Nesting Instinct

It is officially Fall. Despite my attempts to be in summer mode, I’ve begun the retreat – preparing the nest for cold, short days and long nights ahead. As though in response to a primeval instinct, it happens naturally.

It began with a huge harvest of arugula. Adding the leaves in salads alone wouldn’t be the best use so I decided to make pesto. Lacking in pine nuts, I used cashews and it turned out that they tempered the bitterness of the arugula just perfectly. Goes well with pasta, sandwiches, soups and anything that needs a little oomph. I made enough to freeze a couple of jars for the winter.

This week, I’m harvesting all the basil. So there will be plenty of basil pesto to freeze as well.

Unable to resist the peaches from a farm stand, I bought a whole bushel. Several disappeared on the drive home. A couple of pies got made and consumed with impressive alacrity. At present, a few jars of freshly made preserves sit twinkling like jewels. Flavored with Pinot Noir and cinnamon, they are a notch above the usual jam I make. Sounds rather posh and grown-up right? I’m already looking forward to Sunday breakfasts of toast slathered with butter and this preserve with strong hot coffee while I gaze at the winter landscape outside.

In a couple of weeks, I’m anticipating making and canning sauce with the last of the tomatoes. This comes in handy for so many meals. Knowing the fruit and herbs come from the garden always gets me planning for the next growing season.

I stopped at my favorite local nursery last Saturday because I’d got word that the shipment of fall pumpkins and gourds had just arrived. What a display greeted the customers! I had such fun making my selections.

I also picked up a whole bunch of hyacinth bulbs for cooling – they will be ready for forcing just ahead of the new year. In another couple of weeks, I intend to get some more to keep the show of indoor hyacinths going through the bleak days of February. That month always needs serious brightening and I want to be ready.

A box of paperwhites sat looking pretty right by the cashier so, I picked up some of those as well. They will soon be in bloom to herald the retreat to the indoors. The chill in the morning says those days are not too far off.

Over the weekend, I brought in a huge amount of hydrangea flowers from the garden. Just turning a rosy blush, they sit resplendent in an urn where I can enjoy them as they dry.

And then, last Sunday, in the shadow of the sculpture ‘Wavehenge’ that marks the solstices and equinoxes, I participated in an event to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox at Riverside Park in New York City. I was one of three poets invited to read poems associated with the season. A definitive acknowledgement of summer’s end.

Yes, fall has arrived and I am embracing it. But, just like the bees and butterflies still working in the garden, I’m not totally done with summer. I’m just content knowing my nest awaits in readiness.

Note: I hope you’ve bought your tickets to the Untermyer Symposium’ Restoring Gardens’. I’d love to see you there.

The ‘Walk In Our Shoes’ art show is on till September 30. Do stop by and see!

“Wavehenge” at Riverside Park North at 145th, NYC
Reading my poem
Pumpkins and gourds galore at Rosedale Nurseries in Thornwood, NY
My selection
My haul of hyacinths for forcing
Paperwhites in place
Monarch butterfly gracing the asters
Hydrangea heaven
Peach preserves

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Homecoming

Traveling makes one modest: one sees what a tiny place one occupies in the world.”

The Letters of Gustave Flaubert, 1830-1857

It feels good to be back home. Refreshed from my travels, I’m eager to get back in the garden. Returning after an absence always makes me approach it with some trepidation. What if something has gone terribly wrong? is a thought that hits me every single time. Thankfully, all is well. Sure the weeds have made merry, the beds are a bit messy with some plants calling it it quits for the season and, the tiny lawn is in need of a trim but in general, it’s all par for the course. The garden is transitioning into autumn.

I’d been concerned that the hummingbird feeder would run empty and thereby the birds would be denied their regular supply but it’s perplexing that after a whole two weeks, the feeder is still a third full. Have the hummingbirds moved on already? I sincerely hope nothing untoward has happened to them. I must look into understanding this before I’m consumed with worry.

The figs tree was heavy with ripe fruit that were enjoyed right away. In fact, the enthusiasm over the splendid harvest made me forget to take a photograph before they disappeared. You just have to take my word for it. The tomatoes are still going strong and I’m getting ready to make sauce for canning.

The asters are just starting to bloom and I think they’re a bit late. Usually, they’re in full swing by now. I’d actually thought I might be late to the show. The vertical garden is having its moment – looking lush and full just as so much else is waning.

The turtleheads in the meadow are growing strong. I love how dependable they are. I’ve come to the realization that the flowers of the oak-leaved hydrangea (H. quercifolia) do not last as long into fall as the my other hydrangea(H. paniculata). The former already look crisp and brown while the latter have moved from white to that soft blush that I so adore. However, the leaves of the oak-leaved have the added bonus of changing color so, I’m looking forward to that display.

All the Concord grapes have either dropped too early or the robins that nest amidst the vine have got to the fruits first. No jelly this year. So be it. Postscript -just last night I discovered that the gardeners at Hortus Arboretum and Botanical Gardens use ordinary paper lunch bags to protect their grapes. Somehow, these humble bags even survive the rain! I’ll be trying that next year.

No apples or pears either. Just as the fruit trees were in beautiful bloom in the spring, a very cold spell hit and the pollinators stayed home. The flowers spent themselves out soon after. First hand lessons in the garden. The leaves of the apples dropped off by early August and I saw that the trees at Stonecrop gardens had a similar problem but those still bore some ripening apples so, I’m a bit envious. I can only assume that the very hot months of summer took a toll and the leaves fell early.

Even in his most artificial creations, nature is the material upon which man has to work.”

— Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

It’s been a really weird summer season this year – much too hot with spells of either too much rain or complete lack thereof. Perhaps this will be the new normal and we will have to adjust what and how we garden. I’m trying to keep pace. This is after all, our future. That has to concern everyone.

In a month, I’ll be cutting and tidying in preparation for the winter. Hundreds of bulbs ordered earlier in summer will also arrive at that time for fall planting.

As the sun sets earlier and earlier, I’m determined to enjoy every available hour of daylight before I get caught up in all the busy-ness. All too soon, it’ll be winter and I want to be warmed by that sense of smugness that I had a good time while I could.

Note: I invite you to come to the “Restoring Historic Gardens” Symposium at Untermyer Gardens on Saturday October 19, 2019. I’m excited to be moderating the panel discussion that will follow after the three speakers share experiences with their respective historic gardens.

The “Walk In Our Shoes” exhibit is on till September 30. Hope you will visit this wonderful art show.

Turtleheads in the meadow
Hydrangea paniculata
Crispy flowers of the oak-leaved hydrangea
The leaves of the oak-leaved slowly changing color
Cardinal flowers still doing well
The wall
Tomatoes in the greenhouse
Figs ripening
Hot!
Pretty

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Balancing Act

For the past ten days, I’ve been enjoying down time on the barrier islands of Chincoteague and Assateague off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. It has been part of the quest for balance in life. When we plan a getaway or vacation, it is that need to counteract the everyday demands of work and other responsibilities. An opportunity to press the reset button so we maintain an even keel and thus keep perspective of what truly matters. Nothing quite as effective as a healthy dose of nature to do the job.

It is heart-achingly beautiful here. Known primarily for the wild ponies that inhabit them, these islands are the last remaining undeveloped outer banks. And remain they shall, thanks to the designation of being a National Seashore/Wildlife Refuge under the National Park Services. Like all our other National Parks, they are priceless national treasures.

It’s a fragile, ever-changing ecosystem here. Between the waves and winds of the mighty and temperamental Atlantic Ocean, the terrain,flora and fauna are in constant flux. New ‘islands’ are built, old ones shrink or grow, shorelines shift, the resilient wildlife adapt and somehow, an equilibrium is maintained. Retreating dunes mark the island’s westward move and as the water in the bays rise in response to rising ocean water, the coastlines are redrawn. New habitats are created and old ones re-adapted. Plants and animals adjust to these changes. Rich in aquatic life, the bays provide a vital ecosystem. The salt marshes, defined by the ebb and flow of the tides are yet another complex, vital ecosystem in themselves. The plants that thrive in salt marshes may be few but they shelter a diverse number of wildlife. The dunes and upper beaches are in constant motion and support a different variety of plants and animals.

Even as eel grass is tossed up by storm surges, it is turned into a substrate that enriches the soil in the marshes. Ribbed mussels have a relationship with the long water roots of salt grasses found along the edges of the marshy islands. Egrets ride on the horses to see what choice morsels they might reveal as they plod around and disturb the wet land. In turn, they help the horses by dealing with the biting insects so prevalent here. The horses feed on the salty grasses and also the poison ivy – I found that latter item quite interesting.

In an ideal situation, these parts would manage fine and life would play out naturally. It’s a real gift that we humans get to visit and observe. But yet, we manage to upset the balance. Despite all the cautions and advice from the park rangers, people often try to get too close to the horses ( selfies!) or try feeding them. The horses, as a result can get too familiar with our presence and come to expect treats to supplement their diet. These are wild animals with strong teeth and legs – their bites and kicks are fearsome. Getting too close or goading them has unfortunate consequences for man and horse. Why oh why can we not stay away from our own worst habits?!

We got very lucky with Hurricane Dorian last week. A harmless tropical storm was all we experienced. Two windy days of which one was rainy. Some localized flooding but nothing problematic. I imagine this was however, a more serious threat for the wildlife as they were deprived of their regular feeding forays and had to seek shelter to wait out the weather. For me, it was enough to be made acutely aware of how fragile life is and how much we take it for granted.

When I return home shortly, I plan to carry this awareness in my heart and strive harder to stay centered, as always, taking my cues from nature in maintaining a balance.

P.S- I also plan to increase my annual contribution to the National Parks. In recent times they have seen major budget cuts. This is nothing short of a crisis of tremendous proportion with far-reaching consequences. I beseech every single one of you to do your part in preserving our national treasure – this beautiful, majestic land of mountains and plains, lakes, rivers and coasts that we call home.

See the images below for a glimpse of Assateague/Chicoteague beauty.

Note: I’m participating in this show. I hope you will see it.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Labor-less Days

I don’t care what anybody says, summer is still three weeks from being over. There’s plenty of time to sip and savor. Sunsets to watch, fruits and vegetables to pick and eat fresh, siestas to take in the hammock, barefoot morning strolls around the dew-drenched garden, al fresco meals to be had … summer is a state of mind.

Having recently returned from a trip overseas, I did go through a bout of whipping the garden into some order. Nothing drastic. Just to have it look sufficiently fetching and looked after. Apart from the ongoing tasks of weeding and watering, this is the window to loll about before the fall frenzy begins.

While others are in the back-to-school mode and getting their own schedules and agendas in order, I take this opportunity to extend my summer bliss. There are still books to be read and friends to catch up with.

Certainly, the signs of fall are there. The sun sets earlier, leaves are slowly turning, apples are beginning to blush and there is that barest hint of cooler days approaching. All of that notwithstanding, I see the turtleheads coming into full bloom, the Joe Pyes are abuzz and aflutter with pollinators, the phlox is saturating the garden in perfume, the cardinal flowers are beacons for hummingbirds and there are yet tomatoes ripening on the vine for summer salads and sandwiches.

For now, I leave you with my stubborn hold on summer –

I’m Taking Summer With Me

I’m taking Summer with me

into frost woven days of Fall

through Winter’s frozen pall

I’ll shine on frigid faces

throw color in all the places

blow soft kisses to dry ice drop tears

bring sunny warmth and spread good cheer

When darkness creeps in early

and moods get bad and surly

I’ll eclipse away the gloomy night

with blazing fires and candle light

For the season when nothing grows

I’ll force bulbs to spite the snows

Spring shall arrive before it’s time

so Summer will follow in all her prime.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Hummingbird at the Cardinal flowers
Turtleheads

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar