January Jubilation

We’re already half-way into January – where did the time go?! It’s as though the new year was welcomed only yesterday. Yet, the record low temperatures we’re experiencing has made the days seem slow. Apart from a brief spike in temperature towards the end the last week, it really has been unbearably cold. On the up side, this has made me turn to the indoors. I’m reorganizing and rearranging. During the course of the years, so much in the house goes by the way side when engaged in the purpose of living. Now is the perfect time to look around and take stock of all those neglected tasks. A lick of paint, a spot of cleaning, some repair, a few replacements and a whole lot of editing. I’m cleaning up and paring down. In getting rid of anything that is no longer useful and re-purposing other items to serve me the way I now live, I’m giving my home up to my speed. Nothing dramatic or elaborate but significant to me nonetheless. Taking on this ‘project’ is infusing me with an enormous dose of enthusiasm. The sense of aligning the home space to one’s current lifestyle is pure bliss.

That doesn’t mean I’m not looking outside. I gaze at the garden in winter from the windows and whenever I’m feeling brave enough, the occasional turn in the garden itself. It is garden-dreaming season after all. The bones of the garden show up clearly in winter. And for the most part, I’m liking what I see. There is sufficient visual interest. The espalier of fruit trees takes on the role of a dominant sculpture. “Wind Song”, the sculpture seems to come alive as it reflects and fractures the light that hits it. And on windy days, it appears to mimic the swaying boughs and branches.

Viewed from the kitchen window one storey above, the potager looks as though it belongs in a cloister – orderly and graceful, waiting to serve again. Along the driveway, the vertical garden hangs as a large piece of abstract art. The whispering sounds of the now dry fronds of ferns add another experiential element in the viewing of it.

In the checkerboard garden, the smooth, white coating of snow on the squares of stone contrast beautifully with the bumpy, dark and light flecked squares of creeping phlox.

Cleared of snow, the walkway looks like a zipper running between the sheet of snow inviting passage to the shelter of the house.

Finally, lets not miss the shadows cast on the snow by the low winter sun. Oh the shapes and forms interweaving between trees and trellis! They move – growing and receding with the day. A slow, certain dance to the silent music of light.

Ah January, you offer up such quiet joy.

Note: I’ve been very inspired by the winter landscape so enjoy the photos and a couple of recent paintings!

Watercolor ‘Winter Shadows”

Watercolor – ‘Winter Pas De Deux’

(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

All Is Calm, All Is Bright

The merry chaos of Christmas is over. It’s Boxing Day today and I’m loving the quiet. A day of leftovers and recovery! Let the peace of winter begin.

Of course, the mind never rests. Winter is for dreaming and planning without the distraction of chores awaiting in the garden. I’ve gathered my garden catalogs, magazines, photographs and notes taken through the year to remind me of plants I’ve coveted and areas in the garden that did well and those that did not. In the calm of the next few weeks, I will come up with a million wishes that will get whittled into a few, select, realistic plans. At this time each year, I’m determined that in the coming year, my garden is going to look better than ever before. Dream on.

Note: It was a beautiful white Christmas. Here is my garden transformed – but first,

As promised, here is my ‘modern’ tree. I believe the family has learned to appreciate it.

(c) 2017 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

Welcome To The “Printed Garden”

Disclaimer! This week’s article is not exactly about gardening. It is however about how my garden and my art have converged to birth a new venture in keeping with my efforts to help a group of HIV girls with their education.

Lately, I’ve been equal parts excited and nervous. In November (that’s tomorrow!), I officially launch “ The Printed Garden”my new line of soft furnishing products. It’s taken me exactly a year to get to this point. The learning curve has been steep. I’m just fine with the creative aspect but dealing with production and now the marketing has been rather humbling. I came into it knowing virtually nothing. I still have tons to learn but at least I’m beginning to get the hang of it.

The idea of using my botanical watercolors for note cards and giclee prints was sparked by my friend Heidi several years ago. She had a clear vision of the potential of the botanicals. In fact, she printed up the first batch of the cards herself. We are now many, many sets and collections from that initial start and there are more designs in the pipeline. What felt like a novel product to me at that time, feels so natural now. Merci beaucoup Heidi!

From that point, suggestions to get the botanical images on other items kept coming. T-shirts, totes, pillows, table linens, upholstery, dresses, wallpaper, wrapping paper, dinnerware etc., I could see the potential but the work to get any product made was daunting. So, a couple of years back, I began with getting some designs on spoonflower.com. This company gets your designs printed on fabric, wallpaper and wrapping paper on demand. Anybody looking for designs for their own projects can select a design and fabric and then order whatever quantity they require. The choices of fabrics are many and the quality of the cloths as well as the prints are excellent. This got my feet wet in the business. I was still only the creative force and had effectively got Spoonflower to do all the other work.

The next step was to get my own products made and keep manufacturing as well as retail costs reasonable. I needed to be a part of the entire process so the final products would not only be what I could be proud of but would use in my own home. After much research and frustration, I found the company that could print up and make the soft furnishings to my specifications. Production and shipping involve mind-boggling logistics so the first time around takes more time than one imagines. I’m working on the marketing for the long range but currently, I’m in possession of the first shipment of products and I’ll be selling them on-line and at certain private events in November. It’s the kind of market research I can handle. The response thus far has been quite encouraging. I have so many ideas for the future!

So, without further ado, I introduce to you “ The Printed Garden “. That name was suggested by my clever friend Julie. Merci Julie! There are nine botanical images applied to napkins, place-mats, table runners, pillows and guest/tea towels. I’m really pleased with how they look and feel. Many more designs will be forthcoming – I’ve painted so many, many flowers!

Here’s the best part for me – 15% of the profits will be donated to help with the education of the HIV children at the Mukta Jeevan orphanage in India. The better the Printed Garden does, the more the girls will benefit. They are my heart.

I’m sharing some photographs here but will be uploading more images and details to the Shop page in the next couple of days so you can order the products directly from me. They bring a fresh, vibrant aesthetic and will enhance any space – traditional or contemporary. Perfect gifts for weddings, bridal showers, birthdays, host/hostess, housewarmings, holidays, special occasions, no special reason or simply for yourself.

Your feedback is really important because I trust your thoughts. Please send me your comments/suggestions. Do go to the Shop page to get details and more information on the products – it’ll all be there by Thursday November 2, 2017.Thank you!

These are the nine botanicals in this collection.

Table runner.

Napkins and Place mats.

Guest/tea towels.

Pillows – only six of the botanicals. No pansy, hellebore or liatris. Yet!

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar