discourage them. Composting and mulching to suppress their residency. Patrolling regularly and pulling them out ruthlessly (and rootfully!). It is plainly an unending chore.

Interestingly, charmers like the rambuctious and strong-willed Mysotis and Ajuga that bloom so beautifully with the daffodils in the meadow know they are not to show up elsewhere and therefore do not do so. Why can’t the weeds learn from example?

Needless to say, I’m a tad miffed. It is just not fun spending so much of the cooler hours of the day in the tiresome pursuit of ridding the cutivated areas of these cunning interlopers. But there it is. No other way around it. Rather grudgingly I admire their persistence and resilience. Someone ought to locate and isolate those specific genes and put them into the plants we love but are ever so fastidious and/or delicate. For the time being, I accept this as the price I must pay for my organic corner of Paradise.

Next week, I shall continue on the subject of weeds and dazzle you with some nuggets of handy information. Wait with bated breath!

A charming quartet in the meadow - daffodils, dandelions, ajuga and forget-me-nots.

A charming quartet in the meadow – daffodils, dandelions, ajuga and forget-me-nots.


The much maligned dandelion is made very welcome in my meadow.

The much maligned dandelion is made very welcome in my meadow.


(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

To Lulu With Love

My friend Lulu has an amazing garden with a stellar view of the Hudson river. Set on the side of a
steep hill, it was a complete mess of overgrowth when she bought the land fifteen years ago. Six landscape designers shied away from helping her so she did it by herself. She has created a marvel. I’ll share more of her garden in the future but for now, I want to show you her impressive tree peony collection.

When Lulu sends out the call to come and see the tree peonies in the spring, one races to do so. It is a rare, ephemeral treat. True to Chinese tradition, the plants are protected from the heat of the sun by strategically placed umbrellas. The parasol shaded flowers look like Victorian women strolling the park eager to notice and be noticed. The scene is utterly charming. See for yourself.

Ladies and gentlemen, witness the Many Moods Of Lulu’s Tree Peonies:

Lulu

Lulu


The grand staircase

The grand staircase


The ladies and their parasols

The ladies and their parasols


A - 3
A - 4
Bashful

Bashful


Blushing

Blushing


Bold

Bold


Come hither

Come hither


Confident

Confident


Coquettish

Coquettish


Courageous

Courageous


Coy

Coy


Demure

Demure


Flirty

Flirty


Hesitant

Hesitant


Innocent

Innocent


Open

Open


Secretive

Secretive


Shameless

Shameless


Shy

Shy


Spent

Spent


Tired

Tired


Voluptuous

Voluptuous


Youthful

Youthful


Psst – I suspect there is a bit of all of those moods in Lulu herself!

(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Summer Of Bliss

With the solstice this past Saturday, summer is officially open. Happy Summer to all!
Much of the hard work in the garden is done. Its all maintenance now. Weeding and dead heading, judicious mowing and watering, harvesting. We’re in the sweet spot of the growing season. Just enough to do so we feel useful but not too much to feel sorry for ourselves. Getting into a rhythm with the upkeep, allows plenty of time to relax and enjoy the summer. You promised yourself that this year you were going to truly revel in the season didn’t you? I did. And I’m determined to stick with that plan.

My to-do approach: get to the garden early and finish chores in the cool hours of the day. Spread the work so only one task is required per day. Then spend the rest of the day doing whatever the heart desires.
True, other responsibilities like jobs, laundry, bills and the like will show up but with enough forethought, I intend to maximize on the free time.

I want to be sure I enjoy my days with fewer responsibilities – more art, poetry, reading, swimming, gathering with friends, staying barefoot, tracking the stars, eating ice cream, count butterflies by day and fireflies by starlight, laugh loudly, … everyday. Are you with me?

And, when autumn arrives, I want to plunge into it because I’ve had my fill of summer. No regrets.

Update on my Robin family:
Six weeks after the nest was built, the babies have flown away! I watched, I waited, I waxed eloquent and then, I waved goodbye to this beautiful event that I was privileged to witness. Took lots of picture. Here are a few:

Nest built in terrace chandelier

Nest built in terrace chandelier


Notice - outdoor dining has been shifted to outside the gazebo so nest is left in peace.

Notice – outdoor dining has been shifted to outside the gazebo so nest is left in peace.


Eggs laid

Eggs laid


Perfect location and timing - under the wisteria in bloom.

Perfect location and timing – under the wisteria in bloom.


Hungry mouths

Hungry mouths


Feeding time

Feeding time


Growing babies

Growing babies


And growing

And growing


And the wisteria grows as well.

And the wisteria grows as well.


Crowded nest

Crowded nest


And more crowded

And more crowded


Empty nest!

Empty nest!


(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar