Peace On Earth And All That Jazz

It’s a time of celebration this week – joy, peace, love and goodwill. Are you feeling it? I’m not. There is just too much external noise distracting me. To be honest, I’m aware of being sorta unsettled and anxious. As though I’m waiting for calamity instead of calm and quiet. This is absolutely no way to be. So I’ve decided I wont.

And I’m going about it the only way I know how. By connecting to the earth. A simple stroll in a garden or the woods channels my attention to the present. I set off with a head cluttered with the news and state of the world but as I walk, a subtle shift occurs. At the beginning, I walk briskly to get my blood flowing. As I warm up, I draw deep breaths of the fresh, cold air and I become aware that my shoulders have begun to relax. As though a weight has been lifted.

My eyes take in the surroundings, The ribbons of sunlight cascading through the fretwork of bare branches above cast a radiant glow on the forest floor. I observe the squirrels making madcap dashes in seemingly random manner – it’s no wonder they forget where they’ve stashed their nutty treasures. The birds appear more organized and chatty and I get the feeling they communicate with each other to make whatever it is they’re doing more enjoyable. I can relate to that communal spirit.

Against the present starkness of the deciduous trees, the pines and firs take on the role of chief color givers. Their shades of green range from the blue-green to the yellow-green. The blue spruces to the variegated cedars. I understand their importance in the landscape much better now. They prevent the winter from looking bleak and foreboding. And after a snowfall, they are the ones to provide us with that quintessential image of the season. Picturesque and comforting.

I become so lost in my surroundings that it comes as a surprise that I’m almost back home. I feel like a new person. Uplifted and energized, I’ve rediscovered my true north, I’m ready to embrace the demands of the moment – that of taking pleasure in the company of family and friends. Renewing and reaffirming our bonds of love and friendship. In the end, this is all one has and all one wants. The rest is just noise. Tune it out.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Bend It Like Bakwin

My dear friend Mike Bakwin died on December 3. Since that day when I got word of the sad news, I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about him and our friendship.

Our mutual love of gardens and gardening brought us together about nine years ago. And then we discovered how much more we had in common. A lovely friendship flourished.

Mike was a man of great means that didn’t get in the way of relationships. I witnessed his philanthropy up close. Never for publicity or status, he got involved because he cared about the cause. He served on several boards and I was particularly aware of the ones to which I myself was connected albeit in a different capacity. At TeaTown Reservation, his concern for the environment and the imperative to preserve was apparent. As a keen fisherman, he understood the need for keeping the ecological balance and taking care of the land, water and air. At Untermyer, he genuinely believed in its restoration and what it could offer the community.

Mike’s own gardens were splendid and he was closely involved with every aspect of its creation and maintenance. This wasn’t simply an affluent person’s showpiece. It was his home – where he loved having family and friends visit and play. He shared magnanimously. He hosted fund raisers for charities and threw parties for friends. Heck, he had fruit orchards, a large caged house for soft fruit and a very big vegetable garden and donated almost all the produce.

He believed in stewardship of the land. When the property next to his came on the market, he bought it just so the land could be protected and not subdivided for development. A native plant meadow has been created there.

Speaking of friends, the man had plenty. From all walks of life. His insanely famous annual croquet party was a great testimonial to his generosity and vast army of diverse friends.

He knew how to enjoy life and make the most of every minute. I observed my friend take big bites of life and savor every chew. Always game for a get together, concert, lecture, performance or trip, he demonstrated his affection, wicked sense of humor and sharp intelligence. I could always count on him putting a person at ease when he attended my gatherings – he was sensitive, warm and kind.

Keeping up with developments and research in gardening, he’d consult me on various garden ideas and projects and I always felt truly honored and humbled that he thought so well of me. After all, the guy had access to just about all the horticultural luminaries/gods of the world. He was pragmatic and very down to earth ( no pun intended).

Mike Bakwin lived on his own terms. His love for his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren was so clear – I thought it simply wonderful. With his family and friends, he accepted each one as they were. No conditions, no hidden agendas.

I am blessed with many wonderful memories of our friendship and I miss him very much already. If I were to say just one lesson I learned from him it is this. Don’t waste any time – life is meant to be savored. With humor, curiosity and kindness.

Thank you Mike for being my friend. Your belief in me meant everything.

Note: Only four days left!

Memories –

Mike

Hanging out in my garden

Croquet award 2018

Mike was honored at Untermyer. June 2017

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Real, Fake Or Alternative Facts

I’m referring to Christmas trees of course. Did something else come to mind? Ha.

The other day, I was asked for my advice about real vs fake. That led to some serious thinking.

For those amongst us who celebrate the holiday season with a tree, choosing a tree depends on a variety of matters but mostly, it is personal. And so, to change ones mind about it requires a lot of persuasion.

But I’m not out to dissuade anyone to choose one type for another. I simply think one ought to make informed decisions. Lets not be even a wee bit judgmental. Good will to all remember?

So, lets consider the real tree. It’s a long tradition for many to get a real tree. Some make it an event by going to a tree farm, selecting a tree, cutting it themselves and then bringing it home atop the family car. Others are just as happy going to the neighborhood tree lot and finding their tree of choice. A third kind likes to get a living tree to enjoy through the season and then plant it out on the property when spring comes along.

Real trees undoubtedly add a certain je ne sais quoi to any space. By virtue of being real, they are not quite perfect and that adds to their appeal. The fragrance of a pine tree in the house is pure joy. But lets face it, setting a tree up takes some effort. Get it on a stand so it stays straight and upright, water it regularly, contend with falling needles … there are some given inconveniences. In general however, I’m very partial to keeping it festive with a real tree.

It takes about ten years to grow a modest sized tree. Certainly there is the requirement of water and care but while these trees are growing, they do their part in helping the environment. Removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, supporting wildlife, preventing soil erosion etc., The biggest carbon footprint in this choice of tree is that made by the car that transports it. Of course, if trees are shipped in from Canada and northern USA, then that footprint just grew exponentially. So staying with local farms is preferable.

How such a tree is disposed of is another big consideration. If trees are chipped and turned into mulch then it is all good. But, if they are taken to landfills then, not only is that transport increasing the carbon footprint but a decaying tree in that site will add to the greenhouse gases by putting out methane. And that’s not good at all.

A living tree is of course the best choice of all.

Moving on to fake trees. These days, the synthetic ones can be almost lifelike. The high end models are barely distinguishable from the real stuff. They can do serious damage to the pocketbook. Cheaper fakes are often also cheap looking. In either case, the cost of manufacturing and distribution comes with a high environmental impact. While they can be reused ‘indefinitely’, when they are finally discarded they do not break down for ages and ages. Maybe never.

Fake trees are indeed very convenient to use and I’ve seen some vintage models that evoke a lovely, nostalgic time when things were seemingly ‘simpler’.

We finally come to alternative trees. Any number of things can stand in for a Christmas tree. As graduate students, my husband and I did not have funds to spare and were more than happy to decorate our three-tiered hanging planter with lights and homemade ornaments. I’ve seen ‘trees’ made of stacked books, ladders, peel and stick decals on a wall, metal ‘branches’ from whose bare limbs ornaments are easily hung and, even what seemed to me an inspired yet minimalist tree that was simply strips of brown paper placed in ascending order at equal intervals on a wall to indicate a tree. Stuck on the strips were acorns, small pine cones and bits of holly. This last version really captivated my imagination and I’m so sorry I did not take. any photos. One day, I shall aim to recreate it.

For years, we always got ourselves a real tree. Natural is after all our style. We’d cut up the tree after it had served its purpose and compost it in the woods. Our town also picks up the trees and converts them to mulch. But last year we finally stopped that practice. My daughter, who adores real Christmas trees is severely allergic to them. After years of making excuses that it was only for a few weeks, taking way too many anti-histamines and making tissue companies very wealthy, I’d had enough. It was just crazy to be so tortured for the entire duration of the holidays. It took almost two years to convince the girl that she had to give up on having a real tree.

Thus, we came to the decision that if we could not have a real tree then we’d do an alternative. I even discovered that I’d had it all along! It is a white metal pot fitted with a conical shaped tower made of chicken wire. It is intended to house a vining plant that can weave itself on the chicken wire support. What I did was to fill up the interior with strings of lights that are easily plugged in because of said chicken wire openings. Those openings are perfect for hanging ornaments on the outside.

While the ornaments get put away after the New Year is underway, the ‘light filled tree’ occupies a corner in the house and is commissioned at every celebration deserving of some flash and dash..

Frankly, I have not missed the real stuff at all and it does my heart good to see my daughter sans tissue-box, anti-histamines, distressed nose, hacking cough and boggy head.

Fa la la la.

Note:
The Art Students League

Holiday Art Sale

Opens Today! Get there before you miss out on some great art!

 

Tree in the past

Our last real tree.

The allergic one

The alternative tree in daylight

Amaryllis tree

At night

NYC

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Season Is Lit

These days, the season of lights begins at Thanksgiving when houses across the country clad in lights announce that it is so. The tree at Rockefeller Center made it official last Wednesday. Hanukkah has come early this year – the first candle on the menorah was lit this past Sunday evening. It is now left to all us laggards to get in the spirit and join in.

While I’m all for the lights and assorted expressions of festivities, it irks me that it has become such a commercial enterprise. Buy, buy, buy. It is just overwhelming. How have we come to this point? More importantly, why? I for one, cannot take the crowds and shopping frenzy. I realize shops depend on the public to spend generously but for me, quieter times are more conducive to making thoughtful purchases at my local businesses. Past experience has demonstrated that I can get carried away if I join the shopping populace at this time – I buy a myriad of stuff that are not at all what I actually want to say to those on my gift list. I’m of the belief that a gift should please and be personal. Some thought should go into gift giving and I am simply unable to think in the cacophony of commercialism right now.

Instead, I’d rather make my rounds of small businesses through the year. I can browse at leisure and select appropriate items for my loved ones. It goes without saying that I do not ever give cars sporting giant bows or jewelry worthy of a princess of even a tiny, obscure nation.

During the holiday season, I’d much rather take in all the lights. Literally. From said Rockefeller Center tree to cruising through neighborhoods known for their over-the-top holiday displays, I enjoy everything. Including the windows that quietly display lit menorahs – so beautiful and meaningful. My town had its tree lighting last Saturday and we are now officially open for the season. On December 12, Untermyer gardens will have its Grand Holiday Illumination – I plan to be there.

Last Friday, I attended the holiday concert of Chanticleer – that group of exceptional acapella singers from San Francisco. They delivered the true spirit of the season. Joy, love and peace. So I have no excuse not to do my part.

My seasonal gift giving is restricted to the homemade and home-grown. I bake cookies and cakes, make limoncello and decant into pretty bottles ( recycled of course) and distribute the jams and chutneys I made last summer.

Homegrown paperwhites and amaryllis are also what I like to give. Note: Paperwhites are only for those who are not repelled by their distinct scent. All year long I pick up interesting containers to hold the holiday bulbs. Guaranteed to please all. For those whom I know will appreciate and include in their gardens, I add small envelopes of seeds harvested from my garden.

Finally, to the extra special people, I add something from my Printed Garden collection. A pair of tea towels, a pillow, a set of placemats and napkins, a table runner – all adorned with flowers reproduced from my own artwork. I continue to be deeply touched by how much these products are loved.

So there you have it. My pared down, simplified approach to the holidays. Enjoy the lights, spread the light, be the light.

Note: The much awaited Holiday Show of the Art Students League of New York begins next week! I have a painting in it.
Show Dates
Monday, December 11 — Friday, December 22

Gallery Hours
Weekdays  9:00am–8:00pm
Weekends  9:00am–4:00pm

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar