Rekindling, Renewing, Reviving

It’s in the trumpeting of the daffodils

The chorus awakening the sun

In the untwisting of pink cherry-buds

That hibernating hearts comes undone.”

– Shobha

In leaps and bounds – that’s how the garden is coming along. It never fails to astonish how much growth happens in a single day. Naturally, keeping up with the work in the garden is a real challenge. All too often, being so focused on getting the various to-do list items checked off, one fails to appreciate what and why we garden. Not this year. No matter how much needs doing or what goes wrong in the garden, I’m determined to pause, step back and bask in the myriad miracles that occur in the garden on any given day. In this season of rebirth and renewal, my love and reason to garden is reaffirmed and rekindled.

So, join me. Take a few minutes to enjoy the photos below. See what I see. I just know that you too will agree that the world is a most wondrous place to be.

But first, indulge me. I’m so proud to be a part of this:


Here you go:




The best reasons to be in the garden

The best reasons to be in the garden

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Challenge

Gardening is in full swing and with my Open Day looming large (May 13), time is of the essence. Given March’s unseasonably cold days, many tasks are behind schedule. So there is a sense of urgency which is not entirely comfortable.

Typically, starting around mid-March, I ease into the myriad chores of the season. Not this year. The first decent day to begin any work was the first Sunday in April. At this time of year when things happen in geometric progression, to-do items delayed by even a week matter greatly. Hence, one works at a frenzied pace perforce.

In the span of a week that included three days of rain, the front ‘lawn’ has been de-thatched, reseeded and treated with compost (as fertilizer and weed suppressor), roses, grapevine and fruit trees pruned, winter debris cleared, plants left to cheer the winter landscape cut back, perennial beds mulched, spring window boxes and urns potted up with daffodils, pansies and primulas, the vegetable plot prepared and planted out with leafy greens, the big pots of bay standards brought out of the greenhouse and positioned, these pots have been underplanted with more leafy greens, pots of herbs set up on the “wall” by the vegetable bed, the espalier of fruit trees and the roses have been sprayed with dormant oil spray and finally, the fountain has been recommissioned. All of this was actually accomplished over just three days. Crazy right?

But, the big work of new planting must wait for the nurseries to receive the shipments. I have a largish order of native plants to go into the meadow. I’d like to get this done ASAP while the bulbs are in full view so that I won’t have to guess where to plant the natives and hope to avoid hurting said bulbs.

The rest of the greenhouse has to be emptied and placed/planted in their respective homes in the garden. This calls for lots of lifting and back and forth. My body is already protesting.

The vertical garden is the wild card. As part of the ongoing Great Wall experiment we’d left all the plants in through the winter. And since that season was kind of mild ( okay, positively weird), we were able to run the nutrient enhanced water system. Since ferns are late spring bloomers, we have yet to determine what has made it through. This means waiting but as I’d like the wall to look nice for Open Day, it is imperative that I know what and where replacement ferns are needed. Oh, the pressure!

This week promises to be unseasonably warm. Today, the temperature is likely to hit 80 degrees. That is more like June than April. What that portends is anybody’s guess. Put paid to the early bloomers before pollination can occur? Bring forward the mid to late ones? The chance of frost still threatens all the way to mid-May. Oy.

Finally, in the midst of all the mad activity, I’m resolved to actually enjoy the garden. It is after all, my favorite season. Time to just admire the early flowers, listen to the birds and watch their general activity. I hope to do quick watercolor sketches to capture this ephemeral time and also expand my collection of watercolor botanicals as several early-spring flowers have not as yet been painted ( Eranthis, Abeliophyllum, Forsythia, cherry/apple/pear blossoms – you see how the list grows?) and most importantly, celebrate the season with family and friends.

Certainly quite a challenge but this is still all good. We should all have only such ‘problems’.

Note: Open Day – May 13 from 10 am – 4:00 pm. Come visit! Bring mom as it is Mother’s Day weekend!

Also on May 13, Teatown Reservation will be holding its annual, exciting PlantFest and I will have a booth there selling my botanical products – prints, note cards and soft furnishings.

Their Wildflower Island will open for the season on this day. Make reservations for a tour.

The 'meadow' coming alive

The ‘meadow’ coming alive

The window box. Should be in full flower by week's end

The window box. Should be in full flower by week’s end

Mulched perennial bed

Mulched perennial bed

Reseeded lawn

Reseeded lawn

Stars at my feet. Scilla

Stars at my feet. Scilla

Bay pot under-planted with spinach and beets

Bay pot under-planted with spinach and beets

The vertical garden right now

The vertical garden right now

Vegetables all planted out

Vegetables all planted out

Buffy the Hellebore

Buffy the Hellebore

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Blowing Hot, Blowing Cold AND Stinky Stats

Stella blows into town tonight. Boy! Has she got us all talking and preparing for her arrival! Events and agendas have been canceled and cleared. Pantries and refrigerators stocked. Fireplaces made ready. Blankets and sweaters on hand for cozy times once Stella is here. She should be so honored that 50 million people are anticipating her visit. With anxiety and apprehension. Stella is after all the bomb. A glorious, whoppingly impactful snow storm of a girl. And it is predicted that she will undergo bombogenesis ( it’s a real word) which means conditions are right for snow to accumulate up to 4 inches an hour with high winds and possible thundersnow. We are therefore expecting 18 to 24 inches of snow. Let’s hope we do not lose power.

It is already mid-March and after a dismally weak-spirited winter, it just feels too much too late no? Besides, what about all those days in February and just last week when the temperatures were cheerfully spring like? If the weather was a person, a shrink would have a clear and conclusive diagnosis of its rather confusing behavior.

So, as it stands, one must do what one must to safeguard the garden. Protect shrubs with buds and other vulnerable plants with plastic or wooden ‘tents’, Wind rope around shrubs to give them a compact stability against breaking and splaying due to the weight of huge amounts of snow. Pour sand and grit on walkways and driveways to give traction to tires and shoes.  Have flashlights, matches, candles, bottled water on hand. Keep shovels accessible. Fill up bird feeders. Likewise, fill car gas tank. Get out those board games and books. Bring in a good supply of firewood. Stock up on groceries – don’t forget the fixings for hot cocoa and s’mores. Place blankets wherever cozying-up is a possibility.Charge up phones and laptops. During the storm, try and check up on elderly neighbors. Have your camera close by – snow storms can provide great photo ops!

I’m getting a bit tired of this hot and cold treatment. Enough already. Can we please just get back to safely predictable, ‘normal’ seasonable weather?


Stink Bug Update

There is finally some hope in getting rid of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB). Since their invasion into the US in the 1990s, they have destroyed fruit and vegetable crops and grossed out everyone who has been finding them in their homes. My method of action has been to capture them in toilet tissue and flush them down. Yes, I have probably wasted a good deal of water in this warfare. The guilt has been getting to me so, I’m more than relieved that a solution is in sight.

Scientists at Cornell University have discovered a tiny wasp that lays its eggs in the BMSB and thereby kills off potential bug babies. The Samurai Wasp Trissolcus japonicus, is thus far the only effective BMSB predator we know.

The wasp itself is an alien species so its own long term impact on our native flora and fauna is unknown. Hence applying it to combat the stink bug has to be done thoughtfully. The university and USDA scientists are collaborating on a project to create a map of the areas impacted by the bug. They want all of us to get involved – a National Citizen Science Project.

To participate is simple. Once you find a stink bug, ascertain that it is indeed a BMSB and not any other bug. Take a photo of it and report the finding on the The live link is for New York state but that site can help you find the link to all other states.

Next, every day through March to April 31, count all the BMSBs you find in the home or garden. Enter that data online. That’s it.

After April 31, all the data will be collated and a BMSB distribution map will be created. Scientists will release the Samurai wasps in a controlled manner in the affected areas and help establish the wasps there so they can begin lowering the stink bug populations. At the same time, the scientists will be closely monitoring the presence of the wasp and how it might affect non-target insects. After all, we do not want another alien creature going rogue. At this point, the aim is to use the wasp for the single purpose of eradicating the BMSB.

So, lets all get started. A common enemy to unite us all!

Note: The date for my garden’s Open Day through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Day Program is set! Mark your calendars! Saturday May 13 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. No excuses. Be there!

Protective tents on the ready

Protective tents on the ready






Adult female Brown Marmorated Stink Bug ( photo –

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

March Madness

From the first of this month till today, we have gone from balmy, 60 degree temperatures to stormy, highly windy to, extremely cold and dry and now back to spring like conditions. That is in the span of exactly one week. Craayzeeee!

The snowdrops are practically done for. They shone all too briefly. There must be utter confusion underground. I imagine the assorted bulbs talking all at once in a state of panic trying to decide if it’s time to get going yet. The snowdrops are probably saying – “It’s madness up there guys! I wouldn’t risk it just yet.” And I’ll bet the scillas are hesitantly wondering if they ought to listen or just take their chances. No doubt the hyacinths are flexing their muscles and scornful of their more delicate cousin. Meanwhile, the irises are shrugging their corms and listening to the ensuing chaos happy in the knowledge that they do not need to decide anything this early. They get to snooze a few weeks longer.

I’m kind of glad I am a bit behind schedule in trimming back the old foliage on the hellebores. The emerging flowers ought have enjoyed the protection this past weekend. I intend to remove those leaves tomorrow.

Typically, at this time of year, I’m already looking into acquiring pansies and primroses to set the stage for spring. The spring window-boxes are put up a week before the vernal Equinox. Perhaps that will happen this weekend. It really is time to start on the spring clean up and schedule plantings and sowing.

After the barely-there winter, the feeling of spring is almost anti-climactic. There is none of the usual dramatic shift from frigid and bare to pleasant and green. It’s as though spring has been creeping in slowly for a while and appears to have made some sort of cohabitation deal with winter. I personally find this frustrating. Are we done with winter or not? Is she going to drag her feet? I’d like to know one way or other. I have plenty of work to do but the weather doesn’t seem to care one whit about that. It is clearly having a blast tormenting gardeners all around.

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m starting with the hellebores. Then, I shall begin cleaning up in earnest. Next, set up the window-boxes. This should clearly be a declaration that this garden is spring-ready. And by that time, we ought to know if winter is finally letting go of her hold on us.

In these unpredictable, unsettling times, I really need to get started in the garden – my sanity depends on it.

I hope you enjoy my watercolor rendition and poem below:

Snowdrop. watercolor

Snowdrop. watercolor


Diminutive cousin of Amaryllis

emerging from Eurasian roots

Harking back to Winter’s white

Alluding to Springs chartreuse.

Visiting just long enough

to reassure seasons change

Never overstaying her welcome

Her departure prearranged.

Sweet bells hang low

So ants can hear them ring

calling to come feast

Depart with seeds to fling

Homer’s magical herb moly

disarms all human hearts

When small can be mighty

and staying humble is an art.

Shobha Vanchiswar

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Breaks!

When I left New York eight days ago, there was a foot of snow on the ground. What a difference a week makes. Not only has all the snow disappeared, but signs of spring abound. It is positively thrilling. This anticipation of my favorite season sends shivers through my body. I’m giddy with spring fever.

After traveling for almost a whole day, enduring cramped quarters, stale air, airline food, blocked ears and total lack of sleep, I needed a real shot of nature to banish the fatigue. So directly from the airport, I went to the New York Botanical Gardens. The Orchid Show was on and I was in desperate need of flower power.

The sunshine and open space felt healing as I made my way to the conservatory. My tradition is to go through the perennial gardens and as I did so, I spied the first snowdrops of the year. Oh joy! Early crocuses stood poised to imminently open their diminutive goblets while the hellebores, as usual, had heralded the parade. They were in full bloom mode. Stems of shrubs still denuded of foliage had begun showing color as though they were slowly sipping from underground vats of dye. Taking in all these signs of rebirth and renewal made me feel so alive.

And with that shot in the arm, I stepped into the conservatory. The theme of the orchid show this year is Thailand. And it delivered beautifully. The natural humidity and warmth of the conservatory lent a very appropriate element to set the stage. The background music, the bright colors, the elephant motifs, the shrines and the very flowers themselves transported one to another place. For one just released from an airplane, this felt ideal. If only real travel could be this blissfully simple.

At such a show, it didn’t matter if the orchids on display were all originally from Thailand or not. It was the overall atmosphere they conveyed that mattered. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It is the perfect antidote to all kinds of fatigue – from winter blues, to daily news of hate crimes and divisiveness, to rising anxiety to long journeys. A little respite, an brief escape, a shift in perspective can work wonders.

Do go to this show or, if you do not live anywhere near the NYBG, go to the nearest botanical garden as most have a conservatory with a collection that is sure to delight. And if you do not have even that option, get yourself an orchid or two from the local nursery, make or order in a Thai meal (or any exotic cuisine of your choice), dress for the occasion in something colorful, get a playlist of suitable music piped in and take yourself on a fun trip of your own. I promise you’ll have a great time. Spring is breaking out!

Note: I’ve written about my most recent visit with the children at Mukta Jeevan. They are my reason to hope, serve and make a difference. You can read about the visit here.

And now, enjoy the photos of orchids and all things spring!










Eranthis - like scattered gold

Eranthis – like scattered gold


(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Indian Summer

No, not that kind of Indian summer. I’m talking about summer in India. Okay, so it is still February and not actually called summer in India but it is 90 degrees in Mumbai and definitely feels like summer. So there.

Strange as it feels to bask in this heat having only just left New York in the throes of winter ( which apparently is currently simulating spring), I’m instantly transported to the summers of my early childhood. The scene here is actually nothing like those memories – hot and dusty, it already looks parched and eager for the monsoon rains. The trees and shrubs while appearing to be robust impart an air of exhaustion from the layer of dust choking the leaves. As though newly arrived from great journeys, they hang like weary travelers in need of food, drink and a long shower.

The air is drier than usual. Mumbai being an island in the Arabian Sea, is prone to the humidity characteristic of all coastal regions. I’m not missing the humidity however. The dry heat is much more tolerable. At the markets, ‘winter’ fruits are still found. Grapes and citrus mostly. Guavas are just beginning to emerge on the fruit sellers carts. I see lots of tomatoes which feels kind of odd as I’ve grown accustomed to them flavoring my summers back home but, certainly not unusual for these climes to have tomatoes all year round. It is simply a bit confusing for my jet-lagged mind.

But reverting to my childhood summers, I feel a sense of nostalgia. No doubt the years since have cast a romantic hue on those memories. I might even be mixing up the plants. Still, I remember the hot reds and oranges of the canna flowers punching the white hot days. The bright sunlight sent us kids to seek the shade of porches and trees. Too hot for physical play, we resorted to old-fashioned games with stones and shells that tested our hand-motor skills and did not require much exertion. The sounds of cicadas and other insects provided a back drop of discordant music that was well suited to our own rather unchecked vocals. The birds only bothered to sing in the early morning.

I remember lobbing stones to knock down still green mangoes from their tall trees. Some of those trees did not belong to any of us children but, that never hampered our ambitions. The tart-sweet flesh sprinkled with salt and red chili powder made a most heavenly snack. Ditto for the tamarind fruit. Come to think of it, these were remarkably natural, healthy foods that somehow fooled us into thinking we were indulging in something terribly naughty. Of course, too much of even these resulted in tummy aches and maternal scoldings.

What I recall most intensely were the aromas of the season. During the day, the high temperatures dissipated any smells. But come dusk as the heat abated, the perfume of frangipani competed mightily with the evening jasmine. The roses had a fragrance so strong that I was prone to coveting them. So much so that I’d actually eat the petals as though wanting to contain their power within my body. Gardenias were not as common but whenever they were present, even a single flower in bloom would perfume the air for miles around. There was no getting away from scents those evenings. Almost everything had a smell but the ones that chose to be subtle got overlooked.

It has been many moons since those summers of my youth but memories are strong. It takes only a wave of Mumbai heat to trigger them. And for a spell, I’m transported to my time in the gardens that gave me my life long love for nature. A gift every child should be so blessed to receive.

Note: As I don’t have images of those memorable gardens of my past, I’m offering up some of my watercolor renditions of warm weather flowers. Enjoy! May they evoke your own set of memories and dreams.

And do go see the exhibit I’m in at the ASL this week.

















(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Feeling February

After a rather mediocre rendition of winter from December and January, February has come on fierce! Snow, ice, freezing rain, high winds, black ice – you name it, we’re getting it. This I recognize. It was beginning to feel a bit unsettling when there were so many above normal temperature days. So now, as inconvenient as it might be, I’m comfortable with the more seasonal weather . Do I like risking life and limb every time I step outside? Absolutely not. My eyes label every dark patch as black ice and my feet begin walking so gingerly that I’ve turned into a poster child for the paranoid.

Still, the mass of snow protecting the garden is heartwarming. I suffered thinking of the plants left exposed to the cold and wind. And I fretted that the milder days might fool the hibernating bulbs into thinking it was time to awaken. So yes, this typical blast of real winter is making me feel better.

It’s funny how we long for sojourns to the tropics when we are in the throes of winter weather and moan about the treachery of traversing the icy roads. Summer cannot come to soon right? Yet, even a slight shift in the climate is cause for alarm. It can bring about big changes quite quickly leaving inadequate time for both flora and fauna to adapt. This then affects everything else. A sudden snowfall in Florida puts paid to the citrus harvest. A mild winter in the North lowers the water table, adversely affects towns reliant on winter sports and related businesses, plants requiring a proper period of cold begin to struggle when the growing season restarts and so on and so forth. As I write, the winds are gusting hard. Fallen trees are blocking off roads and even delaying train service, schools were delayed this morning due to black ice on bus routes and, power outages are spreading. There is no question, our lives are intimately entwined with nature.

Time spent in nature is critical to our mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Mankind has known that from ancient times. Science has confirmed that belief. It is now up to us to oversee that which is so important to our health.

We owe it to ourselves, future generations and all of life to preserve, protect and enjoy this beautiful, bountiful planet.

Recommended reading while you’re cozying up to the fireplace and the wind is howling outside:

The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative. By Florence Williams

Happy Valentine’s Day one and all!


February 20 – 25 I have some paintings in NYC group show. Please visit!


Enjoy these images apropos Valentine’s Day:

Stone hearts


Heart in the snow

Ooty Bot garden

Dried leaf heart

IMG_8263Cyclamen heart

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar



Amaryllis Unplugged

I’ve been doing it all wrong. All these years I’ve grown amaryllis by planting them two-thirds their height in a slightly constraining container of soil, watering once a week and keeping them in a cool-ish, somewhat bright location in the house. Alternatively, I’ve also grown these bulbs in just water. Both methods have been quite effective. No doubt, you too have handled amaryllis the same way. Yes? Am I right? Or is it just me?

Well, come to find out on my recent sojourn to the Netherlands that, none of those efforts are necessary. Sure they may be potted up if you like but in truth, they do not need anything to bloom. That’s right, nothing. No water, no food, no container even. This bit of understanding has blown my mind.

Lingering at the store fronts of the charming flower shops, I noticed that inside one shop, there was a stunning display of white amaryllis on a vertically suspended length of tree branch. The branch had sinuous curves with interesting outgrowths. The bulbs were nestled in crooks and crannies – held in place with ties. But that was it. No soil. They just sat where placed. Each bulb had a stalk or two trumpeting beautiful white flowers. My first thought was the bulbs weren’t real. Wrong. Then I figured it was meant to be a very temporary display. Wrong.

On talking with the florist/owner Oda Schoffelmeer, I learned that amaryllis bulbs bought each season need no help from us. They do not even require a preliminary soaking in water to wake up their roots. The fat, firm bulbs come with everything they need to bloom. It is only when blooming is completed and leaves are put out that they need to be planted in soil and watered – to replenish their depleted stores. Is this not simply amazing? Consider the decorating possibilities!

The bulbs can be also be dipped in wax and placed just about anywhere to bloom. Pick the wax color of your choice! Or, the bulbs can be coated in a thin (non-toxic I imagine) paint. Gold, silver, bronze anyone?!

Needless to say, I am as excited about my new discovery as a puppy in a basket of laundry. I’m off to see if there are still some amaryllis to be had at my local nursery.

My take away – travel really does open minds and it is never too late to learn new things. I’m boarding a plane again in two weeks. Can’t wait to see what’s in store.

Enjoy the images below. And, mark your calenders – I’m in a group exhibit in NYC Feb 20-25.

I apologize in advance to my Facebook readers for the images not being upright. When the photos are taken a certain way, they show up on FB on their sides and I have not figured out how to correct this problem. When I post the article on my website, they go automatically on FB and Twitter. Please let me know if any of you can resolve my dilemma.

The amaryllis display as seen from outside the Bergflora shop in Eindhoven, NL

ca The amaryllis display as seen from outside the Bergflora shop in Eindhoven, NL

The amaryllis placed on the branch

The amaryllis placed on the branch


Bulbs dipped in hot pink wax. Just sitting there and preparing to bloom.

Bulbs dipped in hot pink wax. Just sitting there and preparing to bloom.

My own amaryllis grown the 'old' way. But, I stopped watering them 10 days ago when I returned from Holland.

My own amaryllis grown the ‘old’ way. But, I stopped watering them 10 days ago when I returned from Holland.

Another view. It is a stunning display even if I say so myself.

Another view. It is a stunning display even if I say so myself.

(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Will Come. I Promise.

I just returned from an all too brief visit to the Netherlands. Despite the cold, the flower shops there are already in full spring mode. I cannot even begin to express my joy at the sight of spring bulbs displayed in the storefronts. For that period of time, all felt well in the world.

So, instead of belaboring on just how much plants can uplift our spirits and remind us that life goes on, I offer you some of the images that filled my heart with optimism. Let them fill yours.

Remember, no matter how dark our days are right now, spring is on its way. I promise. Stay hopeful, be helpful.










(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

All Present And Accounted For

At last it feels like winter. This past weekend brought bitter cold and a decent dose of snow. With the wild fluctuations in temperature and precipitation all through the past year, it has been hard to predict how the garden will fare. There have been many moments of anxiety for sure. The welfare of every single plant matters to a gardener. While we’re learning to adapt and adjust, a degree of stress underlies those efforts. So, when it snowed for the first time this year, I was elated. It felt normal.

Finally, there was enough snow to play. Toboggans, X-country skies and walking poles came out in full measure and local parks were alive with winter activities. Normal!

I personally, reveled in the normalcy in the garden. To see the snow cover spread across the ground felt good. The hibernating plants were now cozy and insulated. As well they ought. It was comforting and reassuring. Two factors that have been rather elusive lately.

I’m resolved to enjoy this gift. I’m aware that at present, 49 of the 50 states have snow on the ground which means this is not normal for several. The unpredictability of the weather or anything else is disconcerting. Hence, when we are given a slice of business as usual, we need to savor it.

As such, our own winter conditions here are headed for a dramatic change later in the week. So, I am determined to cherish what I have today.

The way the snow emphasizes all the undulations in the garden, the shadows that contrast so starkly with the pristine white, how the sunlight chisels the snow and makes it shimmer, the clear footprints telling of intrepid birds and squirrels are all a thrill. What gets defined and what gets masked changes the usual landscape to something new and interesting. I’m so fortunate to witness this ephemeral show.

Who knows what tomorrow will unfold. But for now, I’m content. This moment matters.

Enjoy these garden snow scenes:

Breathe slow and deep. Calm the mind and just be.







(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar