Mediation In The Meadow

The’ meadow’ in my small garden is one of my favorite spaces. Much goes on here – as the plants grow in and out of the seasons, the diverse creatures forage, hide and nest through out. Life happens here. There is a calm that that settles within whenever I spend a bit of time observing and being still in this space.

Since the meadow is really full of bulbs and mostly native plants and I have generally let it grow as it is wont to do, the work has involved only the periodic weeding of obvious thugs such as garlic mustard. In other words, I’ve been kinda lazy about it all. Over time, in my indulgence of its carefree existence, I’ve ignored the crowding that has emerged. This past weekend as I examined what plants were ready to take over from the camassia and alliums and what was emerging, I found myself searching and wondering where certain plants were. There ought to be more color present. The Chelone lyonii ( pink turtleheads) were looking strong, sturdy and preparing for summer flowering but where were the liatris that ought to start blooming about now? And what happened to the geums, echinacea, asters and ornamental grasses? The first had looked so sweet splashing their red earlier in May but were now swallowed up by more aggressive plants not all of which had been deliberately placed there. The rest were either clearly struggling to grow or had simply called it a day. A wake up call I could no longer ignore.

I see how the jewelweed has, without permission, become way too precocious. The wood anemone, drunk with the knowledge that I love it, has spread itself rather too freely. There are numerous other nondescript plants that I’m yet to identify that clearly do not belong here. Little bullies and squatters.

So my mission for the remainder of this month is to tackle the meadow. To get in there to pull out and thin out is daunting. I’m afraid to discover how many precious plants I have lost in my negligence and what critters I might be disturbing after giving them carte blanche in the meadow. Plus, I’m absolutely certain the mosquitoes will learn of my presence in no time at all. This is not going to be pleasant.

But, I must step up, own my indolence and make the necessary amends. It’s what any good, self-respecting gardener must do. Meanwhile. I’m distracting all viewers with baby robins, the roses, wisteria and emerging oak-leaf hydrangea. Even better, the climbing hydrangea is in full bloom and the fragrance is so heavenly that all thought to look at anything critically is forgotten. Perfect decoy.

Note: The images below compare the meadow in May and June. You can see how overgrown it looks in June ( with due diligence it does not have to look this way! My bad.)

May:

June:

Anemone take-over in progress

The worthy distractions:

Close-up. H. petiolaris

Climbing hydrangea

Oak-leaf hydrangea

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Power

It is the moment I yearn for all year long. The month of May in all her glory. Everywhere one looks there are flowers in bloom and more getting ready to join the show. The varied shades of green serve as a complex backdrop to all the other colors filling the garden. I cannot get enough of these days. Yet, all too often, as the year moves along, I find myself feeling I did not get my fill of the flowers and the garden in general.

This year, I have taken deliberate measures to give myself the time to revel in the beauty around. First off, I limited all commitments to only the essential. Then I pared down my interaction with those beloved, time-sucking electronic tools. “ Wander Where The Wi-Fi Is Weak” has become my new mantra. ( I got that from the Swedish Institute)

Those two actions alone freed me up to the point where I spent time admiring, observing and painting the flowers at leisure like I’ve never permitted myself before. It is possibly the best self-care for this or any soul in much need of temporarily and periodically escaping the horrors in the world and gaining perspective, peace and a better path to maintain balance in life.

The restorative power of time spent in nature cannot be over-emphasized or underestimated. It is free, powerful, highly palatable, immediately effective and, one cannot overdose on it. So, step into the garden and let it work its magic on you. Again and again and again.

Note: Here are some images from what’s blooming in my garden. Enjoy.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Day! May Day! May Day!

I can’t believe it’s May! Looking around the garden, spring is surely here but the flowers are a few weeks behind schedule. The protracted winter kept us waiting and yearning for its end so now that the season of growth has begun, I’m not complaining. Just as long as we are given a proper length of spring. As of tomorrow, for the next three days, we are expecting the temperature to spike up to 80+ degrees. Please lets not have all the spring flowers rush to bloom all at once!

The sight of plants coming awake is so exciting. I absolutely adore this anticipation of the spectacular displays to come. With my garden Open Day a mere three weeks away and TeaTown’s PlantFest less than two weeks away, there is tons of work to do. At double time. I’m juggling other work and garden work in a frenzied sort of way. When I’m working on one thing, I’m feeling the pressure of the other pending projects. The up side is that this will not go on forever. PlantFest will happen.  Open Day will come and fingers crossed, the garden will please the visitors. I’m also doing my best to appeal to the weather gods to bless us with fabulous weather.

In the midst of addressing all the work and responsibilities, I have been completely consumed by the robin’s nest below the kitchen window. I’d become the creepy stranger lurking around spying on an expectant mother. I took pictures constantly and every task that took me away from said window was resented.

Yesterday morning, as I made coffee, I watched the mama robin sitting calmly and patiently on her clutch of four eggs. Took a picture. She turned her head, cocked an eye upwards, indicating she was aware of me.

A half-hour later in my office upstairs, I noticed a couple of large crows flying past the window in front of my desk. Something about them made me uneasy but I had to carry on with the task at hand. About an hour later, I went back down to the kitchen and peered out. It was completely empty. No mama, no eggs. I could see a piece of blue egg shell on the ground. An avian home invasion had occurred.

I’m totally heartbroken. I realize it’s nature at work but this travesty happened in my garden and somehow I cannot help feeling like I failed in protecting the robins. If only the wisteria had begun leafing out as it would’ve normally, the nest situated within its limbs would have been better hidden. Perhaps if I’d stayed at the kitchen window, I could’ve shooed away the crows. If only …

Life, I know must and will go on. But I’m taking some time to mourn this loss. To send thoughts and blessings to that mother – to stay strong and try again soon at a safer site. And for what it is worth, I’m so sorry.

Last Saturday, to help me stay on track with my work ( without being distracted by the goings on in nests and such), I had sent off for a good outdoor camera ASAP. No, pronto, toute suite. It was to be set up so it could take photos of the nest round the clock. I wouldn’t have to miss anything. Sadly, that will no longer be necessary for this occasion.

Instead, I’m going to position the camera to take a series of shots that determine a time-line of sorts of how the meadow evolves through the seasons. Perhaps it’ll be interesting. Or merely prosaic. For the time being, it’s all I can emotionally handle.

Building the nest

Still building

Both parents

Four perfect eggs

Incubating

After the home invasion.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Bird Brain

It all started whilst standing in the kitchen at the cooking range – from the corner of my eye I noticed a flurry of activity outside the kitchen window. Turning to look, there was a robin with a beak full of fine pieces of twigs hopping around on the pergola directly below. Observing more closely, I spotted the nest. As though sited for my viewing pleasure, it sat nestled in the wisteria branches atop the pergola, giving one a perfect aerial perspective. Oh joy!

Watching nesting birds is one of my favorite pastimes. Here was that chance like no other. No climbing ladders, straining awkwardly or being stealthy – all that was needed was to stand at the window and look down. The nest is barely six feet below. Needless to say, this discovery took me completely away from all intentions to get my work done.

I was so loathe to leave for my trip to the Netherlands. Throughout my flight there I obsessed about the nest. Was it sited too visibly? Is it too easy for the squirrels o find? Would the afternoon sun hit it too harshly? And how about the rain? With reports of the heavy downpours yesterday, I’m anxious to find out. Oh the worries! I’m due back in a day so thankfully, the wait won’t be too long.

My walks in the Dutch country side have taken me through farmlands where I’m privileged to see cows with calves sticking close to their mamas, sheep with lambs that resemble balls of wool for the taking. Signs are posted making the public aware the this is an area that farms in a way that protects creatures that nest at ground level. Sure enough, I’ve discerned ducks in grassy fields sitting on what must be clutches of eggs. The farmers do not cut the hay the typical three to four times of the year. Instead, they do so only once. This allows wildlife to flourish. At any given time, some fields are left uncut and other fields are cultivated. Consequently, the yield may not be as high as we have come to expect from modern practices but, it is a comfortable compromise between man and animals. In time I heard enough bird song and became aware of sufficient activity that proved how well this policy was working. Did my heart a world of good. To take up modern ways is not always progress. Certain ancient principals have held up to time. To live and let live is one of them.

As I prepare to fly back home, I take with me a fresh resolve to assiduously support the wild life I have come to appreciate and depend upon.

Notice the robin with its beak full?

The Dutch countryside:

See the nesting duck in this field?

Protected birds here

‘Ekster’ – is the Dutch name of this bird

Ekster nest

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Coloring In Spring

April is National Poetry Month and despite the weather, it is spring. So, here you are:

Coloring In Spring

Entering the pale, cool amber

of the early vernal light

Greeted by avian chatter

half hidden in awakening arbors

Sensing the swell of the air

coming alive once more.

 

Shy hellebores blushing pink

mingle with virginal snowdrops

Gently illumine the garden

lifting the veil of mist

Revealing youth reborn

still damp with dew.

 

Bulbs from beneath the rich brown

nose through in sap green

Testing, feeling

if the time is ripe

Cups in amethyst, buttermilk and gold

unabashedly await visitors.

 

Peony spears hued in burgundy

reach upwards in slow gestures

Quick darts of cardinal red

punctuate brightening skies

Sunshine lifts the iridescence

of purple grackle feathers.

 

Robins in vests of rust

forage with blue coated jays

A truce of sorts reigns

Every being with singular purpose

Distinct colors fresh and new

ancient rituals timeless and true.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Note: In keeping with the season – Spring sprucing, Mother’s Day, bridal showers, weddings and parties are coming up.  Plan ahead. Check out Shop for gifts – note cards, The Printed Garden Collection of pillows, tea towels, napkins, placemats and runners. All profits help educate children with HIV at the Mukta Jivan orphanage.

Enjoy the spring images:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Child’s Play. Part II

Curiosity is innate to children. Nature is the best classroom and the most exciting playground. So, it stands to reason that we encourage our young to spend as much time as possible outdoors. On their own, little ones will explore and observe instinctively. They learn without even being aware. Toss in a nature loving adult into their mix and the learning possibilities grow exponentially. Engaging with nature benefits mind, body and soul. For everybody.

As we step into spring today, it’s the perfect time to introduce children to the entertainment and learning that awaits in the garden. What’s coming up in the garden? Snowdrops, hellebores, crocus, scillas are blooming. The hyacinths and tulips are piercing through the earth. Let the kids look closely at the colors, shapes, distinguish between the bulbs. The birds will start house hunting soon. Show the little ones how to identify the common birds, older ones can learn to use a bird guide and spot the not so common birds. Watching birds choose nesting sites is pure entertainment. They search, converse, bicker and finally settle on the location. Then, they work cooperatively to build the nest. Once the eggs are laid, the pair takes turns to sit on them till they hatch and work together to raise their babies. After all these years, I have not tired of watching this annual ritual.

I’ll say it up front. I’m not a fan of swing-sets in the garden. Those belong in playgrounds. A simple swing from a tree is plenty for a garden. The way I see it, having a swing-set tells a child that this is why they’re in the garden – to swing and slide.

Instead, I want a child to imagine and invent. Climb trees, hide in bushes, build forts from twigs, create villages for fairies and goblins, eat berries and sugar-snaps straight from the plants, recognize birds and their songs, pick flowers for a bouquet, tend and grow a plot of anything they want and earn that sense of pride that comes with it. The garden is a place for amazing interactions.

All sorts of science happens in the garden. Chemistry, physics, biology and how each works with the other can be demonstrated clearly right here. Nothing works in isolation. The branches of mathematics are all visible in the garden. Life follows the rules of mathematics.There’s enough information on the Internet to find fun ways to instruct science from what one sees and does in the garden so I don’t have to get into specifics. Suffice to say, Fibonacci numbers frolic openly in sight, energy is converted from light to chemical all day long and birds, bees and the wind assist and demonstrate procreation in all sorts of manner.

To get started and in keeping with the season, it is seed sowing time. With Easter and Passover coming up, eggs are having their moment. So, lets combine recycling the egg shells and starting seeds. Empty egg shell halves, washed and dried, are perfect ‘pots’ to start seeds. Fill each half with soil, dampen with a spritz of water and sow the seeds. Big seeds as that of sunflowers go in one to a pot while tiny seeds like radish can be sowed in threes. The ‘pots’ sit happily in the egg carton and can be easily monitored. When the seedlings are ready to be transplanted into the ground, one merely has to lightly crush the shell and plant it still holding the seedling. The growing roots can then break free through the cracked shell and the shell itself will eventually break down and enrich the soil with calcium. FYI – tomatoes love calcium.

Similarly, broken bits or ground egg shells can be used as mulch-fertilizer. Bonus – The albumen smell has been said to repel deer. The sharp edges of the shells deter slugs and snails. However, rodents are attracted to the same odor so do not use the shells in beds too close to the house!

All year round, I toss egg shells in the compost. The compost bin itself is one (literally) hot bed of activity that can teach a child plenty.

It isn’t just science, there is art, architecture, language ( those Latin/Greek names have meanings), history, geology, literature, geography … the wonders of life and all that supports it are there to be discovered.

Let’s loudly tell our children to “go outside and play!” . Watch them conquer the world.

Mark your calendars! My garden’s 2018 Open Day is May 19. 10 am – 4 pm.

Note : The pictures below were pulled at random but all hold interest and lessons for children ( and adults):

Planting bulbs in the fall

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Child’s Play. Part I

Private gardens in India are typically tended by professional gardeners. Garden owners might supervise but the real work is done by their hired help. As a child, I was given free reign in the garden where I would spend most of my waking hours. I learned a great deal simply by spending time outdoors. Observing bugs, tearing apart a flower to see its different parts, trying in vain to extract color from colorful petals ( I’d squeeze wet petals), waiting for a chrysalis to turn into a butterfly, learning from my mother to make tiny clay pots from mud, picking berries as they ripened and never leaving any for others – the list is endless.

I didn’t have any grown-ups who took it upon themselves to teach or guide me and the gardeners in the area were way too busy heeding their employers and going about their responsibilities. But, I did get to watch these gardeners from whom I undoubtedly absorbed some good gardening methods. I think I also got in their way frequently.

I’d collect pretty leaves and flowers in tins and pass many afternoons in the shade arranging and rearranging my treasures in patterns. I crushed fragrant leaves and flowers to perfume my hands and face before I learned about primitive cultures doing the same. I learned to identify edible herbs and often experimented with propagating plants from seed and cuttings. Waiting for fruits to ripen and determining that moment when they were ready to be picked was a responsibility I took seriously. Mind you, none of this was conducted scientifically. It was all play for me. I didn’t make notes or tell anybody. It was just how I enjoyed my time outdoors. Curiosity and imagination were my constant attendants.

I’d routinely get all sorts of insect bites and stings, cut my hands from handling thorny plants, scorch the soles of my feet by walking barefoot on stones made so hot by the mid-day sun, get my clothes mud-splattered and stained. Nothing kept me away from the garden – it was where I belonged. Instead, the mishaps were just as instructive as the happy discoveries. I learned to identify plants, insects and birds, treat my wounds and through trial and mostly errors, I taught myself to dye clothes with natural materials. My mother had her own opinions about some of my efforts.

Simply by spending unstructured time in the garden, my young mind learned an enormous amount of information. Children are naturally curious and the garden is the best classroom. Looking back, I see how all my subsequent choices and passions were inevitable. I was shaped by the garden. It raised me as much as all the important adults in my life. The garden is very much why and who I am today.

Based on my own history with the garden, I have many thoughts about children and the great outdoors. I will share that in Part II next week. Meanwhile, think about your own young selves and what gardens meant to you. An occasional walk down memory lane helps one gain fresh perspective.

Note –

I have some of my art works in a show at the Phyllis Harriman Gallery, NYC, the week of March 12, 2018. I hope you will visit! Reception is on Tuesday March 13 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.

Enjoy the photos below – taken some years ago at the garden show “Play In The Garden”  in Chaumont, France:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Lion Roared

March arrived baring teeth, roaring madly and with claws unsheathed. High winds and heavy snow wreaked havoc along the Northeast. Trees toppled like skittles bringing down power lines and making many roads impassable. There was widespread loss of power. At present, thousands are still without electricity.

Trying to make the most of the circumstances is a challenge. Sadly, storms have become more frequent and more fierce. We should be more prepared. Still, no matter how ready one is, it is never easy to reconcile with the destruction. When old giants lay uprooted it is always reason to mourn. Having homes damaged is particularly hard.

Given the mild month of February when plants were jolted out of their winter slumber and then assaulted by the recent storm, it’s hard to know what to expect this growing season. Weather-wise, we are apparently 20 days ahead of schedule. That is insane! Clearly, we are being called to pay heed and adapt accordingly. How precisely to do so needs serious consideration. Action needs to be swift. From amping up our environmentally conscious, sustainable practices to adjusting our planting and harvesting schedules, we must act. The evidence is clear and there is ample data to support climate change. So lets get smart about what we do.

Whilst still trying to recover from last Friday’s storm, another big one is expected tonight. Heavy snow is predicted. At this point, it is difficult to simply admire the beauty of the snowy landscapes. I feel for the flora and fauna that are vulnerable to all the climactic confusion. There will be a chain reaction and finally, we humans will feel the impact. Big time.

I don’t claim to know the solution. Is there a simple solution? I think not. But, this much I do know – we cannot maintain this status quo. Every single one of us must rise to the occasion. We each have a part to play. Becoming aware is a start. There’s plenty we can do – small changes and big ones too.

By now, we assume recycling, reusing and reducing waste is routine but unfortunately, that not true. I’m consistently shocked by the number of places I visit ( residential and public) where this easy principle is not implemented.

Eating what is seasonal, being mindful of carbon footprints, packaging and processing are other things we can adopt effortlessly.

Planting, growing and literally greening our properties is doable and satisfying. Be it planting trees or growing herbs in pots, every attempt is a step in the right direction.

But, lets think bigger. Stewardship of the land. Yes. I’m suggesting that we make our moves by looking ahead. Way ahead. Rather than plan our gardens for our own immediate and near future enjoyment, lets give future generations something truly valuable. A world in good health.

For those who lost trees and shrubs in the storm, view this as a new opportunity. By no means am I trivializing the loss. It hurts emotionally and financially to have such damages. Recognize and accept the pain. Every type of loss deserves a mourning of sorts. Whenever I had to bid goodbye to a tree, I’ve taken a bit of time and thanked it for its faithful service and wished it well. It is my way of reconciling with the loss and moving on.

Replace a tree with one that is native, deep rooted and appropriate in size and shape for the location. Deep rooted generally means it is also a slow grower. You may not be around to see it mature and majestic. No matter. A subsequent generation will benefit. And think of the many other creatures this tree will support and nurture.

Fast growing trees are typically shallow rooted and come down easily in storms. In nature, instant gratification is not a wise option.

If possible, plant more trees than you lost. Sometimes, the trees that fall have outgrown their location so, while losing them is sad, it can open up the garden to other planting possibilities. The area is now sunny and new beds can be installed. That’s exciting. A long harbored garden dream can come true!

It bears repeating that fallen trees can be re-purposed, they continue to serve well beyond their lifetime – think mulch, firewood, pavers, swing seats, benches and stump-tables. If location permits, leave the tree as is on the ground and let it become a haven for all sorts of creatures. A micro-habitat that results in eventually enriching the earth.

Go organic. Our children and their children do not need chemical laden soil. Organic treatments require due diligence and more effort than non-organic ones. But so worth it. Even with organic, one should be judicious. All treatments are non-specific so good bugs are affected as well. Therefore, in conjunction with organic practices, planting mostly native plants will be the correct thing to do. It’ll promote a healthy, robust garden.

Native plants are not as fussy or greedy about water and fertilizer. Less watering is good all around right? Right? And reduce the lawn size while you’re at it. Lawns guzzle water, fertilizer and pesticides to look pristine and lush. Lawns are the divas of the garden – everybody might admire her but nobody enjoys her needs and demands. Instead, let the lawn support a mix of other low-growing plants like clover and ajuga. Use only compost ( preferably homemade) to feed and mulch the lawn. This, along with maintaining the height of the grass at about 4 inches or higher will reduce the watering needs of the lawn.

All of these points are effective and achievable. Really.

When each of us honors our responsibilities,we make progress as a whole.

I might well be preaching to the choir here but perhaps saying what might seem obvious over and over will reverberate and be felt far and wide, This is after all the only home planet we have. We must protect and preserve if we are to prosper.

Note:

I will have some of my art works in a show at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery, NYC, the week of March 12, 2018. I hope you will visit! Reception is on Tuesday March 13 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.

Here are some of my favorite photos of trees:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Gardens Are Just Like Babies

Time and again, it has occurred to me that our relationship to our gardens parallel those we have have with our children. As special as we hold ones progeny in our hearts, if one were to be honest, the garden’s position seems to be no less to a true gardener. Lest you protest, let me state my case. However, I do believe you already know and concur my declaration to be true.

From the onset, yearning, planning, preparing for a garden is fraught with dreams, anxiety, excitement and impatience. All along, one receives lots of unsolicited advice and cautions about the endeavor. While there is a glut of information about the hows and whys, there is no exact blueprint or handbook – the creation and ‘upbringing’ of each garden is unique. They are all special.

As a gardener embarks on this venture and forever after, she/he does so with a level of insecurity matched only by the neediness for constant approval. We are infinitely cheered by any and all praise. Even the slightest hint of criticism is met with an unduly high degree of defensiveness. Yet, a gardener is always on the look out for counsel and advice that must by necessity confirm and condone his/her own current practices.

Gardening is both exhilarating and exhausting. We seem to consistently forget how hard the work is and create them anyway. We make sacrifices with our time, energy and money, put in long hours and provide constant care and attention often at risk to ones own health and well-being.

Gardening can be expensive but we are willing to shell out – after all, only the best we can provide will do. We indulge in providing for its needs generously, While we may complain about the work, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The business of tending the garden comes with enough variety to keep matters interesting. We make excuses when the garden is not up to snuff and yet, we are inordinately proud of it. As the garden grows, the work doesn’t let up; it merely changes to keep up with the new demands. We worry about our gardens endlessly. Even whilst away from it, there is the non-stop concern about how it is faring. We are well aware that merely looking away seems to give a garden license to get itself in trouble.

How a garden flourishes is taken as a direct reflection on ourselves. It is all taken personally. When it comes to how ones garden performs or is perceived, we are an acutely sensitive lot.

We love to talk about our gardens ad nauseam and consider them better than all others. Apparently a certain selective blindness afflicts all gardeners.

We judge other gardeners by how their gardens look and at the same time, we form amongst ourselves a support system so we can vent and cheer each other on.

Finally, we draw immeasurable satisfaction from raising a garden. There is nothing else quite like it. No wait, having and raising babies is exactly like that.

Note: The photos below are the creation of a community garden I designed some years ago .

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

February Fervor

February Fervor

Golden sunsets

part leaden skies

Frost and fire

earth shifts and sighs.

 

Wild, untamed

landscapes wait

Restless slumber

at Spring’s gate.

 

Crystal snow

melts in drips

Plumping roots

greening tips.

 

Flowing sap

send hearts aflutter

Weather and emotions

soar and splutter.

  • Shobha Vanchiswar

I’m dreaming of spring! Enjoy a few of the images from late February 2017 –

(c) 2018 Shobha Shobha