Communion In The Garden

This week has a divine quality to it. As though my normal activities have taken on more significance. In this season of renewal and rebirth, I am distinctly aware of the holy and revered. Or it could be the extended hours of light that elevate my spirit. After a particularly harsh winter, I am desperate for signs that better days have indeed arrived. Even as an Alberta Clipper is anticipated today in my neck of the woods, there is a sure impression that spring has begun. That silent presence of the sacred is palpable. In the thawing earth, the emerging snowdrops, in the fattening buds on the pussy willow.

So my mind has been tuned in to the talk of God in the media. Who is God Today? The Future Of God. Faith And Spirituality. Captions to provoke the mind and get one to think, start a dialogue and with any luck, understand ourselves better. I have been ruminating on this matter too.

Nature is my temple. It is amongst the trees, the birds and butterflies that I sense the presence of the source of all energy. In the call of the cardinal, the raindrop beaded Alchemilla, the perfection of the spider’s web, I’m conscious of something bigger than myself. So much bigger.

Who has watched a sunset or sunrise and not been struck with awe? The sight of a rainbow is cause for pause. Every single time. Which one of us is immune to the newly unfurled rose?

Every time I work in my garden, it is in service of that higher presence. I meditate as I weed, I pray for the well-being of that which I plant, I vow to do better in my efforts. As I work, I surrender my fears and anger in the conviction that I will be freed from the shackles that hold me down. Answers to problems are revealed when I’m focused on doing something useful beyond myself. Being occupied in the garden strengthens me physically, mentally and emotionally.

Nature delivers eloquent sermons in showing the cycle of life from seed to fruit and back to seed. I bear witness to miracles all the time – the transformation of the caterpillar to butterfly, the explosion of blooms on what looked like mere sticks just a few weeks ago, the cicadas that know to surface at just the right time. From the tragedies of failed plantings, destroyed nests and hard work coming to naught, I am taught that life has ups and downs but that I cannot stay down. I must get up and keep going. Trusting that things will work out is a matter of faith. Learning to accept what I am dealt is just as important as dreaming big.

In minding nature, I am never lonely. After all, we are each a vital part of a beautiful whole. I see how kindness matters – our returns in the garden are directly proportional to the care we put in. Coming in from the garden, I am invariably converted. I am not the same person who went into the garden earlier. I believe that this is how I pray best. The wind carries my intentions and my wishes. The Universe will deliver.
Botanical eggs 1
Robin eggs 5.23.14
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Never Too Busy

In a world that moves at an accelerated pace and glory is given to those who are perpetually busy, it is hard to come to terms with the oft repeated mantra Keep it simple. Somewhere in the haze of obligations and self-imposed , ambitious agendas, we have become a society that justifies its existence by how preoccupied it is. We are busy being busy.

It appears that busy people are also the electronically connected people. The busier one is, the more their time with a digital device. Face time has replaced face to face time. At the risk of sounding outdated, I have been picky about the technology I embrace. All my writing and filing is done on the computer. E-mails are my chief form of communications though I still deeply value the hand written note. I rarely text anyone but my daughter and almost never have my cell phone turned on. That last bit drives many crazy but my thinking is that I’m either home or I’m not. I prefer to have conversations without disruptions. When I’m not home, it is because I have other things to do and hence unavailable to take calls. Facebook and Twitter are mere platforms for the work I do and not to broadcast the minutiae of my life. In all honesty, if I got into all the social media available, I wouldn’t know how to find the time to read a book let alone hear myself think. This is not meant to be judgmental. I believe we each must know our own selves and our role in a community. I’m content with my limited association with technology. I simply feel no compunction to be in the thick of it all. I have no FOMO*! But what are we really saying about ourselves?

That we are not quite in charge of our lives? Or we are so important that we haven’t the time for more prosaic matters like watching the world go by? Perhaps it is how we indicate our success? Well, I for one have decided not to be too busy. What I truly want is to clear up my calender, free up my days and unclutter my life to be with those I cherish or do the things that matter most to me.

In order to make myself available to what is important, some things must be let go. We all take on more than our share simply because we want to be useful or because we don’t know how to say ‘no’. We start defining ourselves by the things we do and relieving ourselves of some of it feels as though we’re surrendering a part of our identity.

In my own quest to simplify and focus, this letting go is about becoming more of who I want to be and what I really want to spend time doing.

For purposes of this gardening-centered site, I’ll share what I’m aiming to do and not do in the garden this season. While certain aspects of my life demand greater attention this spring, other matters need to be postponed or adjusted. And still more obligations must be relinquished.

First and foremost, I gave up the idea of planning any big project in the garden. There are a couple of notions I was intending to try out but, I’m putting them on the back burner where they will simmer till the time is right.

This year, I am not going to start any seeds. This decision is a big one for me. I belong to that cadre of gardeners who take pride in doing most things from scratch. It is an arbitrary distinction and all in ones mind that ‘real gardeners’ must per force grow from seed. Not true of course but I had allowed myself to accept that belief. As easy as it is to grow from seed, it takes time, space and attention to successfully grow flats of annuals and vegetables. Since I have a few other events to prepare for, I will not stress myself by adding on the extra effort when I’d be just as satisfied to get the required flats of plants from the nursery. Hence, I will be free to put my mind where it is most needed.

Similarly, I am one who does not want to entirely automate the watering of plants. I like watering. For one thing, in the heat of summer, the water feels good as it splashes around. More importantly, when I water, I observe the garden and take note of what looks good, what weeds have crept in, insect activity, what is in bloom or fruit etc., However, as I will be away off and on, I’m going to have most of the watering on an automated system. It will give me peace of mind to know that the plants are not being neglected due to my hubris.

I will continue to weed regularly and do my best to not worry when I cannot. It’ll be okay. Due diligence will pay off with fewer weeds in general.

Whenever help of any kind is offered, I shall accept. Pride or a bid to express fierce independence is over-rated don’t you think? After all, what am I trying to prove?

While liberating myself to be more present for all that is scheduled to happen this spring will enrich my enjoyment of them. Including time spent in the garden.

And any time I find myself with nothing to do, I will simply sit and take in the gifts of nature. I’ll watch the grass grow, listen to the seeds explode from pods, smell the rising perfume of flowers as the day unfolds. I’ll track the flight patterns of bees and count the butterflies on the roses. I’ll follow the slow blushing of the apples. In not doing anything, I’ll have so much to keep my attention.

No, I will no longer be too busy. Instead, at any given time, I’ll be fully engaged in life. You see, I want to remember showing up.

* – Fear Of Missing Out

Rose arch
Tree house
Apple blossoms
Stone bench
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

To Suhr With Love

With Henriette
Today, March 17, 2015, I lost a cherished friend and mentor. Henriette Suhr passed away. She died quietly and quickly – exactly as she would’ve wanted. At 98, Henriette had lived a long, very full life. She was prepared and unafraid to die. Her passing will not lead to a funeral or anything traditional because that would not be in accord with her style. A celebration is in order. A party to rejoice in her life and what she meant to all those who knew her.

For each of us, the loss is very personal and at the same time, one that we can all relate to. We understand so well the enormous impact Henriette had on everybody.

I met Henriette twenty-five years ago. A mutual friend thought we ought to meet. I’m forever indebted to that friend. Henriette and her beautiful, beloved Rocky Hills became an integral part of my life. Simply being with her as she went about doing whatever needed doing taught me valuable lessons. She led by example. Everything Henriette did, she did with her unique blend of grace, elegance, artistry, fierce determination and, practicality. Her incredible intelligence combined with a dry sense of humor became her hallmark.

To paraphrase Isaac Newton, if I have gardened further than others, it is because I garden standing on the shoulders of giants. Henriette was one of those giants. But it was not just garden lessons she taught, she showed me how to live.

Henriette took with her a piece of my heart. Rest in peace dear friend. I raise a glass of whiskey and soda to you.
To read about Rocky Hills – click here
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Melting Into Spring

I hope I’m not being too premature in saying the the Great Meltdown has begun. In the past week, as temperatures have risen, the height of the accumulated snow has dropped. That is good news indeed. As long as this pattern is kept at a steady pace, the ground will thaw in time for mid-April planting.
Now that day light lingers past the early evening and we officially ring in spring this Saturday, like the rising sap, my gardening spirits are on the ascent. What a wonderful feeling!

The light seems brighter and clearer and there is a distinct freshness to the air. Soon the earthy aroma of an awakening world will call us into action. I notice that the magnolia down the street is wearing velvety plump buds in abundance. The birds sound like children being let out from school for the summer – giddily cacophonic. When I took a walk this morning, I had to laugh out loud at the mad chatter. Are they catching up on their winter doings, making plans for nest building, baby raising, food sourcing? I’d so love to know what exactly the excitement is all about. I feel a bit left out.

A trip to the local nursery is in order this week. Shipments of pansies have begun arriving and I’m eager to pot some up to get the season started. They will be the warm-up act for the early bulbs waiting under the departing snow. For certain the hellebores are also sporting shy buds that will be coaxed into blooming as soon as the sun smiles on them. I imagine I can feel the impatience of the crocus and snowdrops trying to push through the still unyielding ground.

If the December holidays are a time for peace and joy, then this period of rebirth is one of hope and aspirations. As gardeners, we get to start over. Past transgressions and failures are forgiven if not forgotten. We can try again. All is possible.

Although no big projects are in the offing, there is plenty on my to-do list. As eager as I am to get started, I’m savoring these days of promise. When all wishes are realized and no failures are on the horizon. One envisions perfect weather and other conditions. A state of high-mindedness and magnanimity is in place. One feels kind and generous. I’d like to bottle this sense of unbridled optimism. It would fetch me the fortune I require for the champagne dreams I have for my corner of paradise. And for so much more. Sigh.

For the moment, I revel in this bliss. It is enough. We are blessed to be gardeners.

Happy Spring One And All! Lets do our very best this year.

Under The Snow

Under the pile of quilted snow
the snowdrops stir
Restless green ready
to meet the golden light
of a newly hatched world.

- Shobha

Crocus pushing through

Crocus pushing through

Tulips spearing past the snow

Tulips spearing past the snow

Forcing magnolia

Forcing magnolia

Hellebores coaxed awake

Hellebores coaxed awake



(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

View Finder

IMG_3000It has been a challenging winter. Even though spring is a mere two weeks away, it will be a while before the deep snow has melted and fresh earth will emerge in sight. At this point, staring at the white expanse has become tiresome – is there anything living underneath? I’ve certainly been doing my share of staring.

Given our severe winters, the landscape is prone to being inundated by snow. While one may read about resisting cutting back plants such as ornamental grasses and other perennials in the autumn and keeping them to adorn the winter scenery as well as provide food for the birds, the reality is that they will be buried quite early by snow. Nothing will be visible enough to serve any purpose. Come spring, there will be the unpleasant chore of clearing the sodden mess.

Instead, I’ve found that the hardscaping and trees play a prominent part in relieving the monotonous white of winter. Different elements can be incorporated to give depth, interest and visual texture in the garden. Now is the right time to consider what we can add – treat the snow like a blank canvas!

In general, these elements are important through all the seasons but I’m going to focus on some points just for this snow burdened season. So we can feel that much more excited about the scenery.

Boundaries can be well used to make a winter-scape alive with pattern and shapes. Depending on the height and material used, snow will reveal new designs and direct our eyes to look at the familiar in a new way. Ironwork seems obvious – the curls and swirls will work nicely against the snow. But even humble wooden fences can rise to the occasion. Hedges take on unique organic shapes that imitate mounds and bluffs under thick coverings of snow. Undulating forms present artful chiaroscuro.If you can, consider your boundaries – while they are meant to contain and limit, they can have other expansive uses.

If one is fortunate to have a pond or stream on the property, then the feature guarantees an escape from monotony. Reflections on the water, visiting wildlife, icy sculptures formed by the wind on the water and the sounds of water freezing and thawing all contribute to making such an ecosystem a world unto its own. To enjoy them in winter, make sure they are visible from the house and somewhat accessible to walk to even if one needs to wear snowshoes. A stroll to the water can be a part of a mindful, meditative practice. A quick getaway from the busyness of our days.

There are many choices of trees and shrubs that provide year round interest. Their shapes, the colors and patterns of bark, deciduous or evergreen, are all factors to take into account. When planting in spring or fall, factor in how you’d like to enjoy the view in winter and situate them accordingly. It will upgrade your cold season vista.

Gates and railings also enhance the snow-scape. From ornate designs traced by the snow to more modern shapes, these seemingly dismissive elements can add just the right flourish.

Sunlight, whilst not particularly in ones power to regulate, casts stunning shadows and designs on the snow. A humdrum expanse can be transformed to stunning by sunshine. Take this into your plans when installing any of the elements mentioned above. The contrast of dark shapes and shadows against the pristine white is pure drama.

Finally, something as simple as a bird-feeder or two will bring to life any garden. The avian activity will entertain as much as they will add beauty whilst serving the birds much needed sustenance. Boring will be a forgotten word.

We cannot predict if this winter is a sign for future winters to come but, at least we can be creative about how we cope no matter what. With grace, beauty and forethought.
(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Live Long And Prosper

Leonard ‘Spock’ Nimoy died last week. I was a huge Star Trek fan – of the original series. This was entirely due to Mr. Spock. No, I didn’t have a crush on him. He was way above that. Spock was more like a hero to me. His intellect completely impressed my teenage self. He set the bar high. His logical thinking and calm approach to crisis solving were just as instructive as were his lack of social skills and inability to feel emotion. I understood that one needed to strike a balance to be truly human.

His very last tweet read:
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”
He signed off with “LLAP” – a reference to his character’s famous catchphrase, “Live long and prosper”. Don’t you just love that oh so accurate garden reference?!
Mr. Spock was the coolest nerd ever. And Leonard Nimoy was a pretty cool all round human. RIP.

While contemplating the part good science fiction plays in bringing science to the mass as well as inspiring outside-the-box scientific research, I came across three separate efforts to boldly go where no man has gone before. Gives one plenty of food for thought.

For small spaces especially in urban areas but really anywhere one lives it is now possible to have a lush, productive garden. A self-contained eco-system will help grow fresh, organic, healthy food inside the house. It has fish making fertilizer for the plants and plants filtering the water clean for the fish. To top it all, the system improves the air quality. Two graduates from MIT came up with this concept and design and are now marketing for ‘early adopters’ in the Boston area. Check out:
Given the thrashing that region has taken this winter, having this indoor potager might be just what the Bostonians need in a hurry!

And then there is the case of the Beefalo – a hybrid when bisons were crossbred with cattle. This was an attempt to come up with a hardy, commercial animal but is now the result of a failed hybridizing program. But, they did actually succeed in a bizarre sort of way. Some of these creatures got loose and have created a serious environmental problem in the Grand Canyon.

The animal is super thirsty and consumes about 10 gallons of water each time it lumbers over to a watering hole. This can deplete the water supply rather fast. To make it worse, they pollute the watering holes by defecating right there. Their impressive weight compacts the soil which of course makes it hard for plants to grow. What does grow, the beefalo eats up voraciously. They also take leisurely dust baths. All of which leaves the ground quite utterly bare. They have indeed proved to be hardy.
Meanwhile, other animals indigenous to the area are being pushed out. Insects and rare plants are affected along with the habitat. The ecosystem is thrown out of balance.

I have many opinions on hybridizing programs but I will restrain myself and not make this article my soap box. But if anybody reading this works in such a field of research, please go very, very carefully. Thus far, how have the beefalo, liger, pizzly bear and Africanized bees benefited the earth?

Finally, in a vault inside a mountain on the Arctic archipelago Svalbard, the first consignment of forest tree species seeds have been accepted. This is the Svalbard ‘doomsday’ vault created for protecting global food crop seeds. The tree seeds were those of the Norway spruce and Scots pine both very important economically, ecologically and socially. Researchers hope the tree seed samples will help monitor long-term genetic changes in natural forests.

The vault is designed to withstand all natural and human disasters. The purpose of the depository, owned by the Norwegian government and maintained by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) and the Nordic Genetic Resources Center, is to store duplicates of all seed samples from crop collections around the world.
So while we grapple with the influences and damages caused by climate change, forest management, fragmentation of populations, new pests and diseases, preserving these tree seeds along with numerous other seeds of life supporting plants will give us a fighting chance to ensure that future generations can be sustained on this beautiful earth of ours.
This bit of knowledge gives me some peace of mind. As all sorts of research proceeds in the far corners of the world for diverse reasons, lets hope we keep in mind that the world itself is a vast sacred garden. Let it live long and prosper. Please.
Here are some images of the eco-system in my corner of the planet:IMG_6807
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Noting Le Notre

In a bid to distract oneself from the northeast’s own version of 50 shades of gray, I went with a friend to the New York Botanical Gardens for a lecture. If you are fortunate to have a botanical garden near by, take full advantage. In the frozen, bleak depths of winter, it will offer respite with lectures on gardens and gardening, exhibits and displays in conservatories and a shop to provide retail therapy. These escapes will preserve your sanity and uplift your mood. You have my word.

This particular lecture was given by Alexandre De Vogue on Vaux le Viscomte: From Le Notre to Today. To be honest, I went without caring what the talk would be about. I desperately needed to see pretty garden pictures, hear about them and feel the good vibes from fellow attendees – all garden lovers. I craved this comfort zone.

The lecture was quite interesting. I’ve yet to visit Vaux le Viscomte and it has been on my list for a while. To get a first hand recount from a member of the family that undertook its restoration made it decidedly better. There are several good books on this famous garden so I won’t bother waxing eloquent about it. I do however highly recommend that you discover this garden for yourself.

As the garden that formally launched the classical French garden style, it was necessary to learn something about its designer Andre Le Notre. Yes, he of Versailles fame.

Learning that this illustrious man was not only schooled in horticulture but, also in painting and perspective, sculpture as well as architecture was not surprising. His gardens are testaments to his knowledge and artistry. It turns out the gentleman also had an exceptional memory, a strong sense of proportion and space, was a visionary able to juggle with space, volume and distance. His personal reading encompassed subjects such as geography and mathematics. Even more impressive right?
Sitting in the presence of todays horticultural giants such as Marco Polo Stufano and feeling a bit beaten by the protracted, tundra-like winter it got me feeling as though my own aspirations for my garden were a lost cause. A why bother kind of consciousness crept in.

Then, it got me thinking why the heck not? As Monsieur De Vogue talked about the restoration and then about the current challenges, I realized that he had the same garden problems as the rest of us. Only much larger and more costly. He is battling blight and other diseases with his boxwoods, finding replacements for his sick elms and trying to make environmentally sound decisions just like us. And he too has financial worries.

All of a sudden, the playground was even. We were really all alike. A bunch of passionate gardeners doing our best to create beauty and purpose in assorted places. To each garden we bring our knowledge and experience and put our unique stamp on it. We too apply history, art, science, mathematics, geography, architecture and so much else learned from living our lives. Some are given special places to express their creativity and some more humble plots. Some get paid for their expertise and others do not. Ultimately, it does not matter where or why we garden. We just do because we must. Our hearts dictate to us that working the soil is how we love to live.

In a moment of enlightenment, I realized that Le Notre was just like us! I strongly suspect he’d be the first to agree.

Having said all of the above, I feel compelled to share a few nuggets of wisdom from the great gardener himself:
The eye creates perspective, walking makes it alive.
Create a garden so one must go in to fully experience it.
Be wary of your own beliefs. Things are not always what they seem. Be flexible.
Let the sky enter into your composition. Use water to mirror the sky. Think ponds, rills and canals.
Open the garden towards the landscape beyond. Expand the view and illusion.

FYI – At Vaux le Vicomte:
Ilex crenata is being considered as replacement for boxwood.
Hornbeams and linden trees will take the place of elms.

Wanted to share the four different amaryllis I’m currently enjoying:
White amaryllis
Pink amaryllis
Salmon and white double amaryllis
Orange amaryllis

The Valentine's 'card' I made this year. The white canvas of snow was irresistable.

The Valentine’s ‘card’ I made this year. The white canvas of snow was irresistable.

(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Dreams

It is SO cold in the northeast! A banner winter. Today, the streets are sparsely populated because who in their right mind would venture out without very good reason? Even the birds are laying low. Somewhere safe and cozy I hope. As the wind blows the snow into a mad frenzy, my housebound self is working to keep calm with visions of spring.

The hyacinth bulbs cooling in the refrigerator since early November, have been brought out. Sitting pretty in their jewel-hued glass forcing vases, they’re a sight to please anybody. Each day I glimpse a teensy bit more of the sap green, arrow-like tips emerging. Does my heart a world of good.
Meanwhile, the assorted amaryllis are still going strong. They are so well worth the investment I made last fall. Since late December, I’ve been enjoying their blooms and they are not even close to being done yet. Apart from keeping me in good spirits, their exuberance often serves as muse to my art.
It isn’t only the flowers that bring so much joy. The very anticipation of them as I observe daily the emerging buds and leaves is absolutely life affirming. So full of promise and beauty. I sincerely hope you too are celebrating your days with such living treasures.

Feeling buoyed by the springlike atmosphere indoors, my thoughts naturally drift to the possibilities outside. Nothing big is planned as other non-horticultural happenings take priority this year. The modestly sized garden is already intensively planted but as we all know, there is always room for a few more. So, I’ve ordered a blueberry bush that seems perfect for my plot. It is the variety BrazelBerries Blueberry Glaze. Only 2-3 feet tall with glossy, dark green leaves and pink flowers in the spring, it already appeals to me. The bush can be clipped like boxwood so one foresees uses for it in more formal locations. The berries are supposed to have an intense flavor – I can almost taste them over Sunday pancakes and yogurt parfaits in the summer. I’m looking forward to getting to know this future resident in my garden.

I’m now contemplating ordering a pink lilac that reblooms. This too is compact in size. Only 4-5 feet tall. Its pink, heavily scented flowers bloom in May and then intermittently till fall. I’m pretty sure I can squeeze this gem in somewhere bordering the meadow. Pink Perfume belongs to the Boomerang family of reblooming lilacs.

Creeping phlox (P. subulata) to replace the aging, straggly ones in the checkerboard garden have already been ordered from my local nursery. As are the replacement ferns and heuchera for the vertical garden. Vegetable and flower seed packets are looking attractive in their tray on the dining table as they await my attention in mid-March. They remind me that no matter what, life goes on and spring is on its way.

What are your dreams for the garden? I’d love to hear about them. Please share any suggestions, ideas or thoughts!

(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Winter Weary

Are we all in agreement that this winter has tested our patience, endurance and good will? Snow, ice, high winds, freakishly low temperatures – you name it, we got it. Cabin fever has set in. Expressly manifested with bouts of grumpiness.

I’ve heard from many that they’re going stir crazy as even winter walks are hampered by dangerous terrains of ice and bitterly cold temperatures. So what’s a person to do? Take heart.

For one thing, we are past the half-way point of the season. Doesn’t sound encouraging enough? Observe how the days are lengthening – the sun is setting later every day. The light at the end of the long winter tunnel is distinctly visible. We are headed towards it!

At the beginning of winter didn’t you have a list of sorts of all the things you hoped to do in the ‘quiet’ months? I did. Well? How has it been going? Not as well I’d hoped. I started off okay but then I allowed a certain apathy to set in and did not accomplish as much. With just about six weeks to go till we officially transit to spring, I am determined shake off the lethargy.

A week ago, I placed my plant order at my local nursery. This is only necessary if one needs a large number of a particular plant or something very special. Otherwise, just keep a list going and purchase as soon as the nurseries are ready with their season’s inventory. But get that list done! Right away.

Seed orders can be placed now. Peruse the catalogs and websites. Decide what you’d like to try out this year, plan on repeat favorites too. While you’re at it, get all the supplies you need for seed starting. Growth medium, seed trays, Gro-lights etc., Have tools sharpened. Replace lost or broken ones. Draw up plans and designs for new beds and gardens. Take note of all the steps needed to make them a reality. In other words get yourself as ready as you can. Once the thaw occurs, you will be prepared to move into the garden at once.

How about the reading you thought you’d get done by the fireside? It’s not too late. I’ve started making inroads into the stack of tomes I’d set aside as well as the few scientific papers I thought would be interesting. Nothing like emerging from the depths of winter feeling a bit smarter. Consider all the impressive pearls of wisdom one could drop at summer soirées.

You did say you were going to eat healthy this year right? Maybe grow some of your own veggies? What are you waiting for? Work out plans for a potager – start simple. Maybe just salad greens, Swiss chard and herbs. Research and try out recipes. Focus on a few for each season so you are eating in rhythm with nature. Use the snowbound days to get into this habit. There are plenty of delicious, healthy, easy recipes available on the Internet.

Looking ahead to events and deadlines for projects, this is an excellent period to tackle all the small details that often get overlooked in the rush that occurs nearer those dates. Vacation plans and reservations, graduation/anniversary celebrations, upcoming lecture and exhibit commitments ( think slides to choose to present, making archival prints to offer at the exhibit, contact list for publicity, new business cards), subscription and membership renewals to organizations that enrich our lives, schedule meetings and appointments for ongoing projects, potential projects, physicals and other routine check ups, research big purchases to be made in the near future such as cars, appliances and homes, get a head start on taxes. See? There is plenty to keep one fully occupied! And super-organized at the end. Don’t forget to thank me at that time.

So as the snow continues to come down soft and furious, I’m deeply grateful for this span of weeks to do the things I complain I never have the time to do right. Watch out spring, here I come!

NYC spokesperson

NYC spokesperson

(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Is It Time Yet?

I recently read an article on Horologium Florae or Flower Clocks. It is a concept that began with Carl Linnaeus – to design a clock in the ground with plants whose flowers open at specific times of day. By observing which flower was open or closed, one could ostensibly tell what hour was at hand.

It is a charming concept. In theory, it should work beautifully. Pumpkin blossoms open at 6 am, rose mallow between 9 and 11 am, goat’s beard close its flowers at noon, evening primrose shine after sunset and close at noon of the following day. You get the picture. In reality, it has never been truly accomplished. That’s not to say attempts haven’t been made – too many variabilities have prevented any success. On cloudy days, the evening primrose might stay open all day.

Latitude, temperature, sunny/cloudy days, rain, changing length of day/night, light intensity, humidity, preferred pollinators all play important roles in determining exactly when or if a flower opens or closes. For example, a flower that opens at night, does so to attract pollinators like the sphinx moth. However, when conditions change, it either stays open too long into the next day so, day pollinators get to the flowers thus making the flower too depleted for its natural pollinator. Or, the flowers may not open at all so once again, the moth cannot play its designated role.

Growing up, I recall coming across a few attempts at flower clocks in public gardens. Already familiar with traits of common plants, I’d observe how poorly the flowers told time. I remember thinking that if I went by such a clock, I’d become the Mad Hatter and rush about saying I’m late, I’m late. The friend who had sent the article that started me thinking about this subject said that from now on, she was not going to apologize for being late. Instead, she’d say she was on flower time. To which I responded that people would think she’d been smoking the flowers.

Personally, I prefer the idea of becoming so familiar with one’s immediate outdoors that a general sense of time can be kept quite accurately and organically. Birdsong is one way to understand time of day.
It is common for different species to do their dawn singing at different times. The dawn chorus can start as early as 2am! And it progresses sequentially by type of bird. The romantic in me would like to determine parts of my day by listening for favored birds like cardinals, chickadees and blackcaps.
As a child, we lived quite close to the local zoo. Early each morning just before sunrise, the white peacocks would fly out to settle in the tall mango trees in my neighborhood. The birds would remain there all day and leave at sunset. They would spend their time gossiping loudly. The sound was not particularly pleasing but it amused me no end to imagine visitors coming away never having seen the white peacocks, the pride of the zoo.

In the summer, when the sun burnishes the lower half of the Heritage rose on the path outside my studio, I know it is about 6 pm. Time to cease all work and settle down to appreciate the garden. Preferably with a cool drink in hand.

In the early weeks of spring, the tulips close by 4 pm. Tea time. The roses waft their fragrance most strongly just after the sun reaches its zenith. Time to go back into the house, open the windows to draw in the perfume and cool off. The clove-like scent of summer phlox at dusk call one to linger in the garden for a little while longer. Time to just be.

Gardeners are more likely to tell the course of time by the progress of a season; as when a fruit is ripe. Or certain flowers are in bloom. As soon as summer starts losing heat, my Concord grapes will be ready for harvest. The lilacs burst open all of a sudden just in time for Mothers Day. A week after the cherry blossoms drop off, the pear trees put on their show. Closely followed by the apples. When the ornamental grasses in the front of the house glow gold in the evening light, there is just about an hour left of daylight to finish all outdoor chores.

I have a dream that one day, I will be so in tune with nature that I will know the hour by the subtle movements of the leaves, by specific bird calls, by the order in which different flowers are visited daily by the bees, by the degree of warmth of the grass beneath my bare feet. I want to know time by the tilt of the sunflower heads, the moment the first dew drops form on the leaves of the lady’s mantle, when the squirrels emerge from their nests in the dawn, when the robins call it a day.

When Einstein said – The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once, I do believe he was in a garden.

The images below are for you to contemplate your own horologium florae.

In case you are interested in reading the article that started me off on this article, – click here
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar