November Nuances

It finally feels like November. Fall is on the way out and winter is moving in. Blustery cold days with a definitive crispness in the air, enough trees in now muted colors rendering the days with an understated, autumnal elegance all highlighted by that clear sunshine so particular to this time of year. The transition to winter is happening. Things are slowing down. November, a month of progression, people power and prayerful thanks.

Most of the fall garden chores are done. But for another round or two of leaf raking and covering the large pots with their winter protection of plastic tarp and burlap, little else is called for. After the ground is well and truly frozen, a layer of mulch will be applied to all the beds. Doing it too early invites rodents to make homes beneath the mulch. Besides, until the ground is frozen hard, there is the threat of freezing and thawing which can displace the mulch.

Before Thanksgiving, I’ll make another inspection to confirm that the limbs of climbers and vines are secured properly and all movable furniture put away. The greenhouse heater is giving trouble so we’re keeping an eye on it. Should it fail to kick-in, the plants will suffer or worse. Hoping it doesn’t need replacing – good heaters don’t come cheap.

In this period of down time, I’ve been making it a point to enjoy the foliage which has been spectacular this year. We were fortunate to have days bright with sunshine this past long weekend. So while temperatures dipped and the wind whipped up the fallen leaves, brisk, energetic walks were in order. Got the blood flowing and spirits raised for sure. The fall colors are fading but there’s still plenty to observe and enjoy. Yellow ocher is having its moment. I’m taking my wardrobe cues from nature’s current palette. I too would like to look understated and elegant.

The joyous displays of chrysanthemums and pumpkins in front of so many homes remind me that Thanksgiving is fast approaching. I wish I’d brought in more hydrangea to make big arrangements for the mantel. But my timing was off and now the blooms on the plants are all brown and shriveled. Still, outdoors, they continue to make a visual impact. I’m loving the earthy hues. There is so much beauty in senescence.

That is true of humans as well.

Note: Points Of View” is still on. Do check it out!

Also: I have a painting here –

 

Some images I’ve enjoyed this month:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Foliage, Flowers, Freedom

Fall has finally peaked. It’s late but oh my, it’s been worth the wait. It is firelicious. Don’t look up the word – I made it up. The colors are so brilliant and gaudy it feels like I’m in a mad artist’s palette. So this past Sunday, we drove around simply to take in the fall foliage. With no plans or destination in mind, we took side roads and parkways pausing frequently to observe and admire. The weather was perfect – mild temperatures, a backdrop of clear blue skies, sunlight glancing off the colors creating ephemeral moments of sparkle and glow, I couldn’t get enough of the gorgeous hues. Can’t believe how blessed I am to live here.

Autumn

The sun lives on earth these days

I tread on glowing embers

Walking amidst flames of leaves

My world’s ablaze in hothouse colors.

– Shobha

The bulbs are all planted. Fingers crossed that we do not revert suddenly to summer temperatures anytime before spring. I’m already envisioning the bold splashes of color that will rejuvenate our spirits and gardens so tired of winter’s tedium. Flowers work such powerful magic.

The icing on the cake was that during the entire afternoon spent admiring the foliage, I never once got distracted by thoughts of all the turmoil and tension in the country. The anger, fear and uncertainty is palpable everywhere. Well today, we get to make things better. We vote. That’s how we preserve our freedoms and this democracy. Whatever else you might have on your to-do list today, make sure you cast your vote. That right was hard-earned and hard-fought. Don’t let yourself or your nation down.

Note: Thank you everyone who came to the reception of ‘Point Of View’! Your support and presence meant the world to me. For those who couldn’t make it, the exhibit is on through the month of November. Don’t forget to sign the guest book!

@walonlewis

Started the foliage viewing from my own backyard

A glimpse of ‘Points Of View’

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Hope Is Alive And Well

The shipment of bulbs finally arrived last Friday. The bulb houses ship the orders in time for planting at their final destinations. Given how erratic our weather has been this year, the bulbs are unsurprisingly later than usual. With no certainty on my part, I’ve decided to take the bulb companies to heart – maybe they know something I don’t. Hence, I began the planting on Sunday. Getting 1000 bulbs planted will take a while.

What can be more optimistic than planting bulbs? These rotund packages large and small, hold within their brown, plain bodies the promise of a beautiful spring as reward for enduring the dark, cold days of winter. Given recent happenings in our country, the days already feel dark, forbidding and scary. So planting the bulbs serves as both a distraction and an act of faith. Tomorrow will be brighter and better. Without that inherent belief, gardeners would cease to exist.

In performing this ritual of investing in the future, I’m encouraged that beauty on earth will persist. When the flowers emerge next spring, they will bring joy to all who see them. At that time, I will particularly remember those we lost at the time of planting. They didn’t go in vain.

I believe that we cannot give up or give in to the threats that loom – good will always triumph over evil, light will eliminate the dark, love will conquer hate. Otherwise, there’d be no point to anything.

Note: ‘Points Of View” opens this week. Do stop for a look!

This year’s bulb order.

Fall in miniature

Glimpses of last spring –

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Writing Is On The Wall

Exactly one week ago, it was frightfully hot with intermittent downpours that caused flash floods in my part of the country. We had to run the air-conditioners to mitigate the oppressive heat and humidity. Today, it is cool and dry – cool enough that the heat has been turned on. Kinda crazy right?

In the garden, the fall flowers are still blooming nicely and things are generally green. Not much leaf color at all. Are the vivid colors of the season ever going to make a showing? Hiking at a local preserve yesterday, there wasn’t much to indicate that summer was well over. I’m afraid we might just transit straight to brown and bare which would be such a shame. After all, the best reason to love autumn is that display of sunset hues lighting up the landscape. One likely feels cheated. Give us one last celebration before we move indoors to hibernate please!

The soil is not quite ready for bulb planting – the ground temperature needs to be around 55 degrees. In fact, the shipments of bulbs haven’t even arrived. While the greenhouse is fully occupied with tender plants and the heat is keeping them warm, it feels as though the remaining seasonal work is at a standstill of sorts. There’s too much that’s looking good to be cut down just yet. Despite the current cold weather, I keep thinking we might still have a few more days of milder temperatures so I’m holding off putting away the outdoor chairs.

It’s a bit unsettling to be thrown off the normal schedule of seasonal garden chores. However, the bigger worry is how this erratic behavior of the climate will impact globally. From migrating birds and animals to farmers planning their crops there will be an effect that will ultimately affect us all. I’m also concerned that all that humidity and warm conditions that was our summer will spawn disease and a glut of pests. One can no longer ignore the signs – each of us bears a responsibility to care. Care enough to do something. Every bit of action will matter. From conserving water and other resources, preserving and protecting the land, reusing, planting predominantly native plants, recycling and reducing all waste … you know what I’m saying. It worries me that the problem is seen by too many as not in our control or that we humans do not play a part. If we are willing to listen to the scientists about new cancer treatments and developments why then do so many resist their warnings and reports about climate change? We might not be able to reverse the change in the near future but, at the very least we’ve got to try to stop it from getting worse.

Not making any effort would be inexcusable. After all, if ones own home were threatened would we do nothing? Well then, Earth is the big home and the only one we’ve got. So let’s get busy. This is a call to action.

Note: I’m looking forward to seeing you at Points Of View’. .

Scenes from last October –

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Feeling September-ish

I’m basking in that late summer – early autumnal glow here in Europe, it’s harvesting time both in gardens and farms. The crops are at peak and crates have been positioned ready to receive their bounty. Vegetable gardens and orchards are burgeoning and hold all the promise of family meals and healthy living. The horridly hot summer of 2018 is hopefully making a timely exit. I return home in a day and will do my very best to bring along some more seasonal weather. No promises!

After a glorious three weeks of R&R, I’m looking forward to getting back to home and garden. There’s plenty awaiting my attention and I know that all too soon my vacation will seem as though it happened a long time ago. At that point, I’ll just have to start dreaming of my next trip. For now, I’m ready and raring to get started on fall planting, seed collecting and clean-up. With any luck the squirrels will have spared us some apples and pears to enjoy and just maybe the birds haven’t completely polished off all of the concord grapes. Oh the perils of going away in summer.

Note: Hope you’ve reserved your spot for the symposium on September 29. I’m so excited about it – it’ll be fun, informative and a great opportunity to meet new and old garden-minded friends.

Enjoy these September images from France and the Netherlands:

Fennel

Grape harvester.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

French Salad

I’m spending ten days in Provence – France’s salad bowl. The land stretches in all directions yielding all manner of produce. The weekly markets serve up fruits and vegetables so fresh and so local that you couldn’t bring farm and table any closer. Prices are affordable too. For years I’ve longed to buy fruit in quantity for canning. Finally, this past week, I bought 2 lbs of figs and made half into jam and the other half into chutney. A dream come true. Some aspire to sky-dive while I yearn to find my inner French chef.

The conversations with the market vendors/farmers are themselves instructive. Faced with a variety of eggplants, I asked the farmer which ones would be best for eggplant parmigiana. Without hesitation he pointed to the deep aubergine colored ones. The paler, slender varieties were for baba ganoush. Another variety was best for grilling of stuffing. And so it went. If I’d probed further, he’d have recommended the correct wine pairings too.

Similarly, the cheese maker, mushroom forager and flamboyant charcuterie guy can help select, share recipes and serving ideas along with some strong opinions on our American politics. Shopping in these markets is an immersive experience. I’ve learned to set aside an entire morning to the weekly market. You come for the produce but you stay to strengthen your relationships with those who grow the produce.

Inevitably, I return from market laden with flowers, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, eggs, mushrooms, olives and tapenades, pickled garlic ( my new favorite snack) and a sense of urgency to get the zucchini blossoms stuffed with the fresh goat cheese and fried up right away. Those blossoms will curl up tight and go limp if one waits too long.

Despite all the availability, most homes with a bit of land will maintain a potager of some sort. Some are simple with pots of geraniums, tomatoes and herbs, others attempt a myriad of vegetables and flowers in slightly larger plots and then there are those truly impressive gardens that make me stop and marvel. Each garden says the same thing – a gardener resides here. All are my kind of people.

It’s easy to eat well with such affordable abundance all around. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if the $ got a bit stronger against the EU.

Santé et bon appétit!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Dead Heat

It’s been an unusual warm summer globally. Here in the Netherlands, I’m witness to the impact of the record heat that lasted several weeks. Being unused to such extreme weather, the average Dutch gardener didn’t quite know what to make of the high temperatures and the accompanying lack of rain. Typically it rains so consistently that one is not accustomed to watering the garden regularly. By the time many of them realized the stress the plants were under, it was already too late to save some of them. Due to regulations, farmers were not permitted to pump water from the underground aquifers. Consequently, it has led to some serious loss of crops. It goes without saying that this single summer will have a lingering effect on the environment, the economy and the general sense of well-being amongst the populace.

Where at this time, there’s usually a glut of summer blooms at their glorious peak, I see instead many gardens prematurely displaying an autumnal look with dry foliage, faded flowers and assorted seed-heads pushing for immortality. Too soon, too early! It is easy to discern the gardens that were watered during the days of heat – they are the ones looking entirely unscathed. But, there is one other category of plantings that have come through the heat admirably – the drought tolerant ones. Water being a limited resource cannot be used with abandon. Simply turning on the hose and/or sprinklers every time we are hit with a drought is not the solution. A more realistic, sustainable approach must be identified and implemented.

At present, the normal weather pattern has returned with rain and seasonal temperatures and I’m pleased to see that in several cases, the plants are valiantly attempting a full comeback. Yet, there is ample evidence of the toll taken by those hot, dry days. Damaged and dead plants remain as somber reminders that it takes just a short shift in the weather to have a long effect on the earth. Climate change is evident. What on earth are we going to do about it?

Note: Don’t forget! September 29 approaches!

Drought tolerant grass looking radiant.

New plantings to replace the ones lost to the drought.

Awaiting replacements …

Well watered

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Public Parks, Private Gardens

The exhibit with that title just closed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. I saw it when it had just opened in the spring – a time when we were all so tired of the protracted winter. Remember how spring seemed like it would never come? This art show was exactly what my spirit needed. For a good hour or two I was lost in the gardens and parks rendered by the artists of the nineteenth century. It got my imagination fired, my gardening juices flowing and I emerged with plans and ideas for my own gardening life.

But what other information I gathered was how the parks informed the public of that time. What they saw in these communal spaces were echoed in their own gardens. This was transforming for the people.

At the time, explorers were sending home vast shipments of botanical specimens. Nurserymen were actively hybridizing plants and making available new and diverse selections. Royal properties were opening up for the people to see and public green spaces were created for Parisians to enjoy in their city. Those living in the suburbs and further in the country were inspired to create their own flower gardens.

And so began the important role that public parks and gardens play in our lives.

It struck me that this vital purpose of gardens and parks open to the populace is just as significant today as it was then. By simply being there for ones leisure to commune with nature, escape from the demands of quotidian life and take in the beautiful sights, smells and sounds is purposeful enough. However, they also instruct and inform both professional and amateur gardeners as well as those who visit for artistic and aesthetic inspiration.

For me personally, as one who grew up with the tropical plants in India, the learning curve was steep. There was little I could relate to or identify in the North American garden. I had so much to learn! As a graduate student, I made numerous visits to the Chicago Botanical Gardens and the Lincoln Park Conservatory to both escape the pressure of academia and to learn about the new and exciting plants I was discovering. Everywhere I traveled in the US and in Europe, the public gardens became a must see. On moving to New York, the New York Botanical Gardens and Wave Hill were my go-to places right away. In subtle and not so subtle ways, my own personal style and tastes evolved.

So, here I am today – with strong opinions and a depth of horticultural knowledge that has grown exponentially since those early years. But here’s the thing – I still seek out gardens and parks open to the public everywhere I go. I’m acutely aware of the continued need to learn more, seek ideas and keep up with the advances in the field.

The NYBG, Wave Hill, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Central Park and the popular new-kids-on-the-block the High-Line and Untermyer Gardens, remain dear to my heart and mind. I’m privileged to live in a region that also boasts other smaller but vital treasures like Storm King, Inverness, Stonecrop and several others.

The learning and sheer pleasure of visiting public gardens and parks never stops. They are the frontiers of horticultural understanding and information. Their continued discoveries, research, trials and collections are of an importance that cannot be overstated. I salute every one of them and all those hardworking individuals who create, maintain and continue to develop them for us. To entertain and inform is a tall order.

With an upcoming trip to Amsterdam, you can bet the Hortus Botanicus will be the first place I will visit. There are other Dutch gardens and nurseries on my list too. Rest assured I’ll tell you all about them in due course.

Note – Given how much I value public gardens, I am thrilled and honored to be involved in the upcoming symposium : “Great American Public Gardens: Successes and Challenges on September 29. Following solo presentations by the Directors of Horticulture of Wave Hill, the High Line and Untermyer Gardens, I shall be moderating a panel discussion with the three notables themselves.

I hope you will make it a point to attend. The third part of the symposium will be guided tour of Untermyer Gardens. A veritable treat I promise.

Here are a few glimpses of the gardens-

Untermyer :

My superheroes. Garden-makers of Untermyer and Wave Hill. L-R: Timothy Tilghman, John Trexler, Marco Polo Stufano, Drew Schuyler, Louis Bauer

 

Wave Hill:

The High Line ( in winter):

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Growing The Future

“ Screen time” is a hot button issue. As adults, we’re all guilty of wasting ( yes, I said wasting ) far too much time on our digital devices. And being an adult, means we should know better and do better. The choice is simple – get away from whatever electronic devise you’ve developed an unseemly attachment to and do something useful, creative and meaningful instead.

But when it comes to our children, it’s become a true dilemma. I’m not going to elaborate into this because we’re all aware of the problem. There are enough data out there confirming that the young are exposed daily to far too much screen time. Recently, the American Association of Pediatrics put out new recommendations on this topic.

Recommendations are all very well but good, fun alternatives must be offered as well. New interests and hobbies are key. As parents/caregivers/teachers, it starts with setting a good examples ourselves. Needless to say, our own passions and pastimes serve the cause best. So, what are you doing with your time?

Given that outdoor activities are unanimously extolled as antidotes to boredom, stress, anger, poor physical and mental health, I am unsurprisingly making a solid case for children taking up gardening. It is instructive in responsibility and time-management, educational in the sciences, physically demanding, therapeutic, creative, useful and, best of all, hugely rewarding. Exposing a child to the powers and wonders of nature is perhaps one of the single most gratifying experiences. We’re putting at their disposal a toolbox for life-management. Something they can use consistently for the rest of their lives.

I’ve written previously about getting children involved in the garden and, it bears reaffirming the ways to do so. Here goes –

Give them a plot of their own. A patch in the sun, amended with compost ( another lesson to teach!) for a child to work on freely. If space is at a premium, a big planter or a raised bed on a terrace will do just fine. Here, a young one can learn all the lessons of tending a garden. And you, the adult will have no worries about other parts of the garden being accidentally dug up or trampled upon.

Give them the right tools. Not toy tools! Invest in a good set of gardening tools designed for small hands. The right size will make all the difference in both their morale and in their work. Toss in a small wheelbarrow as well!

Provide some early gratification. Patience is not a virtue found in children. Let them begin with quick growing crops like radishes, arugula and other salad leaves. From seed sowing to harvest, these will take about four weeks. Starting with young plants that will flower or fruit quickly are also good options. Let the child have a say in what they want to grow. They will be so proud to provide to the family table and flower vases. In time, they can have fun growing watermelon radish, purple carrots, zebra tomatoes, lemon cucumbers – stuff that is attractively different and not commonly found in the supermarket. Same with flowers – black pansies, green zinnias, giant sunflowers in colors of gaudy sunsets …

Offer extras. Build with them butterfly, bird and bug houses. Create butterfly gardens full of native wildflowers. Set up a birdbaths and bird-feeders. Permit specialization – they can develop collections of whatever plants they like most. From succulents to dahlias to tomatoes, a young gardener can become an expert on any particular plant. Give them bulbs to plant in the fall – their eager anticipation for the spring and sheer delight at observing the bulbs emerge and bloom will get them hooked to gardening. Even jaded teenagers will get weak-kneed at the sight of a bed of daffodils trumpeting open. Mark my words.

Let them grow further. Show them how to learn about what they see. Bird watching, butterfly spotting – identifying and creating an electronic log book could well give them lifelong hobbies to pursue. Show them how to take photos and/or make drawings, sketches or paintings of their gardens, the creatures that visit and finally, of their produce. Developing their creativity gives more meaning to their efforts in the garden.

Tie it all in. To show that you’re not being a Luddite or fuddy-duddy, encourage them to blog or vlog about their gardening life through the seasons. Posting on Instagram their own fabulous, homegrown flowers and vegetables will be exciting. After all, you want them to know that you aren’t anti-technology. You just want them to be well-balanced individuals. Just like you n/est pas?

Note: Exciting news! Mark your calendars! Get your tickets! Click here to find out!

There is still time to see the ‘Waterfront’ show in which I have a painting. Don’t miss the views of the city from the windows there!

Here are some photos taken over the years –

Getting May baskets ready

Bulb planting

Making music in the tree-house. Garden Open Day 2011

Harvesting apples from the espalier orchard

There’s always time for play

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

That Pesky Plastic Problem

I don’t know about you but, I’ve been feeling mighty unsettled of late. There is a lot going on in the world and much of it is not good. Discord is rampant. You, I’m certain, read the news as I do so, I shall not expand on what is wrong. It’s been making me sad, angry, frustrated and heartbroken. Those emotions are powerful and as such, do not feel good. However, that force generated is impetus to do something positive. However and whatever one does to change or solve a problem moves us in the right direction. Besides, just how long can anybody wallow in despair? What good comes of that anyway?

True, in most cases, a single individual cannot do much but, every solution starts with a single person and a single act.

So, I’m looking around my own little world with determination to do whatever I can. From reaching out to members of my community who might be lonely or in need of some help to signing petitions/calling my representatives in government to donating to worthy causes ( money, clothes, books, food) to putting in a few hours volunteering locally to doing my share in protecting the environment by my own practices in the garden and home. Every effort, however small is empowering. And that leads to more efforts. It becomes a mission. The sum impact is seen or felt in due course.

As gardeners, we are very aware of the environment. What impacts it positively or negatively is always on mind. We want that happy balance of flora and fauna that a healthy environment needs to thrive. There is plenty we can do in the garden that protects, revives and restores that balance. Planting native plants, applying organic practices, using sustainable materials, conserving water, composting, mulching etc.,

However, despite all the progress, one thing that still seems to be widely present is plastic. Pots, tools, furniture, ties, stakes, bags, labels, bottles, gloves – you see?

By now, our senses have been collectively shocked by the images of fish found not only with plastic waste in their stomachs but, plastic has found its way into their flesh. So, it is possible then that the seafood one consumes can contain plastic. No, I take that back – we are already eating some of the plastic we have thrown into the sea. Think what those implications are.

All too often, we are smug in the knowledge that we recycle our plastic and therefore we’re doing our part. Not so fast. 78 million tonnes of plastic packaging is produced globally every year. Of this, 14% is burned for energy recovery, another 14% is recycled but only 2% of that is actually recycled into new materials and 40% goes to landfills. We produce 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago and by 2050 it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Imagine what the seabirds will have to eat. Consider the chain-reaction in such a situation.

Okay, so back into the garden. How many plastic pots do you have? It seems that the average gardener has 39 plastic pots hanging around in their garden. In the past, there were genuine attempts to use cardboard and/or paper pots. Whale-hide ( made of rigid pitch and fiber that resembled whale hide) pots were also developed. However all these pots fell apart soon and nurseries could not have plants sitting in stock all year round. Enter sturdy plastic that takes anywhere from 50 to 1000 years to break down. You get the idea. Shipping and stocking made easy.

Enough of the bad news. Lets think pro-actively. Start by reusing as much as possible. Case in point – bags that held soil or mulch or compost can hold garbage. Meanwhile, petition your town to institute a community composting and mulching program.

Think twice about every bit of plastic that comes into the garden. Could you make a better choice? Can you reuse it after it serves its initial purpose?

Consider getting tools with wooden or bamboo handles instead of plastic.

There are indeed products manufactured with recycled plastic. A noble effort that might be but, I fear that in buying such items, it only fosters the continued use of regular plastic with the misguided thought that it’s okay to do so simply because it can be recycled. Recall paragraph 5 above.

Buy from nurseries that use recycled or biodegradable pots. Start seeds in egg-shell halves, clean yogurt containers, make your own seed-pots from newspaper – there is a simple tool for just that.

Use metal or wooden label markers. My preferred choice is actually slate – get remnants from places that sell pavers. Slate is of course highly durable and very discreet in the garden.

You see? We can each do something. That is all that is asked of us – to do our part. Collectively we shall overcome.

Note: I’m not sharing photos of plastic! Instead, here are some images from a couple of gardens I have visited in the last week.

Papaya

Clematis scrambling over Ilex

A slate label on my espalier

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar