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

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

Control Freaks!

We gardeners, under the guise of lovers of the earth, actually thrive on playing God. We are gods that are often battling the Creator. Think about it, we are constantly fighting nature to create our own version of paradise.

We hybridize and graft, water and fertilize, trim and prune, evict and select just to get the garden we see fit. Determined to grow plants totally unsuitable to our climate, we go to great lengths and expense to nurture the ‘aliens’. Even in our native plant choices, we include only what pleases us personally.

The very concept of a garden is one of manipulation. Nature is being coerced, cajoled and curtailed to the gardener’s dictates. As much as we are seen as preservers and conservers, we do so selectively. We only do what suits us. Yep, it’s true. Before you get your gardener gander up and attempt to protest, consider it carefully.

Do you permit only certain plants in your garden? Are some of those plants ‘special’ and require extra attention? Do you have a lawn? If a plant doesn’t perform to your liking, do you toss it out? As soon as a dry and/or hot spell prevails do you start worrying and turn on the hose and sprinklers more often? At the threat of a sudden frost or cold temperatures, do you cover plants or move them to shelter? Do you keep vigil for weeds? How about measures taken to thwart marauders like deer, rabbits, birds and squirrels that undo your efforts to grow beloved fruits, vegetables and flowers? Do you train climbers and stake floppers? Are the roaming tendencies of plants contained by edgers and fences in borders? You see? We are all guilty. If you garden, you engineer.

We aren’t really working with nature. We are doing our best to manipulate it. We are in charge – the lord of our horticultural lair. Goddess of the garden.

So, lets own it. Gardeners are control freaks and proud of it. Appropriating the 3M motto – we don’t create nature, we just make it better. How about that?

Note: Don’t forget! Coming up next week on November 2 – the reception to “Points Of View”.

Also, I have a painting in another show in Piermont, NY coming up later in November. That reception is on November 25 so mark your calendar!. Details will follow in due course.

Enjoy the images below –  examples of my manipulations –

The ‘orchard’ – fruit trees trained to create a Belgian espalier fence.

The ‘meadow’

Beds and borders

Lines and squares

A garden on a wall!

‘Training’ wisteria

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Autumn List

I wrote this poem ten years ago and revisit it annually. It reminds to keep perspective. Hope it does the same for you. It’s a busy time but let’s savor it properly.

Autumn List

Make haste

No time to waste

Lawn to reseed

And composter to feed

Plants to behead

To put garden to bed

Bulbs to place

In hollowed space

Rake the leaves

Haul wood to cleave

Pick remaining produce

Debris to reduce

Soil to turn

Calories will burn

Mulch to protect

Weeds to reject

STOP!

Now, pause awhile

Breathe and smile

Cast your gaze

On trees ablaze

Enjoy autumn’s beauty

Amidst garden duty

Have some fun

As chores get done.

=Shobha Vanchiswar

Not to put a damper but there’s an APB out on a new plant pest – the Spotted Lanternfly. Do check out this link. Something to be aware about. Stay vigilant.

Note: “Points Of View” is an art show of two artists ( me and Murali Mani), one medium, individual points of view. Reception is November 2. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Enjoy these sights of the season –

New grass coming up nicely

Filling up the greenhouse

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Sponge Bloat, Spare Plants

Wet, humid, moist, damp, sticky, yucky. That about describes the way it is outside and how I feel about it. The weatherperson may talk about the sun being out and how it makes for “gorgeous” weather but, I’m not falling for it. It is so humid and buggy that every time I venture out, I’m attacked by all sorts of biting insects and covered in a sticky film of moisture within minutes. No kidding. This must be what it feels like to live inside a kitchen sponge. I’m trying not to be too grumpy about it.

Surveying my garden post-vacation, I notice that the flowers on the oak-leaf hydrangeas look toasted. They’re brown and crispy. The last heat wave must’ve done that. Meanwhile, ‘Limelight’, a paniculata hydrangea looks lovely. The pale green blooms are just beginning to turn rosy – a sure sign that fall is approaching. I must remember to bring some in to cheer up a dark corner in the living room.

The Concord grapes that looked so promising a month ago have succumbed to the weather and/or birds. No jam this season. The plants on the wall garden however, seems to have held strong-ish despite some glitches in the watering system while we were away.

A few days before we left, we took down a tree in the back. This has really opened up the ‘meadow’ and the sun can now gaze benevolently on it. I’d been eager to see how this part of the garden was doing under the new conditions. The turtle-heads and jewelweeds are blooming – their respective pink and orange are actually looking quite nice together. The surprise was that some Rose-of-Sharon have self-seeded and are in bloom. While these flowers look fetching, they must be removed from this area and replanted elsewhere. I’m thrilled to see the Calycarpa americana looking resplendent – the pink berries along the stems glisten like jewels in the sunlight. There is much work to be done in the meadow. Thuggish plants and weeds that took over under the auspices of that overpowering tree have to be eliminated. This will make room for specific native plants I’m really keen to establish here. In a month, bulb planting must happen. I sincerely hope weather conditions improve soon – the bugs are brutal at present.

The tropical hibiscus in a pot is also doing very well. Given the heat and humidity, it must think it is back in its native home. For some reason, the tomatoes are yet to ripen. Lots of green fruit. I ate such delicious tomatoes everyday in Provence and I’m hoping to do the same in my own garden. But, making up a batch of fried, green tomatoes won’t be such a bad thing either.

In front, the lawn was looking atrocious. So the first order of business was to rake up and reseed. The summer phlox is in full flower and yesterday, I spent some blissful time watching a hummingbird flirt outrageously with them. The eupatorium flower-heads look kinda fried but the solidago is blazing a fine gold. The asters are loaded with buds and just beginning to bloom.

Weeding is underway and some general order has been restored. All in all, wet weather notwithstanding, I’m pleased to see that the garden has not suffered too dearly. Maybe I should worry less and go away more.

Note – Less than two weeks to the symposium “Great American Public Gardens – Successes And Challenges”  Get your tickets!

American Beauty Berry – Calycarpa americana

Pink turtlehead – Chelone lyonii Hot Lips

Turtleheads and Jewel weed

Rose of Sharon gone rogue

Phlox and Joe Pye weed

Asters

Oak leaf hydrangea in August

In September – post heat wave

‘Limelight’ looking rosy

Grapes in August

The vertical garden in July/August

The wall in September.

(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

 

The Long View

I’m not letting the languorous days of summer lull me into complacency. The days might be too hot and muggy to do much physically in the garden but, there’s still plenty by way of planning, reviewing, ordering and scheduling that can be addressed. Now is when we look ahead to the fall and the next year.

With that in mind, I have been busy. Last week, I ordered my bulbs for fall planting. The largest order to date and I’m trying not to think about the amount of work it’ll take to plant all those hundreds and hundreds of bulbs.

Separately, there will be new perennials to plant and existing ones to divide and replant as well. This week, I’m working on the list of perennials I’m going to order through my local nursery. The rather ambitious list needs whittling to suit the wallet and the practical aspects in the garden. My modest sized garden can only hold so much.

In planning the “new and improved” beds, I’ve had to confront the fact that a couple of trees have grown so much that there is far more shade than there used to be. There is a clear need for more sun if the garden I’ve created is to thrive. So last week, I consulted with an arborist and the decision was made to elevate the lower canopy and reduce spread of the upper canopy to reduce shade to the garden areas. Prune dead and weak limbs back to sound tissue. Fingers crossed that this will open up the garden sufficiently.

This project must get done well before the fall planting is to begin.

A task I’ve become expert at avoiding is that of getting rid of plants that have either not performed as expected or were mistakes altogether. Ousting a plant makes me feel guilty. It seems cruel. However, I’ve given the matter a lot of thought recently and I’m now ready to send eviction notices. Okay, not quite so harshly.

How did I have a change of heart? It occurred to me that getting rid of otherwise perfectly good and healthy plants was no different from cleaning out and organizing my clothes closet. When certain garments, still in good condition, no longer fit or suit my taste, I’m quite happy to toss out them out. The discarded items get donated to charity or anyone who might covet them. The same approach should work with the plants – there are gardeners out there who need my rejects. I myself have gratefully been on the receiving end of other people’s discards. I cannot explain why it’s taken me so long to come to this realization.

While all this planning is underway, I’m considering reconfiguring a couple of beds. I’m not sure as yet of the aesthetics but I expect to make a decision in a few weeks. After all, this too will need to be done and ready in time for the bulbs and plants come fall.

You see? No mindless languishing on the hammock. No rest for the wicked …

Note: The vertical garden is looking rather fetching at present. Enjoy!

The sunflower that decided it wanted to be a wall flower!

Weary window-boxes

Coneflower color

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Pursuing Piet

Piet Oudolf. When you see that name, what comes to mind? Chances are you think of the High-Line, NYC or Lurie Gardens in Chicago. Am I right? Those gardens placed him right into the American consciousness but Piet is SO much more than that. I know because I discovered him about twenty years ago. That’s long before most of you had heard of him, yes?

I first came across the classic Oudolf mark of naturalistic plantings that were all about movement and atmosphere in a garden magazine from the UK. Something about that article got me in a way I couldn’t quite explain. All I recognized was my own discovery that this style spoke directly to my gardening soul. So I researched the man. It wasn’t easy – Google was not as yet so amazing ( it was in its infancy ). And Piet was mostly working in the Netherlands and in the UK. But, persistence ( okay, my obsession ) pays off and I got to learn more about the designer. Then, in 2008, on a trip to the Netherlands, I decided I simply had to meet Piet and see his own garden in Hummelo. And I did. A high point in my gardening life.

Piet and his wife Anja were warm and friendly. Their garden and nursery more than lived up to my expectations. Much of what we have come to see as typical Oudolf plant choices are not only American natives but they are also hardworking and quite affordable. Piet’s genius is in how he uses them – the combinations and placements play up the best features of the plants. At that time, I was myself beginning to move towards mostly native plantings so, seeing how absolutely gorgeous this garden looked cemented my decision to go native. I’m not a purist about it. Non-natives are welcome as long as they are not invasive and are present in much smaller numbers as compared to the indigenous ones. That precious and delicate balance of native flora and fauna is critical to the health of the environment.

At that meeting, Piet mentioned that he was just starting on a new new project in Manhattan. Who knew this would prove to be the High-Line!

Piet Oudolf’s reputation has deservedly grown exponentially and he is perhaps the most influential garden designer in 25 years. His projects in public spaces all over the United States and Europe are now landmarks. Even his drawings of garden designs are works of art – so much so that a couple of years ago, a Hauser and Wirth exhibit in England, showcased some of them. If you are not as yet familiar with this exceptional garden designer, please make it a point of visiting the gardens created by him. They are inspiring and instructive and look good through all the seasons. So, it’s informative to visit several times through the year.

Speaking of seasons, there is a documentary film on Piet Oudolf “Five Seasons – The Gardens Of Piet Oudolf”. I saw it this past Sunday and enjoyed it immensely. You will have to search out a theater that is showing it. I had to go to a screening two hours away! It was worth it. For this devout gardener, it was akin to a pilgrimage to get a glimpse of one of the gods of the gardening world. I am now recharged, resolved and ready to implement more Oudolf ideas into my garden.

Note: I’m sharing some photos of my 2008 visit to Hummelo:

With Anja

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Summer Stock

I think we can all agree that this year, things in the garden have been a tad more unpredictable. Given the winter, plants that I thought wouldn’t make it did while certain stalwarts didn’t. Bloom times were delayed in general and flowers designed to bloom in coordination with others did not. Spring flowering trees put on a show that made up handsomely for the slow moving season. All in all, the garden delivered.

My summer garden however, is dragging me down. The recent heat wave that lasted about 10 days of course roasted some plants ( at least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it ). The astilbes withered almost right away, the acanthus has stood up well, the sanguisorba started out with promise but then succumbed to the heat. The cimicifuga are holding up and should be at peak very soon. The Bonica roses are gasping their last breaths while the hollyhocks are looking ravishing. Echinacea and hydrangea are also making a splash. But on the whole, the garden is sporting a very shaggy look. Something needs to be done. I must give the matter serious consideration and make necessary changes and adjustments.

It’s going to take a degree of ruthlessness that I’ve been shying away from. Poor performers have to go. Editing and limiting will be my strategy. Stick to a few hardworking plants instead of wanting too many demanding divas. In some cases, I must swallow my pride and admit to mistakes ( it’s hard to concede when much time and money were invested) but I’m going to do it. It’s the only way I can reach my goal of a better summertime garden.

I’m also dealing with a horrid problem. The handkerchief size lawn I have is suddenly riddled with holes. We aren’t sure if this is a result of the chipmunks expanding their sub-subterranean real estate, skunks digging up Japanese beetle larvae ( I haven’t seen any beetles ) or moles. At first we noticed patches of browning grass and then the holes appeared. At present, the whole area looks disastrous.This is going to be a major project but I have declared war even though the enemy is yet to be identified. Stay tuned for future reports. If anyone has any advice or suggestions regarding this lawn situation, please share. This general is seeking counsel in the garden’s war room.

Here are some photos of what’s doing in the garden at present:

Hollyhock

Acanthus

The lawn problem

Mallow

Bagged fruit – protects from insects and other critters. Fingers crossed

Ornamental raspberry

Oak-leaf hydrangea

Young grapes

The wall

Baptisia seed pods

Amsonia seed pods

Sanguisorba alba

(c) Shobha Vanchiswar 2018

Second Sight

We are suffering through a horrid heat wave at present. It’s been five days of 90 + temperatures and given the dew point, it feels above 100. The weather authorities are trying to keep our spirits up by assuring us that by weeks’ end there’ll be a break. One can only hope.

It’s too hot to do anything outdoors. It’s too hot to even be in the garden. I’m spending my time mostly holed up in cool interiors catching up on reading and binge-watching TV shows. So I cannot really complain. At least I’m getting up to speed on The Bridge, Master Of None and How To Get Away With Murder. When I’m all caught up, I think I’ll check out the new attraction A Very English Scandal. Imagine how erudite and on trend I shall be at the myriad social events this season.

But, back to the garden where even the bees are not too busy. I do believe every living thing is struggling to conserve energy and keep cool. Apart from watering the plants in pots, no work has been attempted by me. Weeding just has to wait. I was hoping to cut the asters and other fall blooming plants this week to nudge them to get fuller and more floriferous but that task too must wait till the heat wave passes.

I’m gearing up to seriously rethink the plants in the meadow. First off, a major thinning out has to happen. Then, instead of trying to have too many types of native plants, I’m going to focus on maybe a dozen only. The ‘immigrant’ bulbs and primulas will remain to give that extra oomph in spring but each season will showcase perhaps just 2-4 types of natives. Columbines and geums to grace mid to late spring with their light splashes of color for example. As I work on this project, I’ll report back here.

There is need for editing and refocusing in many parts of the garden. It’s now reasonably mature and things are looking a bit unkempt – some effort to bring back my original vision is called for. Plants I want to emphasize are being overshadowed by the supporting cast, some candidates are not working out at all and, it’s time to introduce a few new plants to infuse a bit of horticultural energy in the mix.

When assessing ones garden in this way, a gardener can always use an objective eye to give counsel. This can be tricky. Advice can often be mistaken for criticism and we gardeners can be somewhat sensitive. But, I’ve got the perfect solution. Have a bunch of talented artists paint in the garden.

Artists naturally edit and compose as they work. They see subjects with the view to enhancing certain areas, blurring others and ultimately giving the essence of a place. Atmosphere, light, shapes and color are all elements that come through in good art and in good gardens.

This past Saturday, heat and humidity notwithstanding, a group of my studio-mates from the Art Students League of New York came to paint in my garden. They painted all day and how prolific they were! I’m never surprised by how amazing the paintings are but I am always inspired and impressed. A very talented, interesting and fun group that I’m privileged to call my friends.

Here’s the best part – the resulting paintings give me insight to my garden. The artists’ editing, focusing, different perspectives are all giving me fresh ways to review and plan on what I myself want to address in the garden. So sneaky right?!

Note 1: Don’t forget! Art show reception this Thursday, July 5 –

Note 2: Go to Shop for great gifts! 100 % of the profits supports orphan children with HIV/AIDS

And now, enjoy the photos of the artists and their work –

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar