Field Trip

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” Seneca

All too often, I get so caught up in the demands of life that my time with plants is mostly spent in my own garden. But the truth is, I absolutely adore visiting other gardens. Both public and private. Seeing a different garden is like entering a new country. Crossing new borders is always an adventure ( pun intended!).

One discovers differences and similarities, new likes or dislikes, new plants are identified, familiar plants to use in interesting, fresh ways and, hardscaping details that inspire. At the end of every journey, one learns something about oneself.

About ten days ago, I had the opportunity that was the ultimate in garden visits. My friend and garden wizard Marco Polo Stufano offered to take me and a couple of friends around Untermyer gardens, Wave Hill gardens and his own garden. Now, I’ve seen all three several times before but to go around Untermyer and Wave Hill with Marco as our personal guide was my idea of winning the lottery. Wave Hill in particular was a rare treat – after all, Marco created it and put it on the map. His own garden is a jewel box – it is the best representation of knowledge, aesthetics and passion.

I learned, I saw anew, I was totally in bliss. We walked, talked and laughed. I was enjoying myself so much that the heat and humidity that usually does me in, left me unfazed. It was quite simply a truly transcendent experience.

The two public gardens are at the height of their summer glory – go see for yourself!

I took pictures but it was my senses that absorbed the gardens a great deal more. No doubt I will do things in my garden as a result of that and many of those ideas will seem as though they were all mine but I’ll know in my heart that I had so much inspiration and guidance that I couldn’t have done it any other way.

And that’s why one gets out and explores other worlds. To grow.

Note:‘City Views’, an exhibition of works by 88 League artists celebrating New York City.  The show, showcases the wide diversity and remarkable quality of art being made by League students and members.

‘City Views’ is at the Manhattan Borough President‘s office at 1 Centre Street and is open through the end of August. If you can’t make it in person, you can view most of the works here.  They are for sale with prices starting at around $100.  On line purchasing is open.

Enjoy the images from my field trip!


Wave Hill:

Marco and Louis – two generations of Wave Hill directors.

Still-life for the compost heap

Marco’s garden:

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Friends With Benefits

Did the title grab your attention? I thought so.

This past week, my garden was enriched by a bunch of plants given to me by various friends. First, I received a couple of plants as a hostess gift from Marco. He’d dug up these special gems from his own rather exceptional garden. Alchemilla erythropoda and Aruncus aethusifolius – two miniature gems to beguile the side path of my garden.

Earlier in July, I was asked to identify a ‘mystery’ plant that had suddenly cropped up in numbers in friend Pat’s garden. They turned out to be the native orchid Galearis. This too is a diminutive plant. Pat offered me some of these and being the greedy gardener that I am, I readily accepted. After consulting with my orchid expert friend Bill, it was decided that the orchids are best transplanted after the flowers had finished blooming. That happened last week. Perfect additions to my native plant collection in the ‘meadow’.

On my morning walk last Friday, I stopped to chat with a neighbor who was working in her pretty garden. Suzy was dividing her Siberian irises. She generously suggested I take some and once again, I accepted with shameless alacrity. A few of my own irises have mysteriously disappeared over the years so I’m particularly pleased to get this gift.

Finally, my friend Julie offered me her Calycanthus as she is selling her house and that shrub was bought some years ago when we were having a splendid day together at a rare plant sale. She has been given unlimited visiting rights to check on her beloved plant.

Yesterday, all the gifts were planted in my garden. They will hopefully thrive and enhance it. In addition, they and so many others like them, will be endearing reminders of memorable moments, special relationships and bonds. For garden and gardener, it is win-win all the way. The very stuff that sweetens life.


I’m very pleased to be in this show. Hope you will visit!

Here are my ‘friendly benefits’:

Alchemilla erythropoda – potted up for now. Will be planted in ground in the fall.

Aruncus aethusifolius – also temporarily in a pot.



So many ferns from John!

A gift from the past – Bianca rose from Henriette

Ornamental raspberry – also from Marco many moons ago.

So many ferns from John!

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Ode To Summer Nights

It’s been a looong week. We’ve finally emerged from a rather wretched heat wave. Forget about tending to the garden, simply sitting in it felt as though one were inside a furnace. Needless to say, I spent most of my waking hours indoors – keeping cool and staying on top of which summer drink tasted best. My top choice – watermelon lemonade. Spritzed or spiked depending on company and/or time of day.

It is precisely at this point in the season one becomes more appreciative of the nights. Usually a tad cooler and considerably more enjoyable as one can no longer see the sad state of the untended garden. Perfect.

With that in mind, I hereby give you permission to knock off working too hard outside. It really is unhealthy to do so during a heat wave. Summer is meant to be about slower, relaxed schedules. Immerse yourself into the pleasures of the season so you can remember these days – the memories will get you through the icy cold days of winter. As in Game Of Thrones, winter is coming.

Summer Nights

Wrapped in the thick air

heavy with heat

laden with moist

Watching fireflies

mimic the stars

against black velvet

Serenaded boldly

by tree frogs

and crickets

Fanned from on high

wings of bats

on purposeful sorties

While night moths

answer service calls

of moonflowers

and gardenias

Spicy notes of phlox

rise with the night

perfume of clove,

oil of bergamot

essence of rose

Lulled into

well being

content to remain

to greet the dew

of a new day.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Note: ( I’m SO excited to be in this!) You are cordially invited to attend the opening reception of the art show on Thursday August 3rd from 5-7pm. The Manhattan Borough President’s Offices are on the 19th Floor at 1 Center Street, NYC. If you can come, please send me your names for the list that will be supplied to the security desk by Tuesday August 1 at 4pm. You will need to check in with picture ID at the security desk in the lobby.
The show continues until Thursday, August 31. Visitor hours are Monday through Friday, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. 

And now, I unapologetically present to you the current state of my garden –

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar


Fear is the mother of foresight’ – Thomas Hardy

I can’t recall in what context or even in which novel Hardy wrote those words but they’ve stuck with me since my high-school years. The phrase seemed to run parallel with necessity being the mother of invention. We humans apparently need to be nudged to get things done for our own good.

As a gardener, the possibility (okay, fear) of any type of harm coming to the plants is ever present. And therefore, we protect, prevent, plan and propagate. All our to-do lists by the months and seasons whilst aiming to make a beautiful, bountiful garden, are really a matter of said precautions. Like good generals we prepare for all contingencies with foresight and forbearance.

With this in mind, I offer you a few helpful, timely suggestions –

Since tomatoes are the stars of the vegetable garden right now, water the plants in the morning as wet foliage in the evening encourages tomato blight.

Still on the subject of tomatoes – rather than tossing away the side shoots of tomato plants, root them as one would any plant cuttings and bring them on to bear fruit. Since you’re rooting cuttings anyway, now would be the time to propagate lavender and rosemary. Scented and fancy geraniums too.

Speaking of lavender, pick them when the scent is strongest – early on a dry morning after the dew has dried.

This next tip will be particularly useful for those of us who do not label our plants and pretend to remember everything. When planting parsnips or any other vegetable with a long growing time, start radishes in the same row. This way, when you quickly start enjoying radi-sandwiches ( bread, butter, thin slices of radish and seas salt), you will remember exactly where you planted the parsnips.

Something to remember for next year – if you are ambitious enough to plant strawberries dreaming of pies and shortcake, don’t plant them near a path. The fruits will disappear as soon as they are ripe and ready. Figure that out.

At a time when children are becoming more removed from the natural world ( think I-pads, I-phones, X-boxes, Game of Thrones, ticks on the war path, a sometimes unwarranted fear of all things bugs and beetles, etc.,) comes a book filled with fun, imaginative ideas to bring children and nature together. Born To Be Wild by Hattie Garlick will help you make that happen.

I think we can all agree that connecting with the great outdoors is one of the best, most powerful ways to stay healthy and human.

Finally, looking to next spring ( yes, already), start perusing the bulb catalogs, make your wish list, then whittle that list to one that actually suits your budget and order your bulbs this month. You will be guaranteed your selections and quantities. In addition, by ordering from the bulb houses, your choices will be much greater and you can be the happy gardener with some uncommon bulb

ous beauties. The bulbs get shipped in time for planting in your specific temperature zone and you will be billed only at that time.

Alors, ce n’etait rien.

Note: Due to technical glitches, my article last week got posted on my website but didn’t get emailed or broadcast on Facebook and Twitter. My sincere apologies. I hope you will read that article Fresh Perspective II – scroll down if you are reading on the site or, go to the site at


Veggies in rows

My vegetable plot

Will definitely be ordering more of these alliums!

Freshly made lavender wands.

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Fresh Perspective II

I’ve become so accustomed to seeing my garden that I’ve come to the realization that in order to do more than simply tweak it, I need to look at it differently. With that intent in mind, this past May, I asked a talented, young photographer friend to take pictures of my garden as he saw fit. He is very familiar with my garden. Jeremiah Chikota is in college, does not garden but has a good eye. I figured his take on what he thought noteworthy would be the first of several approaches to inform myself of diverse perspectives.

I was right. You can see for yourself in the first slide-show below.

You can check out Jeremiah’s website here.

The second slide-show comes by way of my fellow artist and friend Rosemarie Turk who is not only very talented but fairly plant savvy. This was her second visit to the garden.

I’m really enjoying viewing my garden anew. I don’t necessarily have to act on anything in response. But being made aware sharpens, clarifies and sometimes, even changes my own thoughts and plans. In fact, it will probably be worth applying the same approach to subjects in which I have more trouble accepting differing opinions and/or practices. With greater knowledge will come understanding and harmony. One can only hope.

Having reviewed my own photos all of these years, I think you too will appreciate how another’s perspective can give new insight.


Jeremiah’s images:

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Foxtails and Fireworks, Alliums and Allumettes!

It’s kinda quiet in the garden right now. Spring flowers are totally done and summer is yet to make her big splash. At this time, there are only a few dabs of color amidst a mostly green canvas. To some it means I haven’t planned well enough to maintain a continuous display of blooms. They are probably right. But I really don’t mind this lull – it coincides with my own switch to a summer state of mind and so my attention is taken up by planning for pool time, picnics, reading escapes, outdoor concerts, catching up with friends over dinners under the stars, vacation prep, siestas and numerous other vital seasonal pleasures. After all, we wait all year for this – a time when slowing down and sipping a tall afternoon drink of something potent is perfectly acceptable. One hardly needs the distraction of a garden shouting for attention right?

So, I’m quite happy to do just the basic chores of weeding, watering and deadheading and get on with finding my summer groove. Once firmly ensconced in the rhythm of the season and comfortably balancing to-dos with want-to-dos, I’m ready for some petal power to add zip to my days. Only then can I duly admire the flowers and not hurt their feelings. See? My not so great planning actually suits me. Stop rolling your eyes.

Anyway, gazing at the flowers that are in bloom including those almost on their way out, I’m struck by the similarities between them and the fireworks I so enjoyed yesterday. Yes, summer gives you permission to spend time cogitating upon such matters. Look it up. It’s in the fine print.

If you don’t believe my inspired comparison, use your imagination and check out the photos below:





Cranesbill geranium and allium

Cranesbill geranium and allium


Astilbe and geranium

Astilbe and geranium








Foxtail lily

Foxtail lily

Foxtail lily

Foxtail lily

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Fresh Perspective I

I take my garden very personally. How it performs is a direct reflection of me. True, weather plays a big part in the welfare of the garden but even there I feel bad if the garden suffers – I should somehow protect it no matter what. Disease or any type of pest invasion is my fault – I should have kept better vigilance and acted sooner. Sounds absurd I know but there you have it. Often, my feelings about the garden are quite like those parents have for their children. A relationship fraught with worry and guilt whilst loving passionately and unconditionally.

Just as parents are eager to show their children in the best possible light, I have an unreasonable desire to have the garden look spectacular at all times. It is simply not possible. There are periods of lull when not much is happening by way of flower power. The best one can do is keep up with weeding and other maintenance so the garden looks neat and cared for. In reality, to achieve that is in itself a pretty decent accomplishment. Because the weather, work and life events both big and small will thwart all your best laid plans and agendas. Invariably, when visitors to the garden arrive, the gardener will mention how much better the garden looked the previous week and/or will look stunning in the near future. Somehow, the gardener is hardly ever likely to say that the present moment is the best the garden has ever looked. We are simply too close to our creation to be honestly objective or detached enough to accept the present reality.

Yet, more often than not, the visitor views the garden differently and far more kindly. They are not likely to notice the odd weed or two, the floppy lily you haven’t got around to staking or that the roses need deadheading. Instead, the visitor is looking at the garden as a whole and will in all probability be quite taken with the charm of it all. And yet, the gardener will still only focus on the flaws and make excuses …

So, this past Saturday, I was given a gift that did my own harsh perspective of my garden a marvel of good. I got to see my garden through the eyes of artists. A true privilege.

A dozen watercolorists came up from New York City to spend the day painting in the garden. Some were themselves gardeners and others had no gardening experience but they all had keenly discerning eyes and distinct styles. Their oohs and aahs as they looked around my garden were instant ego boosts and at the end of the day, their artistic efforts showed me my garden in a wholly fresh, new light. They had observed with their artistic eyes details I thought nobody would notice and captured different areas in their own uniquely talented ways. The camaraderie and collective good spirits were empowering and uplifting.

It was all giddyingly exhilarating. I am humbled and yet, so terribly proud. Painting alongside these very talented artists, I too got the chance to see and appreciate my garden anew.

Enough said. The pictures below say it all:

IMG_1778IMG_1783 IMG_1777 IMG_1775 IMG_1772IMG_1790 IMG_1785

IMG_1798 IMG_1784

The output:

IMG_1809 IMG_1808  IMG_1801IMG_1797We even had live music!

IMG_1804IMG_1821 IMG_1820 IMG_1818 IMG_1817 IMG_1815 IMG_1813 IMG_1824IMG_1838

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Call Maintenance!

Most of life is passed doing maintenance of some sort. We devote a good deal of our time maintaining relationships. Our bonds with family, friends, coworkers and all those who play some part in our day to day activities, must necessarily be kept strong. And we go to all sorts of lengths to do so. I imagine that on any given day, at least a third of my wakening hours are given over to connecting, communicating and commiserating with people. That is a chunk of time and effort!

We are obliged to maintain our health. How and what we eat, how much we exercise or stay active, what we do for recreation, our spiritual practices, regular physicals, dental check ups and age appropriate tests – are all integral to keeping ourselves in good fighting shape. After all, some days it feels like a war zone out there.

Apart from other activities, I try to walk a few miles each week day. While I enjoy the cooler temperatures in the early hours of the summer days, observing the birds and gardens I pass by and, often get inspiration for my poetry or painting, my underlying motivation to get myself out of a very comfortable bed at what feels like an ungodly hour, is that need to keep this body in some sort of decent health.

Our homes seem to be in a never ending state of requiring maintenance. From something simple like replacing a fused light bulb to a regular dusting and vacuuming all around to needing a new appliance to repainting a room, there is always something that needs tending.

This past week alone, in my house, some bathroom tiles were replaced, a sticky door got unstuck, the furnace was serviced, water filters replaced and I haven’t yet mentioned laundry, dish washing or daily tidy up!

We keep up with finances, archiving photos, stocking the pantry, servicing the car and a myriad other matters. It can often feel like an endless conveyor belt of must-dos.

The garden is no exception. While we wax eloquent on the plants and their blooms, most garden work is all about upkeep. We mend or replace paths, fences and steps. Thin out plants that are overcrowding the beds. Staying on top of weeding, watering, staking, mowing, deadheading, composting and keeping a sustained vigilance for pests or disease are all how we keep the garden healthy and bountiful.

The frequent rains we’ve had has translated into a greater number of weeds popping up so that task demands some extra time. Likewise, the jewel-weed that seems to want to take over the meadow needed to be thinned out aggressively. It belongs here for sure but only as a part of the whole.

All of a sudden this year, the David Austin rose ‘Heritage’ put out deep red flowers in addition to its usual pale pink ones. On closer examination, I determined that the red roses were from a stem emerging from the root stock. I assume with the passage of time and water over the many years it has been in the garden, the soil has been washed away to expose more of the area below the graft line. Seeing the light of day triggered that area to start doing what it is biologically programmed to do. Since I really only want the Heritage roses, I must now cut off the limb growing from the root stock and cover it up properly with soil so it goes back to being quiet and invisible.

When one steps back and assesses all that needs doing to maintain ourselves and our lifestyles it can seems there is no time to simply smell the coffee and/or roses. But just pause with me here. Maintaining is what its all about. With all the curve balls life can toss around and create havoc, we should be so lucky that we can just focus on taking care of what matters most to us.

Note: my art show at the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library is on till the end of this month.


David Austin Heritage rose and the red rootstock rose

David Austin Heritage rose and the red rootstock rose


Meadow after thinning out the jewel-weed

Meadow after thinning out the jewel-weed


Wall garden right now

Wall garden right now

Leafy greens doing well

Leafy greens doing well

Bonica roses - a gift from Henriette Suhr many years ago

Bonica roses – a gift from Henriette Suhr many years ago

Oak-leaf hydrangea beginning to bloom

Oak-leaf hydrangea beginning to bloom

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Face To Face Time

In the course of puttering around the garden for the better part of my life, I’ve come to recognize and understand a fair number of plants. To identify, know their peccadilloes and get along with them is continuously reassuring and interesting. I’ve learned those that are a tad more needy, the independent plants that prefer to be left alone, the quirky ones that like wet feet and hot heads, which ones are fussy and which are hardy and reliable.

But just like the people we encounter in our lives, we learn more and more by spending one on one time with them. What we glean can often astonish and impress. Even the plainest person/plant emerges as one with qualities of depth and interest that our opinions can be changed completely.

My penchant for painting the residents of my garden offers me exactly such an opportunity. Examining them up and close gives me pause to admire the attributes of those who never get the spotlight. We recognize easily the divas – roses, peonies, irises, sunflowers, poppies, dahlias …. but, a garden would be severely impoverished without the likes of columbines, hellebores, campanulas, lavenders, sweet woodruff, penstemons, epimediums and so many, many others. The supporting cast of plants is well worth appraising.

Too often, we are dazzled by the stars and fail to notice those who hold them up so they can shine. The fact is, we each have a role and must be given the chance to play them. No part is too small because the entire ensemble is needed to make a good performance.

While I’m awed by the beauty of the heroines of the garden, I am often struck by the quiet grace of a plant that is repeatedly dismissed as ordinary. As if years of gardening hadn’t already shown me the impressive power of nature, I’m continually amazed when I take brush to canvas or pen to paper. Looking closely reveals unparalleled virtues.

Perhaps we should do more of the same with people. It might well be the only way we can learn to get along.

I present to you my watercolor renderings of some of the more self-effacing lovelies in my garden:









Frittilaria meleagris

Frittilaria meleagris

Aqualegia canadensis

Aqualegia canadensis

Apple blossom

Apple blossom





(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar

Changing Climates, Changing Calendars

Unless you’ve been doing time in solitary confinement in an underground bunker, the term ‘climate change’ has been the mainstay in almost all conversations this past week. Agree or not, it is worth mentioning that the global scientific community at large and ones who study the climate in particular are in consensus that the climate is not only changing but human activity has had a detrimental impact on it.

Climate change is a highly complex subject with innumerable moving parts. This makes it really difficult to understand by most minds. In addition, it is an evolving subject and consequently, there are gaps in the data. Unfortunately, these gaps are exploited by those who are inclined to deny climate change. Given the complexity of this topic, does it not behoove us to believe and trust the scientists who know so much about it? After all, if we can accept the super-complicated science in cancer research and treatment, why are we doubting their word on climate change?

Whatever one thinks, lets simply get into the garden and consider phenology. This is the science dealing with periodic biological events that are influenced by weather and climate. In other words, it is the scientific observations of changes in plants and animals to weather or climate events causing them. In the case of plants, the significant stages of its life (phenophases) such as nascence, flowering, fruiting, senescence are studied. Phenology is more colloqually called nature’s calendar.

As gardeners, we are amateur scientists of sorts. Foot soldiers so to speak. We plan for and note all the goings on in the garden. We are aware of drought conditions, excess rain, prolonged heat or cold, sudden or extreme fluctuations in temperature, a scarcity in bees or a population explosion in chipmunks. And as a result of such occurrences, we note how our plants have responded. Last spring, it warmed up slowly, the apple blossoms emerged and then it got really cold so no bees showed up. This lack of bees resulted in poor pollination and hence a lack of fruits.

This year, spring blew warm and cold so the lilacs bloomed early. Meanwhile, mid to late May bloomers like my peonies, baptisia, roses, amsonia and several other plants are only just beginning to flower. A three day blast of summer like heat in early May, hastened the alliums – the early and late flowering types all burst open together. While this loud chorus of color looked stunning, the length of the concert itself was abbreviated.

This past winter was so mild that we are now confronted with an impressive increase in the populations of ticks, chipmunks, rats, mice and other annoyances. Yet, the cooler than usual spring has contained the number of bees and butterflies. Normally, the garden is humming with their activity at this time.

The life cycles of plants and animals are inter-related. Planting and/or flowering times coincide with the emergence of pollinators. Insect problems often occur at specific stages of a plant’s life. When exactly we feed, protect or treat our plants for disease is an application of phenology. What practices and tools we use has impact on the plant and animal populations.

Working with nature allows one to see up close how intimately connected we, as in all biological forms, are to the weather and climate. We cannot ignore the inconsistencies in the climate today. The normal phenophases by which a gardener tracks the garden’s progress get moved back or forward by the vagaries of weather/climate. If you typically plant tomatoes when the dogwoods flower signaling that the threat of frost has passed, then what happens if the latter flowers early? Risk it?

Phenology itself is now being used as an indicator of climate change. It stands to reason that every gardener applies it as he/she goes about working in the garden. The question now is this – are we or are we not going to do right by the world?

I, for one, acknowledge that my choices and life style has impact on my environment. Collectively, we affect the globe. So, I will start with my number one credo – Do No Harm. And that means, being mindful, thoughtful, respectful and considerate in all my actions. This will include those that I do not enjoy or ones I oppose – from invasive plants to pests to people. I realize in many instances it will not be easy. But I’m willing to meet the challenge. Are you?

[To learn more about phenology, look up the USA National Phenological Network at  ]

Note: All of this month, I have a solo show of my watercolors at the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library in North Salem, NY. I hope you will take time to go visit. Thanks!

The images below are of some of my efforts to do right by my neck of the woods:

Aquilegia canadensis in the meadow

Aquilegia canadensis in the meadow


Tiarella cordifolia

Cheloni lyoni - pink turtlehead

Cheloni lyoni – pink turtlehead

White and blue cammasia

White and blue cammasia

Oak leaf hydrangea

Oak leaf hydrangea

Anemone canadensis

Anemone canadensis

American robin babies in the apple espalier

American robin babies in the apple espalier

In the meadow - a melange of bulbs and native plants

In the meadow – a melange of bulbs and native plants



Native wisteria

Native wisteria

The rain barrel

The rain barrel

The vertical garden - a brilliant way to keep the building cool in summer. Water for plants is recirculated.

The vertical garden – a brilliant way to keep the building cool in summer. Water for plants is recirculated.

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar