Remembering August

Being fully present in the moment is something I consciously try to do at all times. And being present in the garden, in nature, results in such a sense of well being and connectedness to the world around us that I cannot imagine a day without time spent simply immersing oneself in it. Personally, being in nature, observing what is going on, appreciating the nuances and transitions, centers me in a way not unlike the way prayer or meditation works. It gives me the focus and energy to get on with my day and projects. At the risk of sounding clichéd, it makes me a better person.

Yet, the month of August, bathed in sunshine and wreathed in sunflowers can be a challenge to sit still and take it all in. Summer vacations, preparing for the start of school, grabbing time to make the most of the season often leaves one in a whirl of albeit fun activities but with no opportunities to stop and quite literally smell the roses. We pine for this month all winter long and then, when it is here, we are too caught up in the trappings of what we think we ought to do instead of simply letting ourselves quietly soak in the many delights only August can provide.

Now that the month is coming to an end, I’m determined to hold on to the memories of it. They’ll warm my heart on those days of winter when it feels like summer will never will come. I want to remember the mornings spent watching a young pigeon practicing to fly. From way on top of a white pine, it took brief sorties testing its wings and no doubt, testing its courage. With each attempt it went a wee bit further before returning to its perch to catch its breath and perhaps determine how to do better. Practice, practice, practice.

I want to remember the colors of August. Vivid yellow sunflower faces tracking the sun, plump tomatoes ranging from vermilion to Alizarin red, juicy peaches echoing the hues of the sun that ripened them, melons with flesh so sweet and so coral pink, figs in plummy purple bursting with goodness, skies awash in blues matched only by seas skirting inviting beaches, sap green basil leaves perfuming the very hands that pick them.

I want to remember the sounds of this special month. From the early morning atonal chorus of the birds to the ascending pitch of the cicadas in the sultry hours of the afternoon to, the clicks and the hums of the crickets and bees and finally to the soft whispers of moths and bats as they swoop and circle as dusk darkens the day.

I want to remember the warmth of the month when the skin can feel so hot that a plunge into a pool comes as a shock, the illuminated winks of fireflies keeping me company as I sit with that glass of rosé that goes perfectly with every summer meal, the clove-like fragrance of phlox glowing in moonlight, the soles of bare feet cooled by morning dew as they make their way to pick flowers for the table.

So many joyous memories! Please let me not miss a single one.

Enjoy some images of my August below!

Note: You can read about my latest visit with the children at Mukta Jeevan here.

Sunflower field in Provence

Sunflower field in Provence

Tomatoes ripening

Tomatoes ripening

Summer phlox

Summer phlox

August bounty at the farmer's market

August bounty at the farmer’s market

Zucchini blossoms galore.

Zucchini blossoms galore.

Zucchini blossom fritters stuffed with fresh goat cheese. Delicious!

Zucchini blossom fritters stuffed with fresh goat cheese. Delicious!

Figs, glorious figs!

Figs, glorious figs!

Red hot peppers

Red hot peppers

Trumpet vine

Trumpet vine

Spent sunflowers still charming enough to adorn this doorway

Spent sunflowers still charming enough to adorn this doorway

Blue, blue skies.

Blue, blue skies.

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

 

Art In Progress!

In past posts, I have often mentioned the role that sculpture can play in the garden. From giving it gravitas to whimsy, a garden or, for that matter, any space is much elevated by art. In my own garden, I have a few small pieces but I’ve always hankered for something dramatic and large yet one that is empathetic to the surroundings. Art that was site specific. Which of course meant having the work commissioned.

Meanwhile. I’ve had to confront the reality of losing the tree that is supporting the Paul’s Himalayan Musk rose in the meadow. The tree is quite dead. or the present, It is only a matter of time before a big storm easily brings it all down. It needs something to step in and take up the role of rose upholder. Soon.

Hmmm. Perhaps I could combine the two needs? A sculpture that will also brace the rambler would do the trick. Enter Domenico Belli. A metal sculptor and all round nice guy.

Together we’ve worked out what is needed, wanted and downright fun. A work of art that will bear the additional responsibility of taking over from the tree. And in the future, if for one reason or other the rose ceases to be, the sculpture will still be intact and relevant.

Commissioning a large work ( 8 feet high and all stainless steel) feels so grown-up and glamorous. I’m excited, nervous and impatient all at once. Domenico has begun working on it and sends me photos to keep me updated. It’s like waiting for a baby and becoming ecstatic over each ultrasound image. How amazing and what will it finally look like?!

I’m sharing with you the images and you can have a go at guessing the final design. Let me know what you think. After the piece is completed and installed, I’ll tell you more about what I envisioned, how we collaborated and still permitted Domenico to have artistic freedom.

Domenico still has lots of work to do. We are looking to install in mid-fall and I’m thrilled to keep everybody in the loop. Process in any sort of creative effort is instructive. Together we can be inspired.

Note: You can read  about my latest visit with the children at Mukta Jeevan here.

The first shipment of metal arrives at Domenico's studio

The first shipment of metal arrives at Domenico’s studio

Domenico gets started

Domenico gets started

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Bringing Summer To Her Senses

It is already week 3 of August. Summer is a hasting. Have you been making the most of it? Before another day goes by, lets promise ourselves to take in all the pleasures the season offers. High heat and humidity notwithstanding, there is much to savor and it’d be such a shame to miss out. After all, these are the memories one clings to during the seemingly endless cold days of winter.

For now, let’s think less about the chores both in the garden and out. Instead, give yourself the gift of being fully present in the garden. Soak in the the sights, sounds and smells. Absorb every exquisite detail, every last drop. Breathe deeply and inhale the season. Let all the warmth and colors course through your veins and nourish your soul. You will emerge a better version of yourself – I promise.

Enough said. Enjoy the images below. Be inspired.

Follow me on Instagram @seedsofdesignllc

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

 

 

Gardening In The Green

A gardener by occupation is simpatico with the environment. We are therefore acutely aware of what we do in the garden having a direct impact on the environment. Likewise how any change or fluctuation in the surroundings and/or climate immediately affects the garden. There is much in the hands of the gardener to do his/her part in preserving and conserving their alloted corner of Eden.

One is often told what not to do. So working from a positive attitude, lets look at a few things one should do.

Do please compost – This is perhaps the single best thing to do. Yet, I constantly encounter gardeners swearing up and down the garden path their devotion to organic, environmentally conscious practices but not composting at all. Beats me why this is so. Composting is easy.

After all, at its very simplest, it is nothing but tossing garden and kitchen waste in a pile, stirring it now and then and making sure a splash of water is periodically directed its way. Set it up some place discreet and you’re cooking. Well, the compost is cooking. Granted an open pile can look unsightly but setting up a contained area or a commercially available compost bin will eliminate that problem. I compost garden waste in the woods at the back of my property and use a small compost bin for the kitchen scraps of veggies, fruits, egg shells, tea leaves and coffee grounds. This bin occupies a corner out of direct view but is still easily accessible.

Apart from reducing the amount of weekly garbage and eliminating the need to bundle twigs or bag the leaves for pick-up, all of which makes for less work, obtaining one’s own compost to nourish the garden plants and suppress the weeds is hugely gratifying. And very kind to the wallet to boot. Applying compost to lawns, trees, shrubs, flower and vegetable beds puts paid to any need for fertilizers and herbicides.

A healthy compost bin does not smell foul. Like I mentioned, aerating and giving it some water permits the natural decomposition of the plant waste. The worms and microbes do their job quite thoroughly. There is no malodorous effect.

I have been composting for more than twenty years and have not had critters like raccoons, skunks and such raid the compost bin. I do believe they will if the composter is not kept healthy.

Compost is vital for recycling trace elements and replenishing the organic matter in the soil. So much good from so little work.

Do give up using fertilizers – this is a natural follow up to composting. All fertilizers, synthetic or organic, release some of the nitrogen into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, which has 300 times more warming potential than carbon dioxide. In addition, it takes a lot of energy to manufacture synthetic fertilizers so the carbon footprint of a garden is increased.

The run off from lands using fertilizers is full of nitrogen which has become a serious environmental issue. Nitrogen pollution threatens the health of humans and all other animals.

So, why bother with fertilizers when you can use wholesome compost? After all, like a physician who attends to all manner of human health, a gardener too takes care of the health of the earth, environment and all living creatures. So the first motto of a doctor should be the same for the gardener – Do No Harm.

Do reduce water consumption – private spaces consume more water than public parks. That is a fact. To reduce water consumption, mulch everywhere! The aforementioned compost laid over a layer of old newspaper in garden beds acts as both mulch to retain moisture, smother weeds and enrich the soil to feed the plants better. Pine needles, chips of tree bark, cocoa hulls are all useful mulches.

Installing rain barrels to catch storm water run-off will cut down on that water bill. I can’t even begin to describe how virtuous you will feel.

Drip irrigation systems should be on timers so watering is done during the cooler hours of the day. These days, systems that register rainfall and will not get turned on if it is sufficiently wet are available. What a relief to save on wasteful watering.

Do stop tilling – that’s right, do not turn over the soil. Less work again! By leaving the ground undisturbed, the earthworms get to do their God-given work of decomposing the organic matter of plants as they die and return to the soil. As a result, much of the carbon is sequestered in the soil and not released as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. By allowing the garden to become a carbon sink, i.e. removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the ground, the gardener is doing the world good. Think local, act global.

Do change the garden tools – as much as possible get rid of gas-powered tools. According to the EPA, 800 million gallons of gasoline are used per year by the 54 million Americans mowing their lawns each weekend. Is that not shocking?
Here is another fact that ought to make you desperate to do something – one gas powered mower emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55mph for the same amount of time.

Instead, use battery-powered or better yet, human powered tools such as push/reel mowers, clippers, rakes and the like. Go one step further and cut down on the lawn by planting native ground covers, trees, shrubs, meadows.

There, you see, none of this is difficult. The problem of climate change demands that each of us become part of the solution. Gardeners can make a significant difference. Collectively, we have the power to make manufacturers, growers, nurseries and politicians listen. Garden by garden we can lead the way. And cover a whole lot of turf! 

Follow me on Instagram @seedsofdesignllc

The rain barrel

The rain barrel

Another view of the barrel.

Another view of the barrel.

Groundcover

Groundcover

The only 'lawn' that gets mowed weekly by a human powered push mower.

The only ‘lawn’ that gets mowed weekly by a human powered push mower.

My meadow with natives and bulbs

My meadow with natives and bulbs

Alliums in the meadow

Alliums in the meadow

The compost bin for kitchen waste in the upper right corner. Do you see it?

The compost bin for kitchen waste in the upper right corner. Do you see it?

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Scent Of A Flower

Every now and then, there occurs an event that lifts us out of our routine, somewhat self-absorbed lives and reminds us that there is a bigger, incredibly fascinating universe of which we are just a tiny part. Events that are rare and uncommon like the aurora or polar lights, frost flowers, super cells, fire whirls in a bush fire, water spouts, ball lightening, the chance to view Haley’s comet. Or, those that recur more widely but still powerful enough to get our attention every single time such as a solar eclipse, the annual migration of the Monarch butterflies, meteor showers, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcano eruptions, forest fires, tornadoes, hurricanes. Each of those occurrences , be they breathtakingly beautiful or devastatingly powerful, brings us down to our knees.

We acknowledge forces at work mightier than ourselves. Our part in the big drama is made clear – we are not center stage.

And so, this past weekend, just such an opportunity came my way. The corpse flower or titan-arum ( Amorphophallus titanum) at the NYBG was in bloom. The plant takes years and requires considerable energy to form buds and then, once there is a bud, the flower matures quickly. It opens over a period of 36 hours and then withers away. So the window to catch it in bloom is narrow. Its characteristic aroma of rotting flesh notwithstanding, the titan-arum is a sight to behold.

I was not going to miss this event. After all who knows where I might be the next time it graces us with a flower! Standing in line along with so many others just as eager and curious as I, it occurred to me that when it comes down to it, we are all the same. Fellow humans trying to make sense of our world and in doing so, understand ourselves a little bit better. What a wonderful, diverse crowd I was privileged to be a part of as we wound our way through the conservatory and approached the guest of honor. Jockeying for a proper view, I heard a myriad of languages and I’m certain they were all saying the same thing – “ Wow! Look at that!”.

There in the reflecting pool, rose the flower of the hour. The spadix looked like a 7 foot finger pointing to the heavens above and the frilly spathe wrapped its base as elegantly as a Fortuny-pleated skirt. In green to cream ombre on the outside, the spathe opens out in a flare to reveal a deep red to maroon interior. It was not quite open when I was there. Even so, I felt quite blessed to have seen this once-in-a-long-while flower.

For the fifteen minutes of audience I had, I was oblivious to the all the news that was being reported on our political goings-on, the dreary to-do list that lingered on my phone, the quotidian worries both real and imagined that dog us all and, the twinges and aches that I woke up with that morning. For that quarter hour, I was given the gift of stillness and a deep sense of connection to every living thing on this magical, blue planet. My take home message – it is worth the hard work and time to do something extraordinary.

As for the famous odor? I hardly noticed.

At a more accessible level, we are given daily and seasonal nudges to put our lives in perspective. Sunrises, sunsets, the smile of a baby as it reaches for your embrace, the honeybee making its daily rounds in the garden, the night sky glittering messages from distant galaxies, the periodic love song of the cicadas. We are equally seduced by rainbows and the autumnal colors of the leaves announcing the close of the growing season. The thawing earth pierced through by tiny, brave crocuses, the unfurling of the summer roses, the deepening blush of the apples in October, the tranquility of the first snowfall – all reminders that miracles happen all the time. We just have to become still and notice. Every time that happens, we become better versions of ourselves.

Please follow me on Instagram @seedsofdesignllc

All of this month, some of my botanical art and poems are on exhibit at the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library in North Salem NY. I hope you will visit!

The titan-arum

The titan-arum

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar