Springing For A Cause

It’s an incredibly busy time right now. The garden of course is taking up most of my attention. Both PlantFest and Open Day are coming up this weekend and the following Saturday respectively. With so much else also making demands on my time, it’s easy to question why I’m taking on all the work. The answer is really quite simple – to make a difference.

I started the Printed Garden line of products because I wanted to step up my game in helping children with HIV/AIDS at the Mukta Jeevan orphanage. It has been ten years since I first met the children and began my work of fund-raising for their educational needs. As they got older, their needs became bigger. Having a consistent source of funds in addition to generous donors became imperative. Using my art for the cause seemed elementary. I have the products available on-line but pop-up shop opportunities give me the added chance to engage with the public, receive feedback, make new friends and gain more support. Work that can often feel lonely needs these human interactions to reassure and reaffirm my purpose.

TeaTown is in itself a most worthy cause. If you aren’t familiar with this local treasure and its mission, do look up their website. The PlantFest marks their spring fund raiser, with myriad plants for sale, it gets the community into a gardening state of mind and kicks off the season for TeaTown’s Wildflower Island. My participation in this event is win-win all around. Definitely worth my effort.

The Open Days Program of the Garden Conservancy is one of those great ideas that pleases and informs the population at large so much that it is easy to forget that it actually serves a bigger purpose. The Conservancy’s mission is to preserve landmark gardens across America. This takes a huge amount of effort, man power and funds. The Open Days program, raises awareness and monies to that end. However, it also provides gardeners and garden lovers an opportunity to visit private gardens, learn about new or unfamiliar plants, designs and horticultural practices. Once again, like PlantFest, it brings together people in a most beautiful way. I’ve been a garden host for this event for about ten years and I’m just as honored to do so now as when I was first approached by the Conservancy about putting my garden in their Open Day program. It’s all good.

In supporting the Garden Conservancy this way, I have met and befriended some amazing people, increased my horticultural knowledge and, acquired some pretty nice plants from those generous souls. If working like a possessed person preparing my garden for its Open Day gets me new friends and plants, well then, here I am – in the thick of manic gardening.

I’ve watched friendships between garden visitors blossom and it wouldn’t surprise me if garden visiting MeetUps become the coolest thing.

So come, join me at PlantFest and in my garden to celebrate the season, life and the sheer joy of being alive.

Note: at both events you can stock up on my products – they make beautiful and functional gifts for Mother’s Day, birthdays, bridal and wedding showers, housewarmings, host/hostess, teacher appreciation, yourself. 100% of the profits go to support the children at Mukta Jeevan orphanage.

Attention! Rocky Hills’ Open Day is on May 19 as well! A not to be missed garden!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Day! May Day! May Day!

I can’t believe it’s May! Looking around the garden, spring is surely here but the flowers are a few weeks behind schedule. The protracted winter kept us waiting and yearning for its end so now that the season of growth has begun, I’m not complaining. Just as long as we are given a proper length of spring. As of tomorrow, for the next three days, we are expecting the temperature to spike up to 80+ degrees. Please lets not have all the spring flowers rush to bloom all at once!

The sight of plants coming awake is so exciting. I absolutely adore this anticipation of the spectacular displays to come. With my garden Open Day a mere three weeks away and TeaTown’s PlantFest less than two weeks away, there is tons of work to do. At double time. I’m juggling other work and garden work in a frenzied sort of way. When I’m working on one thing, I’m feeling the pressure of the other pending projects. The up side is that this will not go on forever. PlantFest will happen.  Open Day will come and fingers crossed, the garden will please the visitors. I’m also doing my best to appeal to the weather gods to bless us with fabulous weather.

In the midst of addressing all the work and responsibilities, I have been completely consumed by the robin’s nest below the kitchen window. I’d become the creepy stranger lurking around spying on an expectant mother. I took pictures constantly and every task that took me away from said window was resented.

Yesterday morning, as I made coffee, I watched the mama robin sitting calmly and patiently on her clutch of four eggs. Took a picture. She turned her head, cocked an eye upwards, indicating she was aware of me.

A half-hour later in my office upstairs, I noticed a couple of large crows flying past the window in front of my desk. Something about them made me uneasy but I had to carry on with the task at hand. About an hour later, I went back down to the kitchen and peered out. It was completely empty. No mama, no eggs. I could see a piece of blue egg shell on the ground. An avian home invasion had occurred.

I’m totally heartbroken. I realize it’s nature at work but this travesty happened in my garden and somehow I cannot help feeling like I failed in protecting the robins. If only the wisteria had begun leafing out as it would’ve normally, the nest situated within its limbs would have been better hidden. Perhaps if I’d stayed at the kitchen window, I could’ve shooed away the crows. If only …

Life, I know must and will go on. But I’m taking some time to mourn this loss. To send thoughts and blessings to that mother – to stay strong and try again soon at a safer site. And for what it is worth, I’m so sorry.

Last Saturday, to help me stay on track with my work ( without being distracted by the goings on in nests and such), I had sent off for a good outdoor camera ASAP. No, pronto, toute suite. It was to be set up so it could take photos of the nest round the clock. I wouldn’t have to miss anything. Sadly, that will no longer be necessary for this occasion.

Instead, I’m going to position the camera to take a series of shots that determine a time-line of sorts of how the meadow evolves through the seasons. Perhaps it’ll be interesting. Or merely prosaic. For the time being, it’s all I can emotionally handle.

Building the nest

Still building

Both parents

Four perfect eggs

Incubating

After the home invasion.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Going Dutch

I’ve had the most restorative week in the Netherlands. The Dutch are doing many things right: particularly in regards to how we care for our home planet. Do right by Earth and you automatically do right by your life. My faith in humankind has been reaffirmed.

First and foremost, the weather was absolutely splendid. Sunshine on all but one day. Open-toe shoes. Mild temperatures. Birdsong all day. Walking and bike paths galore. Al fresco meals. What’s not to love?

The amount of avian activity I observed was unparalleled. I’ve never seen so many nests and nesting birds in any one place before. And this was not in special preserves or gardens. They were all over! In bustling towns, by highways and of course suburban areas. I walked by one townhouse that had a notice by its mailbox informing the mailman that there was nest inside so could the mail please be placed in the box provided on the ground. I regret not taking a photo of it.

Yet, that’s not to say that the number of certain bird species hasn’t dropped over time. Loss of habitat, pollution, climate change have all played a part. However, this country is taking action to remedy and restore. The citizens are more aware and responding positively to fiercely protecting their wildlife.

Recycling everything is standard practice across the country. Even compostables are collected weekly and turned into community compost. As a result, ‘gray’ refuse ( actual garbage) is much smaller.

The use of clothes dryers is low and instead, clothes are hung out to dry. Electricity is costly and as we all know, dryers guzzle energy. So, despite the typical damp weather in Holland, most folk prefer to ‘air dry’ their clothes. In general, attics and balconeys are reserved for line drying when the weather is inclement. Being conscious of cost, consumption and consequence leads to corrective courses. Knowledge is indeed power.

I liked noting that some tried and true practices are still in place. As I mentioned last week, new technology or focusing on the bottom line is not always progress or a step in the right direction. We have to question, weigh the pros and cons before we choose our action. Case in point, if you can walk or bike safely to work or shop, then why drive?

There are simple playgrounds everywhere. Wherever one lives, there is a playground near by. So families can get to them easily. No planning a special trip and piling into cars necessary.

For the most part, Dutch gardens are small. They are intensively and diversely planted. Contrary to the worldwide impression that tulips and other bulbs are ubiquitous fixtures in every corner of Holland, the private gardens are full of plants and trees that reflect the individual personalities and preferences of the gardeners.

Magnolias were at peak during my visit. The pears had just begun. Plants really thrive in the Dutch climate – makes me kinda envious. Lush, neat and green are the hallmarks of their gardens.

At the weekly, local markets, the flowers and plants available made me absolutely crazy. The huge variety, fine quality and low prices had me so frustrated that I couldn’t bring home anything.

Finally, I enjoyed a very good lunch at De Kas restaurant in Amsterdam. De Kas means greenhouse. Set in a park in an industrial part of the city, it is an oasis. They grow all their produce in a charmingly designed garden and in attached greenhouses. They have additional greenhouses thirty minutes away. Everything is organic and, but for the fish entrée, the fixed menu is vegetarian. Bursting with flavors from an innovative use of herbs and spices, the meal is interesting and satisfying. As the weather was so lovely, we sat outdoors on the terrace overlooking the garden and were witness to the flights of birds, cheers of children at play at a playground nearby and, as a real bonus we observed a pair of storks tending to their young in a nest high atop an old, brick chimney left in the park as a testimonial to the industry that used to flourish here. Eat your heart out NatGeo.

I’m already looking forward to returning to the Netherlands in summer.

Note: Mark your calenders – I’m a vendor at the PlantFest at Teatown Lake Reservation on May 11 and 12. Just in time for Mother’s Day, hostess, bridal,and wedding showers, birthdays and to spruce up your own home. Do stop by and say hello!

My garden’s Open Day cometh! Saturday May 19. 10am – 4pm.

Enjoy these photos from Holland!

At the market

Storks tending to their young

Restaurant De Kas

De Kas Garden

De Kas garden

Pear blossoms

Sheep grazing

Magnolia magic

This magnolia tree is three stories high and just as wide. Magnificent.

Nesting duck

Nests!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Detained

Where have all the flowers gone?” goes the song. Under 12 inches of snow is the likely answer. Harrumph! I’m getting rather tired of these snowstorms we’ve been graced with. Four Nor’easters in three weeks is a bit much. Nerves are frayed and patience is running scarce.

First, February’s mild weather indicated that we were 20 days ahead of schedule. Now March has successfully set us back considerably I shouldn’t wonder. By now, early bulbs are generally sparkling up the garden. In their cheerful company, one goes about the myriad tasks of the season with renewed energy and sunny disposition. No such luck at present.

The pruning is only half done. Last Sunday, the Concord grape vine was pruned as was only one side of the fruit espalier. The other side was not approachable because of the foot of snow that sat smug all along its length. Stepping there meant treading on the plants still slumbering beneath. Not to mention how uncomfortable it is to move in that sort of snow. Similarly, the roses could not be pruned.

No cleanup of winter detritus or dormant oil spraying has been possible. Frankly, all that I’ve done in abundance is stare forlornly at the garden and periodically get into a state of worry about how I’ll get all the chores done in time for its Open Day on May 19. Happily, common sense prevails and I go about other work. Que sera sera.

This week, I plan to get my urns and planters potted up with spring bulbs from the nursery as I simply cannot bear moving into April sans flowers. The snow has melted sufficiently and the old leaves of the hellebores can be cut off to ease the unfurling of the emerging buds. I’m optimistic that the rest of the pruning will also get completed provided the ground is not too squishy for plodding around.

Slowly, slowly it’ll happen. I have to believe. Spring after all, is all about hope and promise.

Note: Enjoy the images of flowers from last spring!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Child’s Play. Part II

Curiosity is innate to children. Nature is the best classroom and the most exciting playground. So, it stands to reason that we encourage our young to spend as much time as possible outdoors. On their own, little ones will explore and observe instinctively. They learn without even being aware. Toss in a nature loving adult into their mix and the learning possibilities grow exponentially. Engaging with nature benefits mind, body and soul. For everybody.

As we step into spring today, it’s the perfect time to introduce children to the entertainment and learning that awaits in the garden. What’s coming up in the garden? Snowdrops, hellebores, crocus, scillas are blooming. The hyacinths and tulips are piercing through the earth. Let the kids look closely at the colors, shapes, distinguish between the bulbs. The birds will start house hunting soon. Show the little ones how to identify the common birds, older ones can learn to use a bird guide and spot the not so common birds. Watching birds choose nesting sites is pure entertainment. They search, converse, bicker and finally settle on the location. Then, they work cooperatively to build the nest. Once the eggs are laid, the pair takes turns to sit on them till they hatch and work together to raise their babies. After all these years, I have not tired of watching this annual ritual.

I’ll say it up front. I’m not a fan of swing-sets in the garden. Those belong in playgrounds. A simple swing from a tree is plenty for a garden. The way I see it, having a swing-set tells a child that this is why they’re in the garden – to swing and slide.

Instead, I want a child to imagine and invent. Climb trees, hide in bushes, build forts from twigs, create villages for fairies and goblins, eat berries and sugar-snaps straight from the plants, recognize birds and their songs, pick flowers for a bouquet, tend and grow a plot of anything they want and earn that sense of pride that comes with it. The garden is a place for amazing interactions.

All sorts of science happens in the garden. Chemistry, physics, biology and how each works with the other can be demonstrated clearly right here. Nothing works in isolation. The branches of mathematics are all visible in the garden. Life follows the rules of mathematics.There’s enough information on the Internet to find fun ways to instruct science from what one sees and does in the garden so I don’t have to get into specifics. Suffice to say, Fibonacci numbers frolic openly in sight, energy is converted from light to chemical all day long and birds, bees and the wind assist and demonstrate procreation in all sorts of manner.

To get started and in keeping with the season, it is seed sowing time. With Easter and Passover coming up, eggs are having their moment. So, lets combine recycling the egg shells and starting seeds. Empty egg shell halves, washed and dried, are perfect ‘pots’ to start seeds. Fill each half with soil, dampen with a spritz of water and sow the seeds. Big seeds as that of sunflowers go in one to a pot while tiny seeds like radish can be sowed in threes. The ‘pots’ sit happily in the egg carton and can be easily monitored. When the seedlings are ready to be transplanted into the ground, one merely has to lightly crush the shell and plant it still holding the seedling. The growing roots can then break free through the cracked shell and the shell itself will eventually break down and enrich the soil with calcium. FYI – tomatoes love calcium.

Similarly, broken bits or ground egg shells can be used as mulch-fertilizer. Bonus – The albumen smell has been said to repel deer. The sharp edges of the shells deter slugs and snails. However, rodents are attracted to the same odor so do not use the shells in beds too close to the house!

All year round, I toss egg shells in the compost. The compost bin itself is one (literally) hot bed of activity that can teach a child plenty.

It isn’t just science, there is art, architecture, language ( those Latin/Greek names have meanings), history, geology, literature, geography … the wonders of life and all that supports it are there to be discovered.

Let’s loudly tell our children to “go outside and play!” . Watch them conquer the world.

Mark your calendars! My garden’s 2018 Open Day is May 19. 10 am – 4 pm.

Note : The pictures below were pulled at random but all hold interest and lessons for children ( and adults):

Planting bulbs in the fall

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Lion Roared

March arrived baring teeth, roaring madly and with claws unsheathed. High winds and heavy snow wreaked havoc along the Northeast. Trees toppled like skittles bringing down power lines and making many roads impassable. There was widespread loss of power. At present, thousands are still without electricity.

Trying to make the most of the circumstances is a challenge. Sadly, storms have become more frequent and more fierce. We should be more prepared. Still, no matter how ready one is, it is never easy to reconcile with the destruction. When old giants lay uprooted it is always reason to mourn. Having homes damaged is particularly hard.

Given the mild month of February when plants were jolted out of their winter slumber and then assaulted by the recent storm, it’s hard to know what to expect this growing season. Weather-wise, we are apparently 20 days ahead of schedule. That is insane! Clearly, we are being called to pay heed and adapt accordingly. How precisely to do so needs serious consideration. Action needs to be swift. From amping up our environmentally conscious, sustainable practices to adjusting our planting and harvesting schedules, we must act. The evidence is clear and there is ample data to support climate change. So lets get smart about what we do.

Whilst still trying to recover from last Friday’s storm, another big one is expected tonight. Heavy snow is predicted. At this point, it is difficult to simply admire the beauty of the snowy landscapes. I feel for the flora and fauna that are vulnerable to all the climactic confusion. There will be a chain reaction and finally, we humans will feel the impact. Big time.

I don’t claim to know the solution. Is there a simple solution? I think not. But, this much I do know – we cannot maintain this status quo. Every single one of us must rise to the occasion. We each have a part to play. Becoming aware is a start. There’s plenty we can do – small changes and big ones too.

By now, we assume recycling, reusing and reducing waste is routine but unfortunately, that not true. I’m consistently shocked by the number of places I visit ( residential and public) where this easy principle is not implemented.

Eating what is seasonal, being mindful of carbon footprints, packaging and processing are other things we can adopt effortlessly.

Planting, growing and literally greening our properties is doable and satisfying. Be it planting trees or growing herbs in pots, every attempt is a step in the right direction.

But, lets think bigger. Stewardship of the land. Yes. I’m suggesting that we make our moves by looking ahead. Way ahead. Rather than plan our gardens for our own immediate and near future enjoyment, lets give future generations something truly valuable. A world in good health.

For those who lost trees and shrubs in the storm, view this as a new opportunity. By no means am I trivializing the loss. It hurts emotionally and financially to have such damages. Recognize and accept the pain. Every type of loss deserves a mourning of sorts. Whenever I had to bid goodbye to a tree, I’ve taken a bit of time and thanked it for its faithful service and wished it well. It is my way of reconciling with the loss and moving on.

Replace a tree with one that is native, deep rooted and appropriate in size and shape for the location. Deep rooted generally means it is also a slow grower. You may not be around to see it mature and majestic. No matter. A subsequent generation will benefit. And think of the many other creatures this tree will support and nurture.

Fast growing trees are typically shallow rooted and come down easily in storms. In nature, instant gratification is not a wise option.

If possible, plant more trees than you lost. Sometimes, the trees that fall have outgrown their location so, while losing them is sad, it can open up the garden to other planting possibilities. The area is now sunny and new beds can be installed. That’s exciting. A long harbored garden dream can come true!

It bears repeating that fallen trees can be re-purposed, they continue to serve well beyond their lifetime – think mulch, firewood, pavers, swing seats, benches and stump-tables. If location permits, leave the tree as is on the ground and let it become a haven for all sorts of creatures. A micro-habitat that results in eventually enriching the earth.

Go organic. Our children and their children do not need chemical laden soil. Organic treatments require due diligence and more effort than non-organic ones. But so worth it. Even with organic, one should be judicious. All treatments are non-specific so good bugs are affected as well. Therefore, in conjunction with organic practices, planting mostly native plants will be the correct thing to do. It’ll promote a healthy, robust garden.

Native plants are not as fussy or greedy about water and fertilizer. Less watering is good all around right? Right? And reduce the lawn size while you’re at it. Lawns guzzle water, fertilizer and pesticides to look pristine and lush. Lawns are the divas of the garden – everybody might admire her but nobody enjoys her needs and demands. Instead, let the lawn support a mix of other low-growing plants like clover and ajuga. Use only compost ( preferably homemade) to feed and mulch the lawn. This, along with maintaining the height of the grass at about 4 inches or higher will reduce the watering needs of the lawn.

All of these points are effective and achievable. Really.

When each of us honors our responsibilities,we make progress as a whole.

I might well be preaching to the choir here but perhaps saying what might seem obvious over and over will reverberate and be felt far and wide, This is after all the only home planet we have. We must protect and preserve if we are to prosper.

Note:

I will have some of my art works in a show at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery, NYC, the week of March 12, 2018. I hope you will visit! Reception is on Tuesday March 13 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.

Here are some of my favorite photos of trees:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Scratching The Itch

Whatever happened to ‘Frigid February’? The ups and downs in temperature are making me worry. Especially because the ups are way too up. It’s too darn early! I want February as it is supposed to be – cold and merciless. It’s only redeeming quality should be its shorter length. I like complaining about this months cold as it makes March that much more welcome. I cannot imagine how confused the slumbering roots and bulbs underground must be – is it or is it not time to wake up? I imagine it must feel like being awoken by an alarm clock with a stuck snooze button. No actual sleep to be had; just a sense of deprivation and lethargy.

This week’s temperatures are predicted to make one feel as though winter is beating a hasty retreat. Say it is not so! That would not be good at various levels. Mostly because neither garden nor gardener is prepared – it is simply not the right time. Besides, even if we got going as though spring had indeed arrived, what guarantee is there that winter might not return? Confusion, indecision, anxiety and havoc seem imminent. Climate change is a very cruel curse.

Still, I cannot shake off the typical eagerness for spring that overcomes me at this time of the year. So close and yet so far away… I absolutely adore the shiver of anticipation. I’m itching to see the bulbs nose their way through the earth, smell the wet soil and walk amidst the stirring plants. To keep me happy until such time, I’ve potted up the bulbs I had cooling in the refrigerator. The mere sight of them coming awake quickens my pulse. They sit now in containers with the promise of giving me a perfect preview of all the vernal pleasures to come. Spring dreams.

Note – Two announcements –  The first is that I have posted an account of my latest visit to the children at Mukta Jeevan Ashram. Please read!

Secondly, you can catch me in a podcast “Beyond 6 Seconds” where I speak to host Carolyn Kiel about my work with the children of Mukta Jeevan. I hope you will listen. Comments are welcome.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar