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

Anti-Inflammatory Measures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turmeric!

Turmeric plants. The vegetable garden in the gated community.

The vegetable garden

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

Banana grove

A residential garden

The terrain beyond
My hyacinths

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

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar




November Nuances

It finally feels like November. Fall is on the way out and winter is moving in. Blustery cold days with a definitive crispness in the air, enough trees in now muted colors rendering the days with an understated, autumnal elegance all highlighted by that clear sunshine so particular to this time of year. The transition to winter is happening. Things are slowing down. November, a month of progression, people power and prayerful thanks.

Most of the fall garden chores are done. But for another round or two of leaf raking and covering the large pots with their winter protection of plastic tarp and burlap, little else is called for. After the ground is well and truly frozen, a layer of mulch will be applied to all the beds. Doing it too early invites rodents to make homes beneath the mulch. Besides, until the ground is frozen hard, there is the threat of freezing and thawing which can displace the mulch.

Before Thanksgiving, I’ll make another inspection to confirm that the limbs of climbers and vines are secured properly and all movable furniture put away. The greenhouse heater is giving trouble so we’re keeping an eye on it. Should it fail to kick-in, the plants will suffer or worse. Hoping it doesn’t need replacing – good heaters don’t come cheap.

In this period of down time, I’ve been making it a point to enjoy the foliage which has been spectacular this year. We were fortunate to have days bright with sunshine this past long weekend. So while temperatures dipped and the wind whipped up the fallen leaves, brisk, energetic walks were in order. Got the blood flowing and spirits raised for sure. The fall colors are fading but there’s still plenty to observe and enjoy. Yellow ocher is having its moment. I’m taking my wardrobe cues from nature’s current palette. I too would like to look understated and elegant.

The joyous displays of chrysanthemums and pumpkins in front of so many homes remind me that Thanksgiving is fast approaching. I wish I’d brought in more hydrangea to make big arrangements for the mantel. But my timing was off and now the blooms on the plants are all brown and shriveled. Still, outdoors, they continue to make a visual impact. I’m loving the earthy hues. There is so much beauty in senescence.

That is true of humans as well.

Note: Points Of View” is still on. Do check it out!

Also: I have a painting here –

 

Some images I’ve enjoyed this month:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Control Freaks!

We gardeners, under the guise of lovers of the earth, actually thrive on playing God. We are gods that are often battling the Creator. Think about it, we are constantly fighting nature to create our own version of paradise.

We hybridize and graft, water and fertilize, trim and prune, evict and select just to get the garden we see fit. Determined to grow plants totally unsuitable to our climate, we go to great lengths and expense to nurture the ‘aliens’. Even in our native plant choices, we include only what pleases us personally.

The very concept of a garden is one of manipulation. Nature is being coerced, cajoled and curtailed to the gardener’s dictates. As much as we are seen as preservers and conservers, we do so selectively. We only do what suits us. Yep, it’s true. Before you get your gardener gander up and attempt to protest, consider it carefully.

Do you permit only certain plants in your garden? Are some of those plants ‘special’ and require extra attention? Do you have a lawn? If a plant doesn’t perform to your liking, do you toss it out? As soon as a dry and/or hot spell prevails do you start worrying and turn on the hose and sprinklers more often? At the threat of a sudden frost or cold temperatures, do you cover plants or move them to shelter? Do you keep vigil for weeds? How about measures taken to thwart marauders like deer, rabbits, birds and squirrels that undo your efforts to grow beloved fruits, vegetables and flowers? Do you train climbers and stake floppers? Are the roaming tendencies of plants contained by edgers and fences in borders? You see? We are all guilty. If you garden, you engineer.

We aren’t really working with nature. We are doing our best to manipulate it. We are in charge – the lord of our horticultural lair. Goddess of the garden.

So, lets own it. Gardeners are control freaks and proud of it. Appropriating the 3M motto – we don’t create nature, we just make it better. How about that?

Note: Don’t forget! Coming up next week on November 2 – the reception to “Points Of View”.

Also, I have a painting in another show in Piermont, NY coming up later in November. That reception is on November 25 so mark your calendar!. Details will follow in due course.

Enjoy the images below –  examples of my manipulations –

The ‘orchard’ – fruit trees trained to create a Belgian espalier fence.

The ‘meadow’

Beds and borders

Lines and squares

A garden on a wall!

‘Training’ wisteria

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Writing Is On The Wall

Exactly one week ago, it was frightfully hot with intermittent downpours that caused flash floods in my part of the country. We had to run the air-conditioners to mitigate the oppressive heat and humidity. Today, it is cool and dry – cool enough that the heat has been turned on. Kinda crazy right?

In the garden, the fall flowers are still blooming nicely and things are generally green. Not much leaf color at all. Are the vivid colors of the season ever going to make a showing? Hiking at a local preserve yesterday, there wasn’t much to indicate that summer was well over. I’m afraid we might just transit straight to brown and bare which would be such a shame. After all, the best reason to love autumn is that display of sunset hues lighting up the landscape. One likely feels cheated. Give us one last celebration before we move indoors to hibernate please!

The soil is not quite ready for bulb planting – the ground temperature needs to be around 55 degrees. In fact, the shipments of bulbs haven’t even arrived. While the greenhouse is fully occupied with tender plants and the heat is keeping them warm, it feels as though the remaining seasonal work is at a standstill of sorts. There’s too much that’s looking good to be cut down just yet. Despite the current cold weather, I keep thinking we might still have a few more days of milder temperatures so I’m holding off putting away the outdoor chairs.

It’s a bit unsettling to be thrown off the normal schedule of seasonal garden chores. However, the bigger worry is how this erratic behavior of the climate will impact globally. From migrating birds and animals to farmers planning their crops there will be an effect that will ultimately affect us all. I’m also concerned that all that humidity and warm conditions that was our summer will spawn disease and a glut of pests. One can no longer ignore the signs – each of us bears a responsibility to care. Care enough to do something. Every bit of action will matter. From conserving water and other resources, preserving and protecting the land, reusing, planting predominantly native plants, recycling and reducing all waste … you know what I’m saying. It worries me that the problem is seen by too many as not in our control or that we humans do not play a part. If we are willing to listen to the scientists about new cancer treatments and developments why then do so many resist their warnings and reports about climate change? We might not be able to reverse the change in the near future but, at the very least we’ve got to try to stop it from getting worse.

Not making any effort would be inexcusable. After all, if ones own home were threatened would we do nothing? Well then, Earth is the big home and the only one we’ve got. So let’s get busy. This is a call to action.

Note: I’m looking forward to seeing you at Points Of View’. .

Scenes from last October –

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Autumn List

I wrote this poem ten years ago and revisit it annually. It reminds to keep perspective. Hope it does the same for you. It’s a busy time but let’s savor it properly.

Autumn List

Make haste

No time to waste

Lawn to reseed

And composter to feed

Plants to behead

To put garden to bed

Bulbs to place

In hollowed space

Rake the leaves

Haul wood to cleave

Pick remaining produce

Debris to reduce

Soil to turn

Calories will burn

Mulch to protect

Weeds to reject

STOP!

Now, pause awhile

Breathe and smile

Cast your gaze

On trees ablaze

Enjoy autumn’s beauty

Amidst garden duty

Have some fun

As chores get done.

=Shobha Vanchiswar

Not to put a damper but there’s an APB out on a new plant pest – the Spotted Lanternfly. Do check out this link. Something to be aware about. Stay vigilant.

Note: “Points Of View” is an art show of two artists ( me and Murali Mani), one medium, individual points of view. Reception is November 2. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Enjoy these sights of the season –

New grass coming up nicely

Filling up the greenhouse

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

October Already!

I’ve felt all along that 2018 seems to be rushing. Yet, the fact that it’s already October is taking me by surprise. It’s going to be a very busy month in the garden. Much to get done before putting the garden to bed.

Just for a moment, allow me to bask in the afterglow of September’s final weekend. The weather could not have been more perfect. The sun shone bright, the birds winged their way around in jubilant song, the air was kissed dry and cool and, the plants sparkled. It was breathtaking.

The first annual Untermyer symposium “Great American Public Gardens – Successes and Challenges” that I’d been so excited about, was thoroughly enjoyable. I had a blast picking the brains of three of the rock stars of the horticultural world. Discussing their very different, uniquely gorgeous public gardens, Louis Bauer of Wave Hill Gardens, Andi Pettis of the High Line and Timothy Tilghman of Untermyer enlightened, informed and entertained an audience consisting mainly of gardeners both professional and amateur. The feedback I received was most gratifying – I think a wonderful annual tradition has been established. FYI – Untermyer is looking spectacular. Do go visit.

Then, on Sunday, a good seasonal start was made in my garden. The greenhouse was thoroughly cleaned in preparation for the plants that will reside in it through the winter. Said plants will be ‘power washed’ to remove debris and stowaway bugs, relieved of dead limbs, given a trim and, brought into their winter quarters during the week. An unexpected frost could occur anytime soon and I’d hate to lose any of these plants. FYI – in order to prep the greenhouse, it had to be emptied of the pots of tomato plants. Before tossing the plants on the compost heap, all of the still green tomatoes were harvested, individually wrapped in newspaper and, placed in a single layer on a shelf in a cool, dry place in the basement where they will ripen.

Work was also started on the meadow. Lots of weeds were removed, some plants like violas and wood anemones were ruthlessly thinned out and a few ornamental grasses and geums planted. More native grasses and perennials will be added in the spring. A few select varieties of plants and grasses but in quantity. In my mind, I think it’ll look more dramatic with swathes of grasses intermingled with flowering perennials. We shall wait and see.

A good half day’s work deserved a just reward. The rest of the day was spent in the garden of longtime friends. We lingered over a late, leisurely lunch, all sorts of libations, many spirited discussions on a myriad topics and a highly competitive game of Scrabble. We watched Monarch butterflies fuel up in the garden before their arduous flight to Mexico and a host of birds provided background music to our party. This is why we garden!

Perfect. Let October begin its reign.

Note: Save the date – November 2! That’s the reception to my art show. Details will be posted next week!

Since it’s all things pumpkin and gourd season …

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar