Hanging Out With Hellebores

Spring! It’s definitely staging a comeback. Where I reside, it’s not quite so obvious but the signs are there. The snowdrops are up. However, one has to look a bit harder to notice that the witch hazel is quietly gracing the garden with its tassels of flowers and characteristic fragrance. Bulbs like daffodils and hyacinths are fearlessly pushing through the still crusty earth and slender spears of crocus appear as though they were secretly planted in the cover of night. The climbing hydrangea is studded with fattening buds. I hear birdsong more clearly; it’s only a matter of time before feathered couples will begin house hunting. Everywhere, one can observe nature coming alive.

Which brings me to hellebores. In my opinion, no garden should be without them. They live to serve the gardener. Starting from that time of year when you know winter is still in session but you cannot help look for some signal that spring is on its way, one need only check carefully at the base of the hellebores. Nestled close to the ground, safely tucked under the canopy of large leaves of the previous year, the shy buds have silently emerged. Long before anything else is stirring, the hellebore gives a sweet heads up for spring. This singular sight is reassuring and exactly what an impatient gardener needs.

Soon after, it’s time to cut back the old leaves and unleash the new growth. Stands of upright stems extravagantly displaying cup-shaped flowers nodding in the garden are sure sights of spring. Single, semi-double or double, the hellebore flowers appear as though painted in watercolor. Translucent and soft, the hues range from dark, almost black to deep pink to rose to cream to yellow. Some new varieties sport petals gently edged in a complementary color recalling finely hand-painted porcelain cups of another era.

There are today a variety and color that would suit every taste or situation. The flowers last a very long time – often through summer. The colors may fade or deepen and turn less showy as the season progresses but I still love their look. Hellebores self seed very easily and some gardeners complain about it but in my experience, if you mulch diligently, then it is not a problem at all. The mulch suppresses the seeds from germinating. I typically get only a few seedlings that I often pot up to give away or plant elsewhere in the garden.

Hellebores prefer deep soil rich in hummus, moist but not soggy. They do not require regular feeding. I find that an annual application of compost topped with the mulch of wood chips is sufficient. The plants do best in cool, semi-shaded locations. At a full height of about 18 to 24 inches and a spread of the same, they are ideal in border fronts. The large leaves will shade out more diminutive neighbors so plant accordingly. In the fall, I let the leaves remain to protect the following season’s young buds and remove them only around late March. Hellebores are slow growing and do not get too big so it is best to not divide them. To grow your collection, get new plants or start from seed.

In pots – Because of their extensive root system, they require large pots to allow for growth. A nurseryman friend recently presented me with a couple of hellebores in bloom potted up splendidly in a French zinc pot. While I adore how beautiful it looks on my dining table, I think the plants are displaying a restlessness as though they want to be planted in the ground. As soon as the thaw happens, I will do exactly that.

Hardy, low-maintenance, easy to grow and oh so dependable, hellebores are a mainstay in my garden. Bonus – deer generally stay away from them.

Hanging out with hellebores is indeed a very good thing.

Note: I’m in the upcoming New Horizons art show in Cos Cob, Greenwich, CT. Do stop by to take a look! April 2 – 28. Click here for details.

Mark your calendar – my garden Open Day is May 18, 2019.

Here are images of some of the hellebores I hang out with:

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Prêt Pour Le Printemps?

Ready for spring? Of course you are! The season officially starts with the happening of the equinox on March 20. Open windows, put away blankets, swap out clothes, freshen up house … heck, redecorate. Bring in flowers, plant up the garden, prepare for celebrations and milestones. Easter, Passover, Mother’s and Father’s Days, Memorial Day, graduations, weddings, showers, birthdays – the list goes on. So much to look forward to. So much to do. Despite the eagerness and anticipation, it can feel somewhat overwhelming. A little inspiration, a splash of motivation is needed.

Enter the annual Lyndhurst Flower Show and Antique Show. Lyndhurst is a beloved treasure in my neck of the woods. I adore the house and, the grounds are absolutely sublime. And the river view! A total stunner. Well worth visiting at anytime but, there are seasonal events that quite simply put it at a much higher level. Aforementioned flower show is one of them. The beautifully proportioned and furnished rooms are spectacularly decorated by local florists. Each florist brings their unique artistry to appoint the spaces as they see fit. The visitor is promised an experience that will delight because after all we’re talking flowers here.

However, one gets more than that visual pleasure. Knowingly or unknowingly, we get to learn about colors, best combinations and complementary hues. This lesson can be extrapolated to the garden for planning new flower borders and beds. Sometimes a flower one never paid much attention to can be viewed in a new light and join the garden. Ideas abound in the flower show.

Indoors, it gives suggestions on how to translate the colors in our own homes and furnishings. I pick up novel ways to use flowers in the house. Because the florists are local, if you’re looking to hire one for an upcoming wedding or other event, this is an opportunity to review the style of several all at once in real time. Saves so much ‘interview’ time too! I heartily approve the decision to give area florists a chance to strut their stuff.

Armed with ideas and notes, move on from the flower show to the Antiques Show in the Carriage House – where one can get choice articles for both home and garden. You can pick up that elusive garden ornament, rare urn or add to your collection of period silver. Most times, all it takes is a single object to transform a space. Some of the best loved pieces in my garden are those I purchased at antique shows like this one. If your budget does not permit any purchase, you can still pick up more decorating ideas at this show. When the time is right, you will know exactly what you want and what will work best.

If these two shows are not enough, there is a plant sale! I feel giddy with anticipation when I’m at a plant sale. I invariably find plants I need but I secretly look forward to some impulse buys. A real guilty pleasure. And pretty harmless if one doesn’t get carried away.

By now, a visitor is more than likely feeling a bit peckish. A toothsome piece of cake, a flaky scone or a light sandwich accompanied by a strong cup of tea would hit the spot you think. Fear not, that situation has already been covered. High tea is served! Elegant, restorative and delicious. Exactly what you need right now. However did they know?!

Have I convinced you to catch spring fever by going to Lyndhurst April 6-7, 2019? Come on down! Shake off the winter apathy, envision your home and garden as you’d like them to be, grab your list, camera and note pad, pick up a friend or two to go with and, head to it. You’ll have yourselves a lovely time. Maybe we’ll even run into each other. And at that time you can thank me. So there.

Note: I’m sharing a few images of my garden as it looks right now. Spring is a stirring!

First Snowdrops!


In the greenhouse –
Orange blossom

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Keep It Simple

I can feel the quickening. We turned the clock forward last Sunday. The temperature got close to 50 degrees yesterday. While its back to the 40s today, Friday looks promising – it could get as high as 60 degrees! Yes, I can sense winter’s grip loosening.

With that comes an almost overwhelming awareness that much needs doing in the garden. Especially if there is an upcoming occasion for which it must look tip-top. My garden Open Day is looming large. May 18 might still seem a bit far off but given the myriad tasks involved, the uncertainty of the weather and most significantly, my other commitments both personal and professional, that available time is shrinking. Between project deadlines and celebratory occasions, I must squeeze in the garden work. I’m feeling excited and apprehensive all at the same time. It’s a good problem to have.

To mitigate unnecessary stress and frustration, my focus is to simplify. I have nothing to prove. I don’t have to pretend to be super-anybody. I decided to skip starting plants from seed – my schedule just doesn’t have the time to tend to them this year. Instead, I’m getting young plugs of native plants to add to the meadow and vegetable plot. Even for that I was beginning to get anxious about getting them all planted before open Day till I thought more calmly and realized that the plants for summer and fall can most assuredly wait till after that day.

The bones or hardscaping of the garden are already in place. So, there is a sense of order and flow to the design. Some features are focal points and others are backdrops to the plantings which are the true stars. To shine that light on the plants, I’m sticking to a less is more attitude. Less variety, more numbers of the plants. Taking my cue from those stunning swathes of snowdrops or fields of poppies one sees in Europe, I’m going to plant in larger groups and have these groups complement each other. This should highlight forms, colors and texture to the meadow giving it a cohesive and distinct character. I hope.

Spatial identity for the garden is important and by keeping it simple and timeless, the different areas remain unique yet work together as a whole.

Keeping it simple, does not mean bland or generic. This is where details matter. Sculptures, pots and other features like fountains, troughs and seating bring style and personality. These can change or evolve as one desires. There is a certain feature I’m working on for this year – I’m hoping it will all come together in time for May 18. If not, it will be by next year. I’m not going to stress myself out. However, my fingers are crossed.

In the early years, I prided myself on doing as much if not all the work by myself. I had fewer responsibilities and obligations. And a whole lot more youthful energy. These days, I’m happy to bring in some help. What the English refer to as a jobbing gardener – someone who comes in when extra chores or heavy work needs doing during the season. It has made my life so much more manageable. Now, if I’m in the throes of meetings and appointments, I can still get those time sensitive garden jobs addressed. Such a relief. No sense in trying to do too much in too little time. I just wish I’d understood that much earlier instead of all the pressure I used to put on myself to act as though I was superwoman.

As Isaac Newton put it – Nature is pleased with simplicity. And nature is no dummy. And now, neither am I.

Note:  I’m currently busy with my second collection of the Printed Garden products. I’m sharing with you some of the pillow samples. The square pillows are 18×18 inches and the rectangular ones are 14×20. I would love to hear your thoughts ( favorites?) about them. So please drop a line or two in the comments column! Thank you!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Frame Shift

Something I read recently has got me reexamining how I approach situations I would typically characterize as annoying/inconvenient/weird/all of the above. Even as one who has a glass half-full attitude, I find myself thinking pessimistically on occasion.

March has arrived with snow, more snow and plummeting temperatures. Spring is nowhere in sight. And it got me all hot and bothered. My garden to-do list has grown in leaps and bounds and I’m beginning to feel the pressure to get things done well in time for my Open Day. Between now and that day, other work projects and commitments are not going to permit me the luxury of focusing solely on the garden. Hence, anything that appears to delay the start of garden work, feels like a personal affront.

It’s easy to start railing at the elements and all concerned as though a conspiracy of sorts has been set up simply to thwart my plans. All this achieves is put me in a grumpy mood that quite literally holds me back from doing anything productive. Yet, even as I’m cognizant of this danger to myself, I can at times embark on a downward spiral and hate myself for doing so. But, no longer. I’m done with self-sabotaging my outlook!

A timely reminder, simultaneously elementary, profound and sobering, to see things differently was all it took. Nothing new or earth shattering. Often, that is all it takes to improve ones disposition. A tweak, a subtle adjustment, a slight shift in attitude can change the trajectory of intent and action dramatically.

I’m paraphrasing because I cannot remember where I came across this ‘advice’ – climate change is going to make us long for the four seasons. So, make the most of whatever we have right now. Embrace the weather we’re experiencing. Snow, intense cold and all. Admire the beauty, play in the snow, go for a walk, cozy up indoors afterwards to relax and appreciate the opportunity to slow down and be present. We need the snow to fill our water reservoirs and the cold freezes out ticks and other nasty bugs.

Separately, I’ve also realized that we often have lots of snow in March. This current weather is actually par for the course. In fact, I recall a big blizzard on April 1 about 21 years ago. The urgency of having so much on my agenda was making me feel as though everything was awry. A simple pause and reality check fixed that!

And there you have it. No complaining. ( Maybe a little inevitable worrying?) Be optimistic. If you look for the positive, you will find the positive. It then follows that we will do positive things.

Beneath that foot of snow lies spring. Ready and waiting.

Note:This evening, Tuesday March 5, is the reception to the group show I’m in at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery he New York Art Students League. 6 – 8 pm. Stop by! The show closes on Saturday, March 9. 

Mark your calendar! My garden’s Open Day this year is on May 18th. 10 am – 4 pm.

Enjoy these snowy images taken over the years – pause, take in the quiet beauty, notice the rich details, the play of light, the contrasts … breathe deeply and allow yourself to relax.


January

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar