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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Hanging Out With Hellebores

Spring! It’s definitely staging a comeback. Where I reside, it’s not quite so obvious but the signs are there. The snowdrops are up. However, one has to look a bit harder to notice that the witch hazel is quietly gracing the garden with its tassels of flowers and characteristic fragrance. Bulbs like daffodils and hyacinths are fearlessly pushing through the still crusty earth and slender spears of crocus appear as though they were secretly planted in the cover of night. The climbing hydrangea is studded with fattening buds. I hear birdsong more clearly; it’s only a matter of time before feathered couples will begin house hunting. Everywhere, one can observe nature coming alive.

Which brings me to hellebores. In my opinion, no garden should be without them. They live to serve the gardener. Starting from that time of year when you know winter is still in session but you cannot help look for some signal that spring is on its way, one need only check carefully at the base of the hellebores. Nestled close to the ground, safely tucked under the canopy of large leaves of the previous year, the shy buds have silently emerged. Long before anything else is stirring, the hellebore gives a sweet heads up for spring. This singular sight is reassuring and exactly what an impatient gardener needs.

Soon after, it’s time to cut back the old leaves and unleash the new growth. Stands of upright stems extravagantly displaying cup-shaped flowers nodding in the garden are sure sights of spring. Single, semi-double or double, the hellebore flowers appear as though painted in watercolor. Translucent and soft, the hues range from dark, almost black to deep pink to rose to cream to yellow. Some new varieties sport petals gently edged in a complementary color recalling finely hand-painted porcelain cups of another era.

There are today a variety and color that would suit every taste or situation. The flowers last a very long time – often through summer. The colors may fade or deepen and turn less showy as the season progresses but I still love their look. Hellebores self seed very easily and some gardeners complain about it but in my experience, if you mulch diligently, then it is not a problem at all. The mulch suppresses the seeds from germinating. I typically get only a few seedlings that I often pot up to give away or plant elsewhere in the garden.

Hellebores prefer deep soil rich in hummus, moist but not soggy. They do not require regular feeding. I find that an annual application of compost topped with the mulch of wood chips is sufficient. The plants do best in cool, semi-shaded locations. At a full height of about 18 to 24 inches and a spread of the same, they are ideal in border fronts. The large leaves will shade out more diminutive neighbors so plant accordingly. In the fall, I let the leaves remain to protect the following season’s young buds and remove them only around late March. Hellebores are slow growing and do not get too big so it is best to not divide them. To grow your collection, get new plants or start from seed.

In pots – Because of their extensive root system, they require large pots to allow for growth. A nurseryman friend recently presented me with a couple of hellebores in bloom potted up splendidly in a French zinc pot. While I adore how beautiful it looks on my dining table, I think the plants are displaying a restlessness as though they want to be planted in the ground. As soon as the thaw happens, I will do exactly that.

Hardy, low-maintenance, easy to grow and oh so dependable, hellebores are a mainstay in my garden. Bonus – deer generally stay away from them.

Hanging out with hellebores is indeed a very good thing.

Note: I’m in the upcoming New Horizons art show in Cos Cob, Greenwich, CT. Do stop by to take a look! April 2 – 28. Click here for details.

Mark your calendar – my garden Open Day is May 18, 2019.

Here are images of some of the hellebores I hang out with:

(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

Seasonal Parallax

Thanks to Instagram and my backlog of horticultural periodicals, I’m in a state of seasonal flux. In catching up with my reading, I’m perusing articles about gardens in summer and fall. It’s easy to get caught up in all those well-written descriptions and I’m right there weaving in and out of dahlias blazing through August heat and a riot of autumnal colors of leaves and grasses. In parallel, the Australian gardens I follow on Instagram are spilling over in summer glory in real time. How can I not start believing its all happening to me?

While I’m eagerly anticipating spring and enjoying my forced hyacinths and tulips in the cozy confines of home, I’m keeping up with the current progress of spring across the pond in the UK. Swathes of Eranthis, carpets of Galanthus have me covetous and impatient all at once. I imagine my own garden having the same glorious features heralding the season. I can see this! And I feel the thrill of it all. It seems so true. And then, I look outside and consider the reality. Snow, bare limbs … blah.

It appears that at any time of any given day I’m likely to believe I’m in any one of the four seasons. It’s plainly disorienting and yet, just as a child keeps aiming for ice-cream induced brain freeze, I’m hooked to following the seasons evolve in far flung corners of the earth. That’s because it’s also exciting, hopeful and inspiring. It’s got my juices flowing and I’m madly making notes and lists and ordering up plants.

The Internet/social media has conflated the seasons and shrunk the globe for this gardener’s pleasure and perplexity. Just wait till my wallet wises up to these goings on. All this wild exploration might be leading up to pandemonium in penury.

Join me! Follow me on Instagram @shobhavanchiswar and @seedsofdesignllc

Enjoy these seasonally mixed-up images:

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Halftime Hoopla

February 2 marks the mid-point of winter – it falls in the middle of the winter solstice and the spring equinox. That’s correct, we’ve just passed the halfway mark. It was marked by a spectacular sunset. February 2 is also called Candlemas day – that’s when, in the very old days before electricity, folks would replenish their supply of candles to illuminate the rest of the cold, dark season. The candles would be blessed at a special mass. As a secular individual, I find this tradition comforting. It unites people in the effort to pass the season well.

I’m definitely not a fan of Groundhog’s Day. In my opinion, it only serves to highlight a time when humans applied superstition and not science to drive our actions. The very thought of rudely disturbing a sleeping creature to emerge out into the still cold day strikes me as particularly cruel and archaic. If it were me instead of some vulnerable groundhog, I’d be mad as hell. Wouldn’t you?

Having emerged from a week of polar vortex shenanigans, this halftime feels really good. The temperatures on Sunday and Monday shot up to spring like numbers. While I’m not complaining ( it was delicious to feel the sun as I walked around the garden sans jacket), that spike in temperature is cause for some concern.

We’re slowly settling into more seasonable temperature. Hallelujah.

Taking advantage of the weather on Sunday, I spent some time wandering around the garden searching for signs of rebirth. Coming out of a deep freeze, there were still patches of ice in an otherwise brown, lackluster landscape. But on closer examination, I spotted some encouraging indications of the season to come. Then I noticed small bulbs lying scattered around the ‘meadow’ – the freezing and thawing had thrown them up from their comparatively shallow homes in the ground. Said ground is frozen hard at present so I cannot replace the bulbs. Instead, they shall remain in a pot of soil until the great thaw occurs. I’m a tad unhappy with this situation. Those small bulbs bloom early and are crucial to my vision of how this area rolls out the flowers so, I resent this casual tossing behavior with no regard for the investment of time, money and energy on my part. Oh well. I remain at Nature’s mercy.

The hellebores are also beginning to stir. Slowly. The new growth is still working up courage to get going. I love feeling the surge of anticipation in my veins.

In the greenhouse, the citrus are having their moment. Makes it all very cheery and leads me to pretend I have a limonaria. I even harvest the first lemon. How best to use this precious fruit is my happy dilemma. Make lemon curd? Salad dressing? Lemon pound cake? So many possibilities!

The calamondin oranges are looking quite lovely. They aren’t really edible as they’re small, very seedy and sour. But, they lend a certain sophisticated flavor when speared into a vodka martini. A branch of these oranges makes a dining table look very festive – turns a routine gathering into a party.

Indoors, the forced hyacinths are coming along nicely. This waiting is always most exciting to me. It’s like a child’s giddy expectation in the days leading up to Christmas.

I also picked up some inexpensive primroses -their flowers in crayon-box colors are so heartwarming. They are quite a contrast to the very elegant looking white orchid that’s been in bloom since early December. FYI – Orchids are really great value for the money.

Yes indeed. Halftime feels good.

February 2 sunset

The ‘meadow’ looking blah
New growth
Hellebore
Tossed up bulbs
Ice patch
Calamondin oranges
Lemon!
On a pedestal
Forcing hyacinths
Primroses

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Wistful Thinking

Winter is making her presence felt. Strongly. As my friend Julie likes to say – It is cold enough to freeze a witch’s tits!. But thus far, we haven’t had much snow in my neck of the woods. That worries me. For the most part, the garden lies exposed and dry. The mulch I spread in the fall seems hardly adequate. How are the bulbs and perennial roots doing? With no insulation from the snow, life must be hard for plants and hibernating critters alike.

Even this cold is erratic and intermittent. The temperature is predicted to rise up to 50 degrees by Thursday. Freezing and thawing off and on can be so damaging.

In recent years, there has been no familiar passage of the seasons – the old weather patterns have disappeared and the climate is in flux. Hard to predict what the conditions will be and hence hard to plan for the garden. It’s a bit disconcerting. I want the old days back!

Should I select more drought resistant plants or increase the rain loving ones? Heat tolerant or cool weather? My choices will determine the type of garden that evolves and my personal taste and style must adapt.

In the next couple of weeks, I plan to finalize the list of plants to introduce in the meadow. With the removal of the red maple last summer, I’m at liberty to select more plants that require sun. That’s exciting but I must choose wisely. I’ve already invested a great deal in this area. Certainly some native, ornamental grasses will do well but the flowering perennials pose a bit of a quandary. If only I could see into the future! Temperature and rainfall are important considerations. I could play it safe and settle for “middle of the road” but what fun would that be?

It is the challenge of realizing a certain vision that gets a gardener’s juices going. As we create, we maintain a belief that the universe will cooperate. That somehow, our special connection with nature will grant us all our wishes. If only. Time and again, my pocketbook reminds me of my quixotic dreams even as my most recent horticultural experiment falls short of expectations.

Climate uncertainties, financial limits and time constraints will be factored when I make my final plant list. But, in the end, the heart must beat faster, the spirit must soar and the hands flutter in impatience to get started. Then, and only then will I know I’m on the right track.

[ As requested by several of you, I will post my plant selections when finalized]

I HAVE POSTED ON MY RECENT VISIT TO MUKTA JIVAN ORPHANAGE. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ.

NOTE: I’m excited about participating in this –

I know it is cold but this is indoors, free and, you will enjoy the art. So, get yourself there!

Some images of the meadow:
My watercolor

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar