Painting In The Plantings

All Gardening Is Landscape Painting’ – Alexander Pope

It’s become something of a tradition to have a group of artist friends spend a day in June painting and bonding in my little garden. This year, it happened last Saturday. The weather was perfect. Neither hot nor cold in temperature, the air was dry, sunny with a few white clouds … like I said, perfect.

I have often said that the garden is my muse. My painting, poetry and all other writing is inspired by the garden. How and what I choose to cook, the décor of my home and much of my taste in clothes is influenced by nature – her seasons and colors. Heck, even books or movies set in a garden or about one stand a good chance of being picked up by me. So, it’s always exciting when others are inspired to create in my garden.

All the artists come up from New York city so, they notice the air quality, the clarity of light, the colors that abound, the sounds of myriad birds, the fragrances swirling around – everything. Things that I’m so used to and often take for granted are newly appreciated as I observe their responses and delight.

From the hues of fallen petals to the shapes of flowers to the patterns of leaves to the shifting shadows to the juxtaposition of stone and plant, I see it all through their eyes. As an artist myself, I appreciate the way they see my garden. As a gardener, I’m humbled by their appreciation and sensitivity to the thought and design of my horticultural creation. After all, the garden itself is my personal, never ending, forever evolving work of art. Having the artists here is a valuable critique session of sorts.

What view or plantings each of them selects to paint and how they interpret what they see is eye-opening and exciting. It feels to me I’m learning to see my own garden in a whole new way. Remarkably, this happens to me every year! A reboot. It is gratifying and instructive.

Through good gardening, we reconnect with nature and remedy some of the harm we humans cause to our natural environment. In the process, the gardener hopes to create something beautiful and useful. Artists have always observed, studied and imitated Nature. They give astute commentary to what is going on in the world.

I am the happy beneficiary of feedback from gardeners and garden lovers on my Open Day and then again from artists ( a few are gardeners as well) on Painting Day. Taken together, I am the one most enriched – making me a better gardener and artist. That’s priceless.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Weather Perfect

A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves.” Marcel Proust

Ah, Open Day has come and gone leaving me with a sense of relief, well-being and satisfaction. The weather was perfect. After three straight years of cold, wind and rain on Open Day, this exquisite day was well overdue.

The sun shone bright, the air was dry, the temperature was ideal – not hot, not cold, a gentle breeze prevailed and the garden was filled with the buzz, tweets and hums of bees, birds and butterflies. The flowers rose to the occasion and shone bright and beautiful. I could not have asked for any better.

It is almost impossible not to respond positively to weather such as that. There is an imperceptible yet powerful shift in one’s mood and outlook. For myself, it felt as though a new energy had moved into my body. Being outside in the garden felt so right. There was no other place to be. No bugs biting, no jackets weighing me down, no sweat to wipe off and, best of all, no chores to do. This was as good as it gets.

It was the perfect weather to share the garden. And the garden looked its best despite the cold and rain it had endured thus far this spring. Several plants were lagging in their bloom time but the others stepped up admirably. Every visitor arrived with happy spirits and curious minds. Of the 100 or so visitors, I did not encounter a single person with the slightest hint of negativity.

As much as I love sharing my garden, I adore meeting other gardeners and garden lovers. I learn so much. This time, I picked up on a new-for-me nursery to check out, a few gardens I must visit, a book to add to my summer reading, enjoyed several good laughs, received feedback on my own garden and made new partners in horticultural-crime. At the end of the day, I was so much the richer – in heart and head.

Under such ideal conditions, it was inevitable that the best conversations ensued, strangers became friends, and for the one brief day, all was well with the world. Marcel Proust was so right.

A heartfelt thank you to all who made this Open Day a resounding success. Visitors, volunteers, friends and family – nothing is possible without you.

Note: Here are lots of photos for all those of you who failed to show up!

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Friends from Chicago

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

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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

Waxing Poetic

It’s a busy, busy time in the garden but I cannot let April go by without honoring it with poetry. It is National Poetry Month after all.

Deflowering Spring

The earth blushed cherry pink

Even as the forsythia glowed yellow

From innocent fresh born

to fertile maiden

In the flutter

of butterfly wings.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Cleaning

Sweep away detritus

Winter’s wild remnants

Prune roses

June’s dress code

Straighten borders

Summer edges to spill

Outside order

Inside peace

Clearing, cutting

Room to breathe deep

Opening, widening

Mind broaden fast

Plants get bigger

Spirits grow higher

Colors multiply

Senses infused

Days lengthen

Smiles brighten

Outdoor classroom

Paradise within

Shobha Vanchiswar

Colors Of Rain

It rained cherry pink today

Drenched in pleasure

I walked on rafts of petals

floating on rivers of grass.

I predict tomorrow

it’ll drizzle pear white

Washing away footprints

leaving behind confetti flowers.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Note: Open Day is May 18. My garden as well as Rocky Hills will be ready and waiting for you!

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(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

Sunday In The Garden

Last Sunday was a gift to this impatient gardener. Bright and sunny, temperatures in the mid-60s and a garden just waiting for a do-over. No bugs trying to feed on me, no place else to be. This was heaven.

With the scillas, hellebores, early crocuses and Abeliophyllum distichum ( white forsythia) in bloom, it felt as though I had a cheering squad. The air was gently scented by the Abeliophyllum – a bonus!

So many chores got done. The front lawn was scratched up, reseeded and layered over with compost. Lets hope no destructive rains occur till the grass comes up. A daily sprinkle for about an hour would be mightily appreciated.

A trip ( the first of the season! ) to my favorite nursery resulted in a host of plant purchases. A few perennials like Jacob’s Ladder, lungwort, unusual looking ajuga, dianthus and sweet woodruff, annuals such as pansies, nemesias and lobelias, potager must-haves – beets, Swiss chard, arugula, kale, lettuce. I helped myself to herbs as well – lavender, hyssop, lovage, bronze fennel, sage, thyme, tarragon, parsley, cilantro and one that I plan to use extensively through the spring and summer – Mojito mint. Yes, that is exactly what it is called.

The spring window-boxes were put up – daffodils, tete-a-tete and pansies. Urns and planters in various locations in the garden now sport similar plants to tie in the whole look.

The new ajuga accompany two young Japanese maples (also picked up at the nursery) in a large, copper container by the front door. The plan is for it to look elegantly understated through the seasons. I also stuck in some muscari to give it an early pop of color. Nothing flashy though – the window-boxes above take care of that. The urn nearby, also on the front porch, will echo both with its mix of the pansies and muscari.

The vegetables are esconsed in their bed looking fetching in diagonal rows in hues of deep plum, bronze and greens. The herbs are in terracotta pots that will go on the ‘herb wall’ but for now, until the weather truly warms up, they sit in the greenhouse biding their time.

My cherished Anduze pots with boxwood balls were brought out of the greenhouse and placed in their appropriate sites. Should a frost be imminent, they will be easy enough to protect with fleece and burlap. Other plants in the greenhouse will be brought out in a couple of weeks.

On the vertical garden, some ferns we had overwintered in the vegetable plot under a cover of burlap were put back on the wall. Fingers crossed this experiment will prove successful. If so, it’ll be a good development in our quest to preserve the ferns through the winter.

By days end, I felt so exhilarated. Good progress under very work-friendly circumstances renders a most delicious sense of satisfaction. At the same time, my muscles were tired and the back was sore. A hot shower followed by a tall mojito ( with eponymous mint ) in the embrace of a comfortable, plush chair was well deserved. I sincerely hope that said mint can keep up with all the drink orders to come.

Note: My Open Garden Day is May 18.

The reception to the New Horizons exhibit is this Sunday, April 14.

 

(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

 

 

 

 

Keep It Simple

I can feel the quickening. We turned the clock forward last Sunday. The temperature got close to 50 degrees yesterday. While its back to the 40s today, Friday looks promising – it could get as high as 60 degrees! Yes, I can sense winter’s grip loosening.

With that comes an almost overwhelming awareness that much needs doing in the garden. Especially if there is an upcoming occasion for which it must look tip-top. My garden Open Day is looming large. May 18 might still seem a bit far off but given the myriad tasks involved, the uncertainty of the weather and most significantly, my other commitments both personal and professional, that available time is shrinking. Between project deadlines and celebratory occasions, I must squeeze in the garden work. I’m feeling excited and apprehensive all at the same time. It’s a good problem to have.

To mitigate unnecessary stress and frustration, my focus is to simplify. I have nothing to prove. I don’t have to pretend to be super-anybody. I decided to skip starting plants from seed – my schedule just doesn’t have the time to tend to them this year. Instead, I’m getting young plugs of native plants to add to the meadow and vegetable plot. Even for that I was beginning to get anxious about getting them all planted before open Day till I thought more calmly and realized that the plants for summer and fall can most assuredly wait till after that day.

The bones or hardscaping of the garden are already in place. So, there is a sense of order and flow to the design. Some features are focal points and others are backdrops to the plantings which are the true stars. To shine that light on the plants, I’m sticking to a less is more attitude. Less variety, more numbers of the plants. Taking my cue from those stunning swathes of snowdrops or fields of poppies one sees in Europe, I’m going to plant in larger groups and have these groups complement each other. This should highlight forms, colors and texture to the meadow giving it a cohesive and distinct character. I hope.

Spatial identity for the garden is important and by keeping it simple and timeless, the different areas remain unique yet work together as a whole.

Keeping it simple, does not mean bland or generic. This is where details matter. Sculptures, pots and other features like fountains, troughs and seating bring style and personality. These can change or evolve as one desires. There is a certain feature I’m working on for this year – I’m hoping it will all come together in time for May 18. If not, it will be by next year. I’m not going to stress myself out. However, my fingers are crossed.

In the early years, I prided myself on doing as much if not all the work by myself. I had fewer responsibilities and obligations. And a whole lot more youthful energy. These days, I’m happy to bring in some help. What the English refer to as a jobbing gardener – someone who comes in when extra chores or heavy work needs doing during the season. It has made my life so much more manageable. Now, if I’m in the throes of meetings and appointments, I can still get those time sensitive garden jobs addressed. Such a relief. No sense in trying to do too much in too little time. I just wish I’d understood that much earlier instead of all the pressure I used to put on myself to act as though I was superwoman.

As Isaac Newton put it – Nature is pleased with simplicity. And nature is no dummy. And now, neither am I.

Note:  I’m currently busy with my second collection of the Printed Garden products. I’m sharing with you some of the pillow samples. The square pillows are 18×18 inches and the rectangular ones are 14×20. I would love to hear your thoughts ( favorites?) about them. So please drop a line or two in the comments column! Thank you!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar