Verre, Verdure, Vue

Every now and then, no matter how busy one might be, it is good to pause, get out of ones own garden and, visit another. It is how we nourish our imaginations, ideas and yes, our very spirits. Public gardens and Open Days of private gardens exist for exactly this purpose. Inspiration and information is just a garden visit away.

All too often, we get so caught up in the busy-ness of our days that it seems like a big effort or sacrifice to do something that is seemingly frivolous or unnecessary. Not so! I would go so far as to say that it is incumbent on us to seek growth and guidance from such sources. Along with gardens, I’d add libraries, museums, theater, lectures, concerts and travel. Because of how important these are to me, I have for some years been a member/subscriber to all the organizations that add incalculable value to my life. For me, a membership to a museum or botanical garden trumps practically all other material gifts. Well, I do enjoy certificates to my local nursery, art supplier and the occasional massage. Just saying.

At present, with funding for the arts and sciences at risk, I cannot emphasize strongly enough how much more critical it is that we show our support of said organizations by becoming members and subscribers.

As a member of such institutions, one gets invited to member-preview days for new exhibits. Before the general public is permitted. This means fewer crowds and I can enjoy the exhibit at my leisure. Member preview dates get blocked off on my calendar and serve as reminders to get out and replenish my spirit. My sanity depends on this ‘therapy’.

Case in point – my visit to the new Chihuly exhibit at the New York Botanical Garden this past Friday. It was a damp, overcast day. The sort that makes one want to curl up with a good book, a pot of hot, strong tea and a soothing play-list. But, I’ve come to know better. Off to the NYBG I went.

Overcast days are actually perfect for taking photographs. No glare or shadows to bother with. The colors seem to pop and brighten. And were the perennial beds popping! Spring comes a couple of weeks sooner in the Bronx than to my Chappaqua garden. The tulips and early-spring bulbs were already in bloom and the other perennials were well on their way. To say that the gardens looked gorgeous is an understatement. The thoughtful layout, choice of plants and colors of foliage, stems and blooms are more visible at this time of year before everything has filled out completely. It is the ultimate classroom for all gardeners.

And then there were the glass sculptures by artist and sculptor Dale Chihuly. Organic forms that seem to have a pulse of their own, in colors so vivid but never shocking, grabbing the light in ways that compel the eyes to see the shapes differently as one walks around them. They ignite the imagination.

Most of the exhibit is in the conservatory. A big shout out to the very appropriate plantings that enhanced the sculptures. Glass shapes echoed the plants. Or was it the other way around?! This is not mimicry but true complement. Very impressive.

Outdoors, there are several sculptures. Again, thoughtfully sited so the viewer can observe them from afar, up close, from different vantage points, in relation to surrounding plants, trees and buildings. A master class in how to site sculptures in the garden.

The whole time I was there, I was deeply absorbed. My own long list of garden to-dos was completely forgotten. It was as though the urgency of getting the garden ready for Open Day ( May 13) had ceased to exist. I marveled at the art, the plantings, the juxtapositions of the two and filled myself with inspiration. After all, it was there for the taking.

The rest of the weekend unfolded with a renewed energy and attitude. My order of a vast number of native plants for the meadow had arrived, a smaller collection of plants for other areas also awaited and, the plants in the greenhouse had to be brought out and placed in the garden. Sub-consciously dictated no doubt by the Chihuly show, my own stainless steel sculpture ‘Wind Song’ installed last fall in the meadow took on the role of dictating where to plant some of the natives. Do come and see on Open Day. I’m so eager to share and show!

Once again, my Open Day is May 13.

May 12 and 13, I have a booth at Teatown’s PlantFest. Please come to both events! Support the Garden Conservancy, Teatown Reservation and me! Celebrate Mothers Day weekend in the garden!

Enjoy the photos of the Chihuly exhibit at NYBG: Notice how the plants and sculptures interact!

I apologize in advance to all those who read this on Facebook or on their phones. As I took the photos on my phone, you will get to see them on their sides or inverted. So sorry! I cannot seem to fix the problem but will continue to try. Please do look them up on your computer.

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Acanthus

Acanthus

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A few of the plants tha got planted in the meadow last weekend

A few of the plants tha got planted in the meadow last weekend

A few weeks ago in the meadow with 'Wind Song'

A few weeks ago in the meadow with ‘Wind Song’

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Rekindling, Renewing, Reviving

It’s in the trumpeting of the daffodils

The chorus awakening the sun

In the untwisting of pink cherry-buds

That hibernating hearts comes undone.”

– Shobha

In leaps and bounds – that’s how the garden is coming along. It never fails to astonish how much growth happens in a single day. Naturally, keeping up with the work in the garden is a real challenge. All too often, being so focused on getting the various to-do list items checked off, one fails to appreciate what and why we garden. Not this year. No matter how much needs doing or what goes wrong in the garden, I’m determined to pause, step back and bask in the myriad miracles that occur in the garden on any given day. In this season of rebirth and renewal, my love and reason to garden is reaffirmed and rekindled.

So, join me. Take a few minutes to enjoy the photos below. See what I see. I just know that you too will agree that the world is a most wondrous place to be.

But first, indulge me. I’m so proud to be a part of this:

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Here you go:

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The best reasons to be in the garden

The best reasons to be in the garden

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Challenge

Gardening is in full swing and with my Open Day looming large (May 13), time is of the essence. Given March’s unseasonably cold days, many tasks are behind schedule. So there is a sense of urgency which is not entirely comfortable.

Typically, starting around mid-March, I ease into the myriad chores of the season. Not this year. The first decent day to begin any work was the first Sunday in April. At this time of year when things happen in geometric progression, to-do items delayed by even a week matter greatly. Hence, one works at a frenzied pace perforce.

In the span of a week that included three days of rain, the front ‘lawn’ has been de-thatched, reseeded and treated with compost (as fertilizer and weed suppressor), roses, grapevine and fruit trees pruned, winter debris cleared, plants left to cheer the winter landscape cut back, perennial beds mulched, spring window boxes and urns potted up with daffodils, pansies and primulas, the vegetable plot prepared and planted out with leafy greens, the big pots of bay standards brought out of the greenhouse and positioned, these pots have been underplanted with more leafy greens, pots of herbs set up on the “wall” by the vegetable bed, the espalier of fruit trees and the roses have been sprayed with dormant oil spray and finally, the fountain has been recommissioned. All of this was actually accomplished over just three days. Crazy right?

But, the big work of new planting must wait for the nurseries to receive the shipments. I have a largish order of native plants to go into the meadow. I’d like to get this done ASAP while the bulbs are in full view so that I won’t have to guess where to plant the natives and hope to avoid hurting said bulbs.

The rest of the greenhouse has to be emptied and placed/planted in their respective homes in the garden. This calls for lots of lifting and back and forth. My body is already protesting.

The vertical garden is the wild card. As part of the ongoing Great Wall experiment we’d left all the plants in through the winter. And since that season was kind of mild ( okay, positively weird), we were able to run the nutrient enhanced water system. Since ferns are late spring bloomers, we have yet to determine what has made it through. This means waiting but as I’d like the wall to look nice for Open Day, it is imperative that I know what and where replacement ferns are needed. Oh, the pressure!

This week promises to be unseasonably warm. Today, the temperature is likely to hit 80 degrees. That is more like June than April. What that portends is anybody’s guess. Put paid to the early bloomers before pollination can occur? Bring forward the mid to late ones? The chance of frost still threatens all the way to mid-May. Oy.

Finally, in the midst of all the mad activity, I’m resolved to actually enjoy the garden. It is after all, my favorite season. Time to just admire the early flowers, listen to the birds and watch their general activity. I hope to do quick watercolor sketches to capture this ephemeral time and also expand my collection of watercolor botanicals as several early-spring flowers have not as yet been painted ( Eranthis, Abeliophyllum, Forsythia, cherry/apple/pear blossoms – you see how the list grows?) and most importantly, celebrate the season with family and friends.

Certainly quite a challenge but this is still all good. We should all have only such ‘problems’.

Note: Open Day – May 13 from 10 am – 4:00 pm. Come visit! Bring mom as it is Mother’s Day weekend!

Also on May 13, Teatown Reservation will be holding its annual, exciting PlantFest and I will have a booth there selling my botanical products – prints, note cards and soft furnishings.

Their Wildflower Island will open for the season on this day. Make reservations for a tour.

The 'meadow' coming alive

The ‘meadow’ coming alive

The window box. Should be in full flower by week's end

The window box. Should be in full flower by week’s end

Mulched perennial bed

Mulched perennial bed

Reseeded lawn

Reseeded lawn

Stars at my feet. Scilla

Stars at my feet. Scilla

Bay pot under-planted with spinach and beets

Bay pot under-planted with spinach and beets

The vertical garden right now

The vertical garden right now

Vegetables all planted out

Vegetables all planted out

Buffy the Hellebore

Buffy the Hellebore

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Pura Vida II

I’m committed to Pura Vida. To be honest, it is not a hard thing to do. If one believes in living life fully and doing right by others and the world at large, then this is the obvious way to approach life. What my visit to Costa Rica has really accomplished is to show me that it is completely possible to live my life purposefully and with awareness, empathy and passion. All the things that matter to me and what I believe in are very much in keeping with the Pura Vida philosophy.

So here is how I’m recommitting myself. First and foremost, do no harm. Whatever I think, do or say has impact. Be kind, considerate. – to people, place or thing.

Live and let live. Tolerance, understanding and inclusiveness. Diversity enriches us all.

Stay true to oneself. Authenticity is the cornerstone of good character.

Embrace each day like it was the last. Focus simply on what/who is truly important. Don’t waste time on the all the stuff that clutter and only serve to sidetrack. Grab the day and make the most of it with joy, gusto and passion.

Don’t take anything or anybody for granted. Safeguard and cherish the people, the environment and all the elements that make this earth so wondrous. Life itself is ephemeral, don’t waste it.

Show the love. Pay compliments, hug often, freely express appreciation, give that most precious, seemingly elusive possession I have to those I love – my time.

Laugh often. Pretty much self-explanatory. Research has shown the considerable benefits of having a good sense of humor and laughing often.

Get outdoors as often as possible. Nature teaches, heals, inspires and nourishes.

Remain optimistic. Darkness leads to light. Winter gives way to spring. Good conquers evil. Always.

That is it. I wish Pura Vida for all.

Mark your calendar! – My garden Open Day is Saturday May 13 from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.

Also on May 13, is Teatown Reservation’s Plantfest 9:00 am – 2:00 pm. I will have a booth there purveying botanical prints, note cards and soft furnishings. Good gifts for Mother’s Day, hostess, bridal showers, housewarming and for yourself!

I’m happy to report that I am Teatown’s 2017 Wildflower artist of the year. Their 2017 note cards will bear my rendition of pink turtleheads.

I have art work at – ARTISTS OF NORTHERN WESTCHESTER SHOW

Sponsored by the

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Hudson Valley

2021 Albany Post Road, Croton-on-Hudson

Directions on website: www.uuchudsonvalley.org

Four Weekends of Exhibit Hours: Sun. 4/9, Sat. 4/15, Sun. 4/16, Sat. 4/22, Sun. 4/23, Sat. 4/29, and Sun. 4/30 – Noon – 3 p.m. Opening Reception, Saturday, April 8th from 4-6 p.m.

And now enjoy some more memories from Costa Rica.

High above the rain forest! Exhilarating!

High above the rain forest! Exhilarating!

Mira nd me with guides Roy and Chikki after that amazing experience.

Mira nd me with guides Roy and Chikki after that amazing experience.

Hiking in the virgin forest. Sacred space.

Hiking in the virgin forest. Sacred space.

At the crater of Paos volcano.

At the crater of Paos volcano.

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La Paz reserve

La Paz reserve

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(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Pura Vida Part I

Pura Vida – the Costa Rican law of the land. It is a way of life. A state of mind. An attitude. A philosophy. It means to live life to the fullest with joy, love, laughter, kindness, caring and tolerance.

I’ve just returned from a glorious, life-affirming week in Costa Rica. Pura vida is alive, well and thriving. A country with no military and every effort put into preserving, safeguarding and sustaining its biodiversity, its culture and its identity. Pura vida is now my mantra.

For the purposes of this article, I’ll focus on matters environmental but suffice to say that the people are exceptionally friendly and the food and water perfectly safe and satisfying no matter where you are in the country. From roadside fruit stands to food stalls, cafes, bars, local hangouts and restaurants, I thoroughly enjoyed them all. To know that what I consumed was safe and clean felt very reassuring.

Costa Rica is 0.05% of the earth’s landmass but it has 5% of the worlds diversity. The richness in flora and fauna is staggering and this was why this country was #2 on my bucket-list of places to visit. While I was aware that places like the cloud-mountain rainforest at Monteverde were major centers for research where scientists of all kinds of disciplines and from all over the globe come to work, I was pleasantly surprised that the whole population is environmentally conscious and proud of their efforts to do right. Water is diligently conserved, 75% of the energy is renewable with an aim to get to 100% in the near future, flora and fauna respected and protected, and the air is clean. And it shows. Everywhere I went was clean, comfortable and characteristically lovely.

The cities and countrysides were dotted with Cortez trees ( Tabebuia ochracea) in full pink or yellow bloom. Stunning. Add the loose, yellow flowers of the tamarind trees, the bold orange of cannas and the sunset hues of birds-of-paradise and you can picture the sheer exuberance of color.

In the cloud forests, I was totally overwhelmed by the wealth of different plants, exotic birds and other odd yet disarming creatures like sloth, choati and kinkajous. A guided hike at night revealed creatures like stick insects, tarantulas, minuscule frogs and some other nocturnal critters. Listening to the night sounds, feeling the mist and walking in the dark was an amazing experience. All the senses were heightened and the awareness that hidden animals were probably observing the humans gave me goosebumps.

The hike at daybreak was differently exciting. To see plants we normally grow indoors thriving in their natural habitats, listen to the cacophony of all sorts of birds, insects and animals and breathe in the air redolent with earthy fragrances was a total joy. I was in heaven. This is virgin forest and older than Methuselah. Zip-lining over this ancient rain forest, I was reduced to tears by its sheer majesty.

From the come-hither-linger-awhile beaches and large, antediluvian looking iguanas of the Pacific coast to the more arid, scorching parts of the northwest where I saw forest fires to the cool, lush, wet greenery of the mountain rain forests and finally to the fertile, gorgeous landscape leading up to a volcano crater sitting magnificent and beguiling, I’ll just say that I witnessed pura vida in action.

This earth of ours is all we’ve got. She deserves to be cherished and preserved. Our survival depends on her survival. And while we are at it, surely we can look out for each other and live with passion, compassion and purpose.

Now, who cannot get with the Pura Vida program? Seems a no-brainer and yet, we fall short all the time. Well, let’s try harder.

[ It is worth knowing that Costa Rica does not have zoos. One can either go to the natural habitats/forests to search for and observe the animals or, visit a preserve that keeps animals that have been rescued from those keeping them as illegal pets, for fights or other equally reprehensible reasons. For one reason or other, these animals cannot be released in the wild as they no longer have the skills to make it there. A country after my own heart]

Before you drool over the photos below, I just want to alert you on an upcoming art show that I’m in.

ARTISTS OF NORTHERN WESTCHESTER SHOW

Sponsored by the

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Hudson Valley

2021 Albany Post Road, Croton-on-Hudson

Directions on website: www.uuchudsonvalley.org

Four Weekends of Exhibit Hours: Sun. 4/9, Sat. 4/15, Sun. 4/16, Sat. 4/22, Sun. 4/23, Sat. 4/29, and Sun. 4/30 – Noon – 3 p.m. Opening Reception, Saturday, April 8th from 4-6 p.m.

Enjoy the photos! I’m only sharing a tiny portion of the vast collection – will give you more next week! A big shout out to our excellent Monteverde guides Ronnie, Roy and Chikkie and, to dear friend Brithany whose pride in her country is contagious!

Pacific sunset

Pacific sunset

Playa Negra

Playa Negra

Iguano

Iguana

Chifrijo

Chifrijo

Cashew

Cashew

Casados

Casados

Approaching Monteverde

Approaching Monteverde

Sunset over cloud mountain

Sunset over cloud mountain

Monteverde rainforest

Monteverde rainforest

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Bromeliades

Bromeliades

A matter of scale!!

A matter of scale!!

Waterfalls

Waterfalls

Looking way up the inside of a hollow tree that is still standing.

Looking way up the inside of a hollow tree that is still standing.

Rare lily

Rare lily

Daughter on the zipline

Daughter on the zipline

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Blowing Hot, Blowing Cold AND Stinky Stats

Stella blows into town tonight. Boy! Has she got us all talking and preparing for her arrival! Events and agendas have been canceled and cleared. Pantries and refrigerators stocked. Fireplaces made ready. Blankets and sweaters on hand for cozy times once Stella is here. She should be so honored that 50 million people are anticipating her visit. With anxiety and apprehension. Stella is after all the bomb. A glorious, whoppingly impactful snow storm of a girl. And it is predicted that she will undergo bombogenesis ( it’s a real word) which means conditions are right for snow to accumulate up to 4 inches an hour with high winds and possible thundersnow. We are therefore expecting 18 to 24 inches of snow. Let’s hope we do not lose power.

It is already mid-March and after a dismally weak-spirited winter, it just feels too much too late no? Besides, what about all those days in February and just last week when the temperatures were cheerfully spring like? If the weather was a person, a shrink would have a clear and conclusive diagnosis of its rather confusing behavior.

So, as it stands, one must do what one must to safeguard the garden. Protect shrubs with buds and other vulnerable plants with plastic or wooden ‘tents’, Wind rope around shrubs to give them a compact stability against breaking and splaying due to the weight of huge amounts of snow. Pour sand and grit on walkways and driveways to give traction to tires and shoes.  Have flashlights, matches, candles, bottled water on hand. Keep shovels accessible. Fill up bird feeders. Likewise, fill car gas tank. Get out those board games and books. Bring in a good supply of firewood. Stock up on groceries – don’t forget the fixings for hot cocoa and s’mores. Place blankets wherever cozying-up is a possibility.Charge up phones and laptops. During the storm, try and check up on elderly neighbors. Have your camera close by – snow storms can provide great photo ops!

I’m getting a bit tired of this hot and cold treatment. Enough already. Can we please just get back to safely predictable, ‘normal’ seasonable weather?

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Stink Bug Update

There is finally some hope in getting rid of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB). Since their invasion into the US in the 1990s, they have destroyed fruit and vegetable crops and grossed out everyone who has been finding them in their homes. My method of action has been to capture them in toilet tissue and flush them down. Yes, I have probably wasted a good deal of water in this warfare. The guilt has been getting to me so, I’m more than relieved that a solution is in sight.

Scientists at Cornell University have discovered a tiny wasp that lays its eggs in the BMSB and thereby kills off potential bug babies. The Samurai Wasp Trissolcus japonicus, is thus far the only effective BMSB predator we know.

The wasp itself is an alien species so its own long term impact on our native flora and fauna is unknown. Hence applying it to combat the stink bug has to be done thoughtfully. The university and USDA scientists are collaborating on a project to create a map of the areas impacted by the bug. They want all of us to get involved – a National Citizen Science Project.

To participate is simple. Once you find a stink bug, ascertain that it is indeed a BMSB and not any other bug. Take a photo of it and report the finding on the EDDMaps.website. The live link is for New York state but that site can help you find the link to all other states.

Next, every day through March to April 31, count all the BMSBs you find in the home or garden. Enter that data online. That’s it.

After April 31, all the data will be collated and a BMSB distribution map will be created. Scientists will release the Samurai wasps in a controlled manner in the affected areas and help establish the wasps there so they can begin lowering the stink bug populations. At the same time, the scientists will be closely monitoring the presence of the wasp and how it might affect non-target insects. After all, we do not want another alien creature going rogue. At this point, the aim is to use the wasp for the single purpose of eradicating the BMSB.

So, lets all get started. A common enemy to unite us all!

Note: The date for my garden’s Open Day through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Day Program is set! Mark your calendars! Saturday May 13 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. No excuses. Be there!

Protective tents on the ready

Protective tents on the ready

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Isicles

Icicles

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Adult female Brown Marmorated Stink Bug ( photo – https://njaes.rutgers.edu/stinkbug/identify.asp)

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

March Madness

From the first of this month till today, we have gone from balmy, 60 degree temperatures to stormy, highly windy to, extremely cold and dry and now back to spring like conditions. That is in the span of exactly one week. Craayzeeee!

The snowdrops are practically done for. They shone all too briefly. There must be utter confusion underground. I imagine the assorted bulbs talking all at once in a state of panic trying to decide if it’s time to get going yet. The snowdrops are probably saying – “It’s madness up there guys! I wouldn’t risk it just yet.” And I’ll bet the scillas are hesitantly wondering if they ought to listen or just take their chances. No doubt the hyacinths are flexing their muscles and scornful of their more delicate cousin. Meanwhile, the irises are shrugging their corms and listening to the ensuing chaos happy in the knowledge that they do not need to decide anything this early. They get to snooze a few weeks longer.

I’m kind of glad I am a bit behind schedule in trimming back the old foliage on the hellebores. The emerging flowers ought have enjoyed the protection this past weekend. I intend to remove those leaves tomorrow.

Typically, at this time of year, I’m already looking into acquiring pansies and primroses to set the stage for spring. The spring window-boxes are put up a week before the vernal Equinox. Perhaps that will happen this weekend. It really is time to start on the spring clean up and schedule plantings and sowing.

After the barely-there winter, the feeling of spring is almost anti-climactic. There is none of the usual dramatic shift from frigid and bare to pleasant and green. It’s as though spring has been creeping in slowly for a while and appears to have made some sort of cohabitation deal with winter. I personally find this frustrating. Are we done with winter or not? Is she going to drag her feet? I’d like to know one way or other. I have plenty of work to do but the weather doesn’t seem to care one whit about that. It is clearly having a blast tormenting gardeners all around.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m starting with the hellebores. Then, I shall begin cleaning up in earnest. Next, set up the window-boxes. This should clearly be a declaration that this garden is spring-ready. And by that time, we ought to know if winter is finally letting go of her hold on us.

In these unpredictable, unsettling times, I really need to get started in the garden – my sanity depends on it.

I hope you enjoy my watercolor rendition and poem below:

Snowdrop. watercolor

Snowdrop. watercolor

Snowdrop

Diminutive cousin of Amaryllis

emerging from Eurasian roots

Harking back to Winter’s white

Alluding to Springs chartreuse.

Visiting just long enough

to reassure seasons change

Never overstaying her welcome

Her departure prearranged.

Sweet bells hang low

So ants can hear them ring

calling to come feast

Depart with seeds to fling

Homer’s magical herb moly

disarms all human hearts

When small can be mighty

and staying humble is an art.

Shobha Vanchiswar

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Breaks!

When I left New York eight days ago, there was a foot of snow on the ground. What a difference a week makes. Not only has all the snow disappeared, but signs of spring abound. It is positively thrilling. This anticipation of my favorite season sends shivers through my body. I’m giddy with spring fever.

After traveling for almost a whole day, enduring cramped quarters, stale air, airline food, blocked ears and total lack of sleep, I needed a real shot of nature to banish the fatigue. So directly from the airport, I went to the New York Botanical Gardens. The Orchid Show was on and I was in desperate need of flower power.

The sunshine and open space felt healing as I made my way to the conservatory. My tradition is to go through the perennial gardens and as I did so, I spied the first snowdrops of the year. Oh joy! Early crocuses stood poised to imminently open their diminutive goblets while the hellebores, as usual, had heralded the parade. They were in full bloom mode. Stems of shrubs still denuded of foliage had begun showing color as though they were slowly sipping from underground vats of dye. Taking in all these signs of rebirth and renewal made me feel so alive.

And with that shot in the arm, I stepped into the conservatory. The theme of the orchid show this year is Thailand. And it delivered beautifully. The natural humidity and warmth of the conservatory lent a very appropriate element to set the stage. The background music, the bright colors, the elephant motifs, the shrines and the very flowers themselves transported one to another place. For one just released from an airplane, this felt ideal. If only real travel could be this blissfully simple.

At such a show, it didn’t matter if the orchids on display were all originally from Thailand or not. It was the overall atmosphere they conveyed that mattered. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It is the perfect antidote to all kinds of fatigue – from winter blues, to daily news of hate crimes and divisiveness, to rising anxiety to long journeys. A little respite, an brief escape, a shift in perspective can work wonders.

Do go to this show or, if you do not live anywhere near the NYBG, go to the nearest botanical garden as most have a conservatory with a collection that is sure to delight. And if you do not have even that option, get yourself an orchid or two from the local nursery, make or order in a Thai meal (or any exotic cuisine of your choice), dress for the occasion in something colorful, get a playlist of suitable music piped in and take yourself on a fun trip of your own. I promise you’ll have a great time. Spring is breaking out!

Note: I’ve written about my most recent visit with the children at Mukta Jeevan. They are my reason to hope, serve and make a difference. You can read about the visit here.

And now, enjoy the photos of orchids and all things spring!

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Hellebores

Hellebores

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Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Eranthis - like scattered gold

Eranthis – like scattered gold

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Indian Summer

No, not that kind of Indian summer. I’m talking about summer in India. Okay, so it is still February and not actually called summer in India but it is 90 degrees in Mumbai and definitely feels like summer. So there.

Strange as it feels to bask in this heat having only just left New York in the throes of winter ( which apparently is currently simulating spring), I’m instantly transported to the summers of my early childhood. The scene here is actually nothing like those memories – hot and dusty, it already looks parched and eager for the monsoon rains. The trees and shrubs while appearing to be robust impart an air of exhaustion from the layer of dust choking the leaves. As though newly arrived from great journeys, they hang like weary travelers in need of food, drink and a long shower.

The air is drier than usual. Mumbai being an island in the Arabian Sea, is prone to the humidity characteristic of all coastal regions. I’m not missing the humidity however. The dry heat is much more tolerable. At the markets, ‘winter’ fruits are still found. Grapes and citrus mostly. Guavas are just beginning to emerge on the fruit sellers carts. I see lots of tomatoes which feels kind of odd as I’ve grown accustomed to them flavoring my summers back home but, certainly not unusual for these climes to have tomatoes all year round. It is simply a bit confusing for my jet-lagged mind.

But reverting to my childhood summers, I feel a sense of nostalgia. No doubt the years since have cast a romantic hue on those memories. I might even be mixing up the plants. Still, I remember the hot reds and oranges of the canna flowers punching the white hot days. The bright sunlight sent us kids to seek the shade of porches and trees. Too hot for physical play, we resorted to old-fashioned games with stones and shells that tested our hand-motor skills and did not require much exertion. The sounds of cicadas and other insects provided a back drop of discordant music that was well suited to our own rather unchecked vocals. The birds only bothered to sing in the early morning.

I remember lobbing stones to knock down still green mangoes from their tall trees. Some of those trees did not belong to any of us children but, that never hampered our ambitions. The tart-sweet flesh sprinkled with salt and red chili powder made a most heavenly snack. Ditto for the tamarind fruit. Come to think of it, these were remarkably natural, healthy foods that somehow fooled us into thinking we were indulging in something terribly naughty. Of course, too much of even these resulted in tummy aches and maternal scoldings.

What I recall most intensely were the aromas of the season. During the day, the high temperatures dissipated any smells. But come dusk as the heat abated, the perfume of frangipani competed mightily with the evening jasmine. The roses had a fragrance so strong that I was prone to coveting them. So much so that I’d actually eat the petals as though wanting to contain their power within my body. Gardenias were not as common but whenever they were present, even a single flower in bloom would perfume the air for miles around. There was no getting away from scents those evenings. Almost everything had a smell but the ones that chose to be subtle got overlooked.

It has been many moons since those summers of my youth but memories are strong. It takes only a wave of Mumbai heat to trigger them. And for a spell, I’m transported to my time in the gardens that gave me my life long love for nature. A gift every child should be so blessed to receive.

Note: As I don’t have images of those memorable gardens of my past, I’m offering up some of my watercolor renditions of warm weather flowers. Enjoy! May they evoke your own set of memories and dreams.

And do go see the exhibit I’m in at the ASL this week.

Cleome

Cleome

Nasturtium

Nasturtium

Rose

Rose

Sunflower

Sunflower

Orchid

Orchid

Monarda

Monarda

Lily

Lily

Hollyhock

Hollyhock

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Feeling February

After a rather mediocre rendition of winter from December and January, February has come on fierce! Snow, ice, freezing rain, high winds, black ice – you name it, we’re getting it. This I recognize. It was beginning to feel a bit unsettling when there were so many above normal temperature days. So now, as inconvenient as it might be, I’m comfortable with the more seasonal weather . Do I like risking life and limb every time I step outside? Absolutely not. My eyes label every dark patch as black ice and my feet begin walking so gingerly that I’ve turned into a poster child for the paranoid.

Still, the mass of snow protecting the garden is heartwarming. I suffered thinking of the plants left exposed to the cold and wind. And I fretted that the milder days might fool the hibernating bulbs into thinking it was time to awaken. So yes, this typical blast of real winter is making me feel better.

It’s funny how we long for sojourns to the tropics when we are in the throes of winter weather and moan about the treachery of traversing the icy roads. Summer cannot come to soon right? Yet, even a slight shift in the climate is cause for alarm. It can bring about big changes quite quickly leaving inadequate time for both flora and fauna to adapt. This then affects everything else. A sudden snowfall in Florida puts paid to the citrus harvest. A mild winter in the North lowers the water table, adversely affects towns reliant on winter sports and related businesses, plants requiring a proper period of cold begin to struggle when the growing season restarts and so on and so forth. As I write, the winds are gusting hard. Fallen trees are blocking off roads and even delaying train service, schools were delayed this morning due to black ice on bus routes and, power outages are spreading. There is no question, our lives are intimately entwined with nature.

Time spent in nature is critical to our mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Mankind has known that from ancient times. Science has confirmed that belief. It is now up to us to oversee that which is so important to our health.

We owe it to ourselves, future generations and all of life to preserve, protect and enjoy this beautiful, bountiful planet.

Recommended reading while you’re cozying up to the fireplace and the wind is howling outside:

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative. By Florence Williams

Happy Valentine’s Day one and all!

Note:

February 20 – 25 I have some paintings in NYC group show. Please visit!

IMG_2891

Enjoy these images apropos Valentine’s Day:

Stone hearts

IMG_0721

Heart in the snow

Ooty Bot garden

Dried leaf heart

IMG_8263Cyclamen heart

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar