Fringe Benefits

It’s the simple truth that plants don’t observe months and our passage of time and seasons; they sense the fluctuations in the environment and respond accordingly. Despite everything gardener do, they know in their hearts they are not in control of their horticultural realm. Nature is the ultimate commander-in-chief and the gardener adapts, adjusts and acquiesces.

This past weekend, while a large portion of the country got blasted by tornadoes, storms, ice and snow, here in my neck of the woods, we enjoyed spring-like temperatures of 65-68 degrees and glorious sunshine. By now, we typically have severe cold and snow accumulations on the ground so a normal January thaw is only a rise in temperature just enough to give some relief where a spike to just 50 degrees feels positively balmy.

Thus far this winter has been relatively harmless. So the 60+ temperatures is kinda alarming. Yet, what can we do about it? Enjoy it! So I did. Sitting outdoors and letting the sun hit my skin felt delicious. The landscape was stark but the atmosphere was joyous. The parks and trails were busy with hikers and bikers. Nary a glum face was to be seen. Admittedly, every now and then I felt a twinge of apprehension as though waiting for the other show to drop. Though in general, I made the most of this unexpected reprieve. Taking time to examine the leaves and grasses made iridescent in the sunshine. How they glowed in tints of ocher and russet! Basking in the warm caress of sunlight did this body and soul a lot of good.

Similarly, the ice-storm we experienced early last December was unseasonal. Too cold too early. We worried about damage to trees and other plants. Yet, in the light of day, the ice coated limbs sparkled in brilliant celebration. It was beautiful. I was filled with wonder and marveled at the icicles hanging from branches and eaves, the sculptural shapes of shrubs encased in ice, the general radiance and refraction of the sunlight on ice. Instagram abounded with Insta-worthy images of beauty bound in ice. Clearly, we were all struck by this alluring danger. For a brief period we were able to stop worrying and be present to the artistry of nature.

Last summer, we went through a hot, dry period. Desperately needed rain was not happening. The lawn started browning and the leaves of many plants began drooping. In fact, my apple trees shed much of their leaves in panic. I was torn between copiously watering in the immediacy of the situation and restraining that instinct by looking at the bigger picture of climate-change and the global shortage of water. In that pathetic scene of a raggedy looking plants, the native plants stepped up and bloomed and filled my heart. Their stoic hardiness was admirable. I had a perfect opportunity to not just take note of the flowers but to actually stop and observe their bold beauty and designs. It left me with a resolve to not only add even more natives to the gardens but to give them their due in gratitude.

While we wrestle with the climate-change happening at present and do our duty in slowing/halting its progress, it helps to find the moments that uplift and understand that nature is asking us to be attentive and appreciative no matter what. Even in adversity there is grace to be gleaned. Then perhaps, we will be in a position to rise with that phoenix as it emerges from the ashes of the global climate crisis.

From the ice-storm last December:

I didn’t take any photographs over last weekend’s Spring in January. Instead I did two quick watercolor sketches. Imagine, I got to paint outdoors in January!

From last summer’s heat wave(s):

The browning’ lawn’

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Greenish New Deal

I’m in a green state of mind. Garden dreams with eco-friendly schemes. Eat more leafy greens and fiber rich beans. Lower the thermostat, increase native habitats. Decrease plastic, opt for fabric. And so it goes.

In the course of enjoying the holiday season, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat appalled at the amount of waste and extravaganza our ‘traditional’ celebrations provide. For all the talk of the environment, climate change and mindfulness, when the holidays come along it’s as though we, as a community, give ourselves a free pass about all of that. No more – I’m planning from now for a much greener December 2020. Are you in with me? 20/20 vision indeed.

It requires some research to track down sources and products, more elbow grease, creativity and a curiosity to learn. What’s to argue about that right?!

So, here’s my list of green amendments thus far:

1. Holiday cards. For this last season, in a bid to cut back on paper waste, I chose to send custom e-cards. They were personalized by using an image of one of my watercolors. I did print up (in-house) a few of these cards to add special notes to certain friends and family. Admittedly, it felt weird to send e-cards – they don’t exude the same warmth. I did however feel better about saving paper, lowering carbon footprint etc.,

For this year, I’m going to source good, compostable paper to print my cards. Better still would be compostable paper with seeds embedded in them though I’m not sure that kind of textured paper can be used in a printer. Will just have to see!

Some of the pretty images of the cards received make lovely gift cards on presents. Simply cut out the images, punch a hole, thread a length of twine or cotton ribbon through it, write your message on the reverse side. Voila!

Note: Any paper with glitter cannot be recycled.

2. Wrapping paper. Again, use compostable or recyclable paper. However, I love the alternative of using fabric – leftover/remnant squares, scarves, tea-towels etc., In which case, the wrapping itself is a gift. Plain brown paper decorated with natural materials like leaves, pine-cones, acorns and berries make for stunning presentations. I save the pretty ribbons that come with gifts for future use.

Note: To determine if paper is recyclable use the quick ‘scrunch’ test. Scrunch up the paper into a ball. If it unfurls, then it is not recyclable. Again, no glitter allowed.

( That said, I must test my own line of wrapping paper on spoonflower.com Must make amends if found unsuitable)

3. Trees. Buy locally grown trees. Use those trees after the holidays by chipping them down to make mulch. Several towns including my own provide this service. Please do not bag the trees in plastic when moving them outside for disposal. Yes, it’s easier and less messy but you will feel so virtuous after you’ve done the extra work of vacuuming and done without the plastic.

Even better – buy living trees to plant out in spring. I’ve also been hearing about ‘rent a tree’ operations and that certainly sounds promising.

Due to my daughter’s allergy to the conifers, I’m happily free of this dilemma.

4. Decorations. Thankfully, most ornaments are either family heirlooms/keepsakes or a treasured collection. That makes them sustainable. When buying new decorations, choose ones made from foraged materials or of wood, glass or metal. Preferably created by artisans.

Keep wreaths and garlands natural as well. Any ribbons and baubles on them should be salvageable for reuse.

5. Food and drink. If you don’t have enough of your own plates, cutlery and glasses, you can rent from party rentals or purchase compostable options such as bamboo. No plastics!

Do your best and stick with local, organic, less packaged foods.

6. Gifts. I already go plastic free. In general, I try to think of gifts that are either experiences (think concerts, plays, museum memberships, movie passes), books, food or things that are truly needed/wanted by the recipient. I will continue to source local, artisanal products – this means planning well ahead and going to craft/art shows through the course of the year. That’s a fun and thoughtful activity to indulge in don’t you think?

I’d love to hear more ‘green holiday’ suggestions from you. Together we can do and be better. There is no planet B.

Note: I’m enjoying the Amaryllis and paperwhites I potted up. The anticipation of their blooms gives me shivers of delight. Fresh flowers from the market are a weekly indulgence. They keep me in a state of gratitude and well-being and spark up those gloomy days of winter.

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

In The True Spirit Of The Season

I’m finally feeling the holiday season. Towns are decked out for it and one is greeted with holiday music any shop one steps into. Not to sound too Grinch-like but I’m a little tired of this non-stop ‘seasonal’ music as though I’d forget what season I’m in if they played something else.

I do adore the strings of white lights tracing the bare limbs of trees, the lamp posts and railings. Just as winter has officially started, the lights infuse a much needed element of cheer. At the same time, I worry about the impact the illuminations have on birds and other animals that dwell in trees and bushes. It is well documented that our street lights, neon signs and such affect the avian bio-rhythms . It stands to reason that our holiday lights must interfere as well. Imagine how you’d sleep with bright lights being turned on in your bedroom. And then how you’d feel from the poor rest night after night.

The artificial lights mimic daylight and hence cause confusion in the birds. It not only causes sleep deprivation but affects their breeding. The timing of egg laying goes out of whack and the number of eggs laid are diminished. You can understand the problem. So, it behooves us to curb our decorating enthusiasm, use the cooler (as in temperature) LED bulbs, and shorten the time the lights are on. Yes, I’m aware that LED does not have the same warm ambiance as the fluorescent bulbs but, it’s the responsible, ethical and ecological thing to do.

To decorate outdoors, preferably select bare limbed trees over the evergreens. Non-migratory birds and squirrels take shelter in those leafy trees and shrubs. Keep in mind that more is not better. We are going for tasteful not airport runway style.

Similarly, as far as possible, stick to natural materials. Particularly for outdoor decorations. Critters have the habit of eating or using the materials for their nests. Plastic, Styrofoam and other synthetic decorations look enticing and appealing. But they are dangerous if not deadly to all creatures who unfortunately, do not know this. We do. It is incumbent on us to do right by them.

In the true spirit of the season, lets spread good will to all. Human and otherwise.

Note: The popular Annual Holiday Art Show at the New York Art Student’s League is on! Art makes wonderful gifts.

The art show Fragile Waterways at TeaTown runs through this month. Support a great cause!

Some random images of the season:

Illumination at Untermyer Gardens
For allergy sufferers – an alternative ‘tree’
Another alternative.This year I’m using my bay standard as the tree.
Bouche de Noel
Paperwhites
Amaryllis ‘tree’
NYBG Holiday Train Show 2019

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Balancing Act

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Wistful Thinking

Winter is making her presence felt. Strongly. As my friend Julie likes to say – It is cold enough to freeze a witch’s tits!. But thus far, we haven’t had much snow in my neck of the woods. That worries me. For the most part, the garden lies exposed and dry. The mulch I spread in the fall seems hardly adequate. How are the bulbs and perennial roots doing? With no insulation from the snow, life must be hard for plants and hibernating critters alike.

Even this cold is erratic and intermittent. The temperature is predicted to rise up to 50 degrees by Thursday. Freezing and thawing off and on can be so damaging.

In recent years, there has been no familiar passage of the seasons – the old weather patterns have disappeared and the climate is in flux. Hard to predict what the conditions will be and hence hard to plan for the garden. It’s a bit disconcerting. I want the old days back!

Should I select more drought resistant plants or increase the rain loving ones? Heat tolerant or cool weather? My choices will determine the type of garden that evolves and my personal taste and style must adapt.

In the next couple of weeks, I plan to finalize the list of plants to introduce in the meadow. With the removal of the red maple last summer, I’m at liberty to select more plants that require sun. That’s exciting but I must choose wisely. I’ve already invested a great deal in this area. Certainly some native, ornamental grasses will do well but the flowering perennials pose a bit of a quandary. If only I could see into the future! Temperature and rainfall are important considerations. I could play it safe and settle for “middle of the road” but what fun would that be?

It is the challenge of realizing a certain vision that gets a gardener’s juices going. As we create, we maintain a belief that the universe will cooperate. That somehow, our special connection with nature will grant us all our wishes. If only. Time and again, my pocketbook reminds me of my quixotic dreams even as my most recent horticultural experiment falls short of expectations.

Climate uncertainties, financial limits and time constraints will be factored when I make my final plant list. But, in the end, the heart must beat faster, the spirit must soar and the hands flutter in impatience to get started. Then, and only then will I know I’m on the right track.

[ As requested by several of you, I will post my plant selections when finalized]

I HAVE POSTED ON MY RECENT VISIT TO MUKTA JIVAN ORPHANAGE. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ.

NOTE: I’m excited about participating in this –

I know it is cold but this is indoors, free and, you will enjoy the art. So, get yourself there!

Some images of the meadow:
My watercolor

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Breathtaking

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.

It cannot be emphasized enough that this is a serious problem and only getting worse. Globally.

I’m 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.

I know I don’t need to elaborate further – you know to take action. Do something! Every 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

Getting Dressed Down

Sans fur or feather
We dress and groom
In borrowed leather
simulated plumes

Petroleum skirts
pairing cork-wood pumps
Costly cotton
Skims shapely bumps

Decrying the heat
Denouncing the snow
Unexpected storms
Rage and blow

Plunder and pillage
for earthly looms
Shifts falling rain
loam to dunes

For rare material
We quest and lust
So our children inherit
mere diamond dust.

Climate Change

Kangaroo floods leap across miles
Yankee storms hit with power
Aztec earthquakes sacrifice young lives
Norse volcanoes conjure blinding smoke.

Sumatran tsunamis wash countless souls
Bantu droughts parch migrating throats
Peking skies mark mankind’s limit
Polar icebergs diminish penguin turf.

Climate change at full throttle.

Note: I’m thrilled to have a painting in the juried art show “Winter In America” .The exhibit runs January 3-February 2, 2019. If you’re in the area, I hope you will visit it.

1100 NW Glisan

Portland, Oregon 97209

503-243-3356

www.gallery114pdx.com 

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Future Shock

A new year has begun. That connotes so much – new beginnings, fresh resolves, high hopes, overdue changes. The potential is high and the possibilities endless. My pulse quickens as I consider how much I want to achieve. Even while I’m aware that my ambition verges on the unrealistic, I’m still excited to indulge in dreaming big.

There is however, one thing weighing heavy on my mind. Climate change and our part in it. The evidence is undeniable and yet, not enough is being done to mitigate the circumstances. To make matters worse, policies meant to change and improve our practices have been undone and climate-change deniers are reinstating old, destructive ways. I am truly worried.

At this rate, we’re hurtling towards self-destruction. This most beautiful, blue-green home planet of ours will cease to sustain life as we know it. There will be nothing for future generations to inherit. Heck, there won’t be any future generations.

As I see it, while we await the leadership to do something positive, each of us must do our utmost to fulfill our own responsibilities. I’m fortunate to live in a far-thinking, proactive town. Our water meets and exceeds current standards, we recycle, compost and mulch, businesses no longer provide plastic shopping bags, our electricity is generated mostly from wind and solar power, our parks and preserves are responsibly maintained and as a whole, we are an environmentally conscious community. Yet, we could do more.

I’d like to see ‘quiet days’ instituted – when the use of power equipments are not permitted. Even one day a week of this would be significant. Not only in the elimination of noise and air pollution but by being a consistent practice, it would keep us aware of the need to do right by the environment.

We ought to strongly advocate the use of our school buses – if we stopped dropping our children off ourselves, imagine what a difference this would make. One can justify/make excuses about why one must take a child to and from school in a car but seriously, in the end, it is mostly about the ease and convenience. Admittedly there are exceptions but the norm ought to be to ride the bus. No one said doing the right thing would be easy.

We have got to start thinking of what’s good for the entire community and not simply our own individual selves/families. The cars we buy, our household use of energy, how we maintain our gardens, the products (and the packaging) we use at home etc., Every effort is impactful.

On my part, I’m determined to up my game.

As I reflect on the year just passed, I’ve decided on how to celebrate the lives of those dear friends I lost. I’m going to plant a native tree in honor of each of them. Considering their individual personalities, I intend to select a ‘matching’ tree and plant it somewhere appropriate. An oak for Joan, a poplar for Mike, a shad-blow for Al. Each a reminder of their exceptional lives and my good fortune in getting to know them. I’m paying it forward.

Likewise, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, for any future tool, device or gadget I purchase, a native tree or plant will be planted. So I’m either going to be a more careful shopper or I’m going to run out of place to plant anything. Either way it is a win.

Happy New Year to each of you! Here’s to collectively making a positive difference.

January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December (In New York City)

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Bend It Like Bakwin

My dear friend Mike Bakwin died on December 3. Since that day when I got word of the sad news, I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about him and our friendship.

Our mutual love of gardens and gardening brought us together about nine years ago. And then we discovered how much more we had in common. A lovely friendship flourished.

Mike was a man of great means that didn’t get in the way of relationships. I witnessed his philanthropy up close. Never for publicity or status, he got involved because he cared about the cause. He served on several boards and I was particularly aware of the ones to which I myself was connected albeit in a different capacity. At TeaTown Reservation, his concern for the environment and the imperative to preserve was apparent. As a keen fisherman, he understood the need for keeping the ecological balance and taking care of the land, water and air. At Untermyer, he genuinely believed in its restoration and what it could offer the community.

Mike’s own gardens were splendid and he was closely involved with every aspect of its creation and maintenance. This wasn’t simply an affluent person’s showpiece. It was his home – where he loved having family and friends visit and play. He shared magnanimously. He hosted fund raisers for charities and threw parties for friends. Heck, he had fruit orchards, a large caged house for soft fruit and a very big vegetable garden and donated almost all the produce.

He believed in stewardship of the land. When the property next to his came on the market, he bought it just so the land could be protected and not subdivided for development. A native plant meadow has been created there.

Speaking of friends, the man had plenty. From all walks of life. His insanely famous annual croquet party was a great testimonial to his generosity and vast army of diverse friends.

He knew how to enjoy life and make the most of every minute. I observed my friend take big bites of life and savor every chew. Always game for a get together, concert, lecture, performance or trip, he demonstrated his affection, wicked sense of humor and sharp intelligence. I could always count on him putting a person at ease when he attended my gatherings – he was sensitive, warm and kind.

Keeping up with developments and research in gardening, he’d consult me on various garden ideas and projects and I always felt truly honored and humbled that he thought so well of me. After all, the guy had access to just about all the horticultural luminaries/gods of the world. He was pragmatic and very down to earth ( no pun intended).

Mike Bakwin lived on his own terms. His love for his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren was so clear – I thought it simply wonderful. With his family and friends, he accepted each one as they were. No conditions, no hidden agendas.

I am blessed with many wonderful memories of our friendship and I miss him very much already. If I were to say just one lesson I learned from him it is this. Don’t waste any time – life is meant to be savored. With humor, curiosity and kindness.

Thank you Mike for being my friend. Your belief in me meant everything.

Note: Only four days left!

Memories –

Mike

Hanging out in my garden

Croquet award 2018

Mike was honored at Untermyer. June 2017

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Real, Fake Or Alternative Facts

I’m referring to Christmas trees of course. Did something else come to mind? Ha.

The other day, I was asked for my advice about real vs fake. That led to some serious thinking.

For those amongst us who celebrate the holiday season with a tree, choosing a tree depends on a variety of matters but mostly, it is personal. And so, to change ones mind about it requires a lot of persuasion.

But I’m not out to dissuade anyone to choose one type for another. I simply think one ought to make informed decisions. Lets not be even a wee bit judgmental. Good will to all remember?

So, lets consider the real tree. It’s a long tradition for many to get a real tree. Some make it an event by going to a tree farm, selecting a tree, cutting it themselves and then bringing it home atop the family car. Others are just as happy going to the neighborhood tree lot and finding their tree of choice. A third kind likes to get a living tree to enjoy through the season and then plant it out on the property when spring comes along.

Real trees undoubtedly add a certain je ne sais quoi to any space. By virtue of being real, they are not quite perfect and that adds to their appeal. The fragrance of a pine tree in the house is pure joy. But lets face it, setting a tree up takes some effort. Get it on a stand so it stays straight and upright, water it regularly, contend with falling needles … there are some given inconveniences. In general however, I’m very partial to keeping it festive with a real tree.

It takes about ten years to grow a modest sized tree. Certainly there is the requirement of water and care but while these trees are growing, they do their part in helping the environment. Removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, supporting wildlife, preventing soil erosion etc., The biggest carbon footprint in this choice of tree is that made by the car that transports it. Of course, if trees are shipped in from Canada and northern USA, then that footprint just grew exponentially. So staying with local farms is preferable.

How such a tree is disposed of is another big consideration. If trees are chipped and turned into mulch then it is all good. But, if they are taken to landfills then, not only is that transport increasing the carbon footprint but a decaying tree in that site will add to the greenhouse gases by putting out methane. And that’s not good at all.

A living tree is of course the best choice of all.

Moving on to fake trees. These days, the synthetic ones can be almost lifelike. The high end models are barely distinguishable from the real stuff. They can do serious damage to the pocketbook. Cheaper fakes are often also cheap looking. In either case, the cost of manufacturing and distribution comes with a high environmental impact. While they can be reused ‘indefinitely’, when they are finally discarded they do not break down for ages and ages. Maybe never.

Fake trees are indeed very convenient to use and I’ve seen some vintage models that evoke a lovely, nostalgic time when things were seemingly ‘simpler’.

We finally come to alternative trees. Any number of things can stand in for a Christmas tree. As graduate students, my husband and I did not have funds to spare and were more than happy to decorate our three-tiered hanging planter with lights and homemade ornaments. I’ve seen ‘trees’ made of stacked books, ladders, peel and stick decals on a wall, metal ‘branches’ from whose bare limbs ornaments are easily hung and, even what seemed to me an inspired yet minimalist tree that was simply strips of brown paper placed in ascending order at equal intervals on a wall to indicate a tree. Stuck on the strips were acorns, small pine cones and bits of holly. This last version really captivated my imagination and I’m so sorry I did not take. any photos. One day, I shall aim to recreate it.

For years, we always got ourselves a real tree. Natural is after all our style. We’d cut up the tree after it had served its purpose and compost it in the woods. Our town also picks up the trees and converts them to mulch. But last year we finally stopped that practice. My daughter, who adores real Christmas trees is severely allergic to them. After years of making excuses that it was only for a few weeks, taking way too many anti-histamines and making tissue companies very wealthy, I’d had enough. It was just crazy to be so tortured for the entire duration of the holidays. It took almost two years to convince the girl that she had to give up on having a real tree.

Thus, we came to the decision that if we could not have a real tree then we’d do an alternative. I even discovered that I’d had it all along! It is a white metal pot fitted with a conical shaped tower made of chicken wire. It is intended to house a vining plant that can weave itself on the chicken wire support. What I did was to fill up the interior with strings of lights that are easily plugged in because of said chicken wire openings. Those openings are perfect for hanging ornaments on the outside.

While the ornaments get put away after the New Year is underway, the ‘light filled tree’ occupies a corner in the house and is commissioned at every celebration deserving of some flash and dash..

Frankly, I have not missed the real stuff at all and it does my heart good to see my daughter sans tissue-box, anti-histamines, distressed nose, hacking cough and boggy head.

Fa la la la.

Note:
The Art Students League

Holiday Art Sale

Opens Today! Get there before you miss out on some great art!

 

Tree in the past

Our last real tree.

The allergic one

The alternative tree in daylight

Amaryllis tree

At night

NYC

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Season Is Lit

These days, the season of lights begins at Thanksgiving when houses across the country clad in lights announce that it is so. The tree at Rockefeller Center made it official last Wednesday. Hanukkah has come early this year – the first candle on the menorah was lit this past Sunday evening. It is now left to all us laggards to get in the spirit and join in.

While I’m all for the lights and assorted expressions of festivities, it irks me that it has become such a commercial enterprise. Buy, buy, buy. It is just overwhelming. How have we come to this point? More importantly, why? I for one, cannot take the crowds and shopping frenzy. I realize shops depend on the public to spend generously but for me, quieter times are more conducive to making thoughtful purchases at my local businesses. Past experience has demonstrated that I can get carried away if I join the shopping populace at this time – I buy a myriad of stuff that are not at all what I actually want to say to those on my gift list. I’m of the belief that a gift should please and be personal. Some thought should go into gift giving and I am simply unable to think in the cacophony of commercialism right now.

Instead, I’d rather make my rounds of small businesses through the year. I can browse at leisure and select appropriate items for my loved ones. It goes without saying that I do not ever give cars sporting giant bows or jewelry worthy of a princess of even a tiny, obscure nation.

During the holiday season, I’d much rather take in all the lights. Literally. From said Rockefeller Center tree to cruising through neighborhoods known for their over-the-top holiday displays, I enjoy everything. Including the windows that quietly display lit menorahs – so beautiful and meaningful. My town had its tree lighting last Saturday and we are now officially open for the season. On December 12, Untermyer gardens will have its Grand Holiday Illumination – I plan to be there.

Last Friday, I attended the holiday concert of Chanticleer – that group of exceptional acapella singers from San Francisco. They delivered the true spirit of the season. Joy, love and peace. So I have no excuse not to do my part.

My seasonal gift giving is restricted to the homemade and home-grown. I bake cookies and cakes, make limoncello and decant into pretty bottles ( recycled of course) and distribute the jams and chutneys I made last summer.

Homegrown paperwhites and amaryllis are also what I like to give. Note: Paperwhites are only for those who are not repelled by their distinct scent. All year long I pick up interesting containers to hold the holiday bulbs. Guaranteed to please all. For those whom I know will appreciate and include in their gardens, I add small envelopes of seeds harvested from my garden.

Finally, to the extra special people, I add something from my Printed Garden collection. A pair of tea towels, a pillow, a set of placemats and napkins, a table runner – all adorned with flowers reproduced from my own artwork. I continue to be deeply touched by how much these products are loved.

So there you have it. My pared down, simplified approach to the holidays. Enjoy the lights, spread the light, be the light.

Note: The much awaited Holiday Show of the Art Students League of New York begins next week! I have a painting in it.
Show Dates
Monday, December 11 — Friday, December 22

Gallery Hours
Weekdays  9:00am–8:00pm
Weekends  9:00am–4:00pm

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar