In The Spirit

“What day is it?” asked Pooh. “It’s today,” squeaked Piglet. “My favorite day,” said Pooh. – A.A. Milne

Thanksgiving has passed and has served us well. With so much conflict and concern about what is happening at home and globally, it gently brought our focus back to what matters most. Kindness, caring, celebrating life and togetherness, family and friends. Back to basics really. If we each should do our part in doing no harm, I am convinced the state of the world would instantly improve.

It has become so easy to get caught up with the social-media driven world. Between the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) and believing everything one reads without examination or thought, we have succumbed to thinking superficially and speaking in sound bites. Materialism often gains the upper-hand even as we struggle to simplify and live meaningfully.

Enter the power of nature. While we, as a society, embrace our on-line, e-world, we need to get out in the garden even more. By tending a garden, we are reminded to maintain our integrity and honest passion for the natural world. Gardeners remain at all times connected to the rhythms of nature and as a result, have a strong resistance to those not-always-helpful lures of the digital age.

In keeping with the spirit of the holiday season, we want to give attention to gifts of experience versus stuff. Memberships to museums and botanical gardens and/or conservancies, tickets to plays, concerts and other performances, trips to our National Parks and historical sites, or, making good on promises of breaking bread together. There is something for every budget and often, it can be the priceless gift of time – to take walks together, attend a community event, serve at a soup kitchen, share a meal at home, play board games, build something and, even plant a garden. Good for all ages and all personalities.

To get into the right spirit, I have the perfect activity. The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden. Whether you are child or adult, it will delight and inspire. The buildings and other structures made entirely of natural materials are positively awe inspiring. The level of creativity and skill is mighty impressive. Not to be outdone, the plantings around the buildings are just as thoughtful and brilliant. Most of all, it is pure fun.

I have been going to this show from the very first year. It never fails to cheer me. I get into the holiday mood by going to the members preview which is held the Friday before Thanksgiving. Perfect timing.

Get a group of the young and young at heart together and go!

Note: Another fabulous event to attend! The Annual Holiday Art and Book Sale starts Dec 6 at the New York Art Students League. Yes, my work is represented! Please do go – support artists and art. Good place to start or add to an art collection.

Enjoy the photos from my visit to this year’s NYBG Train Show:

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

To Have And To Hold

This week, all across our country, families and friends will gather to celebrate my favorite holiday – Thanksgiving. To come together to express gratitude for all the blessings we have received is perhaps the highest, most noble reason to celebrate. In giving thanks, we acknowledge not just the blessings but we essentially own our responsibilities and purpose. Because, with receiving comes accountability.

When we sit at the Thanksgiving table and speak of our thankfulness for the much loved people in our lives, we are at the same time recommitting ourselves to those relationships and our roles in them. To be the best parent/spouse/sibling/friend/child and in doing so, we will not take it all for granted. If we are fortunate enough to have homes, jobs and/or lifestyles that we cherish, then we are depended upon to reciprocate with the necessary attention and diligence.

I gave this essay the title To Have And To Hold. The phrase is not reserved for just marriage vows. Every contract we enter into demands that we uphold that promise. To Have is to accept without any reservation the gifts given to us. To Hold is the pledge to value, protect, hold dear and rejoice in the gifts. These covenants are sacred. As we cherish, we must honor. This is what gives our lives meaning and significance.

My garden is high on my gratitude list. It offers me so much that I can only hope to return the favor to the best of my all too human abilities.
My piece of paradise keeps me humble and awed as it teaches me life lessons in patience, tolerance and crisis management. It is my muse for my art and writing. Its beauty inspires and enchants and in caring for it, it provides me much needed physical and psychological therapy. The garden comforts and cheers, puts life in perspective and still manages to entertain no matter what is happening with the weather, political climate or my private life.

In turn, I pledge anew to do right by my garden. To care for it to the best of my ability. Applying organic methods and a do no harm policy, I vow to protect, sustain and watch over it with love and good cheer.
After all, our health and happiness depend on each of us fulfilling our parts.

I wish each of you a Thanksgiving abundant in blessings.

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Better Home-makers And Gardeners

The garden was put to bed last weekend. There is enormous comfort and satisfaction in bringing things to a close in a timely, attentive manner.

All tender perennials are safely ensconced in the greenhouse or let to go dormant in the basement.

The hundreds of bulbs got planted carefully and one at a time amidst the herbaceous perennials and previously established bulbs.

New native perennials were added so more beneficial insects and birds will inhabit the garden next growing season.

Plants were cut back and tidied. Dead wood was removed from shrubs and climbers. Roses and wisteria were pruned and secured. Creating breathing room and getting rid of anything that might encourage disease is so important.

A light application of compost and additional mulch of tree bark on the perennial beds should get them through the winter and in good shape to re-emerge nicely in spring.

The vast amounts of fallen leaves have been raked, gathered and added to the compost heap in the woods. Contrary to the advice of some ‘green’ experts, I do not let the leaves remain on my small lawn or in the meadow as they tend to kill the grass, smother other plants and possibly encourage snow mold which is a type of fungal disease. If I had a leaf chopper, then I’d use the chopped up matter to mulch and feed the plants.

All pots have been emptied and cleaned and put away. The very large ones stay outside well wrapped in plastic and burlap.

Likewise, outdoor furniture has been cleaned and put away.

Water hoses lie empty and coiled till required once again when the hot weather returns. The rain barrel too is given a hibernation pass.

Soon, I will get garden tools like secateurs and push mower professionally cleaned, sharpened and/or serviced. They will be eager and ready to serve as soon as the need arises.

Sundries like garden gloves, stakes, markers, hats and, supplies such as organic sprays like seaweed/fish emulsion, dormant oil will be replaced or replenished.

Fulfilling the seasonal responsibilities got me thinking about how hard we gardeners work to dream, plan, make better gardens. Although we aspire to create those better gardens, we should really be putting more effort in becoming better gardeners. The way I see it, to accomplish that takes a resolve similar to one we undertake to be better parents.

Consider how we prepare our home for our children. Clean, hygienic, tidy and welcoming.

There is room to grow and thrive. We provide the best, healthiest food our wallets can offer. Due diligence and protection is necessary so our young do not come to harm and yet have opportunities to be happy, healthy, independent and strong. When a child is unwell or in distress, we respond with alacrity and minister to their needs. With unconditional love, patience and undivided attention, we listen to what our children are saying and/or doing so we can take the appropriate measures to give them the best, most wholesome life possible. We encourage diversity, tolerance and mutual respect so our young can become vital, productive members of society.

All of those points hold true in the garden. And while I’m cognizant of them and try to apply the same parental guidelines, I know I can always do and be better. The kicker is this – it is much easier and far less guilt-inducing to be a good gardener than it is to be a good parent. After all, one’s failure in the garden can always be blamed on the weather.

Some seasonal images:

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Getting ready to plant bulbs

Getting ready to plant bulbs

The vertical garden

The vertical garden

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Choosing My Candidates

I cannot pretend that this day is like any normal Tuesday. It is Election Day 2016! And this year, it cannot have arrived too soon. Yes, I know, I don’t need to explain further.

In seeking to escape the election insanity, I’ve predictably hung around the garden more than usual. Despite the demands of seasonal chores, I’ve spent time pondering over my own opinions, biases and beliefs. What conclusion I’ve arrived at explains much about how I generally operate. It appears that the criteria by which I select plants to include in my garden is pretty much how I vote in the elections. Let me explain what I look for.

Form and function. A plant must look appealing. That does not necessarily mean that it’s flowers be gorgeous. In fact, the blooms might be insignificant but other parts have attractive properties such as foliage shapes and color. From lamb’s ears to sanguisorbas to maple trees, I covet them for the beauty of their leaves. Similarly, the stems of the plant might be striking. Like the dogwood shrub ‘Red Twig’ in winter. Or the deep burgundy stems of penstemon ‘Husker Red’. The general shape, how it holds itself and what it brings to the overall appearance of a garden bears consideration. If it has stunning flowers to boot, well then, that is even better. Along with the form, function is equally relevant. Either the plant provides food for humans or supports the local fauna. If not food, perhaps the plants brings perfume to the garden and home. In other words, I need more than superficial traits.

Maintenance. No picky, fussy plants. I have neither the time, tolerance or interest in high maintenance applicants.

Cohesiveness. Plants in a bed must work together. While certain plants take center stage and others have supporting roles, all together they should grow well and let each one thrive. No bullies or thugs allowed. Ever.

Reciprocity or living up to expectations. When I select a plant, I am accepting my responsibility to give it the attention and care it requires. In other words, I’m prepared to do my duty. In return, I expect the plant to do its job well. To respond appropriately to the conditions provided and thrive. When we each understand and accept our roles, it benefits not only each of us but the entire garden. This covenant is sacred.
The corollary to this is that should either one of us fail to fulfill our promise, then the relationship is terminated. This arrangement is implicit.

Authenticity. A plant selected for it’s unique or specific qualities must run true to them. Or else, eviction notice is given. Veracity and trust are the cornerstones of a relationship.

Sense of humor. I know you’re wondering how a plant could possibly have that trait. When a plant does not take itself too seriously, it gets on well with its neighbors. When a rose permits a promiscuous clematis to use it for support, a beautiful friendship develops. When columbines playfully self-seed, they bring a certain relaxed quality to the garden and I appreciate that jokey reminder to ease up some. Nobody appreciates control freaks.

So there you have it. See how these specifications can serve well in the polling booth? Now, go forth and vote!

The images below have nothing to do with the elections. I just love their seasonality:

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar