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

Sponge Bloat, Spare Plants

Wet, humid, moist, damp, sticky, yucky. That about describes the way it is outside and how I feel about it. The weatherperson may talk about the sun being out and how it makes for “gorgeous” weather but, I’m not falling for it. It is so humid and buggy that every time I venture out, I’m attacked by all sorts of biting insects and covered in a sticky film of moisture within minutes. No kidding. This must be what it feels like to live inside a kitchen sponge. I’m trying not to be too grumpy about it.

Surveying my garden post-vacation, I notice that the flowers on the oak-leaf hydrangeas look toasted. They’re brown and crispy. The last heat wave must’ve done that. Meanwhile, ‘Limelight’, a paniculata hydrangea looks lovely. The pale green blooms are just beginning to turn rosy – a sure sign that fall is approaching. I must remember to bring some in to cheer up a dark corner in the living room.

The Concord grapes that looked so promising a month ago have succumbed to the weather and/or birds. No jam this season. The plants on the wall garden however, seems to have held strong-ish despite some glitches in the watering system while we were away.

A few days before we left, we took down a tree in the back. This has really opened up the ‘meadow’ and the sun can now gaze benevolently on it. I’d been eager to see how this part of the garden was doing under the new conditions. The turtle-heads and jewelweeds are blooming – their respective pink and orange are actually looking quite nice together. The surprise was that some Rose-of-Sharon have self-seeded and are in bloom. While these flowers look fetching, they must be removed from this area and replanted elsewhere. I’m thrilled to see the Calycarpa americana looking resplendent – the pink berries along the stems glisten like jewels in the sunlight. There is much work to be done in the meadow. Thuggish plants and weeds that took over under the auspices of that overpowering tree have to be eliminated. This will make room for specific native plants I’m really keen to establish here. In a month, bulb planting must happen. I sincerely hope weather conditions improve soon – the bugs are brutal at present.

The tropical hibiscus in a pot is also doing very well. Given the heat and humidity, it must think it is back in its native home. For some reason, the tomatoes are yet to ripen. Lots of green fruit. I ate such delicious tomatoes everyday in Provence and I’m hoping to do the same in my own garden. But, making up a batch of fried, green tomatoes won’t be such a bad thing either.

In front, the lawn was looking atrocious. So the first order of business was to rake up and reseed. The summer phlox is in full flower and yesterday, I spent some blissful time watching a hummingbird flirt outrageously with them. The eupatorium flower-heads look kinda fried but the solidago is blazing a fine gold. The asters are loaded with buds and just beginning to bloom.

Weeding is underway and some general order has been restored. All in all, wet weather notwithstanding, I’m pleased to see that the garden has not suffered too dearly. Maybe I should worry less and go away more.

Note – Less than two weeks to the symposium “Great American Public Gardens – Successes And Challenges”  Get your tickets!

American Beauty Berry – Calycarpa americana

Pink turtlehead – Chelone lyonii Hot Lips

Turtleheads and Jewel weed

Rose of Sharon gone rogue

Phlox and Joe Pye weed

Asters

Oak leaf hydrangea in August

In September – post heat wave

‘Limelight’ looking rosy

Grapes in August

The vertical garden in July/August

The wall in September.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Feeling September-ish

I’m basking in that late summer – early autumnal glow here in Europe, it’s harvesting time both in gardens and farms. The crops are at peak and crates have been positioned ready to receive their bounty. Vegetable gardens and orchards are burgeoning and hold all the promise of family meals and healthy living. The horridly hot summer of 2018 is hopefully making a timely exit. I return home in a day and will do my very best to bring along some more seasonal weather. No promises!

After a glorious three weeks of R&R, I’m looking forward to getting back to home and garden. There’s plenty awaiting my attention and I know that all too soon my vacation will seem as though it happened a long time ago. At that point, I’ll just have to start dreaming of my next trip. For now, I’m ready and raring to get started on fall planting, seed collecting and clean-up. With any luck the squirrels will have spared us some apples and pears to enjoy and just maybe the birds haven’t completely polished off all of the concord grapes. Oh the perils of going away in summer.

Note: Hope you’ve reserved your spot for the symposium on September 29. I’m so excited about it – it’ll be fun, informative and a great opportunity to meet new and old garden-minded friends.

Enjoy these September images from France and the Netherlands:

Fennel

Grape harvester.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Dead Heat

It’s been an unusual warm summer globally. Here in the Netherlands, I’m witness to the impact of the record heat that lasted several weeks. Being unused to such extreme weather, the average Dutch gardener didn’t quite know what to make of the high temperatures and the accompanying lack of rain. Typically it rains so consistently that one is not accustomed to watering the garden regularly. By the time many of them realized the stress the plants were under, it was already too late to save some of them. Due to regulations, farmers were not permitted to pump water from the underground aquifers. Consequently, it has led to some serious loss of crops. It goes without saying that this single summer will have a lingering effect on the environment, the economy and the general sense of well-being amongst the populace.

Where at this time, there’s usually a glut of summer blooms at their glorious peak, I see instead many gardens prematurely displaying an autumnal look with dry foliage, faded flowers and assorted seed-heads pushing for immortality. Too soon, too early! It is easy to discern the gardens that were watered during the days of heat – they are the ones looking entirely unscathed. But, there is one other category of plantings that have come through the heat admirably – the drought tolerant ones. Water being a limited resource cannot be used with abandon. Simply turning on the hose and/or sprinklers every time we are hit with a drought is not the solution. A more realistic, sustainable approach must be identified and implemented.

At present, the normal weather pattern has returned with rain and seasonal temperatures and I’m pleased to see that in several cases, the plants are valiantly attempting a full comeback. Yet, there is ample evidence of the toll taken by those hot, dry days. Damaged and dead plants remain as somber reminders that it takes just a short shift in the weather to have a long effect on the earth. Climate change is evident. What on earth are we going to do about it?

Note: Don’t forget! September 29 approaches!

Drought tolerant grass looking radiant.

New plantings to replace the ones lost to the drought.

Awaiting replacements …

Well watered

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Public Parks, Private Gardens

The exhibit with that title just closed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. I saw it when it had just opened in the spring – a time when we were all so tired of the protracted winter. Remember how spring seemed like it would never come? This art show was exactly what my spirit needed. For a good hour or two I was lost in the gardens and parks rendered by the artists of the nineteenth century. It got my imagination fired, my gardening juices flowing and I emerged with plans and ideas for my own gardening life.

But what other information I gathered was how the parks informed the public of that time. What they saw in these communal spaces were echoed in their own gardens. This was transforming for the people.

At the time, explorers were sending home vast shipments of botanical specimens. Nurserymen were actively hybridizing plants and making available new and diverse selections. Royal properties were opening up for the people to see and public green spaces were created for Parisians to enjoy in their city. Those living in the suburbs and further in the country were inspired to create their own flower gardens.

And so began the important role that public parks and gardens play in our lives.

It struck me that this vital purpose of gardens and parks open to the populace is just as significant today as it was then. By simply being there for ones leisure to commune with nature, escape from the demands of quotidian life and take in the beautiful sights, smells and sounds is purposeful enough. However, they also instruct and inform both professional and amateur gardeners as well as those who visit for artistic and aesthetic inspiration.

For me personally, as one who grew up with the tropical plants in India, the learning curve was steep. There was little I could relate to or identify in the North American garden. I had so much to learn! As a graduate student, I made numerous visits to the Chicago Botanical Gardens and the Lincoln Park Conservatory to both escape the pressure of academia and to learn about the new and exciting plants I was discovering. Everywhere I traveled in the US and in Europe, the public gardens became a must see. On moving to New York, the New York Botanical Gardens and Wave Hill were my go-to places right away. In subtle and not so subtle ways, my own personal style and tastes evolved.

So, here I am today – with strong opinions and a depth of horticultural knowledge that has grown exponentially since those early years. But here’s the thing – I still seek out gardens and parks open to the public everywhere I go. I’m acutely aware of the continued need to learn more, seek ideas and keep up with the advances in the field.

The NYBG, Wave Hill, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Central Park and the popular new-kids-on-the-block the High-Line and Untermyer Gardens, remain dear to my heart and mind. I’m privileged to live in a region that also boasts other smaller but vital treasures like Storm King, Inverness, Stonecrop and several others.

The learning and sheer pleasure of visiting public gardens and parks never stops. They are the frontiers of horticultural understanding and information. Their continued discoveries, research, trials and collections are of an importance that cannot be overstated. I salute every one of them and all those hardworking individuals who create, maintain and continue to develop them for us. To entertain and inform is a tall order.

With an upcoming trip to Amsterdam, you can bet the Hortus Botanicus will be the first place I will visit. There are other Dutch gardens and nurseries on my list too. Rest assured I’ll tell you all about them in due course.

Note – Given how much I value public gardens, I am thrilled and honored to be involved in the upcoming symposium : “Great American Public Gardens: Successes and Challenges on September 29. Following solo presentations by the Directors of Horticulture of Wave Hill, the High Line and Untermyer Gardens, I shall be moderating a panel discussion with the three notables themselves.

I hope you will make it a point to attend. The third part of the symposium will be guided tour of Untermyer Gardens. A veritable treat I promise.

Here are a few glimpses of the gardens-

Untermyer :

My superheroes. Garden-makers of Untermyer and Wave Hill. L-R: Timothy Tilghman, John Trexler, Marco Polo Stufano, Drew Schuyler, Louis Bauer

 

Wave Hill:

The High Line ( in winter):

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Growing The Future

“ Screen time” is a hot button issue. As adults, we’re all guilty of wasting ( yes, I said wasting ) far too much time on our digital devices. And being an adult, means we should know better and do better. The choice is simple – get away from whatever electronic devise you’ve developed an unseemly attachment to and do something useful, creative and meaningful instead.

But when it comes to our children, it’s become a true dilemma. I’m not going to elaborate into this because we’re all aware of the problem. There are enough data out there confirming that the young are exposed daily to far too much screen time. Recently, the American Association of Pediatrics put out new recommendations on this topic.

Recommendations are all very well but good, fun alternatives must be offered as well. New interests and hobbies are key. As parents/caregivers/teachers, it starts with setting a good examples ourselves. Needless to say, our own passions and pastimes serve the cause best. So, what are you doing with your time?

Given that outdoor activities are unanimously extolled as antidotes to boredom, stress, anger, poor physical and mental health, I am unsurprisingly making a solid case for children taking up gardening. It is instructive in responsibility and time-management, educational in the sciences, physically demanding, therapeutic, creative, useful and, best of all, hugely rewarding. Exposing a child to the powers and wonders of nature is perhaps one of the single most gratifying experiences. We’re putting at their disposal a toolbox for life-management. Something they can use consistently for the rest of their lives.

I’ve written previously about getting children involved in the garden and, it bears reaffirming the ways to do so. Here goes –

Give them a plot of their own. A patch in the sun, amended with compost ( another lesson to teach!) for a child to work on freely. If space is at a premium, a big planter or a raised bed on a terrace will do just fine. Here, a young one can learn all the lessons of tending a garden. And you, the adult will have no worries about other parts of the garden being accidentally dug up or trampled upon.

Give them the right tools. Not toy tools! Invest in a good set of gardening tools designed for small hands. The right size will make all the difference in both their morale and in their work. Toss in a small wheelbarrow as well!

Provide some early gratification. Patience is not a virtue found in children. Let them begin with quick growing crops like radishes, arugula and other salad leaves. From seed sowing to harvest, these will take about four weeks. Starting with young plants that will flower or fruit quickly are also good options. Let the child have a say in what they want to grow. They will be so proud to provide to the family table and flower vases. In time, they can have fun growing watermelon radish, purple carrots, zebra tomatoes, lemon cucumbers – stuff that is attractively different and not commonly found in the supermarket. Same with flowers – black pansies, green zinnias, giant sunflowers in colors of gaudy sunsets …

Offer extras. Build with them butterfly, bird and bug houses. Create butterfly gardens full of native wildflowers. Set up a birdbaths and bird-feeders. Permit specialization – they can develop collections of whatever plants they like most. From succulents to dahlias to tomatoes, a young gardener can become an expert on any particular plant. Give them bulbs to plant in the fall – their eager anticipation for the spring and sheer delight at observing the bulbs emerge and bloom will get them hooked to gardening. Even jaded teenagers will get weak-kneed at the sight of a bed of daffodils trumpeting open. Mark my words.

Let them grow further. Show them how to learn about what they see. Bird watching, butterfly spotting – identifying and creating an electronic log book could well give them lifelong hobbies to pursue. Show them how to take photos and/or make drawings, sketches or paintings of their gardens, the creatures that visit and finally, of their produce. Developing their creativity gives more meaning to their efforts in the garden.

Tie it all in. To show that you’re not being a Luddite or fuddy-duddy, encourage them to blog or vlog about their gardening life through the seasons. Posting on Instagram their own fabulous, homegrown flowers and vegetables will be exciting. After all, you want them to know that you aren’t anti-technology. You just want them to be well-balanced individuals. Just like you n/est pas?

Note: Exciting news! Mark your calendars! Get your tickets! Click here to find out!

There is still time to see the ‘Waterfront’ show in which I have a painting. Don’t miss the views of the city from the windows there!

Here are some photos taken over the years –

Getting May baskets ready

Bulb planting

Making music in the tree-house. Garden Open Day 2011

Harvesting apples from the espalier orchard

There’s always time for play

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar