Naturally Designed

As I write this, it is a dreary sort of day in autumn. The kind of day that calls for hot tea and crumpets slathered with butter to go with a hot book. Instead, I’m reviewing garden chores that remain to be done and plans for Thanksgiving and house-guests. It all sort of goes together. As the garden is put to bed, the house is given a revamp. What the outdoors might lack, the indoors must make up.

As I cut back and clear in the garden, I set aside material that could be used in arrangements and wreaths. The fall colors inspire what I choose to display or create for the house and myself This applies to home décor, clothing as well as, seasonal menus. Taking my creative cues from nature works out mighty fine.

The instinct to make the home warm and cozy comes by necessity. The cold, dark months keep us indoors a great deal and while animals grow thicker, longer fur, humans bring out blankets and thick coats from storage. But look at the colors we choose! More often than not, they are tones matching those found in nature. Hues that echo the earth, trees, leaves, flowers, water and sunshine.

It stands to reason doesn’t it? While we may require shelter and safety from the elements, we cannot do without consistent contact with nature. We bring in plants, select nature inspired furnishings, take solace in basic, comfort food that tell tales of soil and rain and sun-kissed days.

In my own preparation for the winter, I have paperwhites and amaryllis putting out green growth and timed to bloom just as December brings the year to a close. Jars of jellies, sauces and chutneys sit poised to flavor meals with the essence of summer. Blankets and throws in shades of sage, bark and sand lay scattered anywhere one might feel inclined to curl up. Plant and seed catalogs are kept handy for dreams and plans. Pinecones, acorns and seedpods decorate tables. Shells collected at the beach are displayed as treasure. Clementines and tangelos piled high like diminutive suns perfume the air and tempt one to pause and savor a healthy snack. The kitchen is redolent with aromas of root vegetables and herbs simmering in stews and casseroles. I put out napkins printed with images of flowers that only a few months ago bloomed in my garden. Everywhere I look I see tributes to the natural world. This is what defines me.

It is plain and simple, we cannot thrive without a constant connection to nature. Far beyond our need for physical sustenance, we need the presence of trees, birdsong, sunlight, flowers, rain and the occasional rainbow. Its what keep us whole and balanced.

As we settle indoors in the comfort of warmth and beauty, lets honor the spirit of the garden within us and keep blooming.

Attention!In keeping with the topic of bringing nature indoors, I am very excited to announce that I have designed a botanical fabric. Please check it out here. It available in a variety of fabrics and also as wallpaper and giftwrap. Fabric for pillows (18×18 sq.inches) is also available here.
Product ideas from this fabric design can be viewed here.
Also -In time for the holidays, have added two more sets of botanical cards. See them here. Great for sending out holiday greetings, hostess gifts, teacher gifts, thank you notes, get well soon …
Please check out these links and give feedback! Plan your gift list!
Paperwhites

Harvest of herbs

Harvest of herbs


Grape jelly

Grape jelly


Garlic - watercolor

Garlic – watercolor


Antlers and seaglass hold up amaryllis

Antlers and seaglass hold up amaryllis


(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Kiss Of Judas

The garden, a beautiful, productive piece of nature. A place to relax and recreate. An escape from the cares of the world. Paradise on earth. Enter at your own risk. What?

Yes, the garden is a dangerous place. There are more chances of getting hurt and/or sick right here than at a child’s trampoline party. More duplicity exists in the garden than in a single episode of House Of Cards. Hard to believe right?

There is the obvious of course – insects that bite or sting, snakes that terrify, rodents that reside in places you’d rather not know about, neighbors who consistently annoy and stress you out as they lurk about the fence alongside your terrace, plants with parts that pierce, burrs that cling and, limbs that stick out just so they meet your forehead with a whack every single time you hurry by. Not to mention the likes of poison ivy and that stunning but sinister monkshood. The list of plants with all or some parts that are poisonous is extensive and for the most part, we live with them quite harmoniously. Think hellebores, lily-of-the-valley, pennyroyal, foxgloves, rhubarb, hydrangea, rhododendron, wisteria, narcissus, chrysanthemums, …

Then there are the perils in the hardscaping. Paths that turn slippery when it rains, narrow steps that are less than stable, wooden railings that can fall apart from rot, stones and hoses that can trip, you get the idea.

But, there are the sly, seemingly innocuous threats in the blur of green and bounteous beauty. Lets start with seasonal allergies that we’re all too familiar with. Grass and tree pollen are ubiquitous elements in every garden. The allergy might kick in at any age and then every now and then it might amp its intensity or simply not bother to show up at all. I myself became victim to spring allergies only in recent years. It took me a while to figure out that this was what was causing my misery. I felt relieved to identify it and at the same time, I was absurdly upset. It felt as though my best friends had turned on me. I thought they liked me!

Years ago, each time I came in from weeding in the garden, I’d discover itchy rashes on my forearms. The saps of many plants cause skin conditions that can prove quite distressing. But I couldn’t think what was affecting me in the course of pulling young don’t-want-‘ems of assorted parentage. Then it occurred to me – the self-seeded euphorbias were the culprits. As I went about digging them out, some of the broken plants rubbed on my arms and caused the skin reaction. Often, saps, in combination with sunlight, will react with human skin aggressively. In my experience, this is true for figs, poppies and peonies amongst others. I’ve since learned to do much in the early or late hours of the day.

Likewise, handling hyacinth bulbs causes my hands to itch unless I wash them with soap and cool water soon after. Pricks from rose thorns are universally painful but in some like myself, it leads to long lasting wounds that hurt for days. I think the intensity is kind of disproportionate to the size of weapon. And terribly unfair. After all, I lavish so much kind attention on the offenders. I have no doubt that several undetermined, apparently common plants are responsible for my other discomforting reactions like hives and mild headaches.

Its hard to determine what will be toxic to a person until learned the hard way. By growing it. The irony is that we assume the plants we grow are harmless. The notion that any of them can hurt us is unthinkable. Yet, there are plenty of plants that adversely affect plenty of people. Quite literally, one gardener’s favorite plant is another man’s poison.

The next time you develop a mysterious itch, welt, rash, blister, swelling or, feel a tingling or pain, look to your botanical companions. There could well be a Judas in your midst.

Enjoy the gallery of rogues:

Hellebore

Hellebore


Daffodil

Daffodil


Peony

Peony


Wisteria

Wisteria


Cannot remember the name of this tropical plant. Observe thos thorns on the leaves!

Cannot remember the name of this tropical plant. Observe thos thorns on the leaves!


Rose

Rose


Monkshood

Monkshood


(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Ultimate Harvest

I am so overcome with the beauty around where I live. Autumn is just past its peak but the colors are still vivid and rich. The almost uniform green of summer has faded away and the more fiery hues shine brilliant. In the afternoon hours, the yellow leaves still clinging to trees act like gel filters permitting the sunlight to pass through and emerge pure and radiant. In counterpoint, the trunks and branches form a dark, abstract network holding up this vast, delicate lumière.

The fallen leaves scattered along roads and paths illuminate my walks. They create beautiful patterned carpets that give me as much cause to keep my head lowered as look up at the seemingly reflected blaze above. I am awash in light. There is a sacredness in this. We are each chosen to be anointed with the luminescence. As though our openness to receive it will determine how well we will shine our own way through the dark hours of winter.

In this season of harvest and stocking up for leaner times, it is reassuring to store, can, freeze, dehydrate, pickle and ferment. Wood is chopped and stacked. Fuel for inner and outer warmth. But that is not enough to keep the soul content. It is sustained by beauty and light. When the nights stretch far and the days barely get past gray, the soul reaches into the larder of memories infused with that energy only the truly aesthetic can contain. Like sunrises and sunsets, the emerging butterfly, a cobweb strung with raindrops twinkling in the sun, nascent growth revealed by the melting snow, the vibrancy and utter exuberance of the fall foliage. Harnessing the power of natural wonders nourishes the psyche. Its the difference between surviving and thriving. So I must linger in the light of the leaves and fill myself to the brim. To carry this gift within me is the challenge I must take up in order to pass the bleak periods with grace and dignity. The ultimate harvest.
Sunrise
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(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

“What A Wonderful World”

“I see fields of green
Red roses too … “
- Louis Armstrong

Every muscle in my body aches. Even in a state of rest, supine in bed, I feel the pain. There is no inclination whatsoever to rise and meet the day. A slight move elicits a big wince. I’m willing to forgo coffee and brushing my teeth – its simply too much effort to get up. I’m well past being embarrassed by my admission. No, I’m not unwell. I’ve been planting bulbs. Hundreds of them. One by one because they go between already established plants and other older bulbs. Every autumn I endure this ordeal. Every year I question my sanity. And every spring I am so ridiculously ecstatic to see the explosion of bulbs lighting up the garden.

There are still more bulbs to plant but for those, I’m recruiting the help of my family. They have been given no choice. Threats, guilt trips and bribery work well. I highly recommend those measures. I’m too sore to be nice. Rest assured I’ll return to nice after the body has forgotten its present trauma.

The other fall garden chores are also well underway. Cutting back and clean up, leaf raking, pruning, lawn reseeding, getting pots of tender perennials and tropicals into the greenhouse, planting new perennials and shrubs, pruning, cleaning and putting away outdoor furniture, the list goes on. Its exhaustive and exhausting. Then why do we gardeners punish ourselves repeatedly?

Because we must. It makes us happy. Keeps us in balance. It helps us make sense of this complicated, amazing world. Creating a beautiful, productive garden is our calling. As a result, other people appreciate us for our equanimity.

In post-bulb planting repose, I’ve had time to contemplate this horticultural preoccupation. Connecting so directly with nature as one does when gardening has rewards that cannot be matched by almost any other activity. Humans need green spaces. Our survival depends on it. Its not just for our food but our general well being. Since time immemorial, cultures everywhere have promoted the benefits of working or being in nature. At some level we have understood this need. There is no argument against the compulsion we have to seek our rest and recreation outdoors. It simply is.

Bad moods are banished after a turn in the garden or a walk in the park. Learning from personal experience, I’ve often dealt with the resident teenager’s age-appropriate histrionics by slyly getting her to do garden chores like weeding and watering. Her initial complaints, loud as they are, mean nothing to me. The child that returns indoors is invariably a transformed one.

I recently had to go out of town and was put up in a ‘resort’ of sorts. This place was vast – two thousand rooms, a large conference center, a full spa facility, seventeen restaurants, multiple shops, even a ‘riverboat cruise’ in a man-made ‘river’ that covered 4.5 acres. It had gardens, waterfalls and fountains. And all of this enormous complex was completely roofed over! There were well concealed vents that blew air to simulate a breeze. I found this place terribly disorienting. I was supposed to feel like I was outside but was instead in a bizarre world indoors. Most significantly, the painstakingly created gardens lacked vitality. After all, where were the sounds and activities of the birds, bees and butterflies? Where was that distinctly earthy aroma assuring me that worms and microbes were busy at work? These gardens of living, mostly tropical plants might as well have been fake. My mind and my heart could not, would not accept this make-believe world. There was no fooling them. It was a very unsettling experience. Like a newly caged bird, I got anxious and couldn’t wait to break free.

Lately, researchers have studied the benefits of green spaces. The anecdotal has moved to the scientific. More credible that way. Several studies have concluded what gardeners already knew – there is no doubt that spending some time in nature everyday considerably improves our health – mentally, physically and emotionally.

One study found that living with green spaces has a long-lasting positive influence on people’s mental well-being. Compared to the short term boost from pay rises and promotions, the positive effect from being in nature has a sustained, long term impact. Levels of anxiety and depression were reduced. The findings appear in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology. What is seen is that even after three years, mental health is still better which is unlike many of the other things that we think will make us happy.

So coming back to my current status of muscles in agony and reluctance to move, I admit that my spirits are high, my mood is upbeat and I’m already planning future projects in the garden. I’m also harboring the fantasy that the aforementioned body parts will shed fat, get toned and move like they used to twenty years ago. Thats the other thing – gardeners are huge dreamers.

Enjoy the images of New York City getting into the Halloween spirit:
NYC Halloween 1
NYC Halloween 2
NYC Halloween 3
NYC Halloween 4
NYC Halloween 5
NYC Halloween 6
NYC Halloween 7
NYC Halloween 8
(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

To Hire Or Not To Hire – Part II

How often have you wished you had a cook, chauffeur or a general dogsbody to help you with the tasks of the day to day? An assistant to keep up with the paperwork. Someone to pick up the dry cleaning, getting the dog bathed or stocking up the refrigerator would be nice. Admit it, it has crossed your mind numerous times right?

The same happens in the garden. Busy schedules and/ or aging bodies could do with a little help. Keeping up with the seasonal demands in the garden whilst keeping abreast with duty calls elsewhere can be quite challenging . Recruiting the assistance of a gardener might be in order.

In suburbia, the sight of a team of men spilling out of a pick-up truck, unloading tractor mowers and powerful leaf blowers is as common as pigeons flocking in Central Park. The ‘mow, blow and go’ outfits fulfill very adequately the basic requirements of suburban living – a pristine property mostly displaying a swathe of green lawn. But a garden is more than lawn isn’t it? It has trees and shrubs, beds of flowers, vegetable plots and areas to sit and enjoy the beauty of nature. It is home to birds, butterflies, toads and other critters. A garden is a complex, diverse world, the upkeep of which involves watering, weeding, planting, fertilizing, pruning, cutting back, propping up, training, digging up, repositioning, composting, raking and a few other chores. All the while keeping it beautiful, productive and functional.

The English, who have a longstanding garden tradition, routinely employ a ‘jobbing’ gardener. This is an individual who has garden skills and can be relied on to take care of specified jobs. He/she can be hired for a few hours everyday or a couple of days every week. You tell them the job that needs doing and they do it. In the United States, such a person is not so commonly employed. People with the means tend to employ full time gardeners or the aforementioned weekly service. In my opinion, for someone who is an active gardener but needs extra hands, a jobbing gardener is a godsend. The peace of mind in knowing a task will get done correctly is invaluable. One stays involved with the garden but has the satisfaction that nothing will be neglected because attentions had to directed elsewhere.

Before you employ a gardener, consider what needs doing. These can run the gamut of chores you cannot do, don’t want to do or don’t have time to do. Depending on garden needs and available budget, a decision must be made to hire an experienced gardener or a novice. The former can pretty much do all or any of the work a garden needs without supervision while the latter will require some oversight. Your call.

Next, decide how often you need garden help. Seasonal or regular year-round or single project. Obviously, the expense of hiring depends on the level of experience the person has. How and when payments are to be made should be clear from the start.

Word of mouth is the most frequent way that gardeners get hired. Personal recommendations are best.
Self-employed individuals or a company depends again on what is required and how much you can spend. It is imperative to have trust in the person. Developing a good working relationship goes a long way in making a beautiful garden. Just like life.

More images of the season. All taken at Innisfree, Millbrook, NY this past Sunday. Hope you’re taking the time to enjoy the autumn wherever you are.
Innisfree 1
Innisfree 2
Innisfree 3
Innisfree 4
Innisfree 5
Innisfree 6
Innisfree 7
Innisfree 8
(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

To Hire Or Not To Hire

Part I
With autumn being the other planting season, it presents a good opportunity to scrutinize the garden. Review the garden’s layout, begin on a new design, expand the garden, consider adding or subtracting plants or simply decide to revamp the whole. Perhaps the existing garden has become too much to maintain or lost its former appeal. Life changes might demand changes in the garden. Beginning a new garden or trying something different can be a tad overwhelming. One can use some advice and help. It might be time to work with a designer and/or employ a gardener. But how does one choose the right one or know what to look for?

Lets first consider the possibility of working with a designer.
Going on the adage that two heads are better than one, a good designer will share ideas that you may not have thought of or even known of. No matter if you are a garden veteran or a hesitant beginner, there is value in receiving an expert’s advice. Design plans must be both practical and tasteful; suited to the client’s preferences, budget, style of house, lay of the land and regional climate. A good designer will steer you towards what is appropriate and point out what is not possible or plainly not right. A complete overhaul of the garden or a redoing of a section that has become irksome will benefit from some professional input. A designer’s horticultural knowledge and aesthetic sensibility should not be underestimated. Needless to say, both client and designer must be comfortable with each other.

Before you begin with a designer, take a hard, honest look at your garden. Own up to what is wrong and appreciate what you like. Evaluate what the garden means to you. Very importantly, determine your budget. Be realistic about it. This will later help the designer prioritize the things you’d like to get done in the garden. It works to your advantage to be upfront about finances.

Designers are used to hearing – “I don’t want to spend too much money but, I’d like …”. A litany of garden wants will then follow. For whatever reason, the uncertainty of plants thriving or simply not being aware that making a garden is akin to furnishing a house, people are loathe to allow a suitable if not generous budget. A designer is not out to squander money but knowing what you can honestly afford will make the difference between nice and amazing, pretty and inspired. They know where to cut corners and where to invest. Bear in mind, any additional requests will increase the original cost. Size and complexity will affect costs. Small but sophisticated can be more expensive than large and lawn-dominated. Big garden projects can be done in stages to suit budgets. In return, the designer should be clear about their fees and other expenses. Trust goes both ways.

In order to best serve you, a designer needs to really understand you and your needs. This will happen with briefs or questionnaires requested from you as well as face to face meetings. Your style, needs, use of garden, time in garden etc are all relevant to coming up with the right designs. If your goal is to out do the neighbors or welcome more butterflies, express that as well. In the end, your garden must be a reflection of you and not the designer.

Being frank about expectations is crucial. Its vital to establish what you want and how much you will do yourself. The three typical service options are –
1. Design only which entails a drawn plan, details of plants and structures i.e. soft and hardscaping information.
2. Design and implement which means the designer will her/himself install the agreed upon plans.
3. Design and overseeing. This last one means the client will hire the required labor (or contractor if necessary) and the designer will keep an eye on progress and make sure plans are followed correctly.
Whatever service you choose must be made clear from the start.

From redoing a single flower bed to creating interesting paths to remaking the whole garden, hiring a designer can be a real asset. Ask yourself how much it means to you to have a beautiful, enjoyable garden.

Next week, in Part II, I’ll discuss the ifs and hows of hiring a gardener. “Mow, blow and go” is not your only choice!

Enjoy these images of Fall:
Autumn window-box
Still life with apples
From the window
Woods
Autumn in the garden
(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spirituality Through Astrology, Meditation and Yoga!

That proclamation was on a sign I saw alongside a highway this past weekend. It got me thinking about the times we are in. There is a growing need for something to center our hearts and settle our minds. Perhaps a quest for guidance has always prevailed amongst us humans but, in this high-speed digital age we are busier than ever. Swept in the tide of Instagrams, Facebook friends, messages confined to 144 characters, reachable via phone round the clock, we are searching for lifesavers to keep us afloat and present. Its interesting isn’t it that as our lives have increasingly adapted to all the technology, the enrollment in yoga studios has also increased? Massage and meditation are as mainstream as the live streaming we indulge in. With technology changing even as it hastens us forward, we seem to be looking to more enduring, ancient practices to keep us anchored. Time to step back and examine our course you think?

Frankly, I think the garden is the perfect place to find spirituality. And that sign could be tacked on the gate to any such place of horticulture. Patience, kindness, generosity and tolerance are cultivated here. Waiting for plants to grow, creating an environment that welcomes birds, butterflies and bees, sharing, receiving and exchanging seeds, plants and produce, working with weather patterns and pests both large and small, are all instructive. Life lessons that expose us to joy, laughter, loss, birth, regeneration, recycling are taught continuously in the garden. If you are not present, you miss the many miracles that take place in the garden every single day. Being mindful becomes the hallmark of a seasoned gardener.

The varied chores demanded in tending a garden, keep the body active. Bending, lifting, reaching are par for the course. Muscles exercised, joints kept from getting stiff, a day in the garden yields a dose of endorphins that satisfy as much and more than a workout in the gym. There’s a well conditioned body plus a garden to show for it! Of course, neither garden nor health club can guarantee a perfect body or eternal youth but then, thats life isn’t it? There are no guarantees.

If you’ve ever spent time weeding, digging or planting a bed, you know how focused you get. Paying attention forces one to tune out the chatter in the head. By the time the task is done, more than the garden has been transformed. There is certain clearing of the mind and a lifting of the mood. Thats what meditation achieves. Mindfulness creates clarity of thought and purpose.

Gardeners follow the seasons, the quotidian arc of the sun and the gravitational pull of the moon. Weather patterns influence our work as much as it affects our spirit. We apply science, folklore and an occasional dab of superstition. Astrology anyone?!

Tending the land is as ancient a practice as it can get and it is the best therapy by far. I firmly believe that if every human on earth nurtured a garden, we’d be too busy reaping the many rewards of this preoccupation to wage wars, mistreat animals, tolerate rudeness or watch bad television.
Sometimes, I wonder if gardening informs my life or if life informs my gardening.

Check out Happenings to find out about the Rocky Hills talk Oct 18 and the two art shows I’m participating in this month.

Enjoy the varied gardens below:
Musee de quai Bramley
Hummelo
Marco's garden
Rocky Hills
My garden
(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Plants That Live In Glass Houses …

The Great Migration has begun. It started this past Sunday. On what felt like a distinctly mild day in summer, preparations for the imminent cold began. Moving plants into the greenhouse. Its a good prompt for the season. Unlike general chores on the to-do list, this effort is clear in its prerequisites and requisites. It is finite, at which point there is something to show for it.

Don’t let the fact that I’m talking about something most folk do not possess, stop you from paying attention. I think the fundamentals of this effort benefit one and all.

In the interest of plant health and hygiene it is imperative that all residents be cleaned and inspected before entry. This forces me to examine the plants carefully and note what needs repotting, additional organic treatment for simple ailments and, dealing with possible/potential pest infestations. In doing so, I’m taking care of matters that are easily overlooked.

There is only just so much space in a greenhouse. Crowding is achieved rather quickly. Again, this is unhealthy. So, decisions are made about what deserves the prime real estate. With a little thought to the general garden design, hardy plants like boxwood can be situated into the ground. I have two this year that do not look so happy. They’ve been in pots for years and it is is possible that they will recover much better in the ground. I will consider where to plant them and that will make space for more needy candidates seeking shelter.

Plants that are neither hardy nor doing well are tossed. The cost in terms of space and attention is too high for such losers. Its taken me some years to get ruthless.

Those that are selected are given the once over for the space they will require. Good time to cut off dead wood and prune back in general. Height is a major consideration as the highest point in the green house is a mere six feet. Lopping off vertical as well as side growth makes me pretend I’m a big time hairdresser. The end result should look suitably attractive. I wonder if there is a market in the plant world for the ‘Fawcett” or the ‘Anniston’ or the ‘Dorothy Hamill’ or the more likely ‘Einstein’. The more compact size is also advantageous as the energy demand on the plant is reduced. There is less for the roots to feed under less than ideal conditions.

Since I’m pruning anyway, this becomes the time for me to root cuttings of scented geranium, rosemary and bay. And while I’m at it, I may as well propagate some hydrangea. Come spring, there will be several young plants to add to the garden and/or give away. Big dividends for effortless yet, useful work.

In the course of filling the greenhouse, I find myself giving the whole garden the same degree of attention. By starting early enough (but not too early), there is time to do so. Reviewing, editing, deleting, adding, replacing, critiquing are all valuable tasks that are often neglected once the busy-ness of the season takes over. It allows for planning more efficiently and satisfyingly for the next season. I’m made significantly aware of the needs and possibilities. It permits a deeper engagement with the evolution of the garden.

My greenhouse is 12 x 8 sq. feet. By most standards, it is very small. For me, it is a necessary luxury. Heating it for the winter is not cheap. It must be kept clean and well ventilated. Weekly and sometimes bi-weekly watering is required. With plants growing in close proximity, it is crucial to stay vigilant for disease and pests. These ground rules notwithstanding, this glass house is very dear to me. Treasured botanical friends are kept safe here. Several have been in my company for many years. Spring can be jump started because seeds are germinated and nurtured in this warm space while still anticipating the snow melt. Amidst this green sanctuary, I can escape the winter blahs for a while. A soul-lifting, sanity preserving experience. When the jasmine or Brugamansia bloom, they are brought into the house to perfume the nights. Similarly, the primroses in pots display their crayon colors well before their counterparts in the ground outside. Set on a table in the living room, they bring smiles to winter weary countenances. You can see how well this hothouse serves me.

Note: The same approach holds for plants being brought into the house.

Getting ready to root cuttings

Getting ready to root cuttings


Dipping cutting in rooting hormone

Dipping cutting in rooting hormone


Only a bit of the end needs to be covered in the powder

Only a bit of the end needs to be covered in the powder


All ready! Now we wait.

All ready! Now we wait.


Bill Smiles' greenhouse. Mostly orchids because he is the orchid man!

Bill Smiles’ greenhouse. Mostly orchids because he is the orchid man!


Filling up my greenhouse

Filling up my greenhouse


The residents should be well protected when it looks like this!

The residents should be well protected when it looks like this!


(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Fall – The Other Busy Season

Thats right, fall is officially here. Observe the hues of titian and saffron tingeing the trees. By the time all the trees are in full autumnal regalia, the gardener had better be well into the season’s chores. Lets get busy!

Make a list or look up Things To Do and see what tasks must be tackled in September/October. Schedule what needs doing by you, helpful family/friends, hired services. Getting organized cannot be overemphasized.

While you do that, here are some things that I thought you might want to know or be reminded of:

Instead of being annoyed at how early stores are displaying Halloween paraphernalia, consider it a reminder to collect material from the garden to make natural fall arrangements for indoor displays. Think wreaths and table-top centerpieces of pine cones, acorns, pretty fallen leaves, seedpods, dried roses, hydrangea etc., Look for fallen twigs that resemble skeletal hands, thorny rose or bramble stems to wind around monsters and ghosts hanging out in your porch. You have the luxury of time to get creative. Wait a few weeks and you will be scrambling.

It is well worth the effort to dry hydrangeas. Cut the flowers early in the day. Keep the stems long and remove the leaves. Place the flowers in in vases with an inch or two of water. Keep in a cool, dry space and away from direct sunlight. The flowers will dry in about a week. The water would’ve evaporated and the colors of the hydrangeas will be softly faded. They are ready for any arrangements you have in mind.

More news to encourage more green walls. Studies have shown that vertical gardens improve a building’s energy efficiency by 270 percent. At the University of Sheffield, research has found that plants have a considerable capacity for cooling buildings. Walls screened with cherry laurel were found to be 10 degree Centigrade cooler than bare walls. Stachys byzantina ( Lamb’s Ears) proved very effective, partly because its silver leaves help to reflect light away from the wall.
Start thinking about how you too can create a vertical garden. Expand your garden while cutting down on energy bills. Check out my Vertical Garden page to learn more but remember, you can keep it simple by making it a garden only for the warm months.

As we face more unusual weather by way of unprecedented storms and subsequent damage, planting trees strategically can and should be part of long-term measures to deal with flooding. The practice is a cost effective effort that can complement man-made structures for flood prevention and handling. Trees not only work against erosion but help to slow the rate at which rain reaches the ground. So, the falling water is ‘managed’ better. In our gardens, adding trees and shrubs will make a difference. But, lets put pressure on local governments to do the same. This is the season to plant!

You still need to keep weeding. As one final effort to tackle the weeds peering through stone and brick work, pour boiling water over them. Make sure the leaves wilt and collapse completely. This will put paid to any seeds that would’ve been on stand-by to burst forth first thing next spring.

Collect seeds from choice flowers vegetables. Keep in mind seeds from hybrids will not produce plants true to their parents. Save only heirlooms and open-pollinated types. Seeds should be mature and dry on the plants before you collect them. Label and store in a cool, dry and dark place.

Just some food for thought and action. The weather here this week is perfect for getting garden chores done. Lets get on with them!

Do please check out Shop to see my botanical note cards. I’ll be adding more soon.

Hydrangea adorn a table set for an autumnal repast.

Hydrangea adorn a table set for an autumnal repast.


Hydrangea in September

Hydrangea in September


My Vertical Garden

My Vertical Garden


Baptisia seedpods. For seed collecting and/or decorations

Baptisia seedpods. For seed collecting and/or decorations


Autumnal view

Autumnal view


(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Bloomin’ Onions And Sweet Quamash!

It is already beginning to feel like fall. While the cooler temperatures seem a tad premature, the gardener is already in the season to come. The asters in my garden are popping and the bees seem very happy as they congregate all over the flowers. This year, I remembered to pinch back the asters in July. Their height right now is much more pleasing and less likely to flop over.

The dusky pink flower heads of sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ appear to echo the eupatoriums that blazed all summer long. Although this was not deliberately planned, I like the continuity of color and shape. It has taught me to think along those lines with other plant choices for the various seasons.

The hydrangea are going strong as are the Russian sage and Solidago. In the potager, we continue to harvest herbs, swiss chard and kale. Apples, pears and figs are rounding off meals very satisfactorily. So in the midst of all this bounty, its easy to disregard the signs of autumn. But, we know better don’t we?!

I’m already anticipating the upcoming chores and sourcing plants to add to the boundary of the meadow. Under consideration is a change of plantings in the checkerboard garden but cost might put a damper on that plan. This past weekend, we cleaned and installed each pane of glass in the greenhouse that now stands on a new foundation. My hands have numerous minute cuts from handling all that glass. War wounds to be proud of. When frost threatens, and it will, the tender perennials shall be safely ensconced in the greenhouse.

All the big tasks of cutting back, cleaning up and putting away are best done before the Big Bulb Planting. I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of my greed driven order of bulbs in early to mid-October.
If you haven’t placed an order or hadn’t really thought about bulbs, consider yourself duly admonished. Imagine that I have looked at you with a mix of shock and derision. And along with, I have verbally expressed matching sentiments. Now, get yourself to a local nursery or go on-line and shop for bulbs.

I personally cannot envision a spring without bulbs. They influence a garden with so much expression and aplomb that it is inconceivable to go without. Given that more is better when planting bulbs, I’m aware that the price of bulbs can scare some timid minds and the faint of heart. Which is exactly why it helps to order in advance from bulb houses. Their prices are best. By the time one purchases at a nursery, the cost has gone up, choices are limited to what is most popular and it feels really prohibitive to buy in quantity. Like a Christmas account, it also helps to put a little bit away each month. I kid you not – I’m that serious about planting bulbs.

However, I do understand that for whatever reasons, one must limit oneself. If you must narrow your selections, go for alliums and camassias. There is plenty going on in early spring. Simply seeing new growth after a long, hard winter is joyous. But later in the season, it is particular nice to see more deliberate drama. Enter the alliums. There is enough of a selection of these members of the onion family to really put in the ‘wow’ factor to any flower bed. Tall, mid-height, short. Big, impressive, ball or dome shaped umbels to smaller, twee ones. Tightly clustered or loose and airy. In hues of pink, blue, mauve, white and the occasional yellow. Alliums are just stunning. Like exploding fireworks.

Camassias are not quite as dramatic but their poker shapes in shades of blue and creamy white punctuate the flower beds rather stylishly. They naturalize easily too.

Both, alliums and camassias are deer resistant. They work well together, enhance indoor flower arrangements and they are at home in formal gardens as well as more naturalistic planting schemes. I have them in my front perennial beds and also in the meadow. In each, they lend a most desirable and yet different impact.

If I haven’t succeeded in convincing your skeptical mind, just go on-line and browse the websites of bulb houses. The luscious images of all the different bulbs will. Fair warning – you will weaken and want far more than you could possibly imagine.
I’ve been shopping at John Scheepers and their wholesale sister Van Engelen for well over a decade. www.johnscheepers.com and www.vanengelen.com. By all means check out other sellers as well. There are indeed several reliable vendors. Prices are all comparable. It is a matter of bulb quality and size and, customer service.

Good news! I’ve responded to the request made by several of you and set up ‘shop’ to sell my botanical note cards. Please check out the page marked Shop. I’ll be adding more collections by and by. Would appreciate your feedback.

Camassia, alliums and tulips

Camassia, alliums and tulips


Allium 'Purple Sensation'

Allium ‘Purple Sensation’


Camassias and alliums

Camassias and alliums



Camassia and myosotis 'blue' up the meadow

Camassia and myosotis ‘blue’ up the meadow


Late May - in the meadow

Late May – in the meadow


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Nectaroscordum - a type of allium

Nectaroscordum – a type of allium


White camassia

White camassia


(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar