That Pesky Plastic Problem

I don’t know about you but, I’ve been feeling mighty unsettled of late. There is a lot going on in the world and much of it is not good. Discord is rampant. You, I’m certain, read the news as I do so, I shall not expand on what is wrong. It’s been making me sad, angry, frustrated and heartbroken. Those emotions are powerful and as such, do not feel good. However, that force generated is impetus to do something positive. However and whatever one does to change or solve a problem moves us in the right direction. Besides, just how long can anybody wallow in despair? What good comes of that anyway?

True, in most cases, a single individual cannot do much but, every solution starts with a single person and a single act.

So, I’m looking around my own little world with determination to do whatever I can. From reaching out to members of my community who might be lonely or in need of some help to signing petitions/calling my representatives in government to donating to worthy causes ( money, clothes, books, food) to putting in a few hours volunteering locally to doing my share in protecting the environment by my own practices in the garden and home. Every effort, however small is empowering. And that leads to more efforts. It becomes a mission. The sum impact is seen or felt in due course.

As gardeners, we are very aware of the environment. What impacts it positively or negatively is always on mind. We want that happy balance of flora and fauna that a healthy environment needs to thrive. There is plenty we can do in the garden that protects, revives and restores that balance. Planting native plants, applying organic practices, using sustainable materials, conserving water, composting, mulching etc.,

However, despite all the progress, one thing that still seems to be widely present is plastic. Pots, tools, furniture, ties, stakes, bags, labels, bottles, gloves – you see?

By now, our senses have been collectively shocked by the images of fish found not only with plastic waste in their stomachs but, plastic has found its way into their flesh. So, it is possible then that the seafood one consumes can contain plastic. No, I take that back – we are already eating some of the plastic we have thrown into the sea. Think what those implications are.

All too often, we are smug in the knowledge that we recycle our plastic and therefore we’re doing our part. Not so fast. 78 million tonnes of plastic packaging is produced globally every year. Of this, 14% is burned for energy recovery, another 14% is recycled but only 2% of that is actually recycled into new materials and 40% goes to landfills. We produce 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago and by 2050 it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Imagine what the seabirds will have to eat. Consider the chain-reaction in such a situation.

Okay, so back into the garden. How many plastic pots do you have? It seems that the average gardener has 39 plastic pots hanging around in their garden. In the past, there were genuine attempts to use cardboard and/or paper pots. Whale-hide ( made of rigid pitch and fiber that resembled whale hide) pots were also developed. However all these pots fell apart soon and nurseries could not have plants sitting in stock all year round. Enter sturdy plastic that takes anywhere from 50 to 1000 years to break down. You get the idea. Shipping and stocking made easy.

Enough of the bad news. Lets think pro-actively. Start by reusing as much as possible. Case in point – bags that held soil or mulch or compost can hold garbage. Meanwhile, petition your town to institute a community composting and mulching program.

Think twice about every bit of plastic that comes into the garden. Could you make a better choice? Can you reuse it after it serves its initial purpose?

Consider getting tools with wooden or bamboo handles instead of plastic.

There are indeed products manufactured with recycled plastic. A noble effort that might be but, I fear that in buying such items, it only fosters the continued use of regular plastic with the misguided thought that it’s okay to do so simply because it can be recycled. Recall paragraph 5 above.

Buy from nurseries that use recycled or biodegradable pots. Start seeds in egg-shell halves, clean yogurt containers, make your own seed-pots from newspaper – there is a simple tool for just that.

Use metal or wooden label markers. My preferred choice is actually slate – get remnants from places that sell pavers. Slate is of course highly durable and very discreet in the garden.

You see? We can each do something. That is all that is asked of us – to do our part. Collectively we shall overcome.

Note: I’m not sharing photos of plastic! Instead, here are some images from a couple of gardens I have visited in the last week.

Papaya

Clematis scrambling over Ilex

A slate label on my espalier

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Mediation In The Meadow

The’ meadow’ in my small garden is one of my favorite spaces. Much goes on here – as the plants grow in and out of the seasons, the diverse creatures forage, hide and nest through out. Life happens here. There is a calm that that settles within whenever I spend a bit of time observing and being still in this space.

Since the meadow is really full of bulbs and mostly native plants and I have generally let it grow as it is wont to do, the work has involved only the periodic weeding of obvious thugs such as garlic mustard. In other words, I’ve been kinda lazy about it all. Over time, in my indulgence of its carefree existence, I’ve ignored the crowding that has emerged. This past weekend as I examined what plants were ready to take over from the camassia and alliums and what was emerging, I found myself searching and wondering where certain plants were. There ought to be more color present. The Chelone lyonii ( pink turtleheads) were looking strong, sturdy and preparing for summer flowering but where were the liatris that ought to start blooming about now? And what happened to the geums, echinacea, asters and ornamental grasses? The first had looked so sweet splashing their red earlier in May but were now swallowed up by more aggressive plants not all of which had been deliberately placed there. The rest were either clearly struggling to grow or had simply called it a day. A wake up call I could no longer ignore.

I see how the jewelweed has, without permission, become way too precocious. The wood anemone, drunk with the knowledge that I love it, has spread itself rather too freely. There are numerous other nondescript plants that I’m yet to identify that clearly do not belong here. Little bullies and squatters.

So my mission for the remainder of this month is to tackle the meadow. To get in there to pull out and thin out is daunting. I’m afraid to discover how many precious plants I have lost in my negligence and what critters I might be disturbing after giving them carte blanche in the meadow. Plus, I’m absolutely certain the mosquitoes will learn of my presence in no time at all. This is not going to be pleasant.

But, I must step up, own my indolence and make the necessary amends. It’s what any good, self-respecting gardener must do. Meanwhile. I’m distracting all viewers with baby robins, the roses, wisteria and emerging oak-leaf hydrangea. Even better, the climbing hydrangea is in full bloom and the fragrance is so heavenly that all thought to look at anything critically is forgotten. Perfect decoy.

Note: The images below compare the meadow in May and June. You can see how overgrown it looks in June ( with due diligence it does not have to look this way! My bad.)

May:

June:

Anemone take-over in progress

The worthy distractions:

Close-up. H. petiolaris

Climbing hydrangea

Oak-leaf hydrangea

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Having My Flowers And Eating Them Too

As a child, I’d spend endless hours in the garden. Amidst playing and puttering, I made discoveries and learned so much about plants and bugs. One of my most pleasant pastimes was to find the tasty treats that the garden served. Beyond the usual berries, fruits and vegetables.

I was familiar with the common herbs like mint, holy basil and cilantro. Nibbling on them I’d imagine I was in the forest hiding from wicked witches or, I was Mowgli from the Jungle Book savvy in the ways of jungle living. It felt more special to eat the flowers of the herbs than their leaves.

I’d pick roses and savor the petals one at a time. I learned to eat only the young flowers as the older ones tasted a tad bitter. On the other hand, hibiscus petals provided a tangy flavor. Nasturtiums were peppery but the leaves were not so tasty to my young palate.

I knew to suck the long tubular ends of certain flowers and savor the sweet nectar.

In my curiosity, I recall taste testing other flowers and leaves – some were terribly bitter. It never occurred to me that I could get sick from such experimentation. It was fortunate I didn’t come to any harm. Since I never really discussed my doings in the garden, nobody knew to stop this line of risky inquiry.

Fast forward to present day. It is now quite common to include plants with edible flowers in the garden. Adding to the roster of the aforementioned rose, hibiscus and nasturtiums, are pansies, calendula, borage, zucchini blossoms, purple tops of chives, white flowers of garlic, yellow dill heads, lavender, elderflower and more. It does one good to have these plants in your garden. Beautiful and edible – a winning combination. Of course, make sure the flowers come from organically grown plants. Pesticide and chemical free.

Note – A bonus to picking flowers is that it encourages most plants to produce more. I always leave some flowers so the plants continue to look good and allowed to set seed.

Now that we’re in the season of eating light and fresh, using flowers in our recipes adds an extra pizazz to the presentation. Flowers make everything a celebration.

So, I’m sharing with you a few simple recipes to get you started on a season of celebrations.

1. Summer = cold drinks. Add flowers to your ice-trays and right away you have elevated your drinks to a higher level. Violas and borage suspended in ice are my favorites.

2. Top salads with freshly picked nasturtiums, calendula and sunflower petals, pansies, borage or chive flowers. They make the salad look pretty and add subtle flavor to it. Nasturtiums have a peppery punch that I love. Borage has a mild cucumber flavor and pansies taste like lettuce.

3. Add pea or bean flowers to rice or couscous for a delicate flavor. Caution – Leave plenty of flowers on the plant or you won’t get any beans or peas!

4. Decorate a simple olive oil cake with whole fresh roses and you’ve now got an Instagram worthy dessert.

5. Stick a sprig of lavender in a sugar bowl. Next time you sweeten your tea or lemonade, there will be a hint of lavender to bring a smile to your lips.

6. Crystallized petals of roses and whole pansies look sensational on cakes. Here’s a link on how to crystallize.

7. Cool off with a watermelon and rose granita – scoop the de-seeded flesh of half a large watermelon ( about 2 and ½ Lbs of flesh) and put in blender with 4 oz sugar, juice of 1 large lemon and ½ teaspoon rose water. Blend till smooth and strain. Pour liquid into shallow, wide container and freeze for 30 minutes. Break up crystals with a fork and return to freezer. Repeat this process two more times till granita has formed ice crystals and there is no slush. Takes about 3 hours in total. Serve in chilled glasses. Top with a rose bud or a thin spiral of lemon peel. Fancy.

For Homemade Rosewater:

  1. Remove petals from about 7 large roses and run them under luke-warm water to remove any residue.
  2. Add petals to a large pot and top with enough distilled water ( about a quart and a half) to just cover (no more or you’ll dilute your rosewater).
  3. Over medium-low heat bring the water to a simmer and cover.
  4. Let simmer for 20-30 minutes or until petals have lost their color and are pale.
  5. Strain the mixture to separate the petals from the water.
  6. Discard petals and place water in a glass jar to store.The rosewater can be kept in a well-sealed bottle in the refrigerator all season. It can also flavor lemonade, ice-cream and other desserts.

Get started and have yourself a healthy, celebratory summer!

Note: Do peruse shop to get your gifts for all occasions. 100% of the profits goes to support the education of children with HIV/AIDS.

Enjoy the photos of edible flowers in the garden:

Nasturtium

Pansies in pots

Violas

Zucchini blossoms

Sunflowers

Serving up zucchini flowers!

Merry marigolds!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Power

It is the moment I yearn for all year long. The month of May in all her glory. Everywhere one looks there are flowers in bloom and more getting ready to join the show. The varied shades of green serve as a complex backdrop to all the other colors filling the garden. I cannot get enough of these days. Yet, all too often, as the year moves along, I find myself feeling I did not get my fill of the flowers and the garden in general.

This year, I have taken deliberate measures to give myself the time to revel in the beauty around. First off, I limited all commitments to only the essential. Then I pared down my interaction with those beloved, time-sucking electronic tools. “ Wander Where The Wi-Fi Is Weak” has become my new mantra. ( I got that from the Swedish Institute)

Those two actions alone freed me up to the point where I spent time admiring, observing and painting the flowers at leisure like I’ve never permitted myself before. It is possibly the best self-care for this or any soul in much need of temporarily and periodically escaping the horrors in the world and gaining perspective, peace and a better path to maintain balance in life.

The restorative power of time spent in nature cannot be over-emphasized or underestimated. It is free, powerful, highly palatable, immediately effective and, one cannot overdose on it. So, step into the garden and let it work its magic on you. Again and again and again.

Note: Here are some images from what’s blooming in my garden. Enjoy.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Bird Brain

It all started whilst standing in the kitchen at the cooking range – from the corner of my eye I noticed a flurry of activity outside the kitchen window. Turning to look, there was a robin with a beak full of fine pieces of twigs hopping around on the pergola directly below. Observing more closely, I spotted the nest. As though sited for my viewing pleasure, it sat nestled in the wisteria branches atop the pergola, giving one a perfect aerial perspective. Oh joy!

Watching nesting birds is one of my favorite pastimes. Here was that chance like no other. No climbing ladders, straining awkwardly or being stealthy – all that was needed was to stand at the window and look down. The nest is barely six feet below. Needless to say, this discovery took me completely away from all intentions to get my work done.

I was so loathe to leave for my trip to the Netherlands. Throughout my flight there I obsessed about the nest. Was it sited too visibly? Is it too easy for the squirrels o find? Would the afternoon sun hit it too harshly? And how about the rain? With reports of the heavy downpours yesterday, I’m anxious to find out. Oh the worries! I’m due back in a day so thankfully, the wait won’t be too long.

My walks in the Dutch country side have taken me through farmlands where I’m privileged to see cows with calves sticking close to their mamas, sheep with lambs that resemble balls of wool for the taking. Signs are posted making the public aware the this is an area that farms in a way that protects creatures that nest at ground level. Sure enough, I’ve discerned ducks in grassy fields sitting on what must be clutches of eggs. The farmers do not cut the hay the typical three to four times of the year. Instead, they do so only once. This allows wildlife to flourish. At any given time, some fields are left uncut and other fields are cultivated. Consequently, the yield may not be as high as we have come to expect from modern practices but, it is a comfortable compromise between man and animals. In time I heard enough bird song and became aware of sufficient activity that proved how well this policy was working. Did my heart a world of good. To take up modern ways is not always progress. Certain ancient principals have held up to time. To live and let live is one of them.

As I prepare to fly back home, I take with me a fresh resolve to assiduously support the wild life I have come to appreciate and depend upon.

Notice the robin with its beak full?

The Dutch countryside:

See the nesting duck in this field?

Protected birds here

‘Ekster’ – is the Dutch name of this bird

Ekster nest

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Lion Roared

March arrived baring teeth, roaring madly and with claws unsheathed. High winds and heavy snow wreaked havoc along the Northeast. Trees toppled like skittles bringing down power lines and making many roads impassable. There was widespread loss of power. At present, thousands are still without electricity.

Trying to make the most of the circumstances is a challenge. Sadly, storms have become more frequent and more fierce. We should be more prepared. Still, no matter how ready one is, it is never easy to reconcile with the destruction. When old giants lay uprooted it is always reason to mourn. Having homes damaged is particularly hard.

Given the mild month of February when plants were jolted out of their winter slumber and then assaulted by the recent storm, it’s hard to know what to expect this growing season. Weather-wise, we are apparently 20 days ahead of schedule. That is insane! Clearly, we are being called to pay heed and adapt accordingly. How precisely to do so needs serious consideration. Action needs to be swift. From amping up our environmentally conscious, sustainable practices to adjusting our planting and harvesting schedules, we must act. The evidence is clear and there is ample data to support climate change. So lets get smart about what we do.

Whilst still trying to recover from last Friday’s storm, another big one is expected tonight. Heavy snow is predicted. At this point, it is difficult to simply admire the beauty of the snowy landscapes. I feel for the flora and fauna that are vulnerable to all the climactic confusion. There will be a chain reaction and finally, we humans will feel the impact. Big time.

I don’t claim to know the solution. Is there a simple solution? I think not. But, this much I do know – we cannot maintain this status quo. Every single one of us must rise to the occasion. We each have a part to play. Becoming aware is a start. There’s plenty we can do – small changes and big ones too.

By now, we assume recycling, reusing and reducing waste is routine but unfortunately, that not true. I’m consistently shocked by the number of places I visit ( residential and public) where this easy principle is not implemented.

Eating what is seasonal, being mindful of carbon footprints, packaging and processing are other things we can adopt effortlessly.

Planting, growing and literally greening our properties is doable and satisfying. Be it planting trees or growing herbs in pots, every attempt is a step in the right direction.

But, lets think bigger. Stewardship of the land. Yes. I’m suggesting that we make our moves by looking ahead. Way ahead. Rather than plan our gardens for our own immediate and near future enjoyment, lets give future generations something truly valuable. A world in good health.

For those who lost trees and shrubs in the storm, view this as a new opportunity. By no means am I trivializing the loss. It hurts emotionally and financially to have such damages. Recognize and accept the pain. Every type of loss deserves a mourning of sorts. Whenever I had to bid goodbye to a tree, I’ve taken a bit of time and thanked it for its faithful service and wished it well. It is my way of reconciling with the loss and moving on.

Replace a tree with one that is native, deep rooted and appropriate in size and shape for the location. Deep rooted generally means it is also a slow grower. You may not be around to see it mature and majestic. No matter. A subsequent generation will benefit. And think of the many other creatures this tree will support and nurture.

Fast growing trees are typically shallow rooted and come down easily in storms. In nature, instant gratification is not a wise option.

If possible, plant more trees than you lost. Sometimes, the trees that fall have outgrown their location so, while losing them is sad, it can open up the garden to other planting possibilities. The area is now sunny and new beds can be installed. That’s exciting. A long harbored garden dream can come true!

It bears repeating that fallen trees can be re-purposed, they continue to serve well beyond their lifetime – think mulch, firewood, pavers, swing seats, benches and stump-tables. If location permits, leave the tree as is on the ground and let it become a haven for all sorts of creatures. A micro-habitat that results in eventually enriching the earth.

Go organic. Our children and their children do not need chemical laden soil. Organic treatments require due diligence and more effort than non-organic ones. But so worth it. Even with organic, one should be judicious. All treatments are non-specific so good bugs are affected as well. Therefore, in conjunction with organic practices, planting mostly native plants will be the correct thing to do. It’ll promote a healthy, robust garden.

Native plants are not as fussy or greedy about water and fertilizer. Less watering is good all around right? Right? And reduce the lawn size while you’re at it. Lawns guzzle water, fertilizer and pesticides to look pristine and lush. Lawns are the divas of the garden – everybody might admire her but nobody enjoys her needs and demands. Instead, let the lawn support a mix of other low-growing plants like clover and ajuga. Use only compost ( preferably homemade) to feed and mulch the lawn. This, along with maintaining the height of the grass at about 4 inches or higher will reduce the watering needs of the lawn.

All of these points are effective and achievable. Really.

When each of us honors our responsibilities,we make progress as a whole.

I might well be preaching to the choir here but perhaps saying what might seem obvious over and over will reverberate and be felt far and wide, This is after all the only home planet we have. We must protect and preserve if we are to prosper.

Note:

I will have some of my art works in a show at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery, NYC, the week of March 12, 2018. I hope you will visit! Reception is on Tuesday March 13 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.

Here are some of my favorite photos of trees:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Code Rush

All winter long I look forward to spring. But I kinda need the winter. As much as spring is full of new life and milder weather, it is a really busy time. There is so much to get done that one needs to work at double pace. Winter provides the necessary time to plan and prepare for that frenetic activity to come. It’s not only the requirement of physical fitness but the mental readiness as well. In December, I totally chill out. I’m very grateful for the time to get cozy and lazy. In January, I start dreaming and planning for what I want to do in the garden. In February, I’m slowly getting myself ready but mostly, I spend the month complaining about the cold and harsh weather. In March, tired of grumbling, I eagerly start looking for signs of spring in the garden and towards the latter part of the month, I gently ease into the work of clean-up and repair. In April, work is in full swing.

This year however, February has let me down. It has been much milder than usual. My snowdrops have been out for two weeks already, the red maple is in full bud and it’s been feeling more like late March. I feel cheated. Without the usual February grace period, I’m sensing unease and uncertainty. It’s as though spring is trying to rush up to me simply to knock me down. March might still bring snow and ice to undo the efforts of plants that responded to the mild days thus far. What is a gardener to do?

Well, this gardener is going to rise to the occasion. Against my baser need to whine and vent, I’m challenging myself to be mature and wise. I cannot really pretend I have the power to do anything about the weather. Instead, while the temperatures are mild, I’m checking for what things need repair, reworking or replacing. Edgers to be realigned, a few pavers to be repositioned, posts straightened etc., Clean up can begin – cut back plants that were let to provide winter interest, lightly prune fruit trees, pick up winter debris. The front lawn needs some attention too. Because of how wet it has been in recent days, I’m going to wait for it to dry out somewhat. Walking on wet ground and lawn can be damaging so it is best to avoid doing so. I’ll use the time to check on supplies like stakes, twine, Epsom salts ( for the roses and tired feet), sharpness of tools and such. The compost heap can be given a good stir so it knows its services will be called upon shortly.

I still feel a bit rushed but I think it’ll be okay. As long as I remember to breathe deeply and pause every now and then to simply revel in being in the garden. That much I know I can do.

Heads Up! I will have some of my art works in a show at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery, NYC, the week of March 12, 2018. I hope you will visit!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Gardens Are Just Like Babies

Time and again, it has occurred to me that our relationship to our gardens parallel those we have have with our children. As special as we hold ones progeny in our hearts, if one were to be honest, the garden’s position seems to be no less to a true gardener. Lest you protest, let me state my case. However, I do believe you already know and concur my declaration to be true.

From the onset, yearning, planning, preparing for a garden is fraught with dreams, anxiety, excitement and impatience. All along, one receives lots of unsolicited advice and cautions about the endeavor. While there is a glut of information about the hows and whys, there is no exact blueprint or handbook – the creation and ‘upbringing’ of each garden is unique. They are all special.

As a gardener embarks on this venture and forever after, she/he does so with a level of insecurity matched only by the neediness for constant approval. We are infinitely cheered by any and all praise. Even the slightest hint of criticism is met with an unduly high degree of defensiveness. Yet, a gardener is always on the look out for counsel and advice that must by necessity confirm and condone his/her own current practices.

Gardening is both exhilarating and exhausting. We seem to consistently forget how hard the work is and create them anyway. We make sacrifices with our time, energy and money, put in long hours and provide constant care and attention often at risk to ones own health and well-being.

Gardening can be expensive but we are willing to shell out – after all, only the best we can provide will do. We indulge in providing for its needs generously, While we may complain about the work, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

The business of tending the garden comes with enough variety to keep matters interesting. We make excuses when the garden is not up to snuff and yet, we are inordinately proud of it. As the garden grows, the work doesn’t let up; it merely changes to keep up with the new demands. We worry about our gardens endlessly. Even whilst away from it, there is the non-stop concern about how it is faring. We are well aware that merely looking away seems to give a garden license to get itself in trouble.

How a garden flourishes is taken as a direct reflection on ourselves. It is all taken personally. When it comes to how ones garden performs or is perceived, we are an acutely sensitive lot.

We love to talk about our gardens ad nauseam and consider them better than all others. Apparently a certain selective blindness afflicts all gardeners.

We judge other gardeners by how their gardens look and at the same time, we form amongst ourselves a support system so we can vent and cheer each other on.

Finally, we draw immeasurable satisfaction from raising a garden. There is nothing else quite like it. No wait, having and raising babies is exactly like that.

Note: The photos below are the creation of a community garden I designed some years ago .

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Learning Extension

Heading into February and winter feels soooo long! I’m itching to get going in the garden but that’s not going to happen for another two months. So, besides dreaming and planning, what’s a gardener to do? This is what I call my time to enrich my horticultural knowledge so I can garden smarter.

The Winter Lecture Series at the New York Botanical Gardens is one I look forward to eagerly. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to some truly impressive horticultural giants and I’ve learned so much from each. Coming up next in this year’s series is Arne Maynard – I’ve followed his work for years and can’t wait to hear him in person. Tickets can go fast so book early!

Bonus – In attending these lectures, you often get to see several garden world glitterati also in attendance. See, they too value such talks.

Next, I use the winter to catch up on the pile of garden magazines for which I had no time during the growing season. Apart from our own excellent American publications, I subscribe to a few from other countries. It’s nice to keep up with research, new practices and trends all over the world.

Bonus- The gorgeous photographs will keep you excited and make you up your ante in your own garden. Nothing like a firm yet subtle nudge to reach higher.

Extra bonus for reading magazines very late – When magazines arrive, they typically offer articles pertaining to the moment/month/season at hand. While they might be inspiring, it’s too late to act on the information for the present. Frankly, despite any notes I might make, I cannot expect myself to remember to refer to them or summon the same level of enthusiasm when the next appropriate time to act comes around. Unlike fashion magazines, new developments, trends and information in gardening are not short-lived. By reading the publications in winter, I have the luxury of time to immediately research the resources, plan, design, set up appointments with professionals such as masons and tree experts and order plants, tools and such. When spring rolls up, I’m all ready to go.

Visiting public gardens and conservatories both locally and in my winter travels/escapes is still an additional way to see and learn. Taking the time to observe means I really get to understand how and why specific designs and plants work.

Bonus – Lingering in the warm, humid conservatories that are often fragrant to boot, is wonderfully therapeutic. Almost, as though I went to a spa. My mind and skin emerge nourished.

Finally, this year, I’ve decided to do something about the occupational hazards of gardening. I’m talking about those aches and pains that arise from the physical demands of the innumerable tasks in the garden. And over the years, chronic pain is a real hindrance for many gardeners. So, this past weekend, I’ve registered with my local Continuing Education center for a course in the Alexander technique which is all about un-learning the way we typically move to do routine tasks and instead re-learn how to do them so we do not keep hurting ourselves. Moving smarter.

Bonus – I’m looking forward to meeting people in this class with whom I can share stories about my aches and pains.

Now, how are you whiling away your winter?

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Tips In The Thaw

So, from temperatures suitable to the tundra we went to spring over the weekend. On Saturday, the thermometer outside my kitchen window registered a solid 55 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s expected to creep up to 57 today. Kinda crazy but oh so welcome. Puts me in a Spring frame of mind.

While I have no idea how these impressive fluctuations in temperature will affect the plants, I’m staying optimistic. After all, it’s in the plant’s best interest to survive. However, I do fervently wish the garden pests are not that determined and succumb to the stress of the cold. What a boon that would be.

This blast of balmy weather has got my sap flowing and I’m corralling my plant catalogs, garden magazines, photographs and notes made on assorted pieces of paper. Dreams must be examined and turned into reality one hopes. New plants to source and their residency in the garden determined. At this stage of the planning, I’m naturally delusional and write up a wish list that only a garden the size of Versailles could accommodate. I’m aware of this but it’s so much fun to dream. Reality will hit all to soon and that list will ultimately fit on a Post-It.

In the UK, that mecca of gardens and gardeners, they are ahead of us by a couple of months. Some are already talking about noting emerging buds on shrubs and such. Snowdrops are in bloom! Meanwhile, here in New York, I cast my eyes around my modest, snow clad garden and there’s nary a sign of anything. Sigh. However, it’s all a matter of time. Here too spring will arrive. In any case, it’s the anticipation that truly excites. Planning at this time is the perfect way to enjoy the wait. Of course, being prepared means we can get started on the garden as soon as possible.

It is not simply about plants and designing /redesigning borders. To be honest, I’m not looking to do anything drastic or dramatic this year. Some additions, a little tweaking and a whole lot of TLC. I’m always looking to learn new, improved methods and practices. To garden smarter.

So far, I’ve come up with two tips to ease my work and still be eco-friendly. The first has to do with my vegetable bed. This is a small rectangle in the herb garden that largely supports cool weather greens as it gets only a limited amount of sunlight. Shade notwithstanding, weeds still thrive in this compost enriched area and it’s a real nuisance to keep up with them.

This year, I’m going to try the “ stale seed bed method. The area is first cultivated and then, instead of sowing right away, the bed is cultivated repeatedly – once a day for two weeks. As mine is a small space, it will not be as much work as it sounds. What this practice does is eliminate weeds whose seeds might have been embedded from the previous year and other pests like slugs. It’s starting from zero so to speak.

The second tip concerns my boxwoods. Those in the ground and the ones wintering in pots in the greenhouse will be pruned earlier than usual – in early to mid- March when fungal spores are not active. The cuttings will not be composted – instead they will be tossed away with the garbage. Keeping a bucket of a solution of vinegar handy means periodically dunking the pruners to sterilize them. Boxwood blight is a real threat and being scrupulously clean is imperative.

I will keep you posted about how these two applications work out. Should you try them yourself, please share your experience as well. Remember – we’re stronger together.

Note: As we’re dreaming of spring, here some watercolor renditions of spring blooms. The real ones will be visible soon enough! Enjoy.

FYI – some of these images are available in note cards and/or on fabric related products  ‘The Printed Garden’. Do check out shop.

Yardage is available on spoonflower.com .

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar