Double Vision

I have two gardens. The one in my mind’s eye is perfect and exactly how I wish it. The other is here on earth, around my house, fodder for pests and vulnerable to the vagaries of weather. Striving to get the real garden reach the ideal of the one I dream about is an eternal quest. The saving grace is that most gardeners share my struggle. No matter where we garden and what size of land we command, the yearning is the same.

Starting in the fall when planting for the next growing season is going full throttle, we are motivated by the vision where all our plans succeed. Through the winter months we plot and plan for the perfect garden. It’s what gets us through the dreary, cold days. The real problem arises if we dwell too much in fantasy land and get carried away. Practicality, patience and common sense must moderate those ambitions. Sometimes, in the eagerness to achieve beauty and form, it is easy to forget about function and balance.

A garden can look beautiful but in truth, it should also provide. It must delight, inspire, feed, comfort, educate and most importantly, do no harm to the environment. This sounds like a tall order but in simply following that last dictum, the rest will happen easily. There is nothing more fundamental to us than to create an attractive, productive, safe haven.

By choosing the right plants for the right location, selecting mostly natives that in turn will attract and support native fauna, employing organic practices, judicious use of precious resources like water and energy consuming tools and in giving diligent care, any spot of land can shine. Truly.

But that doesn’t mean it precludes indulging in dreams. If I didn’t envision a riot of spring color, I wouldn’t be torturing my body by planting hundreds of bulbs each fall. If you hanker for plants that thrive in a different climate and/or are invasive, reasonable alternatives are usually available and will satisfy your vision. Native honeysuckle instead of the Japanese variety, Rose of Sharon can be pruned to grow single or multi-trunked shrubs and are lovely substitutes for crape myrtles. (Select a sterile type so you are not burdened with digging up seedlings all the time.) Russian sage or nepeta are excellent stand-ins for lavender.

If you adore roses but cannot grow them or would like their ‘look’ throughout the growing season, I recommend ranunculus, peonies, camellias, double begonias and dahlias. Native wisteria is better behaved than the Asian types. A myriad choices of native grasses are excellent alternatives to exotic ones. There really is a way to make garden dreams come true. Within reason. You’re on your own if you insist on making your north-east garden into a tropical paradise.

Having said all this, I still dream big. Lush, impossibly wonderful dream gardens. From those wild fantasies come ideas more realizable, creative and applicable in my true, earth-bound garden. Several features that have become hallmarks in my garden came from dreaming. While I’ve learned to temper my reveries with budget constraints, physical and/or time limitations to make my real garden, I give free rein to my imagination. After all, it was Albert Einstein who said – Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination encircles the world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.
And look what he managed to contribute.

See below for some real features that came from my imaginary garden:

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

A Spring State Of Mind

Hallelujah, we’re back to more seasonal weather this week. The leaves are putting up a beautiful autumnal show, garden clean up is underway and, because gardeners are always optimistic and looking ahead, planting for spring has begun.

In my garden, all the tender perennials are tucked safely in the greenhouse which is filled to bursting. The meadow has got its annual mowing just in time for bulb planting. In the herb garden, apart from the still thriving Swiss chard, boxwoods and hellebores, the plants have been cut back. All that remains to be done here is the application of a good layer of compost mulch. The peonies along the side path have also been cut back. I have three new peonies waiting to be planted in the mix. In the front perennial beds, I’m letting the plants be for another couple of weeks. They look quite seasonal with the fading asters, the bright yellow foliage of amsonia, waving ornamental grasses and assorted seed heads.

All this work is leading up to the rather exhausting project of bulb planting. While the previously mentioned tasks signal the end of the growing season and the coming of winter, bulb planting demonstrates the certainty that spring will come again. Despite the guaranteed aches and pains that follow this annual activity, one cannot help feeling cheered by visions of happy bulbs sparkling and ushering in the spring. It is exactly such dreams that keep me going.

My order of about 700 bulbs arrived recently. The Eremurus I ordered require planting as soon as possible. The rest of the bulbs will be attended to in due course. While I absolutely crave the fox-tail lilies in my garden, my previous two attempts to grow them have been utter failures. Apparently, my garden does not meet their standards. This time will be my third and final try. I’m keeping fingers crossed tightly. I admit to a sense of desperation.

As promised last week, here are my tips for planting bulbs:

First and foremost, I order my bulbs by late June/early July. It allows me to go through the catalogs at a pleasurable pace and ensures that I get the specific bulbs I want in the quantity I want.
If you have not ordered any, local nurseries still have bulbs available. Hurry on there and get your share. No garden should be left out of a spring showing of bulbs.
Resolve to get your act together for next year’s bulb order.

When to plant : the rule of thumb is planting should happen after the soil temperature has dropped to about 55 degrees. In Europe, there is a timeline for different bulbs – snowdrops in early October, daffodils in late October, tulips in November, alliums in December etc but thankfully, here in the North-East, the various spring blooming bulbs can be done all at the same time once the temperature of the soil is suitable.

Select bulbs so that there is a sequence in the flowering. Starting with early bulbs like scillas and snowdrops to alliums and lilies into the summer.

Choose your bulbs wisely. No tulips in deer country but alliums and daffodils will do great. Similarly, don’t order small bulbs like scillas and snowdrops for areas thick with evergreen groundcover as the diminutive beauties will struggle to emerge through and gain visibility.

Plant the bulbs at the correct depths. Generally, that means three times the height of the bulb. When in doubt go deep. Except in the case of peonies and iris rhizomes – they need shallow planting or you will be rewarded with lush foliage but no flowers.

To achieve a cohesive yet dramatic look, order a larger quantity of of a few types of bulbs rather than a meager amount of a variety of them.

Invest in the right planting implements. It’ll make the work easier. Really.

The planting instructions that the bulbs arrive with are mere guidelines. I find it much more effective to plant my bulbs a bit closer than advised and in a mixed/scattered manner. In this way, I achieve a more natural, organic look.

To encourage reblooming and naturalization, after the blooms are done, let the leaves be. Do not braid them, tie them or remove them till they are completely yellow and done. Those leaves must be left to work hard to replenish the bulbs so they are fed and ready for the next time around.

When it comes to tulips, I consider them as annuals since most do not return the following year. However, I let the leaves die back and do not remove the bulbs. Every now and then, the tulips do make a comeback and gladden my heart no end. Restores my faith.

Enjoy my watercolor renditions of some favorite bulbs:

Hyacinth

Hyacinth

Tulip

Tulip

Daffodil

Daffodil

Scilla

Scilla

Crocus

Crocus

Iris reticulata

Iris reticulata

Lily

Lily

Iris

Iris

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Thinking Spring In Fall

Thinking spring? Heck, this week sure feels like spring! And as if to defy the actual season underway, I have an iris in bloom. This plant has not bloomed in about three years. Seems as though it is staging its own version of a spring awakening. As puzzling as it might be, I’m thrilled to see the pale lilac hued flowers. Perhaps its cousins planted alongside that had inexplicably gone AWOL as well, will also make a comeback next year. I’ve missed these beauties and was only recently wondering if I ought to give up and order their replacements. I guess I’ll hold off that shopping spree.

The standard of three intertwined hibiscus is still flowering sweetly so instead of taking it into the greenhouse, I’ve brought it down to the terrace where I can enjoy it as I go about my chores.
The Heritage and Bonica rose bushes have a few flowers in bloom. At any other time they look their best when loaded in flowers but at this time of year, the minimal look feels all the more precious.
In the potager, the Swiss chard are going strong as are the collards. They will honor our meals until the temperatures plummet and does them in. I’m hoping this does not happen till December.
The vertical garden is continuing to look quite stunning. If only it was located such that I could place a seating area near it so one could admire it at length.

My rather large shipment of bulbs is due to arrive this week. Given the mild weather, I guess I’ll have to wait at least a couple of weeks before the planting marathon commences. The soil temperature is still way too warm. It needs to be 55 degrees and below for the bulbs to know not to start sprouting. Already my mind’s eye can envision the glorious blooms to come and my heart longs for that season.

With the asters and golden rods shining bright, the ornamental kale and cabbages prettying up the pots and the display of gourds and pumpkins serenading fall, the pansies, lone iris, vertical garden etc., are representing a whole other season. My garden is displaying a most wonderful split personality. I’m revelling in its humanness.

(Next week, I’ll go over the “rules” of planting bulbs.)

 I am participating in the Beaux Art show in  in White Plains, NY this week. Hope you can stop by!

White Plains:

16 Annual Art Exhibit
of the
Woman’s Club of White Plains
305 Ridgeway
White Plains, NY 10605

Wednesday October 19 2-5 p.m. Exhibit Viewing
Thursday October 20 2-5 p.m. Exhibit Viewing
7 p.m.-Artists’ Reception (open to the public)

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Swiss chard

Swiss chard

Dahlia

Dahlia

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Asters

Aster

Happy, hardy
freely clustered
Summer stars
scattered below
Butterflies gather
for astral encounters
From Peleides’ showers
till fall’s last glow.

Shobha Vanchiswar

If you have not as yet embraced asters then get going already! Robust, reliable natives that make fall shine. Low maintenance too. If I can remember, I cut back the plants by a third in July so the plants get bushy rather than leggy. Butterflies and bees of all kinds are drawn to them in droves. Every American garden ought to have asters.

The Aster is rightfully assigned as the flower for September. But oh! How it lights up October!

Note: I am participating in the Beaux shows in Dobbs Ferry, NY this week and  in White Plains, NY next week. Hope you can stop by!

Dobbs Ferry:

Dobbs Ferry Women’s Club House, 54 Clifton Place, Irvington, NY, United States

Public Viewing~Oct 14th / Reception & Awards ~Oct 16: 2PM-4PM

White Plains:

16 Annual Art Exhibit
of the
Woman’s Club of White Plains
305 Ridgeway
White Plains, NY 10605

Wednesday October 19 2-5 p.m. Exhibit Viewing
Thursday October 20 2-5 p.m. Exhibit Viewing
7 p.m.-Artists’ Reception (open to the public)

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Watercolor - Aster

Watercolor – Aster

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

The Imposter In Our Midst

Can you imagine an American garden without the likes of lilacs, peonies, forsythia, mop-head/pompom/snowball hydrangea, common roses, boxwood, azaleas, rhododendrons, common foxgloves, camellias, hollyhocks, chrysanthemums, crape myrtles or even a patch of green lawn?
How about going without some fruits such as apples, peaches or citrus fruits?

Hard to think of life without any of the above right? All are very much part of our landscape and in our collective consciousness. Several states have taken the rose as their representative flower. Crape myrtles and camellias define southern pride. Georgia, the peach state is chock full of streets and sites with names starting with Peachtree. The Orange state anybody? Or the Rose Bowl? No roses perfuming June! No forsythia serenading spring. Mothers’ Day sans lilacs wouldn’t be the same.
Breakfast without OJ or a half of pink grapefruit, no mom’s apple pie or a southern meal without peach cobbler is positively horrifying! What would the Big Apple become without the apple?!

See, none of those plants are true American natives. But they are as good as. Getting rid of them and other similar stalwarts is unthinkable. We need them to feel whole and healthy. These ‘aliens’ have integrated themselves into the American landscape. In doing so, we are all enriched.

Recently, the honey-bee was placed on the United States list of endangered species. That this highly industrious and valuable creature is on this list is a tragedy in itself. It is a call to arms – we must do whatever we can to save the honey-bee. Our own health, both physical and economical, depends on it. But, here is the kicker – the honey-bee is not an American native. Wrap your mind around that.

In an example of reaching across borders, resistant root stock of grapevine from California helped to revitalize the French wine industry following the Great French Wine Blight in the 19th century. However what is usually omitted from mention is that the blight was caused by an American aphid in the first place. Puts matters in perspective right?

What it all means is that while we are taking steps to ensure the vitality of our land and safeguard all its inhabitants, we cannot have a black or white mentality. We should be mindful of the range of voices we listen to. Just as we cannot include harmful or invasive newcomers that threaten our biological balance, we cannot afford to view our own as one homogeneous, harmless population. We are but a part of the bigger world and cannot afford to be ignorant, broadly exclusionist or isolated. Lets not forget that within the great, all-American mix also exists that scourge Periplaneta americana. The American cockroach.
Not everything non-native is bad and not everything native is good.

Here are some of the non-natives I’m thrilled to have in my garden:

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Double azalea

Double azalea

Roses

Roses

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar