Homecoming

Traveling makes one modest: one sees what a tiny place one occupies in the world.”

The Letters of Gustave Flaubert, 1830-1857

It feels good to be back home. Refreshed from my travels, I’m eager to get back in the garden. Returning after an absence always makes me approach it with some trepidation. What if something has gone terribly wrong? is a thought that hits me every single time. Thankfully, all is well. Sure the weeds have made merry, the beds are a bit messy with some plants calling it it quits for the season and, the tiny lawn is in need of a trim but in general, it’s all par for the course. The garden is transitioning into autumn.

I’d been concerned that the hummingbird feeder would run empty and thereby the birds would be denied their regular supply but it’s perplexing that after a whole two weeks, the feeder is still a third full. Have the hummingbirds moved on already? I sincerely hope nothing untoward has happened to them. I must look into understanding this before I’m consumed with worry.

The figs tree was heavy with ripe fruit that were enjoyed right away. In fact, the enthusiasm over the splendid harvest made me forget to take a photograph before they disappeared. You just have to take my word for it. The tomatoes are still going strong and I’m getting ready to make sauce for canning.

The asters are just starting to bloom and I think they’re a bit late. Usually, they’re in full swing by now. I’d actually thought I might be late to the show. The vertical garden is having its moment – looking lush and full just as so much else is waning.

The turtleheads in the meadow are growing strong. I love how dependable they are. I’ve come to the realization that the flowers of the oak-leaved hydrangea (H. quercifolia) do not last as long into fall as the my other hydrangea(H. paniculata). The former already look crisp and brown while the latter have moved from white to that soft blush that I so adore. However, the leaves of the oak-leaved have the added bonus of changing color so, I’m looking forward to that display.

All the Concord grapes have either dropped too early or the robins that nest amidst the vine have got to the fruits first. No jelly this year. So be it. Postscript -just last night I discovered that the gardeners at Hortus Arboretum and Botanical Gardens use ordinary paper lunch bags to protect their grapes. Somehow, these humble bags even survive the rain! I’ll be trying that next year.

No apples or pears either. Just as the fruit trees were in beautiful bloom in the spring, a very cold spell hit and the pollinators stayed home. The flowers spent themselves out soon after. First hand lessons in the garden. The leaves of the apples dropped off by early August and I saw that the trees at Stonecrop gardens had a similar problem but those still bore some ripening apples so, I’m a bit envious. I can only assume that the very hot months of summer took a toll and the leaves fell early.

Even in his most artificial creations, nature is the material upon which man has to work.”

— Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

It’s been a really weird summer season this year – much too hot with spells of either too much rain or complete lack thereof. Perhaps this will be the new normal and we will have to adjust what and how we garden. I’m trying to keep pace. This is after all, our future. That has to concern everyone.

In a month, I’ll be cutting and tidying in preparation for the winter. Hundreds of bulbs ordered earlier in summer will also arrive at that time for fall planting.

As the sun sets earlier and earlier, I’m determined to enjoy every available hour of daylight before I get caught up in all the busy-ness. All too soon, it’ll be winter and I want to be warmed by that sense of smugness that I had a good time while I could.

Note: I invite you to come to the “Restoring Historic Gardens” Symposium at Untermyer Gardens on Saturday October 19, 2019. I’m excited to be moderating the panel discussion that will follow after the three speakers share experiences with their respective historic gardens.

The “Walk In Our Shoes” exhibit is on till September 30. Hope you will visit this wonderful art show.

Turtleheads in the meadow
Hydrangea paniculata
Crispy flowers of the oak-leaved hydrangea
The leaves of the oak-leaved slowly changing color
Cardinal flowers still doing well
The wall
Tomatoes in the greenhouse
Figs ripening
Hot!
Pretty

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Balancing Act

For the past ten days, I’ve been enjoying down time on the barrier islands of Chincoteague and Assateague off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. It has been part of the quest for balance in life. When we plan a getaway or vacation, it is that need to counteract the everyday demands of work and other responsibilities. An opportunity to press the reset button so we maintain an even keel and thus keep perspective of what truly matters. Nothing quite as effective as a healthy dose of nature to do the job.

It is heart-achingly beautiful here. Known primarily for the wild ponies that inhabit them, these islands are the last remaining undeveloped outer banks. And remain they shall, thanks to the designation of being a National Seashore/Wildlife Refuge under the National Park Services. Like all our other National Parks, they are priceless national treasures.

It’s a fragile, ever-changing ecosystem here. Between the waves and winds of the mighty and temperamental Atlantic Ocean, the terrain,flora and fauna are in constant flux. New ‘islands’ are built, old ones shrink or grow, shorelines shift, the resilient wildlife adapt and somehow, an equilibrium is maintained. Retreating dunes mark the island’s westward move and as the water in the bays rise in response to rising ocean water, the coastlines are redrawn. New habitats are created and old ones re-adapted. Plants and animals adjust to these changes. Rich in aquatic life, the bays provide a vital ecosystem. The salt marshes, defined by the ebb and flow of the tides are yet another complex, vital ecosystem in themselves. The plants that thrive in salt marshes may be few but they shelter a diverse number of wildlife. The dunes and upper beaches are in constant motion and support a different variety of plants and animals.

Even as eel grass is tossed up by storm surges, it is turned into a substrate that enriches the soil in the marshes. Ribbed mussels have a relationship with the long water roots of salt grasses found along the edges of the marshy islands. Egrets ride on the horses to see what choice morsels they might reveal as they plod around and disturb the wet land. In turn, they help the horses by dealing with the biting insects so prevalent here. The horses feed on the salty grasses and also the poison ivy – I found that latter item quite interesting.

In an ideal situation, these parts would manage fine and life would play out naturally. It’s a real gift that we humans get to visit and observe. But yet, we manage to upset the balance. Despite all the cautions and advice from the park rangers, people often try to get too close to the horses ( selfies!) or try feeding them. The horses, as a result can get too familiar with our presence and come to expect treats to supplement their diet. These are wild animals with strong teeth and legs – their bites and kicks are fearsome. Getting too close or goading them has unfortunate consequences for man and horse. Why oh why can we not stay away from our own worst habits?!

We got very lucky with Hurricane Dorian last week. A harmless tropical storm was all we experienced. Two windy days of which one was rainy. Some localized flooding but nothing problematic. I imagine this was however, a more serious threat for the wildlife as they were deprived of their regular feeding forays and had to seek shelter to wait out the weather. For me, it was enough to be made acutely aware of how fragile life is and how much we take it for granted.

When I return home shortly, I plan to carry this awareness in my heart and strive harder to stay centered, as always, taking my cues from nature in maintaining a balance.

P.S- I also plan to increase my annual contribution to the National Parks. In recent times they have seen major budget cuts. This is nothing short of a crisis of tremendous proportion with far-reaching consequences. I beseech every single one of you to do your part in preserving our national treasure – this beautiful, majestic land of mountains and plains, lakes, rivers and coasts that we call home.

See the images below for a glimpse of Assateague/Chicoteague beauty.

Note: I’m participating in this show. I hope you will see it.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Plant Wise

After two weeks of arctic temperatures and a “bomb cyclone” thrown in for good measure, I’m feeling particularly grateful for central heating and Netflix. When it’s so cold that any time spent outdoors is nothing short of torturous, it brings to mind how easily we take our creature comforts for granted.

Too warm, there’s air-conditioning. Too cold, central heating. Too buggy, window-screens. Too much food, refrigeration. Clothes for all seasons, comfortable couches, cozy beds, running water both hot and cold, well-equipped cars, myriad choices for entertainment, constant connectivity to everything/everyone and, so it goes. And yet, we grumble.

If our basic needs of food, shelter and requisite clothing are taken care of, everything else is gravy. Really. Just look to the garden. A plant given its primary requirements of light, water and residency, thrives gloriously. It doesn’t ask for any more or any less. Satisfied, the plant does exactly as it ought. It withstands the storms, occasional neglect and unexpected variabilities in weather. Plants are resilient.

We humans are resilient too. We tend to forget that. Instead, we get angry, upset or into a panic. It helps to remind ourselves that our kind has seen just about everything through the ages. Famines, droughts, deluges, fires, earthquakes, wars, tsunamis, storms, avalanches, more wars, meteor hits, locust invasions, volcano eruptions, yet more wars – we have endured them all.

So this recent dip in temperatures is nothing in the big picture. We’re already rebounding as temperatures climb to normal this week. What we need to keep in mind is that while we make the most of good times, we must be prepared for the not so good ones. Plants store energy, they know to conserve/go dormant/set surplus seed as stressful conditions arise. They are in tune with themselves and the environment. There is now scientific evidence that should a tree come under siege, they send signals to their neighbors and even further beyond so those plants can arm themselves by producing chemicals to thwart the enemy.

Hence, taking a leaf (!) from a plant’s survival manual, we too can be prepared for most of life’s curve-balls. From stocking up on food and fuel supplies within reason ( it’s about having sufficient reserves not hoarding ) to maintaining physical and mental wellness to keeping our homes and cars energy efficient and in good running order ( think roof repairs, insurance, wills, safety measures etc., ) we get ourselves ready. Going beyond ones own needs, we think and do similarly for our communities, cities, nation and beyond. Yep, that’s it. And no whining allowed.

Typically, we look to freshen up our home at this time of year. Do check out the “Printed Garden” collection – works with any decor! Free shipping within the 48 contiguous US states!

Mark your 2018 calendar! Saturday May 18 is Open Day at my garden!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar