It’s Open Season!

My garden’s Open Day is this Saturday, May 18. I’m hard at work primping and propping the garden to get it looking it’s best for you. So, cancel everything else and come on over. I’d love to see you here!

I was in Evanston, Illinois this past weekend and even though part of that time it was cold and wet, I was struck by how much horticultural effort is put into making the heart of the city look attractive. Tulips waved madly in bright colors on traffic islands, pocket parks and around trees along the streets. So cheery and seasonal. And very easy to do. I’m eager to see what the next plantings of annuals will be.

But beyond the show of annuals, I observed that there is a thoughtful approach to infusing seasonal color and fragrance in the landscape through the use of perennials. A small park dividing a busy road, is bordered with hedges of viburnum. I smelled the park before I noticed it! The viburnums were in full bloom and the fragrance wafted far and wide. Pure heaven. As though reminding pedestrians to pause a moment and refresh the spirit – be present. What a lovely idea. Flower beds within the park abounded in tulips but there were many perennials emerging through. Three benches and a single sculpture completed this perfect oasis.

Swathes of Virginia bluebells carpeted several other green spaces for the public to enjoy and under many hedges I noticed abundant lily-of-the-valley leaves unfurling in readiness for the sweet bells of white to perfume the days ahead – subliminally cheering the outlooks of passers-by.

I had hoped to visit Millennial Park in Chicago and take in the plantings but my schedule did not permit it. Instead, I got to experience the glorious efforts of a much smaller city that could match its big neighbor handily. My well is full.

Note : Enjoy some images of plantings in Evanston. I look forward to seeing you in my garden this Saturday!

Depending on which device you are reading this, some images appear on their side. I have no idea how to fix it. My apologies! Also, the pocket park appears expansive in the photos – it isn’t in reality!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

There Are Gnomes In The Garden!

Gnomes. Makes you recall those all too familiar, garishly painted figures with pointy hats right? While these spirit creatures hark back to the 17th century and earlier, their presence today is viewed as somewhat naive and old-fashioned. Like gazing balls, they recall earlier times and are not commonly seen in today’s gardens. Truth be told, I myself have never been taken by them.

That is, until I recently came upon a modern take on gnomes at the Sullivan galleries in Chicago where highly talented, emerging ceramist August Brosnahan was debuting his gnome collection. And the creatures were getting a lot of attention and interest. Here is how Brosnahan describes his work –

I am interested in human interactions with objects and how objects help us relate to the world around us. Whether it be the handle of a mug or the facial expression on a figurative sculpture, these objects have unsaid and sometimes unnoticed methods of guiding us through spaces. Humans spend a tremendous amount of time interacting with clay and ceramic objects. I believe that humans have deep-seated connections with ceramics, more so than other materials, due to the rich history we share with clay. This mindset is central to the form and presentation of my work as I create intimate connections between viewers and the object.

Another element that is central to my practice is my love for walking. I have recently distanced myself from the white-walled gallery as I spend hours in forests and fields. A notable example of this is my ongoing series, “Gnomes.” I create small personified objects that preferably exist in an outdoor setting. Multiples of these objects create a community that viewers can interact with by walking through the same space that the gnomes exist in. I activate the space that the viewer is standing in rather than a space that the viewer is looking at. With my work I hope to re-invigorate the overlooked spaces of our day-to-day lives.”

I have long championed sculpture in the garden. Art in an outdoor space adds a new dimension and there is a shift in context that enriches the experience as opposed to seeing the same sculpture indoors. At this particular art show, I could clearly imagine how they might transform a garden or park. My curiosity to actually see that happen led to inviting the artist to show some of his work at my garden on Open Day.

So, five pieces were carefully packed and shipped to New York. I worked with Brosnahan on siting the gnomes in the garden and I’m really excited to share them with visitors on May 18th.

Meant for outdoor spaces, the seemingly whimsical pieces urge the viewer to consider the dynamics between all the elements in a space. The ceramic gnomes make one aware that there is an energy and presence beyond that which we can physically see or feel. They appear to blend into the background and yet, manage to surprise and be noticed. These sculptures maintain continuity in the human history of personifying natural and designed spaces. The impact is subtle and fresh. A modern twist to an old tradition.

Several weeks ago, I hinted that I was working on a new project in the garden – just for Open Day. This is it! I look forward to introducing you to the gnomes. See you in the garden on May 18.

Note: Open Day is less than two weeks away!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Garden Things

I’m in the thick of garden fever. Open Day is less than three weeks away. When I’m not actually in the garden, I’m thinking about it, perusing garden literature or talking about it. So much to consider – chores, plants, tips, new-to-me information, weather, wildlife, one’s own limitations ( physical, budget, time…), successes and failures. It’s never ending and I realize how tedious this can be for a non-gardener. A friend asked recently why gardeners always talked about the amount of work, the perils, trials and tribulations and then insisted on continuing the activity of gardening. How could I possibly convince her that those things are all part of the joy of gardening?!

It’s always exciting to learn something new and I’m happy to share. Maybe everybody is aware already but I discovered only recently that fritillaria are closely related to lilies. That in itself doesn’t make one sit up but here’s the reason to pay attention – they are just as attractive to the pretty but vile red lily beetle. Ugh. I’d all but stopped growing lilies because those horrid insects would always show up to ruthlessly decimate them. Now I have to worry about the many fritillaria I’m so happy to grow in the garden. Oy vay.

The somewhat low height ( 5 feet) at which the bluebird house is set up leaves it vulnerable to predators that can easily scramble up the metal pole to access the eggs/babies. It is worrisome and yet, the bluebirds prefer that open, low location. A coating of automotive grease along the length of the pole and over the copper covered roof helps enormously in deterring snakes, cats and squirrels. An easy solution like this always pleases me – fingers crossed it works.

All the stakes and supports are put in place before the plants are fully grown and it gets complicated to support them discretely. I also see this as a way to show the plants that I believe in their ability to reach their highest potential. Sly horticultural psychology.

Over the years, the labels marking the assorted apple and pear trees of the espalier had faded. It’s so easy to get lax about keeping things such as labels in order. At the espalier, it is particularly relevant to see which tree is bearing fruit and which is not. It might simply be an academic sort of accounting but I believe good gardening should come with a sound knowledge of what’s going on everywhere in the garden. I’ve now relabeled the fruit trees and must admit to an undeserving amount of satisfaction.

In my bid to tweak things a bit, I’ve moved around an object or two, refreshed a couple of walls with a lick of paint and replaced a feature with another. In the process, my own spirit has been tweaked and I’m in a much better frame of mind. Go figure.

And so it goes. Seemingly small investments of time, energy and resources but with nice dividends.

Note – Open Day is May 18th!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Flowers

Almost overnight there’s been an explosion of blooms in these parts. The forsythia are having their spectacular moment with the magnolias keeping up rather impressively. And oh! the cherry blossoms! Taking the back roads to get around might be slow but the views of what’s doing in the countryside and private gardens are so worth it. I’m now about two inches taller from pausing to crane my neck to see more of what’s blooming over walls and fences. Undoubtedly, my car’s license number has been noted as it crawled suspiciously and even halted in front of some very grand homes with majestic gates and grounds. It must’ve looked like I was casing the neighborhood. I did stop short of taking photos lest they called the cops. All those gorgeous sights are now only in my head. Sigh.

About forsythia – in my humble opinion, they should never be neatly trimmed. They look their best when the sprays of flowers are naturally free and artistically unruly. The bohemians of the season.

Back in my own Eden, the hellebores continue to shine. The meadow is beginning to come alive with the minor bulbs. The snowdrops are fading but the scillas, crocuses and hyacinthoides are gently taking over. Early daffodils are in bloom and that shot of gold through the landscape is pure joy. Each day brings new bounty.

The freshly planted pansies have the sweetest faces – one cannot help but smile in response. In short order the primroses will be vying for attention. I’m also anticipating a blue-ing in the meadow – grape hyacinths, forget-me-nots, ajuga, iris reticulata … with white violas, and yellow daffodils and dandelions as counterpoint. That’s right, I said dandelions – they are not weeds in my meadow. Instead, they not only look like diminutive suns but they are some of the earliest sources of nectar for hummingbirds. So, get over your bias people!

Last Saturday was unseasonably mild and by Sunday, all sorts of plants had greened up and flowers popped open. It’s lovely to be given this chance to closely examine the beauties – all too soon, there will be such a profusion that it’ll be hard to keep up with the chores and linger around gazing at the blooms.

For now, I’m happily basking in the glow of early spring. With an occasional mojito in hand. Simple pleasures.

Note: Remember -My Open Day is May 18!

 

That last photo was taken at the NYBG last Saturday. It’s usually about 10 days ahead of my garden.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Springing Into Action

March left like a lamb. April showers came a day early. Work in the garden has commenced. And boy, does it feel good!

The snowdrops are setting the tone that it’s time to get up and get busy. With the other bulbs pushing their way up and the hellebores unfurling their petals, I’m following their cue and forging ahead with my to-do list. This past weekend provided the perfect weather to do so.

On Saturday, it was sunny and warm. The first opportunity thus far to get outside and remain there. It was glorious.

The large pots have been freed of their winter wrap of plastic and burlap and now stand ready to serve.

The peonies are barely poking through but the supports are already in place – once they start, the growth is rapid and knowing the cages are there frees me up to focus on other time-sensitive work.

The winter had loosened up some of the copper caps off the front fence posts so those got tended to.

The outdoor furniture was brought out making possible spontaneous al fresco meals and generally marking porch time every time the opportunity presents itself. It’s so exciting to think about the warmer months stretching ahead.

The gentle rain on Sunday morning was ideal to plant in the just-arrived buddleia ( Buddleia davidii Buzz ‘Soft Pink’) in the perennial beds. Got the two hellebores I’d received as a gift planted as well. Spent hyacinth bulbs that I’d forced for winter pleasure, were put in the ground – in unobtrusive areas where their floppy, yellowing leaves will not detract the eyes from enjoying the spring flowers coming into bloom.

A house for bluebirds was put up – I really want them in my garden. Fingers crossed. I’m hoping the native plants in the open space of the meadow will do the trick.

The entire circulating system for watering the vertical garden was flushed, cleaned and restarted. It feels like the proper signal to start the gardening season.

Two roses were pulled out. One, a climber, had been killed off by the winter before last but I kept it just in case it revived – not so. The other, a David Austin ‘Heritage’, seems to have reverted to its root-stock variety and was also doing poorly. Their replacements arrive this week. I’m excited to see how the new varieties will do.

From now on there is much to be done. Something(s) or other will need doing every day and occasionally it feels daunting. But, this is what a gardener dreams of all through the winter – it’s now time to make those visions and plans a reality. Plus, I have a hard deadline of May 18 – Open Day. So, there’s no time to waste and lets hope the weather cooperates. I am however determined to devote some time every day enjoying the garden. The sights, the smells, the sounds. After all, to have a garden might be a big responsibility but it is also a mighty big privilege. Lets not take it for granted.

Note – The New Horizons art show at the Greenwich Botanical Center Gallery starts today! It continues through April. Reception is on April 14, 2 – 4 pm. I hope you will stop by.

Here are images of what’s doing in my garden right now :

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Unfurling hellebores

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First daffodils –

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Bulbs pushing through in the meadow –

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RIP to the roses the garden is losing – the Heritage rose and the New Dawn. They served this garden very well –

 

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

 

 

Anti-Inflammatory Measures

Turmeric is trending. The It (spice)girl of the moment. Like me, turmeric originates from India/the sub-continent. Growing up, its ubiquitous bright yellow presence in Indian cuisine was unremarkable and yet, it was unthinkable to omit it in a recipe.

It was only as a freshman in college, during a microbiology course, I learned about its bactericidal properties and its role consequently in food preservation and cosmetics. Suddenly, I understood how significant a spice this was. That my ancestors had discerned its importance so long ago was remarkable.

I shall not expound on the many superpowers attributed to turmeric because all that info is out there on the Internet. I myself use it regularly in cooking. It is a vital ingredient in my go-to tonic whenever I need to fortify myself – a strong, hot infusion of turmeric and fresh ginger. An ancient remedy but oh so au courant. Ha, I’m trendy by default.

Because of its brilliant hue, turmeric is easily adulterated. It therefore pays to be cautious about where one obtains it. Additionally, look for organically grown sources.

On my visit to the Mukta Jivan Orphanage this past Christmas day, I was given a bag of turmeric root. The rhizomes had been cleaned, boiled and dried. What remained was the grinding and sifting. At MJ, turmeric and all other produce are grown organically. It is for their own consumption and not commercial distribution.

I brought the bag of innocuous looking bits of dried roots to my father’s cook/culinary wizard Indira. She knew exactly what to do. Over the span of a morning, she ground up the roots, sifted carefully and produced a sizable bowl of vivid gold powder along with a pair of deeply stained hands. The aroma of turmeric is not overpowering but it is distinct. Such an amazing sight.

Whilst in Mumbai, I had the opportunity to visit a gated community of sorts. Located a couple of hours away from the city, it is a development of homes designed to be either second homes or retirement residences for the upper middle-class. This is a growing trend. Little oases in the midst of rugged, rural terrain. As contrived as they are, they are quite lovely once you’re inside those high walls. Attractive, large homes surrounded by well designed, well maintained lush greenery. An escape for the harried city dweller at many levels.

The one I visited is mindful of the environment and applies only organic methods. Water for the plants comes from a rain catchment. All the produce from the large, enclosed vegetable garden and the assorted orchards ( papaya, banana, almonds etc.,) are shared by the residents. I think this could be a good blueprint for communities everywhere and all new developments ought to incorporate such a plan. At a time when families are pressed for time and find it hard to fit in all the responsibilities of keeping a vegetable garden, shared or allotment gardens would be ideal. It will no doubt foster a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common philosophies, practices and produce. Children will learn about where their food comes from and enjoy the benefits of nature and an active community.

I wished I’d had more time to engage with the gardeners and learn further about their methods, challenges and such. Next time I will.

Back home in New York, I’m facing the reality of January. Cold and more cold. Possibility of snow later in the week. To bolster my spirits, the hyacinth bulbs cooling in the refrigerator since October’18, have been potted up. Watching the bulbs grow and anticipating the fragrant flowers will keep me in a positive state of mind. One cannot ask for more.

Turmeric!

Turmeric plants. The vegetable garden in the gated community.

The vegetable garden

Note the papaya trees just outside the fence.
A gourd left in the sun for the seeds to ripen

Banana grove

A residential garden

The terrain beyond
My hyacinths

NOTE: My participation in “Winter In America” at Gallery 114 continues. If you’re in the area, please visit!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar




Breathtaking

I’ve just returned from a trip to India. A family reunion took me there and it was wonderful. Naturally, I also made sure to visit the children at Mukta Jivan Orphanage ( I shall be posting abut that on the Lucky Ones page soon). Overall, this was a time of connecting and reaffirming love and support. I am so grateful for it all.

However, ( you knew a ‘but’ was coming right?) there was something else that kept us company the whole time. The air quality in Mumbai was just awful. The haze that hung over the city could not be ignored as breathing in these conditions was hampered. It surprised me that people seemed unconcerned and even a marathon was held. When I said something about it, one person responded – “ One gets used to it and eventually, our lungs get stronger”! Yikes!

Meanwhile, we spent our time coping with runny noses, severe hacking, dry coughs and wearing masks when we went out. The air-purifier we used inside showed red ( poor air quality) all the time; At best it changed to purple briefly.

It cannot be emphasized enough that this is a serious problem and only getting worse. Globally.

I’m happy to be home and breathing significantly cleaner air. At the same time I ask, will this always be so? Not if we don’t do everything we can to make it so. Globally.

This is not a geographical or partisan or socioeconomic crisis. Every single one of us is responsible and affected.

I know I don’t need to elaborate further – you know to take action. Do something! Every effort makes a difference.

I’m not going to post any photos. Instead, I’m sharing two “Climate Change” poems I wrote in 2016 and 2011 respectively

Getting Dressed Down

Sans fur or feather
We dress and groom
In borrowed leather
simulated plumes

Petroleum skirts
pairing cork-wood pumps
Costly cotton
Skims shapely bumps

Decrying the heat
Denouncing the snow
Unexpected storms
Rage and blow

Plunder and pillage
for earthly looms
Shifts falling rain
loam to dunes

For rare material
We quest and lust
So our children inherit
mere diamond dust.

Climate Change

Kangaroo floods leap across miles
Yankee storms hit with power
Aztec earthquakes sacrifice young lives
Norse volcanoes conjure blinding smoke.

Sumatran tsunamis wash countless souls
Bantu droughts parch migrating throats
Peking skies mark mankind’s limit
Polar icebergs diminish penguin turf.

Climate change at full throttle.

Note: I’m thrilled to have a painting in the juried art show “Winter In America” .The exhibit runs January 3-February 2, 2019. If you’re in the area, I hope you will visit it.

1100 NW Glisan

Portland, Oregon 97209

503-243-3356

www.gallery114pdx.com 

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Peace On Earth And All That Jazz

It’s a time of celebration this week – joy, peace, love and goodwill. Are you feeling it? I’m not. There is just too much external noise distracting me. To be honest, I’m aware of being sorta unsettled and anxious. As though I’m waiting for calamity instead of calm and quiet. This is absolutely no way to be. So I’ve decided I wont.

And I’m going about it the only way I know how. By connecting to the earth. A simple stroll in a garden or the woods channels my attention to the present. I set off with a head cluttered with the news and state of the world but as I walk, a subtle shift occurs. At the beginning, I walk briskly to get my blood flowing. As I warm up, I draw deep breaths of the fresh, cold air and I become aware that my shoulders have begun to relax. As though a weight has been lifted.

My eyes take in the surroundings, The ribbons of sunlight cascading through the fretwork of bare branches above cast a radiant glow on the forest floor. I observe the squirrels making madcap dashes in seemingly random manner – it’s no wonder they forget where they’ve stashed their nutty treasures. The birds appear more organized and chatty and I get the feeling they communicate with each other to make whatever it is they’re doing more enjoyable. I can relate to that communal spirit.

Against the present starkness of the deciduous trees, the pines and firs take on the role of chief color givers. Their shades of green range from the blue-green to the yellow-green. The blue spruces to the variegated cedars. I understand their importance in the landscape much better now. They prevent the winter from looking bleak and foreboding. And after a snowfall, they are the ones to provide us with that quintessential image of the season. Picturesque and comforting.

I become so lost in my surroundings that it comes as a surprise that I’m almost back home. I feel like a new person. Uplifted and energized, I’ve rediscovered my true north, I’m ready to embrace the demands of the moment – that of taking pleasure in the company of family and friends. Renewing and reaffirming our bonds of love and friendship. In the end, this is all one has and all one wants. The rest is just noise. Tune it out.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

This Unjealous Heart

I’m currently about as far removed from my garden as I could possibly be. In almost equatorial conditions, I’m feasting my eyes on plants that I couldn’t even remotely consider growing. Last week I was in Singapore and this week I’m basking in Phuket, Thailand. Yes, somebody has to live the tough life.

Everywhere I look I see the kind of specimens I only get to see in the conservatory at the New York Botanical Gardens. Things are lush and luscious here. It is also incredible hot and humid so don’t start envying me too much.

What I’m particularly delighted with is seeing plants growing as nature intended. Orchids emerging from the ground or from niches in trees and rocks rather than pots. The same with Birds of Paradise and Lobster Claw plants. The flamboyant flowers of the Tropics that we only get to see at the florist are thriving happily – they are as common as our asters and coneflowers. Frangipani trees festooned with flowers perfume the nights. The heat heightens the fragrances of all the plants.

The ultimate pleasure of such an experience, in my mind, is the wholehearted joy I can take in it without even a drop of envy. It is kind of like going to the museum and viewing masterpieces – I can be inspired and enraptured but I do not covet. The same is true here. As I cannot dream of growing these beauties back in my zone 6 garden in New York, I am not disheartened in any way.

This is so freeing. Unlike visits to gardens back home where one is prone to compare and contrast them to one’s own, there is no such pressure here. I feel neither inadequate nor greedy. I can simply observe and enjoy. Now there’s a state of mind I ought to seriously cultivate.

On that note, I leave you with some glorious images of flowers and a few rather impressive trees. This time next week, I’ll be back in my own garden. Yanking away at weeds no doubt.

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(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Summer Nights

Summer nights are sensory experiences. Evoking our primal conncection to the natural world. Taking us back to a time when we lived by what was happening around us. Perhaps it is why we still feel the magic of summer nights – when we reestablish our place in the larger scheme of things.

Like me, I hope you too are taking every opportunity to savor these ephemeral, nocturnal pleasures in the garden.

Summer Nights

Wrapped in the thick air
heavy with heat
laden with moist
Watching fireflies
mimic the stars
against black velvet
Serenaded boldly
by tree frogs
and crickets
Fanned from on high
wings of bats
on purposeful sorties
While night moths
answer service calls
of moonflowers
and gardenias
Spicy notes of phlox
rise with the night
perfumed with clove,
oil of bergamot
essence of rose
Lulled into
well being
content to remain
greet the dew
of a new day.

Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Brugamansia flowers awaiting moths in the dark of the night.
Brugamansia flowers awaiting moths in the dark of the night.

 

Summer phlox

Summer phlox

 

White flowers illuminating the dusk in my friend Ron's garden.

White flowers illuminating the dusk in my friend Ron’s garden.

(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar