Spring Breaks!

When I left New York eight days ago, there was a foot of snow on the ground. What a difference a week makes. Not only has all the snow disappeared, but signs of spring abound. It is positively thrilling. This anticipation of my favorite season sends shivers through my body. I’m giddy with spring fever.

After traveling for almost a whole day, enduring cramped quarters, stale air, airline food, blocked ears and total lack of sleep, I needed a real shot of nature to banish the fatigue. So directly from the airport, I went to the New York Botanical Gardens. The Orchid Show was on and I was in desperate need of flower power.

The sunshine and open space felt healing as I made my way to the conservatory. My tradition is to go through the perennial gardens and as I did so, I spied the first snowdrops of the year. Oh joy! Early crocuses stood poised to imminently open their diminutive goblets while the hellebores, as usual, had heralded the parade. They were in full bloom mode. Stems of shrubs still denuded of foliage had begun showing color as though they were slowly sipping from underground vats of dye. Taking in all these signs of rebirth and renewal made me feel so alive.

And with that shot in the arm, I stepped into the conservatory. The theme of the orchid show this year is Thailand. And it delivered beautifully. The natural humidity and warmth of the conservatory lent a very appropriate element to set the stage. The background music, the bright colors, the elephant motifs, the shrines and the very flowers themselves transported one to another place. For one just released from an airplane, this felt ideal. If only real travel could be this blissfully simple.

At such a show, it didn’t matter if the orchids on display were all originally from Thailand or not. It was the overall atmosphere they conveyed that mattered. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It is the perfect antidote to all kinds of fatigue – from winter blues, to daily news of hate crimes and divisiveness, to rising anxiety to long journeys. A little respite, an brief escape, a shift in perspective can work wonders.

Do go to this show or, if you do not live anywhere near the NYBG, go to the nearest botanical garden as most have a conservatory with a collection that is sure to delight. And if you do not have even that option, get yourself an orchid or two from the local nursery, make or order in a Thai meal (or any exotic cuisine of your choice), dress for the occasion in something colorful, get a playlist of suitable music piped in and take yourself on a fun trip of your own. I promise you’ll have a great time. Spring is breaking out!

Note: I’ve written about my most recent visit with the children at Mukta Jeevan. They are my reason to hope, serve and make a difference. You can read about the visit here.

And now, enjoy the photos of orchids and all things spring!

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Hellebores

Hellebores

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Snowdrops

Snowdrops

Eranthis - like scattered gold

Eranthis – like scattered gold

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Indian Summer

No, not that kind of Indian summer. I’m talking about summer in India. Okay, so it is still February and not actually called summer in India but it is 90 degrees in Mumbai and definitely feels like summer. So there.

Strange as it feels to bask in this heat having only just left New York in the throes of winter ( which apparently is currently simulating spring), I’m instantly transported to the summers of my early childhood. The scene here is actually nothing like those memories – hot and dusty, it already looks parched and eager for the monsoon rains. The trees and shrubs while appearing to be robust impart an air of exhaustion from the layer of dust choking the leaves. As though newly arrived from great journeys, they hang like weary travelers in need of food, drink and a long shower.

The air is drier than usual. Mumbai being an island in the Arabian Sea, is prone to the humidity characteristic of all coastal regions. I’m not missing the humidity however. The dry heat is much more tolerable. At the markets, ‘winter’ fruits are still found. Grapes and citrus mostly. Guavas are just beginning to emerge on the fruit sellers carts. I see lots of tomatoes which feels kind of odd as I’ve grown accustomed to them flavoring my summers back home but, certainly not unusual for these climes to have tomatoes all year round. It is simply a bit confusing for my jet-lagged mind.

But reverting to my childhood summers, I feel a sense of nostalgia. No doubt the years since have cast a romantic hue on those memories. I might even be mixing up the plants. Still, I remember the hot reds and oranges of the canna flowers punching the white hot days. The bright sunlight sent us kids to seek the shade of porches and trees. Too hot for physical play, we resorted to old-fashioned games with stones and shells that tested our hand-motor skills and did not require much exertion. The sounds of cicadas and other insects provided a back drop of discordant music that was well suited to our own rather unchecked vocals. The birds only bothered to sing in the early morning.

I remember lobbing stones to knock down still green mangoes from their tall trees. Some of those trees did not belong to any of us children but, that never hampered our ambitions. The tart-sweet flesh sprinkled with salt and red chili powder made a most heavenly snack. Ditto for the tamarind fruit. Come to think of it, these were remarkably natural, healthy foods that somehow fooled us into thinking we were indulging in something terribly naughty. Of course, too much of even these resulted in tummy aches and maternal scoldings.

What I recall most intensely were the aromas of the season. During the day, the high temperatures dissipated any smells. But come dusk as the heat abated, the perfume of frangipani competed mightily with the evening jasmine. The roses had a fragrance so strong that I was prone to coveting them. So much so that I’d actually eat the petals as though wanting to contain their power within my body. Gardenias were not as common but whenever they were present, even a single flower in bloom would perfume the air for miles around. There was no getting away from scents those evenings. Almost everything had a smell but the ones that chose to be subtle got overlooked.

It has been many moons since those summers of my youth but memories are strong. It takes only a wave of Mumbai heat to trigger them. And for a spell, I’m transported to my time in the gardens that gave me my life long love for nature. A gift every child should be so blessed to receive.

Note: As I don’t have images of those memorable gardens of my past, I’m offering up some of my watercolor renditions of warm weather flowers. Enjoy! May they evoke your own set of memories and dreams.

And do go see the exhibit I’m in at the ASL this week.

Cleome

Cleome

Nasturtium

Nasturtium

Rose

Rose

Sunflower

Sunflower

Orchid

Orchid

Monarda

Monarda

Lily

Lily

Hollyhock

Hollyhock

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Feeling February

After a rather mediocre rendition of winter from December and January, February has come on fierce! Snow, ice, freezing rain, high winds, black ice – you name it, we’re getting it. This I recognize. It was beginning to feel a bit unsettling when there were so many above normal temperature days. So now, as inconvenient as it might be, I’m comfortable with the more seasonal weather . Do I like risking life and limb every time I step outside? Absolutely not. My eyes label every dark patch as black ice and my feet begin walking so gingerly that I’ve turned into a poster child for the paranoid.

Still, the mass of snow protecting the garden is heartwarming. I suffered thinking of the plants left exposed to the cold and wind. And I fretted that the milder days might fool the hibernating bulbs into thinking it was time to awaken. So yes, this typical blast of real winter is making me feel better.

It’s funny how we long for sojourns to the tropics when we are in the throes of winter weather and moan about the treachery of traversing the icy roads. Summer cannot come to soon right? Yet, even a slight shift in the climate is cause for alarm. It can bring about big changes quite quickly leaving inadequate time for both flora and fauna to adapt. This then affects everything else. A sudden snowfall in Florida puts paid to the citrus harvest. A mild winter in the North lowers the water table, adversely affects towns reliant on winter sports and related businesses, plants requiring a proper period of cold begin to struggle when the growing season restarts and so on and so forth. As I write, the winds are gusting hard. Fallen trees are blocking off roads and even delaying train service, schools were delayed this morning due to black ice on bus routes and, power outages are spreading. There is no question, our lives are intimately entwined with nature.

Time spent in nature is critical to our mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Mankind has known that from ancient times. Science has confirmed that belief. It is now up to us to oversee that which is so important to our health.

We owe it to ourselves, future generations and all of life to preserve, protect and enjoy this beautiful, bountiful planet.

Recommended reading while you’re cozying up to the fireplace and the wind is howling outside:

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative. By Florence Williams

Happy Valentine’s Day one and all!

Note:

February 20 – 25 I have some paintings in NYC group show. Please visit!

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Enjoy these images apropos Valentine’s Day:

Stone hearts

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Heart in the snow

Ooty Bot garden

Dried leaf heart

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(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Amaryllis Unplugged

I’ve been doing it all wrong. All these years I’ve grown amaryllis by planting them two-thirds their height in a slightly constraining container of soil, watering once a week and keeping them in a cool-ish, somewhat bright location in the house. Alternatively, I’ve also grown these bulbs in just water. Both methods have been quite effective. No doubt, you too have handled amaryllis the same way. Yes? Am I right? Or is it just me?

Well, come to find out on my recent sojourn to the Netherlands that, none of those efforts are necessary. Sure they may be potted up if you like but in truth, they do not need anything to bloom. That’s right, nothing. No water, no food, no container even. This bit of understanding has blown my mind.

Lingering at the store fronts of the charming flower shops, I noticed that inside one shop, there was a stunning display of white amaryllis on a vertically suspended length of tree branch. The branch had sinuous curves with interesting outgrowths. The bulbs were nestled in crooks and crannies – held in place with ties. But that was it. No soil. They just sat where placed. Each bulb had a stalk or two trumpeting beautiful white flowers. My first thought was the bulbs weren’t real. Wrong. Then I figured it was meant to be a very temporary display. Wrong.

On talking with the florist/owner Oda Schoffelmeer, I learned that amaryllis bulbs bought each season need no help from us. They do not even require a preliminary soaking in water to wake up their roots. The fat, firm bulbs come with everything they need to bloom. It is only when blooming is completed and leaves are put out that they need to be planted in soil and watered – to replenish their depleted stores. Is this not simply amazing? Consider the decorating possibilities!

The bulbs can be also be dipped in wax and placed just about anywhere to bloom. Pick the wax color of your choice! Or, the bulbs can be coated in a thin (non-toxic I imagine) paint. Gold, silver, bronze anyone?!

Needless to say, I am as excited about my new discovery as a puppy in a basket of laundry. I’m off to see if there are still some amaryllis to be had at my local nursery.

My take away – travel really does open minds and it is never too late to learn new things. I’m boarding a plane again in two weeks. Can’t wait to see what’s in store.

Enjoy the images below. And, mark your calenders – I’m in a group exhibit in NYC Feb 20-25.

I apologize in advance to my Facebook readers for the images not being upright. When the photos are taken a certain way, they show up on FB on their sides and I have not figured out how to correct this problem. When I post the article on my website, they go automatically on FB and Twitter. Please let me know if any of you can resolve my dilemma.

The amaryllis display as seen from outside the Bergflora shop in Eindhoven, NL

ca The amaryllis display as seen from outside the Bergflora shop in Eindhoven, NL

The amaryllis placed on the branch

The amaryllis placed on the branch

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Bulbs dipped in hot pink wax. Just sitting there and preparing to bloom.

Bulbs dipped in hot pink wax. Just sitting there and preparing to bloom.

My own amaryllis grown the 'old' way. But, I stopped watering them 10 days ago when I returned from Holland.

My own amaryllis grown the ‘old’ way. But, I stopped watering them 10 days ago when I returned from Holland.

Another view. It is a stunning display even if I say so myself.

Another view. It is a stunning display even if I say so myself.

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar