Boundless June

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June. – Al Bernstein

What comes to mind when you think of the garden in the month of June? Hands down roses. Right? But in truth, June brims over in flowers of all sorts. Peony, iris, wisteria (American variety), foxgloves, astilbe, alliums, columbines, clematis, camassia, geraniums, baptisia, amsonia … the list is almost endless.

It is the garden’s enactment of ‘schools out!’ Restless, youthful energy unleashed.

Here in my corner, we are still experiencing weather that can only be described as peculiar. Too cold/too hot/too dry/too wet. Goldilocks is having a hard time pronouncing a day ‘just right‘.

The past week sizzled well into the 80’s. While it put us humans in a ‘high summer’ frame of mind, the flowers already on show were rudely booed out and the ones waiting in the wings found themselves rushed to stage front. I personally feel cheated of at least a week. A week in which I could’ve enjoyed the warm-up acts whilst in eager anticipation of the main show to come. Only a month ago, the unseasonably cool temperatures delayed the opening of myriad buds. And now the unseasonable warmth and humidity have done their deed. Not fair at all.

But enough of my kvetching. It is what it is. There is no more time to waste. The garden is there to be enjoyed. Weeding, watering and deadheading are the quotidian chores – all easily kept up with if done regularly. So there are plenty of hours each day to revel in the riot of flowers and lush growth. After all, who knows what turn the weather will take next.

In the potager, the leafy greens are already being picked daily for delicious, fresh salads. And the assorted herbs brighten everything from cocktails to sauces to grilled vegetables and seafood to fresh fruit desserts. Did I mention cocktails?!

Summer has indeed begun.

Enjoy the glut of photos this week! And please follow me on Instagram

Also, check out new additions of my fabric designs here

Peonies

Peonies

Iris and allium

Iris and allium

The meadow

The meadow

An explosion of alliums

An explosion of alliums

Foxgloves

Foxgloves

Allium

Allium

Camassia

Camassia

Amsonia

Amsonia

Bleeding hearts

Bleeding hearts

New Dawn roses

New Dawn roses

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Ornithogalum

Ornithogalum

Baptisia

Baptisia

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Debunk, Demystify, Disguise. Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meadow right now! I love it so.

The meadow right now! I love it so.

The path

The path

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

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

Arch leading into the herb garden

Arch leading into the herb garden

Herb garden

Herb garden

Birdbath on steel pole

Birdbath on steel pole

The grand artichoke

The grand artichoke

The railing wrapped in grapevine.

The railing wrapped in grapevine.

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

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

The wall garden

The wall garden

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Debunk, Demystify, Disguise. Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

A Garden’s Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Day photos –

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photo credit - Dave Fleck

photo credit – Dave Fleck

The 'shop' in the greenhouse

The ‘shop’ in the greenhouse

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

The Darling Buds Of May

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

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

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

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

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

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

Creeping phlox

Creeping phlox

Tulip mania

Tulip mania

Blue and yellow

Blue and yellow

Vertical garden

Vertical garden

Allium bud

Allium bud

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar