Romancing The Garden

Gardeners are romantic. I have come to realize and accept this. In making anything beautiful, it pretty much goes without saying (but I’m saying) that one must also be romantic. You aren’t convinced? Hmmm. Let me tell you how I’ve come to realize my own idealistic, sentimental nature in action in the garden. You tell me if you’ve never been similarly inclined.

I’ll start with the very poster child of romance. The rose. I love them. I have included several in my garden – all in shades of pink, profuse and preferably perfumed. The very display of roses in bloom brings to the forefront matters of the heart. You absolutely cannot see a rose and not think of love and romance. Am I right?

When I chose to place two arches and plant roses to scramble up them, I envisioned something very traditional. The arch one must go through to reach the front door was to invite and disarm the visitor. It puts one in good cheer. The subtle fragrance sends an additional message of welcome. The three different clematis weaving through this rose takes the whole to a higher level. Pure romance.

The second arch which is a gateway to the gardens in the back, has a different rose. Brighter in its rosy hue and with a stronger perfume. It makes its presence felt long before you get near it. A temptation to coax the curious to come forth.

A shrub rose I planted on the side path in early spring was chosen for its prettiness, hardiness and its scent. The whole idea being that its fragrance will waft into the house through the studio windows just above and assault my senses in the nicest possible way as I paint. I’d like to think my work can only be made better under such influences.

In truth, one can smell the roses in all the rooms on that side of the house. It makes me pause, inhale deeply and appreciate the aroma. Life feels good. Similarly, I position the pots of citrus, jasmine and gardenia on the side terrace so the night air is redolent with their strong aromas – hopefully sweetening our dreams and slumber.

In the herb garden, I included plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Lovage, rue, hyssop, comfrey, foxgloves and such. Apart from the lovage which pairs well with fish, the others merely look pretty and remind me of earlier times. Hyssop while purported to soothe sore throats, was popularly used as a spiritual bath. The hyssop bath is usually considered to be a personal ritual to remove sin and negativity in life. It has a Biblical significance. Rue means disdain or regret. Comfrey too had a role in early medicine as a poultice to treat joint pains. All so quaint and romantic right?

Even a feature like the ‘meadow’ has an element of idealism and romance. It is a place for congeniality between the native flora and fauna. Where butterflies, birds and bees pollinate and populate my corner of paradise. Life supporting life, all creatures living together in peace and all is well with the world. What a concept!

The espalier of 27 apple and 5 pear trees hark back to a time when all of this neighborhood was full of apple orchards. I like to think I’ve in some way restored something precious to this place.

The pergola in the back terrace was designed so the wisteria would grow over its top, generously providing shade under which we can gather to break bread and sip wine with friends and family as often as possible. And we do. Idyllic escapes in a world gone mad.

And so it goes. I see how in creating this garden, I have subconsciously let my inner romantic guide me. It is about beauty, history, literature, harmony, the sacred and most of all, love.

Now, how about you?

Note: Enjoy these romantic images!

View from the upstairs window boxes
Hyssop
Gardenia
Citrus

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Artful Arrangements

Art In Bloom’ the poster said. Paintings of flowers I thought. It was so much more.

Weston, a quintessentially charming Vermont town best known for the legendary Vermont Country Store and its thriving eponymous playhouse. I have, over the years, discovered that this little place has some mighty impressive events and highly energetic, innovative and generous residents. For all those of us ( my hand is up) in and close to New York City who assume everything interesting and noteworthy happens in our neck of the woods, Weston is there to say “not so fast’.

The annual antique and craft shows are world class. While the craft show is restricted to Vermont artisans only, dealers from all over the country participate in the antiques show. With none of the uber-hype and big city ‘sophistication’ getting in the way, they showcase the best of Vermont. And the best is precisely that.

This past weekend, I was in for an unexpected treat in the show ‘Art In Bloom’. Not simply art on display, it was a show of flower arrangements by members of the local garden club inspired by paintings donated by local artists. While we are all accustomed to art inspired by nature and still-life paintings of floral arrangements, it was a nice twist to see what a person could do with flowers to interpret art. And quite a challenge it was.

The art works of mostly paintings and a couple of lovely examples of fiber arts, ranged from renditions of flowers to still-lifes with flowers to landscapes and abstract art. I imagine the abstracts and some of the landscapes must’ve been particularly challenging. How does one interpret a snow scene, a covered bridge, a musical instrument or a frog? Well, the members of the Green Mountain Garden Club rose to the occasion splendidly. From the literal to the imaginative, artistic, thoughtful and creative, each arrangement interpreted its corresponding artwork handsomely. Clearly, the flower arrangers knew their flowers and plants, understood nature, had a sense of humor and appreciated the arts very well.

I had come to this exhibit out of curiosity. Having never been to such a ‘reverse’ pairing of art and flower arranging, I had no expectations. So, it wasn’t just a welcome surprise – here was a wonderful demonstration of creativity and artistry. I was taught, I was inspired, I was humbled.

I came, I saw, I ascended.

Note – I’m giving myself the challenge of creating a flower arrangement inspired by a favorite painting. Maybe you will do the same? Please share!

Depending on the device on which you’re reading this, some of the images below will appear on their side. I do not yet know how to rectify the problem. I apologize!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Painting In The Plantings

All Gardening Is Landscape Painting’ – Alexander Pope

It’s become something of a tradition to have a group of artist friends spend a day in June painting and bonding in my little garden. This year, it happened last Saturday. The weather was perfect. Neither hot nor cold in temperature, the air was dry, sunny with a few white clouds … like I said, perfect.

I have often said that the garden is my muse. My painting, poetry and all other writing is inspired by the garden. How and what I choose to cook, the décor of my home and much of my taste in clothes is influenced by nature – her seasons and colors. Heck, even books or movies set in a garden or about one stand a good chance of being picked up by me. So, it’s always exciting when others are inspired to create in my garden.

All the artists come up from New York city so, they notice the air quality, the clarity of light, the colors that abound, the sounds of myriad birds, the fragrances swirling around – everything. Things that I’m so used to and often take for granted are newly appreciated as I observe their responses and delight.

From the hues of fallen petals to the shapes of flowers to the patterns of leaves to the shifting shadows to the juxtaposition of stone and plant, I see it all through their eyes. As an artist myself, I appreciate the way they see my garden. As a gardener, I’m humbled by their appreciation and sensitivity to the thought and design of my horticultural creation. After all, the garden itself is my personal, never ending, forever evolving work of art. Having the artists here is a valuable critique session of sorts.

What view or plantings each of them selects to paint and how they interpret what they see is eye-opening and exciting. It feels to me I’m learning to see my own garden in a whole new way. Remarkably, this happens to me every year! A reboot. It is gratifying and instructive.

Through good gardening, we reconnect with nature and remedy some of the harm we humans cause to our natural environment. In the process, the gardener hopes to create something beautiful and useful. Artists have always observed, studied and imitated Nature. They give astute commentary to what is going on in the world.

I am the happy beneficiary of feedback from gardeners and garden lovers on my Open Day and then again from artists ( a few are gardeners as well) on Painting Day. Taken together, I am the one most enriched – making me a better gardener and artist. That’s priceless.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Plant Power

Humans have always known the importance of being connected to the natural world. Not simply for the obvious – food, shelter ( caves, construction materials), fuel and, medicine. We are inherently aware that there is a deeper, spiritual relationship between us and the plant kingdom. From using flowers/plants to mark every significant event in our lives, returning our spent bodies to the embrace of the earth, to adorning and anointing ourselves with flowers, leaves, bark and roots for their perfume, cosmetic properties in a bid to enhance our looks, the horticultural world is intrinsic to our human-ness.

There is a plethora of anecdotal and scientific evidence to support the positive effect of time spent outdoors. Garden therapy is an accepted and valued method to heal all sorts of human conditions – physical and mental. Be it a stroll in the park, a hike in the woods, puttering in the garden or just sitting quietly amidst some greenery, a positive effect is palpably felt. Lifting ones mood, being physically energized after a stint out in nature is something every one of us can relate to. Gardening is empowering. To create something useful and beautiful is transforming. There is even a ‘Gardens Without Borders’ effort to help refugees in camps and war zones cope with their circumstances. That’s plant power.

Humans generally go about assuming their position at the very top of the living world. I’m not certain how we got to possess such hubris because in my experience, nothing is more humbling than observing nature closely as one does in gardening. Before one assumes what we do outsideis the principal effector, consider the plant community itself. What do we truly know about the kingdom of plants?

We have generally assessed plants from a very human perspective – how do they serve us? We regard plants as being there for our specific purposes. And we are in charge. Their very separation from us and all animals to a kingdom of their own shows how we think about plants. They are totally unlike us. But, are they really?

This past Saturday, I attended two highly interesting talks/panel discussions. Both were events made possible by the World Science Festival. The WSF takes place at this time of year in New York City – five days chock full of talks and discussions on all sorts of scientific topics. Leading scientists from different parts of the world participate in these talks and enlighten auditoriums packed with people thirsting for answers and understanding the issues currently affecting our lives. From cancer research to cosmic riddles to climate change to contemplating the cerebrum as we know it. I’ve been going to the WSF since it began about 11 years ago. I get positively giddy with excitement going through the line-up of talks and making my choices for the ones I’m most eager to attend.

This year, I chose two events that were so closely related that I believe they should’ve been proposed as a double feature. ‘Rethinking Thinking’ and ‘ Intelligence Without Brain’ were my picks. Both were so interesting and certainly enlightening. The take home is having a brain and neurons is only one way to think and navigating life. And humans are not special at all – we are just one form of life. Given my own background in molecular biology, this was not surprising or hard to accept.

It was fascinating to learn that even stuff like fungi and slime mold are capable of communication, problem solving and decision making. More so than one can imagine. In the animal kingdom, there is’ intelligence’ that parallels humans – only in ways more suited to their own genus and/or species. And when it comes to plants, they do so much more than we ever thought possible!

In recent years, we have learned that plants communicate by sending out chemical messages to warn, commiserate about disease and other life conditions. On Saturday, I found out that they make sounds via their roots! They have voices. At this time, we don’t know the how or why. It’s possible they can ‘talk’ above ground as well – we just don’t know how to test/hear them. Yet. Cogitate on that.

Going further, there is now data that plants can reason and remember. Yes, that’s right. This is all cutting edge scientific research and terribly thrilling. I won’t go into details and you don’t have to take my word for it as all the talks can be accessed at worldsciencefestival.com

So, circling back to my original commentary about how we are healed and invigorated by just being in the presence of plants. Perhaps, plants ‘silently’ comfort and/or treat our wounded selves in ways we are yet to determine or measure. They have after all been around so much longer than we humans and get this – the plant kingdom is 99% of all living forms found on earth. Surely then, it stands to reason that they know more than us. Stay tuned!

Here are some feel good images from the garden. Enjoy –

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Good Time(ing)s

In general, once my garden Open Day has passed, a respite of sorts is granted. The garden looks its best, all the heavy work is over and it’s simply a matter of maintenance. Weeding, watering, deadheading, mowing – the usual tasks to keep the garden looking neat and cared for. It’s time to start relaxing and lolling about in the garden. But not this year.

I had, over this past winter, decided to go for a bigger push in the ‘meadow’. Envisioning this space as a true four season performance arena and inspired by Piet Oudolf’s matrix planting system, I ordered 18 different native plants totaling 200 plants. That’s a lot of plants. Given that the ‘meadow’ already has a range of plants and bulbs in residence, the new introductions would be a bit of a challenge. So, I sourced a nursery that would provide young plugs of the plants making it a bit easier to get into the ground between the existing plants.

This new order arrived a day before the Open Day. Needless to say, planting them had to wait. Given the need to take a little time off post-Open Day and a couple of days of inclement weather, a whole week went by. Memorial weekend it had to be. As much as I was keen on simply enjoying the long weekend with no tasks on the agenda, the plugs of plants could not be ignored. Hence, over the afternoon of Saturday to well past sunset we planted one side of the ‘meadow’. The weather was ideal but getting around the established plants was a game of Twister. Marking the spots for the plugs using bamboo stakes, making the holes ( my engineer husband/under-gardener used a drill and that made it so much better) and placing the plants took so much longer than if one were starting on a blank canvas of earth. Our sore backs and legs were testaments to the effort.

Sunday dawned and we began at 8:00am by which time it was already hot and humid. So vastly different from the day before. The bugs were out in full swing. We finally got all the planting done barely in time to start preparing for our first garden party of the season. We hadn’t as yet shopped for the event! Needless to say, it became a marathon of shopping, prepping, baking (dessert), setting up, laying the table, firing up the outdoor wood-fired oven, showering and dressing … in a matter of hours.

All was accomplished just in time for the first guests’ arrival. Whew!

Then, just as the party was nicely underway and we were considering starting on pizza making, the first raindrops dropped. Yikes! Very soon we realized it was only going to get worse. This crowd was not the kind to run indoors. Not a chance. Instead, with all hands on deck, a big tarpaulin was spread and tethered over the pergola ( with me urging them to “mind the wisteria buds!”). The pop-up tent was brought out of storage and commissioned to allow the pizza-maker/husband and guest helpers to work unfettered by the rain. And the party continued in much hilarity and good cheer. Well into the night.

Planting time, good times – it’s all in the timing. And a can-do attitude.

P.S – Aforementioned under-gardener has categorically stated that he is done with all planting for the rest of the growing season. Hmmm, we shall see about that.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Weather Perfect

A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves.” Marcel Proust

Ah, Open Day has come and gone leaving me with a sense of relief, well-being and satisfaction. The weather was perfect. After three straight years of cold, wind and rain on Open Day, this exquisite day was well overdue.

The sun shone bright, the air was dry, the temperature was ideal – not hot, not cold, a gentle breeze prevailed and the garden was filled with the buzz, tweets and hums of bees, birds and butterflies. The flowers rose to the occasion and shone bright and beautiful. I could not have asked for any better.

It is almost impossible not to respond positively to weather such as that. There is an imperceptible yet powerful shift in one’s mood and outlook. For myself, it felt as though a new energy had moved into my body. Being outside in the garden felt so right. There was no other place to be. No bugs biting, no jackets weighing me down, no sweat to wipe off and, best of all, no chores to do. This was as good as it gets.

It was the perfect weather to share the garden. And the garden looked its best despite the cold and rain it had endured thus far this spring. Several plants were lagging in their bloom time but the others stepped up admirably. Every visitor arrived with happy spirits and curious minds. Of the 100 or so visitors, I did not encounter a single person with the slightest hint of negativity.

As much as I love sharing my garden, I adore meeting other gardeners and garden lovers. I learn so much. This time, I picked up on a new-for-me nursery to check out, a few gardens I must visit, a book to add to my summer reading, enjoyed several good laughs, received feedback on my own garden and made new partners in horticultural-crime. At the end of the day, I was so much the richer – in heart and head.

Under such ideal conditions, it was inevitable that the best conversations ensued, strangers became friends, and for the one brief day, all was well with the world. Marcel Proust was so right.

A heartfelt thank you to all who made this Open Day a resounding success. Visitors, volunteers, friends and family – nothing is possible without you.

Note: Here are lots of photos for all those of you who failed to show up!

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Friends from Chicago

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Waxing Poetic

It’s a busy, busy time in the garden but I cannot let April go by without honoring it with poetry. It is National Poetry Month after all.

Deflowering Spring

The earth blushed cherry pink

Even as the forsythia glowed yellow

From innocent fresh born

to fertile maiden

In the flutter

of butterfly wings.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Cleaning

Sweep away detritus

Winter’s wild remnants

Prune roses

June’s dress code

Straighten borders

Summer edges to spill

Outside order

Inside peace

Clearing, cutting

Room to breathe deep

Opening, widening

Mind broaden fast

Plants get bigger

Spirits grow higher

Colors multiply

Senses infused

Days lengthen

Smiles brighten

Outdoor classroom

Paradise within

Shobha Vanchiswar

Colors Of Rain

It rained cherry pink today

Drenched in pleasure

I walked on rafts of petals

floating on rivers of grass.

I predict tomorrow

it’ll drizzle pear white

Washing away footprints

leaving behind confetti flowers.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Note: Open Day is May 18. My garden as well as Rocky Hills will be ready and waiting for you!

IMG_3345.jpg

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Flowers

Almost overnight there’s been an explosion of blooms in these parts. The forsythia are having their spectacular moment with the magnolias keeping up rather impressively. And oh! the cherry blossoms! Taking the back roads to get around might be slow but the views of what’s doing in the countryside and private gardens are so worth it. I’m now about two inches taller from pausing to crane my neck to see more of what’s blooming over walls and fences. Undoubtedly, my car’s license number has been noted as it crawled suspiciously and even halted in front of some very grand homes with majestic gates and grounds. It must’ve looked like I was casing the neighborhood. I did stop short of taking photos lest they called the cops. All those gorgeous sights are now only in my head. Sigh.

About forsythia – in my humble opinion, they should never be neatly trimmed. They look their best when the sprays of flowers are naturally free and artistically unruly. The bohemians of the season.

Back in my own Eden, the hellebores continue to shine. The meadow is beginning to come alive with the minor bulbs. The snowdrops are fading but the scillas, crocuses and hyacinthoides are gently taking over. Early daffodils are in bloom and that shot of gold through the landscape is pure joy. Each day brings new bounty.

The freshly planted pansies have the sweetest faces – one cannot help but smile in response. In short order the primroses will be vying for attention. I’m also anticipating a blue-ing in the meadow – grape hyacinths, forget-me-nots, ajuga, iris reticulata … with white violas, and yellow daffodils and dandelions as counterpoint. That’s right, I said dandelions – they are not weeds in my meadow. Instead, they not only look like diminutive suns but they are some of the earliest sources of nectar for hummingbirds. So, get over your bias people!

Last Saturday was unseasonably mild and by Sunday, all sorts of plants had greened up and flowers popped open. It’s lovely to be given this chance to closely examine the beauties – all too soon, there will be such a profusion that it’ll be hard to keep up with the chores and linger around gazing at the blooms.

For now, I’m happily basking in the glow of early spring. With an occasional mojito in hand. Simple pleasures.

Note: Remember -My Open Day is May 18!

 

That last photo was taken at the NYBG last Saturday. It’s usually about 10 days ahead of my garden.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Prêt Pour Le Printemps?

Ready for spring? Of course you are! The season officially starts with the happening of the equinox on March 20. Open windows, put away blankets, swap out clothes, freshen up house … heck, redecorate. Bring in flowers, plant up the garden, prepare for celebrations and milestones. Easter, Passover, Mother’s and Father’s Days, Memorial Day, graduations, weddings, showers, birthdays – the list goes on. So much to look forward to. So much to do. Despite the eagerness and anticipation, it can feel somewhat overwhelming. A little inspiration, a splash of motivation is needed.

Enter the annual Lyndhurst Flower Show and Antique Show. Lyndhurst is a beloved treasure in my neck of the woods. I adore the house and, the grounds are absolutely sublime. And the river view! A total stunner. Well worth visiting at anytime but, there are seasonal events that quite simply put it at a much higher level. Aforementioned flower show is one of them. The beautifully proportioned and furnished rooms are spectacularly decorated by local florists. Each florist brings their unique artistry to appoint the spaces as they see fit. The visitor is promised an experience that will delight because after all we’re talking flowers here.

However, one gets more than that visual pleasure. Knowingly or unknowingly, we get to learn about colors, best combinations and complementary hues. This lesson can be extrapolated to the garden for planning new flower borders and beds. Sometimes a flower one never paid much attention to can be viewed in a new light and join the garden. Ideas abound in the flower show.

Indoors, it gives suggestions on how to translate the colors in our own homes and furnishings. I pick up novel ways to use flowers in the house. Because the florists are local, if you’re looking to hire one for an upcoming wedding or other event, this is an opportunity to review the style of several all at once in real time. Saves so much ‘interview’ time too! I heartily approve the decision to give area florists a chance to strut their stuff.

Armed with ideas and notes, move on from the flower show to the Antiques Show in the Carriage House – where one can get choice articles for both home and garden. You can pick up that elusive garden ornament, rare urn or add to your collection of period silver. Most times, all it takes is a single object to transform a space. Some of the best loved pieces in my garden are those I purchased at antique shows like this one. If your budget does not permit any purchase, you can still pick up more decorating ideas at this show. When the time is right, you will know exactly what you want and what will work best.

If these two shows are not enough, there is a plant sale! I feel giddy with anticipation when I’m at a plant sale. I invariably find plants I need but I secretly look forward to some impulse buys. A real guilty pleasure. And pretty harmless if one doesn’t get carried away.

By now, a visitor is more than likely feeling a bit peckish. A toothsome piece of cake, a flaky scone or a light sandwich accompanied by a strong cup of tea would hit the spot you think. Fear not, that situation has already been covered. High tea is served! Elegant, restorative and delicious. Exactly what you need right now. However did they know?!

Have I convinced you to catch spring fever by going to Lyndhurst April 6-7, 2019? Come on down! Shake off the winter apathy, envision your home and garden as you’d like them to be, grab your list, camera and note pad, pick up a friend or two to go with and, head to it. You’ll have yourselves a lovely time. Maybe we’ll even run into each other. And at that time you can thank me. So there.

Note: I’m sharing a few images of my garden as it looks right now. Spring is a stirring!

First Snowdrops!


In the greenhouse –
Orange blossom

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Frame Shift

Something I read recently has got me reexamining how I approach situations I would typically characterize as annoying/inconvenient/weird/all of the above. Even as one who has a glass half-full attitude, I find myself thinking pessimistically on occasion.

March has arrived with snow, more snow and plummeting temperatures. Spring is nowhere in sight. And it got me all hot and bothered. My garden to-do list has grown in leaps and bounds and I’m beginning to feel the pressure to get things done well in time for my Open Day. Between now and that day, other work projects and commitments are not going to permit me the luxury of focusing solely on the garden. Hence, anything that appears to delay the start of garden work, feels like a personal affront.

It’s easy to start railing at the elements and all concerned as though a conspiracy of sorts has been set up simply to thwart my plans. All this achieves is put me in a grumpy mood that quite literally holds me back from doing anything productive. Yet, even as I’m cognizant of this danger to myself, I can at times embark on a downward spiral and hate myself for doing so. But, no longer. I’m done with self-sabotaging my outlook!

A timely reminder, simultaneously elementary, profound and sobering, to see things differently was all it took. Nothing new or earth shattering. Often, that is all it takes to improve ones disposition. A tweak, a subtle adjustment, a slight shift in attitude can change the trajectory of intent and action dramatically.

I’m paraphrasing because I cannot remember where I came across this ‘advice’ – climate change is going to make us long for the four seasons. So, make the most of whatever we have right now. Embrace the weather we’re experiencing. Snow, intense cold and all. Admire the beauty, play in the snow, go for a walk, cozy up indoors afterwards to relax and appreciate the opportunity to slow down and be present. We need the snow to fill our water reservoirs and the cold freezes out ticks and other nasty bugs.

Separately, I’ve also realized that we often have lots of snow in March. This current weather is actually par for the course. In fact, I recall a big blizzard on April 1 about 21 years ago. The urgency of having so much on my agenda was making me feel as though everything was awry. A simple pause and reality check fixed that!

And there you have it. No complaining. ( Maybe a little inevitable worrying?) Be optimistic. If you look for the positive, you will find the positive. It then follows that we will do positive things.

Beneath that foot of snow lies spring. Ready and waiting.

Note:This evening, Tuesday March 5, is the reception to the group show I’m in at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery he New York Art Students League. 6 – 8 pm. Stop by! The show closes on Saturday, March 9. 

Mark your calendar! My garden’s Open Day this year is on May 18th. 10 am – 4 pm.

Enjoy these snowy images taken over the years – pause, take in the quiet beauty, notice the rich details, the play of light, the contrasts … breathe deeply and allow yourself to relax.


January

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar