Is Grateful Dead?

The garden has been put to bed. The final rounding up of leaves, mulching of beds and last of the bulbs were planted this past Sunday. It happened a bit later than usual due to the shockingly cold weather we recently experienced. There is a certain satisfaction that comes from completing the seasons chores before repairing indoors for the winter. One feels like one has delivered on being a responsible grown-up.

With my favorite holiday approaching fast, thoughts of gratitude filled my mind as I went about the tasks in the garden. Having this patch of earth to cultivate and call my own is in itself a prized gift. To tend land is so basic to humans and yet not always appreciated enough by those of us who primarily
garden more for pleasure than necessity. By having a garden, I feel I have been specially chosen and given custody of it for posterity.

The rewards of gardening are innumerable and I often wax eloquent on the subject. For maintaining physical, mental and emotional health, putting hands to earth cannot be beat. This has always been understood through the ages but research has established the sustained benefits of connecting with nature. Gives our puttering around the garden solid credibility.

As I take care of the myriad to-dos, I recall the many high points I’ve enjoyed through the growing seasons. The flowers, the vegetables, the birds and the babies they hatched here, the butterflies that never failed to thrill, the inspirations for my writings and my art, the visitors on Open Day so generous with their praise and, countless moments that awed and humbled. The garden hosted so many gatherings with loved ones: it provided place and reason for much laughter and fellowship. It also provided solace when I needed it and a sanctuary for quiet and contemplation. I am overcome with gratitude for my piece of paradise.

Looking back at the year I see how much I’ve been given in the garden and beyond. Even in the difficult moments, there were always the ‘helpers’. By allowing myself a retrospective of sorts, I am empowered by the received bounty and come the New Year, I can look ahead to being and doing better. In the big picture, all the minor grievances fade into oblivion. I firmly believe gratitude begets hope and optimism. The mainstays of all human endeavors. The work of one who attends to the land is the very embodiment of hope and optimism.

Those of us privileged to have a house with property often take it for grated or acquire it as a symbol of some level of success and affluence. In the context of the population at large, we fail to consider how few of us are given this precious gift. Being thankful should be the first and last thoughts in our minds every single day. But on Thanksgiving day, we should be rejoicing in this and all the people in our lives full on. Nothing else should matter. Surely we owe ourselves at least one day of the year to be completely present and give thanks mindfully and deliberately. Consciously counting ones blessings is perhaps the single most powerful factor in how well we live our lives.

So, when we are bombarded and barraged by retailers and media to toss away the opportunity to spend valuable time with family and friends and instead spend the time shopping, we ought to take serious umbrage. No person or organization should be permitted to invade our lives and disrupt the most fundamental essence of our humanity – to share our selves and break bread together. That is priceless and sacred.

From the depth of my heart I wish each of you a Thanksgiving rich in blessings and grace.
Here are some of the things for which I’m grateful:
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Weeding help!

Weeding help!


Beauty

Beauty


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(c)2014 Shobha Vanchiswar

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