January Yearnings

I am a great believer in the seasons. Even here in my own world, I have no relish for sweet corn in January or strawberries in November.”

— Pearl S. Buck, My Several Worlds

January is for dreaming. About all things garden. These reveries are about the ideal horticultural scenarios. Perfect weather, perfectly well-behaved plants, perfect fruits and flowers … It’s how we envision our gardens to be. Without that fantasy, we could never find it in ourselves to garden. Gardening is risky! Weather and pests can put paid to all ones efforts. It’s the imagination that fuels a gardener’s ambitions. And an almost unhealthy dose of optimism/faith/whatever you choose to call it. Unlike farmers who are trying to feed the world, gardeners have a more selfish interest. We want the accolades – even if its only from a long-suffering spouse or neighbor.

Think about it. Aren’t we ever so proud when we hear “ that is the sweetest tomato I’ve tasted! ”, “ Such amazing roses!”, “ Such a perfect dahlia!”, “Wow! Are those tulips real?”, “ Your peonies are spectacular!”, “ This garden is a gem!”. Am I right? You can’t deny that you don’t feel mighty pleased. It’s no different from the ‘likes’ one looks for on social media. In both cases, it’s an addiction!

We constantly seek validation and approval. It’s a fact gardening-people! Just accept it.

And so, I’m doing my share of dreaming. The new plants I’m going to try – they are sure to impress. The flower arrangements that will adorn the house – bigger and better. The entire meals made from garden produce – most delicious ever. The lively garden parties perfumed by roses and jasmine – best soirées to get invited to.

There is no harm in dreaming. At the very least, it gets me through the winter blues. At best, the garden will benefit from my renewed enthusiasm and look delightful ( if not spectacular).

Start dreaming already! There are no rules or limits. And no one else needs to know.

Note: These are my current dreaming companions –

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Fringe Benefits

It’s the simple truth that plants don’t observe months and our passage of time and seasons; they sense the fluctuations in the environment and respond accordingly. Despite everything gardener do, they know in their hearts they are not in control of their horticultural realm. Nature is the ultimate commander-in-chief and the gardener adapts, adjusts and acquiesces.

This past weekend, while a large portion of the country got blasted by tornadoes, storms, ice and snow, here in my neck of the woods, we enjoyed spring-like temperatures of 65-68 degrees and glorious sunshine. By now, we typically have severe cold and snow accumulations on the ground so a normal January thaw is only a rise in temperature just enough to give some relief where a spike to just 50 degrees feels positively balmy.

Thus far this winter has been relatively harmless. So the 60+ temperatures is kinda alarming. Yet, what can we do about it? Enjoy it! So I did. Sitting outdoors and letting the sun hit my skin felt delicious. The landscape was stark but the atmosphere was joyous. The parks and trails were busy with hikers and bikers. Nary a glum face was to be seen. Admittedly, every now and then I felt a twinge of apprehension as though waiting for the other show to drop. Though in general, I made the most of this unexpected reprieve. Taking time to examine the leaves and grasses made iridescent in the sunshine. How they glowed in tints of ocher and russet! Basking in the warm caress of sunlight did this body and soul a lot of good.

Similarly, the ice-storm we experienced early last December was unseasonal. Too cold too early. We worried about damage to trees and other plants. Yet, in the light of day, the ice coated limbs sparkled in brilliant celebration. It was beautiful. I was filled with wonder and marveled at the icicles hanging from branches and eaves, the sculptural shapes of shrubs encased in ice, the general radiance and refraction of the sunlight on ice. Instagram abounded with Insta-worthy images of beauty bound in ice. Clearly, we were all struck by this alluring danger. For a brief period we were able to stop worrying and be present to the artistry of nature.

Last summer, we went through a hot, dry period. Desperately needed rain was not happening. The lawn started browning and the leaves of many plants began drooping. In fact, my apple trees shed much of their leaves in panic. I was torn between copiously watering in the immediacy of the situation and restraining that instinct by looking at the bigger picture of climate-change and the global shortage of water. In that pathetic scene of a raggedy looking plants, the native plants stepped up and bloomed and filled my heart. Their stoic hardiness was admirable. I had a perfect opportunity to not just take note of the flowers but to actually stop and observe their bold beauty and designs. It left me with a resolve to not only add even more natives to the gardens but to give them their due in gratitude.

While we wrestle with the climate-change happening at present and do our duty in slowing/halting its progress, it helps to find the moments that uplift and understand that nature is asking us to be attentive and appreciative no matter what. Even in adversity there is grace to be gleaned. Then perhaps, we will be in a position to rise with that phoenix as it emerges from the ashes of the global climate crisis.

From the ice-storm last December:

I didn’t take any photographs over last weekend’s Spring in January. Instead I did two quick watercolor sketches. Imagine, I got to paint outdoors in January!

From last summer’s heat wave(s):

The browning’ lawn’

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Greenish New Deal

I’m in a green state of mind. Garden dreams with eco-friendly schemes. Eat more leafy greens and fiber rich beans. Lower the thermostat, increase native habitats. Decrease plastic, opt for fabric. And so it goes.

In the course of enjoying the holiday season, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat appalled at the amount of waste and extravaganza our ‘traditional’ celebrations provide. For all the talk of the environment, climate change and mindfulness, when the holidays come along it’s as though we, as a community, give ourselves a free pass about all of that. No more – I’m planning from now for a much greener December 2020. Are you in with me? 20/20 vision indeed.

It requires some research to track down sources and products, more elbow grease, creativity and a curiosity to learn. What’s to argue about that right?!

So, here’s my list of green amendments thus far:

1. Holiday cards. For this last season, in a bid to cut back on paper waste, I chose to send custom e-cards. They were personalized by using an image of one of my watercolors. I did print up (in-house) a few of these cards to add special notes to certain friends and family. Admittedly, it felt weird to send e-cards – they don’t exude the same warmth. I did however feel better about saving paper, lowering carbon footprint etc.,

For this year, I’m going to source good, compostable paper to print my cards. Better still would be compostable paper with seeds embedded in them though I’m not sure that kind of textured paper can be used in a printer. Will just have to see!

Some of the pretty images of the cards received make lovely gift cards on presents. Simply cut out the images, punch a hole, thread a length of twine or cotton ribbon through it, write your message on the reverse side. Voila!

Note: Any paper with glitter cannot be recycled.

2. Wrapping paper. Again, use compostable or recyclable paper. However, I love the alternative of using fabric – leftover/remnant squares, scarves, tea-towels etc., In which case, the wrapping itself is a gift. Plain brown paper decorated with natural materials like leaves, pine-cones, acorns and berries make for stunning presentations. I save the pretty ribbons that come with gifts for future use.

Note: To determine if paper is recyclable use the quick ‘scrunch’ test. Scrunch up the paper into a ball. If it unfurls, then it is not recyclable. Again, no glitter allowed.

( That said, I must test my own line of wrapping paper on spoonflower.com Must make amends if found unsuitable)

3. Trees. Buy locally grown trees. Use those trees after the holidays by chipping them down to make mulch. Several towns including my own provide this service. Please do not bag the trees in plastic when moving them outside for disposal. Yes, it’s easier and less messy but you will feel so virtuous after you’ve done the extra work of vacuuming and done without the plastic.

Even better – buy living trees to plant out in spring. I’ve also been hearing about ‘rent a tree’ operations and that certainly sounds promising.

Due to my daughter’s allergy to the conifers, I’m happily free of this dilemma.

4. Decorations. Thankfully, most ornaments are either family heirlooms/keepsakes or a treasured collection. That makes them sustainable. When buying new decorations, choose ones made from foraged materials or of wood, glass or metal. Preferably created by artisans.

Keep wreaths and garlands natural as well. Any ribbons and baubles on them should be salvageable for reuse.

5. Food and drink. If you don’t have enough of your own plates, cutlery and glasses, you can rent from party rentals or purchase compostable options such as bamboo. No plastics!

Do your best and stick with local, organic, less packaged foods.

6. Gifts. I already go plastic free. In general, I try to think of gifts that are either experiences (think concerts, plays, museum memberships, movie passes), books, food or things that are truly needed/wanted by the recipient. I will continue to source local, artisanal products – this means planning well ahead and going to craft/art shows through the course of the year. That’s a fun and thoughtful activity to indulge in don’t you think?

I’d love to hear more ‘green holiday’ suggestions from you. Together we can do and be better. There is no planet B.

Note: I’m enjoying the Amaryllis and paperwhites I potted up. The anticipation of their blooms gives me shivers of delight. Fresh flowers from the market are a weekly indulgence. They keep me in a state of gratitude and well-being and spark up those gloomy days of winter.

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar