Yet Another Aha! Moment

Gardening is just what I do. What and how I do it feels like second nature. While I’ve undoubtedly learned much from my garden, I’m not always conscious of it. It’s only when I pause to think or appreciate the garden that I become aware of how much it teaches and guides me. As one goes about the day to day chores and demands of life, it’s easy to be caught up in the immediate without being mindful. Over the years, I’ve come to understand and depend upon the garden to open my mind and heart, to take instruction, seek counsel, solace and refuge, feel grateful, compassionate and a general sense of wellbeing. The garden continues to impart wisdom and I keep receiving. Yet, I’m guilty of taking it for granted. Till something occurs to nudge me out of my complacency.

I was talking to a group recently, when the topic of bulb planting came up. I tend to assume that everyone knows what I know. Especially if they belong to a garden club or similar organization. So, there I was saying that 700+ bulbs await planting in my garden, when I was asked about the details of this task. When they get put into the ground, how deep, where etc., It dawned on me that without the basic information, any task can be intimidating.

We spoke then of getting the bulbs, making selections, quantities, the process of planting and such. When it came to the necessity of a cooling period, I had my own Aha! moment. Over the course of this year, I’ve been working on a business project with a philanthropic purpose. Not being naturally business minded, the process is slow and the learning is tedious and frustrating. I’m impatient and want things to be straightforward. But business has many moving parts, it is not simple. There are deadlines and delays. I can deal with the former but the latter drives me crazy because it’s mostly out of my control. I have to depend on different parties to do the needful and they each have their own agendas and processes. Needless to say, it is slow going. Very slow.

I’m not complaining because I do appreciate the learning, other people’s skills and expertise blow my mind and the pleasure I get with each step forward. I just have a ways to go and I’d recently hit a roadblock. A detour is required and I must find it. Realistically, I’m looking at coming up with a different path altogether. It is all the usual ups and downs but for someone not schooled in business and marketing, it is annoying, upsetting and disheartening. Doing something for good should not be this hard!

In this state of mind, I was ripe for a lesson from nature. In speaking about bulb planting, I received my own lesson. Firstly, I was reminded that there is a correct season for everything. Then, given all the right conditions, taking care to do all the steps correctly, all I can do is step back and wait for matters to take their course and hopefully, produce the results one hopes for. Just as the bulbs, so full of promise, must be healthy, planted at the right time, to the right depth, in the right places and then given their optimum cooling or rest period to get properly ready for growing and blooming in the spring. I am not in control of everything. I must simply do my best and wait it out. Everything in its time. Preparation, perseverance, patience, perspective.

Note: The ‘Colors Of Fall’ art show is open! Do go take a look.

Enjoy the watercolor images of bulbs to look forward to next spring. Some of these watercolors are available in notecards and soft furnishings for the home. They make lovely gifts. All profits go to educate HIV girls at Mukta Jivan orphanage.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Endings And Beginnings

Fall in the garden is such a time of contradiction. It is as much about endings as it is about beginnings. Hope and despair. Plants are in senescence or going into dormancy – but they do so with panache. The colors of autumn are unparalleled.

The gardening season is coming to a close – the frenzied activity is winding down. Outdoor furnishings are getting put away and the retreat to the indoors has become final.

Yet, this is the time to look ahead, plan for the future. New trees are planted. Perennials are divided and replanted for fuller or new beds and borders next year. Hundreds of bulbs are planted with the intent to make a brighter, more beautiful spring. Fallen leaves are gathered to make new mulch to enrich the soil in times ahead. The spent plants pulled up and tossed return as compost to feed the garden a few seasons later.

It’s a time of farewells so we can we say hello again.

Last weekend, the big cut back and clearing commenced in my garden. I always feel a bit sad at this time as I recall the the joy of the spring and summer just passed. The high expectations with which I greeted the new growth. The celebrations held amidst the beauty of the garden. The bounty that graced the table. Sweet memories were made. It feels bittersweet.

But very quickly, with a sense of deep gratitude, I’m planning madly for the next year. In the myriad bulbs I plant and the new plants I select to add to the perennial beds. The fresh resolve to be more dutiful in my care and stewardship, stay on top of chores and make even more time to simply enjoy the garden. Already, I’m giddy with anticipation.

That’s the very heart and soul of the garden – it unfailingly provides us with so many life lessons. To stay optimistic, take chances, own failures, be responsible, work is its own reward, forgiveness is important and so much more. But right at this moment, the big take home is this – we get yet another chance to do better next year. Everybody deserves that.

Note: I have two paintings in the ‘Colors Of Fall’ art show at the Blue Door Gallery. You are invited!

Cycle of life:

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Clean-up Conundrum

The fall clean-up is underway. It always feels a little bit too early because the garden still looks as though it is not fully done with the season. Like a popular party girl reluctant to call it a night – hair now sexily disheveled, clothes sorta fetchingly rumpled, looking a bit tired but still enthusiastic and frankly, should be heading for bed before she embarrasses herself and passes out. I hold back on the drastic chop-down for as long as the weather will permit.

As much as I think it is nice to leave a good portion alone for winter visual interest and food for birds, I’ve found it to be a bit impractical. For access to plant the hundreds of bulbs amidst all the perennials, there needs to be serious cut back and clean up. Experience has shown that whatever is let to remain invariably gets smothered with the first snowfall.

At the end of it all, I’m left to bring everything to order in a hurry as the garden must get ready for Open Day in spring. It’s invariably a short window for planting and gussying up. Compelled to wait for the snow to melt, means the ground is too mushy and there’s danger of trampling over emerging growth. Besides, so much else needs doing and time is at a premium.

I do leave some ornamental grasses untouched just to ease my mind. In reality, the shrubs and trees around the property provide the birds with adequate shelter and whatever they enjoy foraging. The woods in the back are certainly a winter resort for all critters. The bird feeder merely supplements their diet. That is to say, the birds are well provided.

Visual interest in winter is actually provided by other elements in the garden. In the front, the perennial beds might be bare but the espalier owns the focus. Its geometrical design looks good throughout and a dusting of snow highlights it beautifully. The shadows that hit the ground in the low winter light is so extra – ephemeral art.

In the back, the grid design of the potager/herb garden looks fine at all times but it really steps up its game in the snow – especially as it is viewed from the house at a height. Ditto the checkerboard garden.

And in the meadow – this is a hub of avian layovers and flight paths. At any given time, there is some sort of activity going on – one just needs to slow down and watch.

The sculpture ‘Wind Song’ is a major presence all through the year but once the meadow has been given its annual clean up, it literally shines. The reflections and scattering of the sunlight and the shadows it casts make it a quiet performance art. I should have a camera set up to capture it throughout the cold months. Hmmm, this year, maybe I will.

Despite popular advice to keep plants untouched, I’m really quite comfortable to do the big clean-up in fall. There’s enough left in the garden for both birds and gardener to pass the winter peacefully. And, when springs comes around, I have a bit of a head start.

Note: The Untermyer Symposium ‘Restoring Historic Gardens’ is this Saturday, October 19. Hope you are coming!

The walkway
Note the shadows!
Herb garden
Checkerboard garden
“Wind Song”

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Coming To Grips

Last Sunday was all gardening. I already feel like I’m racing against the clock. The focus was on getting the pots of tender perennials and tropicals into the greenhouse. It’s a process. First, after the tomato plants are evicted, the greenhouse has to be cleaned thoroughly. Inside and outside. Then, once the glass panels are dry, the insulating sheets of clear bubble-wrap must be put up. Lastly, all the winter occupants are made ready for their move indoors.

Any weeds that have crept in are removed from the pots. Yellowing or unhealthy looking leaves and stems are removed. Plants such as boxwood, bay and myrtle must be given a proper trim. Finally, the plants and pots are ‘power-sprayed’ with water to wash off all dirt and any critters hiding around. Then, and only then, are they brought into the greenhouse. Doing everything possible to keep pests and disease away is critical.

Since space is at a premium and there must be good air circulation around the plants, there is a priority system. There are first class and second class residents. The citrus, bays, boxwoods, myrtles, hibiscus, agapanthus, rosemary, thymes and auriculas are first class. All the fancy leaved and scented geraniums as well as other herbs are second class – while I adore them, they are not as precious and can be easily replaced. So, what cannot be accommodated in the greenhouse will either be given an alternate place to spend the winter or handed off to willing recipients. C’est la vie.

This is an all day endeavor and how my body feels the next day proves it is more physical than it sounds. Hauling the big pots in is the hardest and for this, help arrived in the form of nephews. Young and strong, they were an enormous help. Twenty years ago, the task was done by just my husband and myself. Now, we dare not risk our backs by being foolhardy. Sigh. It’s not easy coming to terms with the reality of aging. After all, in my head I’m still twenty-five.

With the precious plants safely under cover, the attention is now on cleaning up, raking leaves, depositing the annuals on the compost pile, cutting back and such. The bulbs ordered with much hope and ambition in July have arrived. They will go in by the first week of November. I can’t wait to have all 700+ planted – my muscles are already cringing in fear of the aftermath. By that point, winter cannot come too soon. The very thought of rest is pure heaven.

Note: The Untermyer Symposium is on Saturday October 19. Should be quite informative, inspiring and, interesting. Get your tickets now!

Paperwhites coming along
The wall.
Getting the greenhouse insulated
Able bodied helpers
“Power-washing”
Herbs to dry
The last of the tomatoes. Green tomato cobbler on the menu!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Occupying October

October. Time to get busy in the garden. Even though temperatures are higher than usual and it feels so glorious, I know that failing to get cracking on the chores will only have me full of regrets should a sudden frost arrive or worse, snow. Best not to take any chances.

The Things To Do page provides a monthly list of garden tasks and I hope it is useful. However, being human, one forgets to check in a timely fashion. So, I thought I’d start giving a reminder at the start of each month. For this month, I’m providing the whole list below just so you can see that October demands a lot.

Things To Do In October

1. Yes, weeding continues!

2. Time to plant perennials and trees. Give a good dose of compost to each. Water regularly. Perennials already in place can be divided and planted as well.

3. Cut back all spent plants except what is needed for seasonal interest.

4. Collect seeds. Store in labeled envelopes in a cool, dry space.

5. Last call to root cuttings of geraniums, coleus, rosemary etc.,

6. Get all pots of tender perennials into clean greenhouse or other winter shelters. Wash plants and pots thoroughly first – minimizes pest infestation.

7. Plant bulbs as weather gets consistently cooler. Bulbs can be planted once soil temperature gets down to 55 degrees right up to the time the soil freezes solid.

8. Rake leaves. Add to compost pile or deposit in woods.

9. Give compost heap a good stir.

10 Clean out vegetable garden except for cool weather plants that are still producing. Apply several inches of compost on cleared beds. Plant green manure to enrich the soil – optional.

11. Clean and put away (or cover) outdoor furniture.

12. Check what needs repairing, repainting, replacing and get to it!

13. Lift tender bulbs, corms and tubers. Store in dry, frost-free place.

14. Drain and close all outdoor water faucets. Empty rain barrel and hoses. Store.

15 Clean all equipment and tools. Store neatly.

16. As temperatures plummet, protect tender shrubs and immovable  frost sensitive pots and statuary. I cover the former with burlap and for the latter, I first cover with sturdy plastic and then use burlap so it looks halfway decent.

17. Remove suckers from ornamental and fruit trees. Prune roses and wisteria. Remove dead and decaying limbs from all plants.

18. Fill up bird feeders. Keep them filled through the winter. Put up nest boxes for the spring.

19. Get into the autumnal spirit – fill window boxes and urns with seasonal plants and produce.

Sincere gardeners never stop learning. On the 19th of this month, the Untermyer symposium is sure to instruct us all. Do sign up for it. While the topic is on restoring historic gardens, there will surely be plenty of ideas and advice to be picked up for ones own garden.

Join us for a symposium on different approaches to historic garden restoration. Suzanne Clary, President of the Jay Heritage Center, Howard Zar, Executive Director of Lyndhurst, and Timothy Tilghman, Head Gardener of Untermyer Gardens, will share their experiences in restoring great New York gardens and landscapes. A pictorial introduction to each garden will be followed by a discussion moderated by well-known garden blogger Shobha Vanchiswar and a tour of Untermyer Gardens by Timothy Tilghman.”

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar