It’s the lazy days of summer. I hope you’re making the most of
the season. They will become the memories that’ll get you through
the dark, cold days of winter. Ignore the to-do list and savor the
pleasures of summer.
Wrapped in the
heavy with heat
laden with moist
mimic the stars
by tree frogs
Fanned from on
wings of bats
While night moths
Spicy notes of
rise with the
oil of bergamot
essence of rose
content to remain
Greet the dew
of a new day.
by summer’s first dive.
meadow flowers and green, green grass
legs to brush against
to lie back
images of dogs and bears and hunting giants
dazzling day to evening glitter
gathers to mist
sun-warmed faces and naked toes
an endless ride
with ice-cream cones and fireflies
water fights and watermelon wedges
ephemeral age, an ephemeral time
summer passes overnight.
– Shobha Vanchiswar
Note:The Small Works exhibit is on through August. Do make time to see it!
is the freedom to do as one ought to do.
learned this definition in fifth grade civics class – it was how we
started to understand what democracy meant.
cornerstone of a thriving civilization, freedom is all about having
choices. So one can chose their actions bearing
in mind one’s moral responsibility. To
choose to act after discerning between right and wrong, good and
evil. To do what is ethically correct for the greater good.
that in mind, I take this power very seriously. Especially in the
garden where all too often a gardener is inclined to play lord and
master. It’s so
have at our disposal so much control and power that all too often we
forget that gardening is a privilege. The very notion that I can
assume ownership of a piece of earth to do as I please is astounding.
I often kid that I’m the dictator-in-chief of the garden, in
reality, I feel my responsibility greatly. I’m allowed to freely
design, create and play in a this space in whatever way I please.
that is the key. To use good reason.
principle commandment is to do
Whatever action taken must have the least negative impact – on
humans, animals, plants, soil, water or air. On
only organic methods are employed. But, trying to control pests
organically is not without cost. These natural products are not
specific to the
They affect the
good critters as well. So judicious application is imperative.
is used as fertilizer and mulch. The plants enjoy it. As do members
of the animal kingdom. They too
thrive because they are not harmed by compost and hence roam free and
make nests and homes underground and above, destroying root systems,
chomping on leaves and flowers, girdling trees, ruining lawns with
tunnels and burrows etc., Constant
vigilance is required so action can be taken as soon as possible.
Japanese beetles, red lily beetles and such are picked off and
dropped into hot, soapy water. After
years of battling those red devils, I’ve
stopped planting lilies but since I still grow fritillaria (
their close relative),
I must continue
a lookout. Mice, voles and other rodents are trapped. The
fruit trees must be sprayed with dormant oil only under specific
at a particular time of year.
get the idea. It’s
not always easy to do the right thing.
water is collected, a
mower cuts grass, since no herbicides are used, weeds are removed by
hand, native plants dominate the garden and support native fauna and
so on. Every one of those methods involves more work and effort. And
there are times when I’m completely frustrated. However, my
conscience is clear. I’m doing my part in exercising my freedom as
This translates very well to everything else in life. Relationships, raising children, at work, being a part of the community, a town, a city, a country, the world at large. Imagine how powerful exercising our liberties as we should can be.
Note: The reception to Small Works is this Thursday, August 8. I’d love to see you there!
Gardeners are romantic. I have come to realize and accept this. In
making anything beautiful, it pretty much goes without saying (but
I’m saying) that one must also be romantic. You aren’t convinced?
Hmmm. Let me tell you how I’ve come to realize my own idealistic,
sentimental nature in action in the garden. You tell me if you’ve
never been similarly inclined.
I’ll start with the very poster child of romance. The rose. I love
them. I have included several in my garden – all in shades of pink,
profuse and preferably perfumed. The very display of roses in bloom
brings to the forefront matters of the heart. You absolutely cannot
see a rose and not think of love and romance. Am I right?
When I chose to place two arches and plant roses to scramble up them,
I envisioned something very traditional. The arch one must go through
to reach the front door was to invite and disarm the visitor. It puts
one in good cheer. The subtle fragrance sends an additional message
of welcome. The three different clematis weaving through this rose
takes the whole to a higher level. Pure romance.
The second arch which is a gateway to the gardens in the back, has a
different rose. Brighter in its rosy hue and with a stronger perfume.
It makes its presence felt long before you get near it. A temptation
to coax the curious to come forth.
A shrub rose I planted on the side path in early spring was chosen
for its prettiness, hardiness and its scent. The whole idea being
that its fragrance will waft into the house through the studio
windows just above and assault my senses in the nicest possible way
as I paint. I’d like to think my work can only be made better under
In truth, one can smell the roses in all the rooms on that side of
the house. It makes me pause, inhale deeply and appreciate the aroma.
Life feels good. Similarly, I position the pots of citrus, jasmine
and gardenia on the side terrace so the night air is redolent with
their strong aromas – hopefully sweetening our dreams and slumber.
the herb garden, I included plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s
plays. Lovage, rue, hyssop, comfrey, foxgloves and such. Apart from
the lovage which pairs well with fish, the others merely look pretty
and remind me of earlier times. Hyssop while purported to soothe sore
throats, was popularly used
as a spiritual
bath. The hyssop bath is
usually considered to be a personal ritual to remove sin and
negativity in life. It has a Biblical significance. Rue means disdain
or regret. Comfrey too had a role in early medicine as a poultice to
treat joint pains. All so quaint and romantic right?
Even a feature like
the ‘meadow’ has an element of idealism and romance. It is a
place for congeniality between the native flora and fauna. Where
butterflies, birds and bees pollinate and populate my corner of
paradise. Life supporting life, all creatures living together in
peace and all is well with the world. What a concept!
The espalier of 27
apple and 5 pear trees hark back to a time when all of this
neighborhood was full of apple orchards. I like to think I’ve in
some way restored something precious to this place.
The pergola in the
back terrace was designed so the wisteria would grow over its top,
generously providing shade under which we can gather to break bread
and sip wine with friends and family as often as possible. And we do.
Idyllic escapes in a world gone mad.
And so it goes. I
see how in creating this garden, I have subconsciously let my inner
romantic guide me. It is about beauty, history, literature, harmony,
the sacred and most of all, love.
In general, once my garden Open Day has passed, a respite of sorts is
granted. The garden looks its best, all the heavy work is over and
it’s simply a matter of maintenance. Weeding, watering,
deadheading, mowing – the usual tasks to keep the garden looking
neat and cared for. It’s time to start relaxing and lolling about
in the garden. But not this year.
I had, over this past winter, decided to go for a bigger push in the
‘meadow’. Envisioning this space as a true four season
performance arena and inspired by Piet Oudolf’s matrix planting
system, I ordered 18 different native plants totaling 200 plants.
That’s a lot of plants. Given that the ‘meadow’ already has a
range of plants and bulbs in residence, the new introductions would
be a bit of a challenge. So, I sourced a nursery that would provide
young plugs of the plants making it a bit easier to get into the
ground between the existing plants.
This new order arrived a day before the Open Day. Needless to say,
planting them had to wait. Given the need to take a little time off
post-Open Day and a couple of days of inclement weather, a whole week
went by. Memorial weekend it had to be. As much as I was keen on
simply enjoying the long weekend with no tasks on the agenda, the
plugs of plants could not be ignored. Hence, over the afternoon of
Saturday to well past sunset we planted one side of the ‘meadow’.
The weather was ideal but getting around the established plants was a
game of Twister. Marking the spots for the plugs using bamboo stakes,
making the holes ( my engineer husband/under-gardener used a drill
and that made it so much better) and placing the plants took so much
longer than if one were starting on a blank canvas of earth. Our sore
backs and legs were testaments to the effort.
Sunday dawned and we began at 8:00am by which time it was already hot
and humid. So vastly different from the day before. The bugs were out
in full swing. We finally got all the planting done barely in time to
start preparing for our first garden party of the season. We hadn’t
as yet shopped for the event! Needless to say, it became a marathon
of shopping, prepping, baking (dessert), setting up, laying the
table, firing up the outdoor wood-fired oven, showering and dressing
… in a matter of hours.
All was accomplished just in time for the first guests’ arrival.
Then, just as the party was nicely underway and we were considering
starting on pizza making, the first raindrops dropped. Yikes! Very
soon we realized it was only going to get worse. This crowd was not
the kind to run indoors. Not a chance. Instead, with all hands on
deck, a big tarpaulin was spread and tethered over the
pergola ( with me urging them to “mind the wisteria buds!”). The
pop-up tent was brought out of storage and commissioned to allow the
pizza-maker/husband and guest helpers to work unfettered by the rain.
And the party continued in much hilarity and good cheer. Well into
Planting time, good times – it’s
all in the timing. And a can-do attitude.
P.S – Aforementioned under-gardener has categorically stated that he is done with all planting for the rest of the growing season. Hmmm, we shall see about that.
“A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves.” Marcel Proust
Ah, Open Day has come and gone leaving me with a sense of relief, well-being and satisfaction. The weather was perfect. After three straight years of cold, wind and rain on Open Day, this exquisite day was well overdue.
The sun shone bright, the air was dry, the temperature was ideal – not hot, not cold, a gentle breeze prevailed and the garden was filled with the buzz, tweets and hums of bees, birds and butterflies. The flowers rose to the occasion and shone bright and beautiful. I could not have asked for any better.
It is almost impossible not to respond positively to weather such as that. There is an imperceptible yet powerful shift in one’s mood and outlook. For myself, it felt as though a new energy had moved into my body. Being outside in the garden felt so right. There was no other place to be. No bugs biting, no jackets weighing me down, no sweat to wipe off and, best of all, no chores to do. This was as good as it gets.
It was the perfect weather to share the garden. And the garden looked its best despite the cold and rain it had endured thus far this spring. Several plants were lagging in their bloom time but the others stepped up admirably. Every visitor arrived with happy spirits and curious minds. Of the 100 or so visitors, I did not encounter a single person with the slightest hint of negativity.
As much as I love sharing my garden, I adore meeting other gardeners and garden lovers. I learn so much. This time, I picked up on a new-for-me nursery to check out, a few gardens I must visit, a book to add to my summer reading, enjoyed several good laughs, received feedback on my own garden and made new partners in horticultural-crime. At the end of the day, I was so much the richer – in heart and head.
Under such ideal conditions, it was inevitable that the best conversations ensued, strangers became friends, and for the one brief day, all was well with the world. Marcel Proust was so right.
A heartfelt thank you to all who made this Open Day a resounding success. Visitors, volunteers, friends and family – nothing is possible without you.
Note: Here are lots of photos for all those of you who failed to show up!
two of the best volunteers/friends – Barbara and Pam
My Auricula Theater
So, the gentleman on the right came from Belgium. What’s your excuse California?!
The wall right now
With the Mickels – godparents to my vertical garden
My garden’s Open Day is thisSaturday, May 18. I’m hard at work primping and propping the garden to get it looking it’s best for you. So, cancel everything else and come on over. I’d love to see you here!
I was in Evanston, Illinois this past weekend and even though part of that time it was cold and wet, I was struck by how much horticultural effort is put into making the heart of the city look attractive. Tulips waved madly in bright colors on traffic islands, pocket parks and around trees along the streets. So cheery and seasonal. And very easy to do. I’m eager to see what the next plantings of annuals will be.
But beyond the show of annuals, I observed that there is a thoughtful approach to infusing seasonal color and fragrance in the landscape through the use of perennials. A small park dividing a busy road, is bordered with hedges of viburnum. I smelled the park before I noticed it! The viburnums were in full bloom and the fragrance wafted far and wide. Pure heaven. As though reminding pedestrians to pause a moment and refresh the spirit – be present. What a lovely idea. Flower beds within the park abounded in tulips but there were many perennials emerging through. Three benches and a single sculpture completed this perfect oasis.
Swathes of Virginia bluebells carpeted several other green spaces for the public to enjoy and under many hedges I noticed abundant lily-of-the-valley leaves unfurling in readiness for the sweet bells of white to perfume the days ahead – subliminally cheering the outlooks of passers-by.
I had hoped to visit Millennial Park in Chicago and take in the plantings but my schedule did not permit it. Instead, I got to experience the glorious efforts of a much smaller city that could match its big neighbor handily. My well is full.
Note : Enjoy some images of plantings in Evanston. I look forward to seeing you in my garden this Saturday!
Depending on which device you are reading this, some images appear on their side. I have no idea how to fix it. My apologies! Also, the pocket park appears expansive in the photos – it isn’t in reality!
Almost overnight there’s been an explosion of blooms in these parts. The forsythia are having their spectacular moment with the magnolias keeping up rather impressively. And oh! the cherry blossoms! Taking the back roads to get around might be slow but the views of what’s doing in the countryside and private gardens are so worth it. I’m now about two inches taller from pausing to crane my neck to see more of what’s blooming over walls and fences. Undoubtedly, my car’s license number has been noted as it crawled suspiciously and even halted in front of some very grand homes with majestic gates and grounds. It must’ve looked like I was casing the neighborhood. I did stop short of taking photos lest they called the cops. All those gorgeous sights are now only in my head. Sigh.
About forsythia – in my humble opinion, they should never be neatly trimmed. They look their best when the sprays of flowers are naturally free and artistically unruly. The bohemians of the season.
Back in my own Eden, the hellebores continue to shine. The meadow is beginning to come alive with the minor bulbs. The snowdrops are fading but the scillas, crocuses and hyacinthoides are gently taking over. Early daffodils are in bloom and that shot of gold through the landscape is pure joy. Each day brings new bounty.
The freshly planted pansies have the sweetest faces – one cannot help but smile in response. In short order the primroses will be vying for attention. I’m also anticipating a blue-ing in the meadow – grape hyacinths, forget-me-nots, ajuga, iris reticulata … with white violas, and yellow daffodils and dandelions as counterpoint. That’s right, I said dandelions – they are not weeds in my meadow. Instead, they not only look like diminutive suns but they are some of the earliest sources of nectar for hummingbirds. So, get over your bias people!
Last Saturday was unseasonably mild and by Sunday, all sorts of plants had greened up and flowers popped open. It’s lovely to be given this chance to closely examine the beauties – all too soon, there will be such a profusion that it’ll be hard to keep up with the chores and linger around gazing at the blooms.
For now, I’m happily basking in the glow of early spring. With an occasional mojito in hand. Simple pleasures.
Yeah, I know. I’m feeling goofy. Happens about this time every year
when I can almost feel spring
making her way. It’s part imagination, part will, part reality.
Spring’s official arrival is four weeks away. I’m weary of winter
and my head space is full of garden plans and to-dos. I’m
frustrated, excited and impatient all at once. Some diversion is
As though sensing my state, the NYBG always comes to the rescue with the annual Orchid Show. Ah! Just the cheery lift I need. Surrounded by the lovely plants vying for attention, it’s impossible to remain glum. The colors and forms of the orchid flowers are incredible. I also love the way other plants are combined in the displays to expand and elevate the palette. It’s not just about the flowers; the inspired use of foliage should not be overlooked. Good horticultural design instruction right there.
Admittedly, beyond the
basics that I already know I
learn very little about orchids at the show. But if one can set aside
need for such shows to be properly educational, such an exhibit can
be a very positive experience. It uplifts the winter-worn
spirit and entertains the senses. That, I believe is precisely what
is required right now. A chance to simply feel good and get lost in
the beauty of flowers. After
a visit, one comes away pleased and positive of mind.
Flower power can never be
This year, the theme of the show is
Singapore – the mecca of orchids. Having had the privilege of
visiting that city-state’s orchid collection, my NYBG visit this
past Friday not only did the job of putting me in a happy mood but it
also reminded me of that very pleasant vacation. Now I have spring
fever and the travel
bug. Go figure.
P.S. Wandering through the garden
on my way to the Orchid Show in the conservatory, I noticed the
pointed tips of bulbs pushing their way through and yes, the
snowdrops have started blooming. Joy!
That typically means my own garden will begin to stir in a couple of weeks. More joy.
Note:Check out the art at the Phyllis Harriman Gallery at the New York Art Student’s League, March 4 – 9. I have four paintings in the show.
Turmeric is trending. The It (spice)girl of the moment. Like me, turmeric originates from India/the sub-continent. Growing up, its ubiquitous bright yellow presence in Indian cuisine was unremarkable and yet, it was unthinkable to omit it in a recipe.
It was only as a freshman in
college, during a microbiology course, I learned about its
bactericidal properties and its role consequently in food
preservation and cosmetics.
Suddenly, I understood how significant a spice this was. That my
ancestors had discerned its importance so long ago was remarkable.
I shall not expound on the many
superpowers attributed to turmeric because all
that info is out there on the Internet.
I myself use it regularly in cooking. It is a vital ingredient in my
go-to tonic whenever I need to fortify myself – a strong, hot
infusion of turmeric and fresh ginger. An
ancient remedy but oh so au courant.
Ha, I’m trendy by default.
Because of its brilliant hue,
turmeric is easily adulterated. It therefore pays to be cautious
about where one obtains it. Additionally,
look for organically grown
On my visit to the Mukta Jivan
Orphanage this past Christmas day, I was given a bag of turmeric
root. The rhizomes had been cleaned, boiled and dried. What remained
was the grinding and sifting. At MJ, turmeric and all other produce
are grown organically. It is for their own consumption and not
I brought the bag of innocuous
looking bits of dried roots to my father’s cook/culinary
wizard Indira. She knew
exactly what to do. Over the span of a morning, she
ground up the roots, sifted carefully and
produced a sizable bowl of vivid gold powder along
with a pair of deeply stained hands.
The aroma of turmeric is not overpowering but it is distinct. Such
an amazing sight.
Whilst in Mumbai, I had the
opportunity to visit a gated community of sorts. Located a couple of
hours away from the city, it
is a development of homes designed to be either second homes or
retirement residences for the upper middle-class.
This is a growing trend. Little oases in the midst of rugged, rural
terrain. As contrived as they are, they are quite lovely once you’re
inside those high walls. Attractive, large homes surrounded by well
designed, well maintained lush
greenery. An escape for the harried city dweller at many levels.
one I visited is mindful of the environment and applies
for the plants comes from a rain catchment. All
the produce from the large, enclosed vegetable garden and the
assorted orchards ( papaya, banana, almonds etc.,) are shared by the
residents. I think this could be a good blueprint for communities
everywhere and all new developments ought to incorporate such a plan.
At a time when families are pressed for time and find it hard to fit
in all the responsibilities of keeping a vegetable garden, shared or
allotment gardens would be ideal. It will no doubt foster a
feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common
philosophies, practices and produce. Children will learn about where
their food comes from and enjoy the benefits of nature and an active
I wished I’d had more time to
engage with the gardeners and learn further about their methods,
challenges and such. Next time I will.
Back home in New York, I’m facing the reality of January. Cold and more cold. Possibility of snow later in the week. To bolster my spirits, the hyacinth bulbs cooling in the refrigerator since October’18, have been potted up. Watching the bulbs grow and anticipating the fragrant flowers will keep me in a positive state of mind. One cannot ask for more.
I’ve just returned from a trip to India. A family reunion took me there and it was wonderful. Naturally, I also made sure to visit the children at Mukta Jivan Orphanage ( I shall be posting abut that on the Lucky Ones page soon). Overall, this was a time of connecting and reaffirming love and support. I am so grateful for it all.
However, ( you knew a ‘but’ was coming right?) there was something else that kept us company the whole time. The air quality in Mumbai was just awful. The haze that hung over the city could not be ignored as breathing in these conditions was hampered. It surprised me that people seemed unconcerned and even a marathon was held. When I said something about it, one person responded – “ One gets used to it and eventually, our lungs get stronger”! Yikes!
Meanwhile, we spent our time coping with runny noses, severe hacking, dry coughs and wearing masks when we went out. The air-purifier we used inside showed red ( poor air quality) all the time; At best it changed to purple briefly.
cannot be emphasized enough that this is a serious problem and only
getting worse. Globally.
happy to be home and breathing significantly cleaner air. At the same
time I ask, will
this always be so? Not
if we don’t do everything we can to make it so. Globally.
This is not a geographical or partisan or socioeconomic crisis. Every single one of us is responsible and affected.
know I don’t need to elaborate further – you know to take action.
effort makes a difference.
I’m not going to post any photos. Instead, I’m sharing two “Climate Change” poems I wrote in 2016 and 2011 respectively
Sans fur or feather We dress and groom In borrowed leather simulated plumes