Debunk, Demystify, Disguise. Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meadow right now! I love it so.

The meadow right now! I love it so.

The path

The path

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

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

Arch leading into the herb garden

Arch leading into the herb garden

Herb garden

Herb garden

Birdbath on steel pole

Birdbath on steel pole

The grand artichoke

The grand artichoke

The railing wrapped in grapevine.

The railing wrapped in grapevine.

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

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

The wall garden

The wall garden

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Debunk, Demystify, Disguise. Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

A Garden’s Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Day photos –

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photo credit - Dave Fleck

photo credit – Dave Fleck

The 'shop' in the greenhouse

The ‘shop’ in the greenhouse

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

The Darling Buds Of May

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creeping phlox

Creeping phlox

Tulip mania

Tulip mania

Blue and yellow

Blue and yellow

Vertical garden

Vertical garden

Allium bud

Allium bud

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Showing Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outdoor classroom
Paradise within

– by Shobha

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

Pear blossoms

Pear blossoms

Moss and lichen on vertical garden

Moss and lichen on vertical garden

Tulips

Tulips

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Frittalaria persica

Frittalaria persica

American wisteria emerging from hibernation

American wisteria emerging from hibernation

Tree peony

Tree peony

An area in the meadow

An area in the meadow

The checker-board garden

The checker-board garden

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Blind Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week :

 Rocky Hills Environmental Lecture by Edwina von Gal

Turning PRFCT: The Evolution and Adventures
of a Rational Naturalist

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

Admission free. No registration is required.

Window box

Window box

The wisteria right now

The wisteria right now

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

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

Apple blossom.

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

 

Snake's Head fritillaria

Snake’s Head fritillaria

Climbing hydrangea

Climbing hydrangea

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Warming Up To April

Apart from that best forgotten April Fool’s Day of 70 degree weather, thus far this month, the days have been very much like winter. Snow, sleet, bone chilling winds and temperatures below freezing. I was not pleased but did my best to maintain a good attitude. I am chomping at the bit to get going in the garden.

Since it was too cold to bring plants out of the greenhouse or to get the young vegetable plugs into the potager, my focus has been on the three ‘R’s. Repairing, replacing and repositioning. Considering that the winter was relatively mild, there is surprisingly plenty to do to re-establish order. Admittedly, things age and then finally one notices that a structure needs urgent attention. The roping on the ‘fence’ that borders the front of the property had to be replaced and the posts straightened up. Easy enough.
(On the subject of fences, my neighbor’s fence that marks one side of the meadow has totally fallen apart. I’m hoping desperately that it is taken care of very soon. With equanimity and understanding.)

However, the stairs leading to the garden from the side porch were in bad shape. The whole structure had to be replaced. Much more work but this time, we were able to match the wood to the red cedar of the espalier and front fence posts as well as the new pergola in the back. Neither of those existed when the stairs were put in soon after we bought the house. At that time, we knew very little about thinking ahead. The effort to make it all cohesive has been successful – there is nothing to jar the eye and as a result, the plantings can take center stage.
This past weekend, the task got completed. The resident mechanical engineer came through with flying colors. I really am grateful.

There are still other areas to attend. Such as remedy the erosion in the area leading to the meadow. The water runs off here after heavy rainstorms and carries away soil. Similarly, paving stones leading to the greenhouse need to be reset. Water is such a powerful creator and destroyer.

The hold-up in garden work has also permitted me to plan more for the pop-up shop I intend to have on May 7, As this was an idea that came to me only recently, I have plenty of details to work out. But, I’m excited. It’ll be so much fun to share some of my garden inspired creations. Make sure you visit!

Taking advantage of Sunday’s rise in temperature, I got the potager and large pots planted up. It was such an unadulterated pleasure to finally feel the soil in my hands. This week promises to be more seasonal so, I expect to do more clean up, get the peony supports in place, start moving plants out of the greenhouse and generally spruce up the garden.

I have yet to assess how all the perennials have fared through the winter. The delay in warming up has slowed the greening of the garden. But, already it is obvious that four of the espalier trees need to be replaced. Fortunately, three of those were some of last year’s introductions so they are young enough to be easily removed. And, as if to comfort me and keep my spirits up, the ‘minor’ bulbs continue to bravely make their entrance. Taking over from the crocuses, the Muscari and Anemone blanda (grape hyacinths and Grecian windflowers) are now in bloom. The true hyacinths have also started flowering and perfuming the air. Pure heaven. And on Sunday, I spied the first of the early-blooming tulips. Makes me so happy.

With less than a month to Open Day, the pace of getting the chores done is frenzied. I’m keeping fingers tightly crossed that the return to normal April conditions continues and the plants look magnificent. Much rain is predicted this week so those showers had better deliver on the May flowers. Or else ….

Note: This should be fascinating!

Please come to the upcoming Rocky Hills Environmental Lecture by Edwina von Gal

Turning PRFCT: The Evolution and Adventures
of a Rational Naturalist

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

Admission free. No registration is required.

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Foul!

Like a protracted bad joke, April has unleashed really bizarre weather on us. The thermometer rose to mid-70’s on the 1st and then, by the night of the 2nd, we witnessed thunder, lightening, rain and then a good dose of snow. Presently, it feels a whole lot like winter. My patience is being tested. Enough already!

The forsythia and sweet early bulbs were out brightening the spring landscape. The daffodils had begun trumpeting. All over town the magnolias were in fine, blousy form. The scene was set for the season to unfold. Lo and behold! The villain arrived – unscripted and not in cast. As I look outside, the small jewel-like flowers no longer twinkle. The daffodils appear a tad beat up and frozen in time. But the magnolias are totally done for – the blooms lay strewn like used coffee filters. Only the forsythia, bless their hardy hearts, are valiantly holding the fort.

For a gardener with just about a month to get her garden ready for Open Day, I’m feeling the pressure. This sudden spell of winter has set me back by at least a week. Toss in other non-garden related obligations and you can understand my frustration. For one who generally sees the glass as half-full, I’m trying really hard to stay relaxed. I have to believe that the weather will begin to cooperate, I’ll get my tasks done, the plants will be on their best behavior and all will be right on May 7.

On the up side, at least I didn’t start bringing out plants from the greenhouse. When the weather was warm last week, it was tempting to do so and it would’ve been about the right time. Listening to the weatherman’s warning, all thoughts to get the plugs of cool weather vegetables in their freshly prepared plot were postponed and the young plants were hustled back under cover.

Being more protected, the window-boxes still look cheery. The same combination of pansies and daffodils in urns and pots situated more in the open are putting up a good fight. I think they’ll be just fine. On closer examination, I see that the scillas on the ground have not been defeated. Perhaps the somewhat bedraggled crocuses will also stage a comeback. I would very much like to see the minor bulbs get to play their full part in this spring performance. By Open Day, none of them will be in sight. Late bulbs and other perennials will be in bloom but, I personally derive much inspiration from the diminutive starters. Their courage to show up at a time when the weather is still erratic and risk everything for a brief shot at being center-stage is a lesson in carpe diem.

And there it is! My take home from the ridiculous antics of the weather – stay in the moment. It is all I’ve really got.

Note: If you haven’t already, mark your calender! Open Day is May 7. 10am – 4pm.

When you click on that link, you’ll note that Teatown Lake Reservation’s Wildflower Island opens for the season on that date. There will be a plant sale, music and other vendors to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their Plant Fest. Should be very fun.

I am very proud to be Teatown’s 2016 Wildflower Artist and Poet. Teatown will be printing note cards of my artwork and poem of the 2016 wildflower Helenium autumnale.

At my Open Day, a limited number of those note cards will be available for purchase.

I’m also busy planning a pop-up shop of my botanical themed products. Think Mother’s Day, baby showers, bridal showers, all sorts of celebrations, home decor projects, hostess and teacher gifts!

Enjoy these images of flowers before the cold hit them:

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Grooving With Spring

Yes, everything is ahead of schedule. One simply has to embrace what is – it is spring after all!

I’m loving the early bulbs. This is their (albeit brief ) time to shine. The mix of periwinkle-blue scillas and mauve creeping-myrtle carpeting the top of the front garden is the sweet sight that greets me when I return home from anywhere. The yellow of the daffodils in their midst give an extra pop of delight.

In the meadow, as the earth is greening up, the small bulbs sit like scattered gems twinkling in the clear sunshine. Every day reveals more treasures. Makes getting on with the daily chores so much more exciting. It’s hard to be grumpy when surrounded by beautiful new beginnings. At the same time, I find it totally distracting!

Last week, while I was tackling the numerous hydrangea surrounding the meadow, I kept pausing to admire the new growth at their base. It looked like there was a larger amount of dead wood to cut off and as a result, the shrubs seemed to be shrinking in size. At first, I was quite alarmed. It had been a rather mild winter so I didn’t expect much loss. Spying the basal shoots emerging shyly was a relief.
And then my eyes came to rest upon the primroses and hyacinths nosing through the soil. So charming and reassuring. Not far from where I was working, I noticed black-capped chickadees investigating an opening on the trunk of the sugar maple where a branch used to be. Perhaps they will be moving in soon.

Using the lengths of grapevine prunings to wrap around the railing at the end of the driveway, I was struck by the way the buds sat on the climbing hydrangea that also grows around this structure. The plumules make the vine look like a network of stringed lights as though waiting to illuminate the garden. Which of course they shall when their creamy lace-cap flowers bloom. Meanwhile, assorted birds seemed to think I was giving away nesting material – they demonstrated great expertise at swooping in, picking up a short bit of grapevine and taking off to sites unseen.

Cool weather vegetable plugs await planting. But first I must clear the plot of anything that could harbor slugs and turn over the green cover of unidentifiable seedlings that have spontaneously sprouted. I think that this year I will spread a nice layer of sharp grit over the soil to deter the aforesaid pest. However, before I do all that, I must stop to run my hand over the creeping thyme that has self-seeded near by. The fragrance evokes menus for herb infused meals under the new pergola. Soon, very soon….

In the greenhouse, several plants can be brought outside but the kumquats hanging like tiny suns catch my attention. Now I’m off to make kumquat chutney. A dollop of it goes divinely with a sliver of cheese atop a cracker. Add a glass of perfectly chilled white wine and you have a feast.

As a result of the joyous diversions, every task takes longer than they ought. The going is slow but the spirit is high. As Mother Nature colors in the garden, the anticipation is palpable. An awful lot of chores need to be done and time always seems short. Yet, I know I cannot let myself miss these days of rebirth. After all, they hold all of a gardener’s hopes and dreams.

Is my garden’s Open Day marked on your calendar? It is May 7, 2016. 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Raphsody In Blue seems like the theme playing in the garden right now:

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Climbing hydrangea with plumules

Climbing hydrangea with plumules

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Spring Break!

Spring arrived bearing snow this year. While I listened to forecasts that couldn’t pinpoint just how much snow to expect, I found myself crossing my fingers and fervently sending out messages to the universe to please, please spare us any real damage. Methinks I was heard. The crocuses, hellebores, snowdrops and scillas had been blooming for a week or so already but, the daffodils had just begun to unfold their sunny petals and I was concerned that they would be crushed. Thankfully, the flowers were spared. For a brief period the snow made everything white and pretty but in no time at all it had all melted away. Spring was once again underway.

But it got me thinking about how we approach life. So much time is spent in anticipating and planning that we don’t pause long enough to simply be. All winter long we look forward to the return of life in the garden. And then, when it starts to bloom, we get caught up in the chores and to-dos to get ready for summer. There ought to be a time we allow ourselves to be completely present in the garden. To notice the details, appreciate the beauty, get to know intimately the plants we nurture. How else could we learn to value what we have?

The same could be said of how we miss out on time with our children and other loved ones. We are so focused on doing what we think they need, that we fail to spend time with them doing nothing in particular. It is in that last ‘activity’ that we are given the opportunity to truly acquaint ourselves with our own. How often we have surprised ourselves by having a proper conversation when ‘trapped’ in a car! Or when sitting down all together for a meal where no electronic devices are permitted.

Young children are good at doing nothing and still observe and learn about their surroundings. While it might appear that they are unoccupied, they are in truth filling up on information about their world. They are living life. We could do well by giving ourselves such a break in our over-scheduled days.

Because there was so much confusion about how much snow we might get, I was afraid all might be lost with the early bulbs. So I decided to go out and take photos of whatever was in bloom. Once I started photographing, I realized how much I neglect to notice at this time of year. The yellow crocuses bloom before the others. The wood hyacinths start two weeks after the crocuses – I’m usually so occupied with my spring chores that I notice these timid bulbs only when they are in full form. Yet, their slow progress is in itself a gentle reminder to savor every moment. The muscari are close to follow and their tight buds resemble diminutive, deep mauve wands. Soon they will reveal their lighter hued tiny bells. At this time, the roses are putting out new leaves – shiny and bronze. The hellebores have peaked and some are even bold enough to tilt their faces upwards. Their pastel colored flowers contrast strikingly with the rich jewel tones of the crocus. The pale yellow petals of the early daffodils glow softly in the sunlight. And I wonder how I might capture that luminescence in watercolor. So ethereal.

All the while, all manner of birds are making sorties to determine where they might set up their nests. I watch a pair of cardinals foraging in the meadow as though ensuring the food supply they will need once they have babies to feed. Their nest is clearly going to be amidst the brambly limbs of the Paul’s Himalayan rose that covers the very old apple tree in the meadow. This is a favorite amongst other birds as well. It seems the blue jays have elected higher quarters. I see them perched on the sugar maple.

Finally, I come back indoors to attend to other matters. The clock says I was away for a whole hour and that comes as a real surprise. I’d been so immersed in the goings on of the garden, that I’d shed all other thoughts from my mind. No wonder I felt so relaxed and high in spirit. I had taken a wonderful, life affirming break.

As I write this post, news of the terror attack in Belgium is flooding the airwaves. Another reminder that life is ephemeral. Here today, gone tomorrow. So this week, I’m taking an honest spring break. I’m going to enjoy this season of rebirth and renewal. The chores, and there are so many, will wait. I want to remember my todays.

Before I let you get to some lovely spring images below, here are some announcements:

Correction! My garden’s Open Day is now May 7. 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

This week, I have art work on exhibit at the Phyllis Merriman Gallery in NYC. Do take a look if you can!

I have posted my most recent visit with the HIV children of Mukta Jeevan. I know you will be interested in reading on their progress. Click Girls Just Want To Have Fun!

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar