Spring Will Come. I Promise.

I just returned from an all too brief visit to the Netherlands. Despite the cold, the flower shops there are already in full spring mode. I cannot even begin to express my joy at the sight of spring bulbs displayed in the storefronts. For that period of time, all felt well in the world.

So, instead of belaboring on just how much plants can uplift our spirits and remind us that life goes on, I offer you some of the images that filled my heart with optimism. Let them fill yours.

Remember, no matter how dark our days are right now, spring is on its way. I promise. Stay hopeful, be helpful.

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Weathering The Storm

I’m writing a day ahead of when I usually do because I’m traveling tomorrow. Presently, while other parts of the country are already hit by bad weather, we in the Northeast are bracing ourselves for a Nor’easter. It’s funny how the knowledge of impending storms alerts our flight or fight responses. At once we gauge how prepared we are to face the ‘enemy’.

The wind has picked up, the skies are overcast and the temperatures have dropped. The birds are nowhere to be seen – they have all sought safe havens. Right away I check if everything outdoors is tethered/secured/put away. Still, I know the winds can tear through trees breaking off limbs and even uprooting them all together. Which in turn, can create further damage. This is of course beyond my control so, I hope for the best. Presumably, the pruning and cutting-back done in the fall will have paid off.

The greenhouse has been fired up and the plants are watered. Short of a truly unpredictably devastating storm, it should be fine.

Indoors, flashlights and candles are on the ready for potential power outages. There is food in the larder and wood in the fireplace. Books and boardgames picked out. Have I missed anything?

News of an impending storm should be less of a call to action and more of an opportunity to up my energy and resolve to do what is right, assess my performance so to speak – to take stock of myself, my home and all that I hold dear. Do I have what’s needed? Are things in good shape? Am I doing all I can to protect and preserve? An ongoing checklist is one way I keep myself organized and accountable. I definitely don’t want to be caught sleeping on the job.

And that’s what it comes down to – preparation. It’s easy to sit back when all is fine but having a plan, keeping necessaries in store and information available in case of conditions worsening is vital. Otherwise, it’ll feel really bad when we’re hit.

When the signs of an approaching storm are all there, it does not pay to sit back. Instead, confront with knowledge and readiness. In place of panic, may calm, resilient , wise minds prevail.

Because, in the end, this too will pass.

My friend Julie's garden after a storm.  Changed her woodland garden some.

My friend Julie’s garden after a storm. Changed her woodland garden some.

The greenhouse

The greenhouse

In the greenhouse

In the greenhouse

Camellia in bud in the greenhouse

Camellia in bud in the greenhouse

In my friend and orchid guru Bill Smiles' greenhouse

In my friend and orchid guru Bill Smiles’ greenhouse

Inside the house

Inside the house

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Doing Right The Old-Fashioned Way

So, here we are in the third week of January. A strange January at many levels but I’ll stick to the weather. Every day of seasonal weather, has been counter-pointed with a not so seasonal day. What is one to make of this irregularity with regard to the garden? Beats me!

While we, as a world community come to grips with climate change and pressure our leaders to implement policies to deal with it, I am doing my level best to do my part in my own little piece of earth. I have no control of the weather itself but I do have the power to make informed, intelligent choices.

From the start, when we bought our house a good 24 years ago, I made a conscious decision to go organic. At that time, it was not so simple or even popular to be organic. It made me seem like a throwback to the ‘60s. A hippie-flower child wanna be. Nurseries did not carry many organic pest-control products, compost was barely understood. This being the years before the Internet or Google, I had to do my research the ‘old-fashioned’ way. That took a fair amount of time but I actually ended up learning more than a search permits today. When specific information can be conjured up instantly, there is no opportunity for detours into related and not so related topics.

I mail ordered my composter and when I excitedly announced its arrival, I was met with responses that ranged from puzzled to amused smiles and told I was so ‘quaint’, a ‘modern hippie’ or ‘trés new age-y’. Re-purposing an oak wine barrel to a water butt elicited similar reactions. Ditto for the manual, push-reel mower that I had such a hard time finding. When I began introducing native plants in the garden, I was told more than once that I was growing ‘very common’ plants. Some pronounced them ‘weeds’.

I sourced neem oil, seaweed and fish emulsion, lady bugs, Bacillus thuringiensis, nitrogen fixing microbes and made other products like comfrey ‘tea’ (best fertilizer!) at home. Those were the good old days!

Today, almost everything is available at my local nursery and what isn’t can be ordered super-easily on-line. Instead of the calender reminding me when to do what and physically making the effort to monitor temperatures and precipitation, I have apps and digital gadgets that have simplified everything. While these have freed me up for other matters and provide a certain peace of mind, they also push me away from my garden to a certain extent. I do not have to actually be in the garden quite as much. I realized this a couple of years ago and missed my 100% hands on approach. So now, although I enjoy the benefits of modern technology, I consciously putter around the garden no matter what. My physical, mental and spiritual well-being depends on it.

I still have the same composter and rain barrel. The mower was upgraded to a lighter, better manual model – there is now a choice! All the organic products are readily available. Towns offer free compost and mulch to their residents. Nurseries now proudly carry numerous native plants and some even have a whole section devoted to them. In fact, in current parlance, organic, native and ecologically sound practices are trending. Our forefathers would no doubt be highly amused by our ‘modern and progressive’ ways.

Meanwhile, I’m determined to plug away ethically, with integrity and, put up with whatever the weather blows my way. There is absolutely no excuse for anybody to do otherwise.

Note: Enjoy my watercolor renderings of a few of the natives that grow in my garden. Do they look common or weedy to you?!

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

All Present And Accounted For

At last it feels like winter. This past weekend brought bitter cold and a decent dose of snow. With the wild fluctuations in temperature and precipitation all through the past year, it has been hard to predict how the garden will fare. There have been many moments of anxiety for sure. The welfare of every single plant matters to a gardener. While we’re learning to adapt and adjust, a degree of stress underlies those efforts. So, when it snowed for the first time this year, I was elated. It felt normal.

Finally, there was enough snow to play. Toboggans, X-country skies and walking poles came out in full measure and local parks were alive with winter activities. Normal!

I personally, reveled in the normalcy in the garden. To see the snow cover spread across the ground felt good. The hibernating plants were now cozy and insulated. As well they ought. It was comforting and reassuring. Two factors that have been rather elusive lately.

I’m resolved to enjoy this gift. I’m aware that at present, 49 of the 50 states have snow on the ground which means this is not normal for several. The unpredictability of the weather or anything else is disconcerting. Hence, when we are given a slice of business as usual, we need to savor it.

As such, our own winter conditions here are headed for a dramatic change later in the week. So, I am determined to cherish what I have today.

The way the snow emphasizes all the undulations in the garden, the shadows that contrast so starkly with the pristine white, how the sunlight chisels the snow and makes it shimmer, the clear footprints telling of intrepid birds and squirrels are all a thrill. What gets defined and what gets masked changes the usual landscape to something new and interesting. I’m so fortunate to witness this ephemeral show.

Who knows what tomorrow will unfold. But for now, I’m content. This moment matters.

Enjoy these garden snow scenes:

Breathe slow and deep. Calm the mind and just be.

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

A New Year, A New Day

A brand new year. A clean slate. I look forward to it just as I used to approach a new notebook in grade school. The crisp, blank pages. The smell of new paper. Full of opportunities. Another chance to do better. I was for sure going to write more carefully and thoughtfully. Fewer mistakes, neater writing, top notch work. I could almost see my resolve come true.

On the cover, I’d write my name slowly and deliberately. I was owning this book which was potentially going to be my best effort yet. As I opened to that first page on the right side, I invariably felt a tiny shiver of excitement. The untouched right side of the book always felt better than the left. I usually started well. And then came my first writing error to spoil it all. No amount of careful erasing or scratching out could make it perfect again. Now I was free to go back to my old, careless ways. They felt more comfortable and familiar. Besides, who cared? What difference did it make? I’d console myself that it was no big deal and not worth all that extra effort. It was back to business as usual. Until the next new notebook.

Over the decades, I’ve learned to simply resolve to do better. Not only at the start of a new year but more particularly, as I begin each new day. Every day is a fresh chance to reach my highest potential and be fully engaged in life. This approach allows me to accept and forgive myself for mistakes and at the same time provides me with continued opportunities to improve myself. Scarlett O’Hara was right. Tomorrow is another day.

In the garden, I shall put in this practice of everyday mindfulness with greater determination. It is all too easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and neglect to observe key goings on in the garden. On looking back through last year, all the things I failed to notice or do are blatantly apparent and yet, at that time, in the throes of whatever seemingly more pressing activity, I was oblivious to them. Sometimes, the oversight is understandable but often it is not. I want to change that. My garden is my muse after all.

To that end, I’m going to do three things related to the garden. A daily tour of the garden where I take in all the happenings. What is in bloom, how the plants look, the insects and birds going about their business and, what needs attention besides the alternate days of weeding and deadheading.

Then, that very day, I will address whatever can be taken care of. It could be a plant needing staking or trimming, applying an organic control at the first sign of disease or pest or, scheduling a task that requires more time or the help of a professional.

Finally, to spend time simply enjoying the garden and being grateful for what it bring to my life. It might mean painting quick watercolor sketches, taking photographs, writing a poem, observing insect or avian activity, studying the beauty of a peony or breathing in deeply the clove scented perfume of the phlox. To see, hear and feel the garden is to truly know the garden.

Both garden and gardener have everything to gain and nothing to lose with this plan.

May 2017 be all that you wish it to be.

I offer you a painting, a short poem and a photograph:

A watercolor of Hollyhock

A watercolor of Hollyhock

 

 Somewhere

Somewhere it is already spring
Someplace the hyacinth has stretched awake
Somehow my soul is sure.

Today's rain on yesterday's ornamental cabbage

Today’s rain on yesterday’s ornamental cabbage

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar