Seeing 2020

Ah, a new year begins. So many possibilities. So much potential. Resolutions to be made, dreams to realize, wishes to make true. Yes, a clean, new canvas to begin again. Really?

Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves? Having dreams and determination to do better is just fine but must we make it so hard? How is it possible for one to turn over a new leaf almost overnight? It’s not as though you go to bed on December 31 and wake January 1 a new person. Eat better, lose weight, sleep more, exercise everyday, read a book a week, cook every meal, learn a new language, land that dream job, meet the right life-partner, reduce stress, master a new skill – the list is endless. We expect way too much from a mere twelve months. In the scope of a single year we are effectively hoping to undo all that preceding years have built up or, accomplish everything we failed to achieve in all those years.

As the years go by, I see clearly how ridiculous so many expectations from a new year is. Having given up making resolutions a long time ago, I freed myself to simply see the start of a year as a good marker to do better in whatever I am already doing. No matter what, there is always room for improvement. And certainly, it is never too late to learn/try new things. But, that doesn’t need to wait for the arrival of January 1. Every day is an opportunity. If I need to get more exercise, then there is nothing like the present to get started. If your hair looks raggedy you go get a cut as soon as possible. If you need a new car/towels/shoes/appliance or anything else, as long as budgets permit, you acquire those right away. You see? Working out, eating healthy, starting on that pile of unopened books, registering for the course in Portuguese, seafood cooking or salsa dancing, giving up smoking etc., shouldn’t have to be put off till the planets line up. Start now!

In fact, having followed this practice of getting on with what needs doing or starting on any given day, has given me that liberty to welcome the new year as one would an old flame. I’m already doing my best and own who I am. There’s nothing to hide, pretend or apologize. Showing up strong is a pretty good place to be. So there.

Having said all that, lets consider the garden and how we go forth into 2020. This year, I really tried as hard as I could, other life obligations notwithstanding. Bear in mind, flexibility is key – things will come up and the best laid plans will be foiled. Never mind, adjustments must be made. C’est la vie.

In 2020, I will continue with getting the ‘meadow’ more established with the native plantings and closer to the vision in my mind. I hope to try out some new varieties of vegetables in the potager. Having received some seeds of tropical plants, I’m keen to design new plantings in pots to make exciting splashes of bold color and shapes.

While I created this garden to be organic from the start, I have been consistently working towards more sustainable and eco-friendly practices. From improved water management, better composting, reducing the amount of plastic ( nurseries! Are you reading this?), adding more native species etc., it is an ongoing effort. The new year is merely an annual reminder to up my game.

Happy New Year one and all. Please accept my heartfelt wishes for health, happiness and harmony. Just promise yourself you will try to the best of your ability. That is all one can and should ask.

Seen on a NYC sidewalk. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
A new vase from ceramist August Brosnahan @brosnahanarts.com
Homegrown lemons! So pleased to harvest them from the greenhouse.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Light The Lights!

Whatever one believes in, celebrations are in order. Winter arrived with the solstice. Hanukkah is underway, today is Christmas Eve and Kwanzaa starts in two days. The New Year is just a week away. Best of all, we are past the shortest day of the year and slowly but surely the days are getting longer. Hallelujah!

At this time, we remember years passed and look ahead to the future. Friends and family are precious – this is a perfect time to reaffirm those bonds.

Trimming The Tree

Love hangs memories

on awaiting arms

twinkling happy thoughts

as new stories get written.

While the past is shed

the present unfolds itself

into the future.

– Shobha Vanchiswar

Before one gets caught up in the festivities, water the plants! Be they house plants or those being overwintered, they need to be kept hydrated. It’s easy to forget about them when you’re busy with so much else. Ditto for those bulbs such as paperwhites. Amaryllis bulbs do not need potting up and watering until after they finish flowering – for now, they can sit pretty anywhere you choose.

Take a turn in the garden and check if anything needs attention – broken tree limbs, plants wanting some protection, debris to clear, bird-feeders to fill and such. It’ll give you peace of mind. And the fresh air and sunshine will improve your disposition greatly.

Wishing you all a beautiful holiday.

Note: Some holiday trees through the years. Due to my daughter’s allergy, we switched from conifers to more unconventional ‘trees’.

Another alternative.This year I’m using my bay standard as the tree.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

In The True Spirit Of The Season

I’m finally feeling the holiday season. Towns are decked out for it and one is greeted with holiday music any shop one steps into. Not to sound too Grinch-like but I’m a little tired of this non-stop ‘seasonal’ music as though I’d forget what season I’m in if they played something else.

I do adore the strings of white lights tracing the bare limbs of trees, the lamp posts and railings. Just as winter has officially started, the lights infuse a much needed element of cheer. At the same time, I worry about the impact the illuminations have on birds and other animals that dwell in trees and bushes. It is well documented that our street lights, neon signs and such affect the avian bio-rhythms . It stands to reason that our holiday lights must interfere as well. Imagine how you’d sleep with bright lights being turned on in your bedroom. And then how you’d feel from the poor rest night after night.

The artificial lights mimic daylight and hence cause confusion in the birds. It not only causes sleep deprivation but affects their breeding. The timing of egg laying goes out of whack and the number of eggs laid are diminished. You can understand the problem. So, it behooves us to curb our decorating enthusiasm, use the cooler (as in temperature) LED bulbs, and shorten the time the lights are on. Yes, I’m aware that LED does not have the same warm ambiance as the fluorescent bulbs but, it’s the responsible, ethical and ecological thing to do.

To decorate outdoors, preferably select bare limbed trees over the evergreens. Non-migratory birds and squirrels take shelter in those leafy trees and shrubs. Keep in mind that more is not better. We are going for tasteful not airport runway style.

Similarly, as far as possible, stick to natural materials. Particularly for outdoor decorations. Critters have the habit of eating or using the materials for their nests. Plastic, Styrofoam and other synthetic decorations look enticing and appealing. But they are dangerous if not deadly to all creatures who unfortunately, do not know this. We do. It is incumbent on us to do right by them.

In the true spirit of the season, lets spread good will to all. Human and otherwise.

Note: The popular Annual Holiday Art Show at the New York Art Student’s League is on! Art makes wonderful gifts.

The art show Fragile Waterways at TeaTown runs through this month. Support a great cause!

Some random images of the season:

Illumination at Untermyer Gardens
For allergy sufferers – an alternative ‘tree’
Another alternative.This year I’m using my bay standard as the tree.
Bouche de Noel
Paperwhites
Amaryllis ‘tree’
NYBG Holiday Train Show 2019

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

A Time To Give

Gifts come in many guises. While commercialism obliterates and/or skews how we celebrate the season, in our hearts we know we can do better than simply following the directive to shop with abandon. Giving thought to each gift we select makes it that much more meaningful and valuable.

I have long abandoned the shopping frenzy encouraged at this time. It is overwhelming and undermines my true intentions.

I largely give socially, ecologically and culturally conscious gifts. Selecting what is appropriate to each recipient is the best part primarily because it gives me pause to think about my relationship with them, what I know about them and how much I value their part in my life. At the same time, I want the gift to reflect who I am and what I stand for. That means, I cannot in good conscience give anybody a fake plant, gas powered mower or a flat of impatiens. (About that last one – I’m allowed to have my personal dislikes so don’t bother setting me straight please!)

So, here’s a comprehensive list of what I think are good gifts. They benefit deserving organizations and people and offer enjoyable, sustaining experiences to the recipients:

1. Membership to the New York Botanical Gardens, Wave Hill Gardens, Jay Heritage Center, the Garden Conservancy, Teatown Preservation. Each of these institutions provide a very valuable environmental and educational service to the country. An annual membership means one can visit and enjoy them all year long. I’m sure you will have additional institutions to add to your own list.

2. Gift certificates to a local nursery. In my neck of the woods, my favorite is Rosedale Nurseries. Similarly, gift certificates or actual products from local merchants would not go amiss.

3. Products that support worthy causes. Profits from my own soft furnishings the Printed Garden collection and botanical note-cards go towards the education of orphan girls with HIV. I would appreciate your support very much.

4. For the folk who subtly drive your days in ways that we easily overlook. Hand warmers plus tip for mail carriers and garbage collectors – they work in cold weather and slipping a warmer in their gloves would I’m sure make their work a tad bit nicer. Tips for anyone who assists you in living better is a must – hairdressers, house cleaners, garden helpers, snow-plowers etc., I like giving a little something along with the tip.

From homemade cookies to fat beeswax candles to a piece of artisan jewelry to gift certificates to a movie house, one can always give something meaningful. The first year I gave movie tickets to a person who’d helped with odd jobs in the garden, I discovered that this was the first time he’d been able to take his whole family to the cinema.

5. As an artist, I know what it means to sell my work. Gratifying, validating and so encouraging. Buying from local artists is a great way start your own collection, add to somebody else’s and in making such a purchase, you are supporting the arts. Potters, painters, sculptors, jewelry makers, crafters could all do with your patronage. Hire a local musician to your next big event!

In this vein, the New York Art Students League is having their famous Holiday Art Sale. Lots of affordable art by emerging artists to be found here. Full disclosure – I have a painting in this show.

I’m also very proud to have my painting ‘Willow’ in the art show ‘Fragile Waterways – Protecting What We Love’ at TeaTown. All the art has been donated by local artists and 100% of the sales goes to the Croton River Stewards Fund.

6. Finally, the priceless gift of all – the gift of time. Spending money is all very well but one always has limits on budgets. However, giving of ourselves can be much better. Offering to help with a chore/project, going on weekly walks, meeting regularly to catch up over coffee/lunch/brunch/tea/dinner, setting up a recurring date to see art shows, concerts, plays or any other shared interest, promising to call/FaceTime/Skype someone who lives far away on a regular basis are all ways to show how much you truly care. Time, we know, is the most precious. Imagine what it would mean to the receiver.

‘Tis the season.

Wave Hill, NY
TeaTown’s Wildflower Island. Pink Lady’s Slippers
“Willow” my painting at TeaTown’s art show
“Dawn Over Rousillon” at the Art Students League’s Holiday show
Pumpkins and gourds galore at Rosedale Nurseries
NYBG annual orchid show
A glimpse of my products
A glimpse of my products

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Press Reset

The garden has been put to bed. Now what? Time to dream, hope, plan and get organized. But first, let’s get inspired. Winter is a good time to reboot our creative aspirations by quite literally getting away from the garden all together.

This month, in keeping with the festive spirit, I turn to the NYBG’s Holiday Train Show. This exhibit cannot fail to delight and get your spirits soaring. The sheer creativity with which the buildings are constructed of all natural materials easily foraged in the great outdoors is impressive. It will change the way you look at ordinary materials found in the garden and on walks in the woods. I’ve been going to this annual show since it first started and I’m still eager for it every year.

Invariably, a seasonal concert or two is on my December calendar. Music has transformative powers. I go to the opera and philharmonic concerts all year round but at this time, I’m hankering for music generally performed for the holidays. Not necessarily restricted to Christmas music but appropriate for the season of goodwill to all. This week, I’m going to the Chanticleer concert in NYC– acapella singing par excellence. I went last year for the first time and came away so uplifted. The music stayed with me for days.

I will end the month with the performance of arias at the Met Opera – what an inspired way to enter the new year!

In between the music, visits to the art museums is always in order. As an artist and gardener, there is so much to fire up the imagination. Be it a simple nudge from an Impressionist to consider a bench or a color theme for your garden to a gorgeous presentation of floral combinations from a Dutch still-life to a call for boldness and out of the box thinking from an Abstract, you are guaranteed to come away with inspiration for your own ‘canvas’. The effect is not always obvious but for certain you will be revived.

This month, I’m looking forward to the Metropolitan Museum’s new exhibits – Felix Vallotton, painter of disquiet, Making Marvels, science and splendor at the courts of Europe and, In Pursuit Of Fashion.

Similarly, trying new foods, new places, books and movies/TV have the power to teach and elevate. I have lists of movies/shows to watch, a pile of books to get through, a folder of recipes to try, and towns and nature preserves to explore on day trips – December is merely the start of what promises to be a season for growth and gain. For self and garden.

Note: I’m fortunate to live so close to NYC but I also believer in going local. Community theater, regional museums, galleries, music orchestras and bands can be top notch. Check your local paper for listings.

In case you’re still hankering for a garden to-do list, check out my December list.

The images below are from past forays for inspiration:

NYBG’s Enid Haupt Conservatory at the train show
From the Met’s Camp fashion exhibit earlier this year
From the fall 2019 TEFAF show
Woodland walk
My painting inspired by a hike
Color combinations!
Colors, shapes, patterns
a Persian meal – reminds me of how fragrance plays an important role!
How many whites can you discern?

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar