Bulb mania And Other Sins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hyacinth

Hyacinth


Tulip

Tulip


Scilla

Scilla


Crocus

Crocus


Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata


Lily

Lily


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

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


#SeedsDesignBulbs
(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Summer – A Seasonal Paean Or Pain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I always say – attitude is everything.

Young Echinacea opening.

Young Echinacea opening.


The vertical garden

The vertical garden


Close-up of heuchera against a backdrop of moss.

Close-up of heuchera against a backdrop of moss.


Summer pleasure

Summer pleasure


Astilbe and a White Admiral

Astilbe and a White Admiral


A place to pause

A place to pause


#gardenDesignSummer
(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

Part II – On The Pesky Matter of Illegal Aliens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The pattern of the Echinacea 'cone' fascinates me.

The pattern of the Echinacea ‘cone’ fascinates me.


Fern in vertical garden. Such a cooling sight.

Fern in vertical garden. Such a cooling sight.


And what is July without fireworks?!

And what is July without fireworks?!


(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

On The Pesky Matter Of Illegal Aliens. Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


(c) 2014 Shobha Vanchiswar