Planting Peace, Growing Gratitude

Two days to Thanksgiving. I love this holiday so much that I wait all year for it. A holiday spent with friends, family and food. A day to come together in gratitude and love – what could be more simple and pure?

Apparently not so simple for many. Holidays are fraught with anxiety for many. Confrontations, resentments and old wounds seem to surface at these times. We are advised to stay away from discussing politics, religion, relationships and gossip. Really, what else is left to talk about?!

Then, we complain about eating too much, drinking to excess, moving too little and feeling awful about it. Why do we repeat this pattern consistently? Surely we can do and be better.

Science has shown that activity and getting out in nature improves the disposition. A walk is a great solution but not everyone is able to get too physical. Besides, people break up into smaller groups and walk at different paces. It can become yet another opportunity to avoid certain nosy relatives altogether instead of connecting to everybody. Similarly, a good game of touch football is not for everyone. No worries, lets get the entire Thanksgiving party into the garden. We’re going to plant bulbs.

This weekend is the unofficial last call for bulb planting. Unless you reside way up north, the ground can still be dug up. While it’s too late for planting shrubs and trees, it is just fine for bulbs. So, get to the local nursery in a hurry and buy up all the bulbs you can afford. By now there might not be much choice left but they are often at very reduced prices. (You will plan ahead next year).

Select the part(s) of the garden where you would like the bulbs planted. Have gloves, dibblers, hand trowels, spades etc., ready and waiting. When your Thanksgiving crowd is gathered, let them know that you are starting a new tradition – a gratitude garden of bulbs. Divvy up the bulbs between all the participants. This is an activity for all ages. Not too strenuous and comes with the gentle instruction of keeping faith and hope. Making a garden is after all, about optimism and belief in a better tomorrow.

Adults will instruct kids, young can assist the old. Whether a trench is to be dug up for a multitude of bulbs or they must go into the ground individually amongst existing perennials, explain the simple rules of bulb planting – holes are three times deeper that the size of the bulb and they are planted pointy tip up. Small bulbs are easier for very small hands.

Suggest to each person that for each bulb they plant, they must privately count a blessing and/or bury a grievance. Encourage laughter and camaraderie. Typically, folk will get into the spirit quite naturally. Prior gardening experiences will be recounted, favorite bulbs declared and undoubtedly lead to further discussions on a myriad topics. One hopes.

In case of inclement weather – have everybody pot the bulbs up. The pots are to be kept outdoors in a sheltered area and towards the end of winter you will start noticing some tiny tips emerging. At this time you can either bring the pots indoors to hurry up the flowering or, leave them outside to bloom in due time. Either way, they will look gorgeous. You might also consider sending each guest home with a pot of bulbs of their own.

This project gets everyone interacting, builds healthy appetites and couldn’t be easier. PLUS, you get to anticipate a beautiful spring. At which time, you will take photographs to share with all your bulb planters. If you’re up for it, invite them all for a viewing!

Happy Thanksgiving from the bottom of my heart. Studies have proven that both incivility and kindness are contagious. So, lets make the choice to put aside our differences, hold hands and strengthen our bonds. Yes we can.

Note: I hope these images will inspire you to undertake the Thanksgiving bulb planting project!

Hyacinths
Daffodil
Tulips
Allium
Frittilaria
Iris

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Egos, Ethics, Ethos

As Thanksgiving draws near, the mind, almost on cue, starts thinking about its significance. I appreciate this clear annual reminder to pause and give thanks for all the gifts I’ve received through the year. From kind words that spoke to my heart to thoughtful assistance in the garden, every little or big gesture is reason to celebrate. It all adds up to a rich, bountiful year.

It’s also a time to review what I have given of myself to make a difference. Did I do enough? Opportunities to serve come by all the time – sometimes we don’t notice them till it’s too late, at other times we are so consumed with out own issues that we cannot find it in ourselves to reach out and then there are those times when we are forced to make choices. It’s not always possible to say yes every time.

I frequently wonder whether I am doing all that I can. In the garden for example, I am certainly working hard to serve the earth with care and kindness. Ethical, ecological and environmental concerns guide my work. In doing no harm, I strive to leave this piece of earth a better place than when I started. Yet, there are occasions when I ‘cheat’. For instance, when a photo-shoot for a national publication to come out next summer was scheduled this past September, I had to scramble to make the garden look ready for its close-up.

I’d just returned from a month long trip and the place required major weeding and tidying. More than that, it needed some serious prettying up. Typically, by this time, I’m sort of slacking off and not worrying too much about the garden being tip-top.

The front lawn was looking raggedy and exhausted. Tiny as it is, it is very much a vital part of that making-a-good-first-impression feature. So, on went the watering schedule – every day leading to the big day. I wince thinking of the amount of water used. While most other chores were more about physical labor, knowing that I was compromising my own principle on conserving water, had pangs of guilt keeping me awake at night.

I did get lovely annuals to lend some seasonal charm and by the time of the photo-shoot, the grass looked lush and green, the weeding and general primping were duly dealt with and the whole place was up to snuff. The photographer was wonderful – she made me feel mighty pleased with my garden. And with myself.

And so it goes, one sacrifices beliefs and rules when it suits. I ask myself what I will and will not give in to. How strong can I be in tough and/or unexpected circumstances? It’s so easy when all is well but the true test is staying on even keel in a storm. Those are the times when we discover something significant about ourselves.

And that’s how I found out that I’m frightfully vain about my garden. And proud. And entirely human. Alas.

Note: I’m re-posting images of art work by artists who painted in my garden this past June. How others see my garden is always exciting and eye-opening.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Calming Down

Boy, am I glad the bulbs were planted the previous weekend. It got pretty frosty by last Friday. A good portion of the country is being hit with record cold this week. Too early I say! However, looking at the crazy seasons we’ve been experiencing, this is not too surprising. I believe we’re in a flux of sorts. There is something unsettling going on as climate change is underway. The new normal is not here as yet.

With most of the fall chores frenetically completed in the garden, I take November as a time to reflect on life, the world at large and my place in it. The garden offers a quiet place to restore equilibrium in these uncertain times. The basic act of tending a garden is grounding in that it makes us aware of how interconnected we all are – to nature and to each other. Making and caring for a garden is an optimistic sign as it implies we are invested in the future. There is a contentment to be discovered in garden work that few other projects can provide.

I look back on the successes and failures, the challenges and surprises through the year. It was a great year for the bulbs and many of the perennials. The clematis particularly shone. The vegetables did well too. With a sudden freeze in early spring, the fruit trees struggled. As did the wisteria. The meadow was a large part of my focus but I dropped the ball a few times in staying on top of the weeding and watering so the new, young additions could thrive. Life happens. I will do better next year.

Through the year, as I wrestled with matters unfolding on the national and global stages, the garden has provided purpose and practice. When events seemed intolerable, incendiary, confusing or conflicted, the garden presented me with opportunity to take immediate action and make something better in my little world. It reminds me to stay positive. That the sun will always emerge through the dark. The seed will become a flower.

While I alone cannot bring the world to calm down, I am in a position to create something beautiful and nurturing to give respite to myself and all others who come my way. Every garden has this transformative capability. It stands to reason that now more than ever, we need our gardens and parks.

For me personally, gardening has kept me sane, balanced. Be it a single pot, a window-box, a collection of African violets in a stand indoors or, a garden of any size, the very act of tending to plants will make you feel better. I promise.

Note: The ‘Colors Of Fall ‘ art show is on for two more weeks! Do please visit.

This week, I give you just two images to focus on. One is a photograph and the other a watercolor I did. Immerse yourself in them.Take deep breaths, allow the mind and body to relax. Let nature calm and comfort you.

‘Breathing Space’

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Cover-Ups, Concealment And Cutbacks

Yeah, it’s not what you think. Get your mind back into the garden! Winter has arrived – a little too early. Fall is not quite done! On Halloween night, the temperature was in the low 70’s and by the following night, we had a hard frost.

With the tender perennials already ensconced in the greenhouse, I wasn’t too worried about the sudden cold. However, the greenhouse heater is being cantankerous and is yet to kick in. The engineer in residence needs to get it working soon. Or else.

The great bulb cover-upping happened on Sunday. All 700 plus bulbs. With snow expected on Thursday, I didn’t want to take the risk of doing the project in stages. It’s all done now. The assortment of little brown packages are now under their winter blankets of earth and mulch. In my mind’s eye I can see them in splendiferous bloom. Spring cannot come soon enough. Wait, I take that back. Given how erratic the weather/seasons have been, I’m willing to be patient and wait till the appropriate time for spring.

The fallen leaves in the meadow are let to remain to give some cover to the plants and also enrich the soil subsequently. This area does not receive any additional fertilizer so Mother Nature’s free-falling bounty is the one we depend upon. Similarly, other shrubs and all the roses are provided a pile of leaves at their feet to keep cozy. In time, the roses will also acquire a windbreak of burlap for additional protection.

The large pots that stay outdoors all through the year are shielded in the winter. First, they get fully concealed in plastic and then given a more aesthetic looking wrapping of burlap. Throughout the winter they look like big packages left by some careless delivery person.

The perennials have been cut back and it always makes me a bit sad to see the garden so bare. Despite the lingering colors of autumn, the long, dark days of winter loom ahead.

To combat the seasonal sadness, I’ve started setting aside all those gardening magazines I hadn’t got around to reading in the busy months. Soon, the seed and plant catalogs will begin to arrive and they too will join the pile. Since October, the refrigerator has been cooling bulbs for forcing – they’re sure to cheer up January and February nicely. For now, paperwhites are coming up and I’m counting on them to pretty up Thanksgiving. Firewood has been stacked, fresh candles placed in the candlesticks, snuggly blankets rest temptingly on all the couches, jars of pesto, tomato sauce and jellies await impromptu gatherings for board-games and Charades, the list of shows to binge watch is on hand as are novels picked up throughout the year. Winter is suddenly looking mighty attractive.

Note: Be sure to look at the list of garden tasks for November.

The ‘Colors Of Fall’ art show is on till the end of this month. Do visit!

Getting ready for bulb planting.
Rain barrel upturned and left to empty itself before being put away
Ferns from the vertical garden take up residence in the vegetable bed for winter. They too will be covered with a blanket of burlap shortly.
The perennial beds all cut back, bulbs planted and awaiting a layer of mulch.
Fall color still going strong

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar