Real, Fake Or Alternative Facts

I’m referring to Christmas trees of course. Did something else come to mind? Ha.

The other day, I was asked for my advice about real vs fake. That led to some serious thinking.

For those amongst us who celebrate the holiday season with a tree, choosing a tree depends on a variety of matters but mostly, it is personal. And so, to change ones mind about it requires a lot of persuasion.

But I’m not out to dissuade anyone to choose one type for another. I simply think one ought to make informed decisions. Lets not be even a wee bit judgmental. Good will to all remember?

So, lets consider the real tree. It’s a long tradition for many to get a real tree. Some make it an event by going to a tree farm, selecting a tree, cutting it themselves and then bringing it home atop the family car. Others are just as happy going to the neighborhood tree lot and finding their tree of choice. A third kind likes to get a living tree to enjoy through the season and then plant it out on the property when spring comes along.

Real trees undoubtedly add a certain je ne sais quoi to any space. By virtue of being real, they are not quite perfect and that adds to their appeal. The fragrance of a pine tree in the house is pure joy. But lets face it, setting a tree up takes some effort. Get it on a stand so it stays straight and upright, water it regularly, contend with falling needles … there are some given inconveniences. In general however, I’m very partial to keeping it festive with a real tree.

It takes about ten years to grow a modest sized tree. Certainly there is the requirement of water and care but while these trees are growing, they do their part in helping the environment. Removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, supporting wildlife, preventing soil erosion etc., The biggest carbon footprint in this choice of tree is that made by the car that transports it. Of course, if trees are shipped in from Canada and northern USA, then that footprint just grew exponentially. So staying with local farms is preferable.

How such a tree is disposed of is another big consideration. If trees are chipped and turned into mulch then it is all good. But, if they are taken to landfills then, not only is that transport increasing the carbon footprint but a decaying tree in that site will add to the greenhouse gases by putting out methane. And that’s not good at all.

A living tree is of course the best choice of all.

Moving on to fake trees. These days, the synthetic ones can be almost lifelike. The high end models are barely distinguishable from the real stuff. They can do serious damage to the pocketbook. Cheaper fakes are often also cheap looking. In either case, the cost of manufacturing and distribution comes with a high environmental impact. While they can be reused ‘indefinitely’, when they are finally discarded they do not break down for ages and ages. Maybe never.

Fake trees are indeed very convenient to use and I’ve seen some vintage models that evoke a lovely, nostalgic time when things were seemingly ‘simpler’.

We finally come to alternative trees. Any number of things can stand in for a Christmas tree. As graduate students, my husband and I did not have funds to spare and were more than happy to decorate our three-tiered hanging planter with lights and homemade ornaments. I’ve seen ‘trees’ made of stacked books, ladders, peel and stick decals on a wall, metal ‘branches’ from whose bare limbs ornaments are easily hung and, even what seemed to me an inspired yet minimalist tree that was simply strips of brown paper placed in ascending order at equal intervals on a wall to indicate a tree. Stuck on the strips were acorns, small pine cones and bits of holly. This last version really captivated my imagination and I’m so sorry I did not take. any photos. One day, I shall aim to recreate it.

For years, we always got ourselves a real tree. Natural is after all our style. We’d cut up the tree after it had served its purpose and compost it in the woods. Our town also picks up the trees and converts them to mulch. But last year we finally stopped that practice. My daughter, who adores real Christmas trees is severely allergic to them. After years of making excuses that it was only for a few weeks, taking way too many anti-histamines and making tissue companies very wealthy, I’d had enough. It was just crazy to be so tortured for the entire duration of the holidays. It took almost two years to convince the girl that she had to give up on having a real tree.

Thus, we came to the decision that if we could not have a real tree then we’d do an alternative. I even discovered that I’d had it all along! It is a white metal pot fitted with a conical shaped tower made of chicken wire. It is intended to house a vining plant that can weave itself on the chicken wire support. What I did was to fill up the interior with strings of lights that are easily plugged in because of said chicken wire openings. Those openings are perfect for hanging ornaments on the outside.

While the ornaments get put away after the New Year is underway, the ‘light filled tree’ occupies a corner in the house and is commissioned at every celebration deserving of some flash and dash..

Frankly, I have not missed the real stuff at all and it does my heart good to see my daughter sans tissue-box, anti-histamines, distressed nose, hacking cough and boggy head.

Fa la la la.

Note:
The Art Students League

Holiday Art Sale

Opens Today! Get there before you miss out on some great art!

 

Tree in the past

Our last real tree.

The allergic one

The alternative tree in daylight

Amaryllis tree

At night

NYC

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Season Is Lit

These days, the season of lights begins at Thanksgiving when houses across the country clad in lights announce that it is so. The tree at Rockefeller Center made it official last Wednesday. Hanukkah has come early this year – the first candle on the menorah was lit this past Sunday evening. It is now left to all us laggards to get in the spirit and join in.

While I’m all for the lights and assorted expressions of festivities, it irks me that it has become such a commercial enterprise. Buy, buy, buy. It is just overwhelming. How have we come to this point? More importantly, why? I for one, cannot take the crowds and shopping frenzy. I realize shops depend on the public to spend generously but for me, quieter times are more conducive to making thoughtful purchases at my local businesses. Past experience has demonstrated that I can get carried away if I join the shopping populace at this time – I buy a myriad of stuff that are not at all what I actually want to say to those on my gift list. I’m of the belief that a gift should please and be personal. Some thought should go into gift giving and I am simply unable to think in the cacophony of commercialism right now.

Instead, I’d rather make my rounds of small businesses through the year. I can browse at leisure and select appropriate items for my loved ones. It goes without saying that I do not ever give cars sporting giant bows or jewelry worthy of a princess of even a tiny, obscure nation.

During the holiday season, I’d much rather take in all the lights. Literally. From said Rockefeller Center tree to cruising through neighborhoods known for their over-the-top holiday displays, I enjoy everything. Including the windows that quietly display lit menorahs – so beautiful and meaningful. My town had its tree lighting last Saturday and we are now officially open for the season. On December 12, Untermyer gardens will have its Grand Holiday Illumination – I plan to be there.

Last Friday, I attended the holiday concert of Chanticleer – that group of exceptional acapella singers from San Francisco. They delivered the true spirit of the season. Joy, love and peace. So I have no excuse not to do my part.

My seasonal gift giving is restricted to the homemade and home-grown. I bake cookies and cakes, make limoncello and decant into pretty bottles ( recycled of course) and distribute the jams and chutneys I made last summer.

Homegrown paperwhites and amaryllis are also what I like to give. Note: Paperwhites are only for those who are not repelled by their distinct scent. All year long I pick up interesting containers to hold the holiday bulbs. Guaranteed to please all. For those whom I know will appreciate and include in their gardens, I add small envelopes of seeds harvested from my garden.

Finally, to the extra special people, I add something from my Printed Garden collection. A pair of tea towels, a pillow, a set of placemats and napkins, a table runner – all adorned with flowers reproduced from my own artwork. I continue to be deeply touched by how much these products are loved.

So there you have it. My pared down, simplified approach to the holidays. Enjoy the lights, spread the light, be the light.

Note: The much awaited Holiday Show of the Art Students League of New York begins next week! I have a painting in it.
Show Dates
Monday, December 11 — Friday, December 22

Gallery Hours
Weekdays  9:00am–8:00pm
Weekends  9:00am–4:00pm

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Sun Shines Even When it Rains

Last week was wet, wet, wet. And cold. Work in the garden was a challenge if not impossible. Till the Friday before when it felt like a gift – dry, cloudy and mild. Taking full advantage of that one day, like marathoners we persevered and got stuff done. By days end, the garden looked ready and ravishing. Then Saturday, the big day for the garden arrived and it was wet, wet, wet. And cold.

Who in their right minds would want to venture out in such weather? Not many obviously. Just some die-hards and some friends who fear your wrath if they’re no-shows. Admittedly, it is disheartening to wake up to inclement weather on open day. After all the work getting the garden ready it feels like such a let down. This is the fourth year running when it has been rainy and chilly. Grrrr! We’ve become gluttons for punishment.

Instead of the usual waves of visitors, it was a trickle. The garden looked lovely and stepped up smartly to please and cheer all who came. I had the satisfaction of knowing all the major spring jobs were done and from now on, it would be all about maintenance – weeding ( garlic mustard is already rearing its ugly head in the meadow), judicial watering and vigilance for pests. That’s a really nice place to be for a gardener. It’s one of the major benefits of preparing for open day. So, on Saturday, despite the weather, I felt good knowing all that needed doing had been done. The rainy day was beyond my control.

Those who come to gardens undeterred by the weather, fall into a very special category – curious, friendly, knowledgeable and most generous of spirit. I had the best time reconnecting with returning visitors and forging new connections with first-timers. We exchanged thoughts and ideas that will no doubt make each of us better gardeners. I found out about a couple of new products that could potentially be godsends – stay tuned for future reports. Even better, I have been enriched with some new friendships. Gardens have a way of bringing kindred souls together.

Whilst I was lamenting on the rain and cold and how it kept people from getting out to visit gardens, I met some folk that just blew me away. Within the first hour of opening, a couple arrived and told me that they had driven down from Rochester, NY to see my garden ( and other open gardens no doubt). Wow, right?!

Then, later on, another couple showed up – they had flown in from St Louis, MO! Just to check out some of the gardens that were open this weekend. Can you believe it?

Both couples were so charming and convivial. I cannot properly express just how honored and humbled I am that my garden was on their must-see list. This alone makes all the work leading up to Open Day worthwhile. Lousy weather notwithstanding.

Through the rain shone bursts of human sunlight and even the cold could not stop my heart from being warmed. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Note: The following photos were taken at Open Day by a lovely young ( all of 23 years ) lady. Lillian Roberts is smart, funny and gorgeous. And she clearly has great taste in gardens.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Amaryllis Tree

A new year has begun! With it arrives new hope, new goals and, new beginnings. In the process of getting myself prepared for the year that lies ahead, I’m taking the time to review the one that just passed. The highs and the lows are both meaningful and relevant – they give me purpose and direction. My Amaryllis ‘tree’ begun this past year in December is entering the new year with grace and promise – much as I myself aspire..

The tree came into existence as an experiment of sorts. Science and art uniting to give creative aplomb to an otherwise ordinary space. Well, it has proved a success. Dubbed a pathetic variation of a ‘Charlie Brown tree’ by my oh so jaded 20 year old, it admittedly started off looking inconsequential. Even a bit odd. But, having gardened long enough, I knew this was no different from planting a new bed or hedge. Things don’t look like much at the start but, in due course they come into their own and create the very drama one envisioned all along. Very satisfying that.

So, I’m taking this tree as a foretoken of how I will approach this new year. An opportunity to experiment, think differently, try new things. Apply knowledge and understanding to create something fresh. Be bold. Believe in myself and the Universe despite certain nay-sayers. Be it small or big, let no opportunity go unexplored . Get out of the box and stretch myself. Just like the fierce, fearless, fabulous amaryllis, I have within me everything I need to bloom.

And said 20 year old has grudgingly conceded that yes, the amaryllis tree is quite stunning. I would say that’s an excellent start to the new year wouldn’t you?!

Happy New Year all around. Let’s make it the best one yet.

Note: See the Amaryllis tree for yourself. I’ve provided a neutral backdrop so the ‘tree’ shows up more clearly.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Holiday Happy

Holiday season is here. However you feel about it, you cannot help being a part of it. Years ago I made peace with the over the top commercialism and chose to stop judging those who embraced it. Stepping away from the fray has been very good for my spirit. I focus instead on whatever gives me true joy. You guessed it – I immerse myself in bringing nature indoors.

With Thanksgiving over, autumnal decorations of gourds, leaves and seed-pods are either relegated to the compost pile or ( as you might have read in that NY Times article ), to the Art Student’s League to serve in still-life arrangements.

Throughout winter, bulbs come to the fore. Paperwhites and amaryllis cheer up the months of December and January. Later in January and for the rest of season, bulbs like hyacinths, crocus and muscari that have been cooling in the refrigerator, will be forced. They are my salvation through these cold, dark, interminably long days. Typically, evergreens and a tree are a part of the holidays but given the severe allergies my daughter has to pines, we’re finally doing away with the tree tradition altogether. I’m planning something more contemporary to stand-in for the tree. If we cannot have a real tree, I don’t want a look alike either. I’ll share my tree substitute when it’s created. Finally, simple roping of boxwood will replace the usual princess pine at the mantel.

I started the paperwhites and amaryllis last week. That act alone put me in a good mood. The anticipation is half the joy. Watching the progress of these bulbs gives me that much needed dose of daily cheer and optimism.

If you remember, on a trip to the Netherlands last January, I learned that amaryllis do not need to be potted up or placed in water. They come equipped with everything they need to bloom. It’s only after flowering is done and the leaves have emerged, might they be potted up and treated like any house plant. Let them spend the summer outdoors, go dormant in the fall and then restart all over again later in winter/early spring. They will not re-bloom in time for the holidays subsequently but instead at their more naturally programmed time. So, you will need to get new amaryllis bulbs for the holidays each year. I say, the more the merrier!

As the amaryllis do not need potting or water, they can be placed any which way you like. Their outer papery skin can even be gently sprayed in gold/silver/copper and arranged to look very festive and elegant. In a flower shop in Eindhoven, I even saw them covered in bright pink wax! Not quite my taste but I can certainly see the possibilities. So, uncork your creativity and enjoy. Take pictures and share with me please!

Meanwhile, create your own happiness.

Some of my potted amaryllis last January

Amaryllis unplugged! In a flower shop in the Netherlands.

Close up.

Pretty pink bottoms!

At Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. Sadly, US customs do not allow them in so I returned home emoty-handed.

My new amaryllis experiment. Looks odd now but should be quite lovely when the flowers bloom. I might add more bulbs this week.

Paperwhites. I have several such containers all over the house.

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar