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

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

October Already!

I’ve felt all along that 2018 seems to be rushing. Yet, the fact that it’s already October is taking me by surprise. It’s going to be a very busy month in the garden. Much to get done before putting the garden to bed.

Just for a moment, allow me to bask in the afterglow of September’s final weekend. The weather could not have been more perfect. The sun shone bright, the birds winged their way around in jubilant song, the air was kissed dry and cool and, the plants sparkled. It was breathtaking.

The first annual Untermyer symposium “Great American Public Gardens – Successes and Challenges” that I’d been so excited about, was thoroughly enjoyable. I had a blast picking the brains of three of the rock stars of the horticultural world. Discussing their very different, uniquely gorgeous public gardens, Louis Bauer of Wave Hill Gardens, Andi Pettis of the High Line and Timothy Tilghman of Untermyer enlightened, informed and entertained an audience consisting mainly of gardeners both professional and amateur. The feedback I received was most gratifying – I think a wonderful annual tradition has been established. FYI – Untermyer is looking spectacular. Do go visit.

Then, on Sunday, a good seasonal start was made in my garden. The greenhouse was thoroughly cleaned in preparation for the plants that will reside in it through the winter. Said plants will be ‘power washed’ to remove debris and stowaway bugs, relieved of dead limbs, given a trim and, brought into their winter quarters during the week. An unexpected frost could occur anytime soon and I’d hate to lose any of these plants. FYI – in order to prep the greenhouse, it had to be emptied of the pots of tomato plants. Before tossing the plants on the compost heap, all of the still green tomatoes were harvested, individually wrapped in newspaper and, placed in a single layer on a shelf in a cool, dry place in the basement where they will ripen.

Work was also started on the meadow. Lots of weeds were removed, some plants like violas and wood anemones were ruthlessly thinned out and a few ornamental grasses and geums planted. More native grasses and perennials will be added in the spring. A few select varieties of plants and grasses but in quantity. In my mind, I think it’ll look more dramatic with swathes of grasses intermingled with flowering perennials. We shall wait and see.

A good half day’s work deserved a just reward. The rest of the day was spent in the garden of longtime friends. We lingered over a late, leisurely lunch, all sorts of libations, many spirited discussions on a myriad topics and a highly competitive game of Scrabble. We watched Monarch butterflies fuel up in the garden before their arduous flight to Mexico and a host of birds provided background music to our party. This is why we garden!

Perfect. Let October begin its reign.

Note: Save the date – November 2! That’s the reception to my art show. Details will be posted next week!

Since it’s all things pumpkin and gourd season …

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Acting Out Autumn

The autumnal equinox happened this past Saturday and with that, we’ve officially moved into the season. As if on cue, the temperatures dipped and it has been gloriously nippy. Yes, fall is in the air.

I celebrated by swapping out the summer window-boxes with autumnal ones and bringing home from the local nursery a vast array of gourds and pumpkins for adorning. These simple efforts have set the tone and I’m fully invested in getting on with the season’s activities.

With the ‘meadow’ now more opened up to light, I’m working on a list of native plants to add. I’ve ordered a few plants but the majority of the new additions will be obtained in the spring when its easier to get small plants that are not as hurtful to my pocketbook. The very large bulb order will arrive by mid-October so, before that time of planting, I intend to have the meadow cleared of the over-enthusiastic residents and with them the thuggish weeds. This is easier said than done because the wanted and unwanted plants are a jumble and sorting through will be a test of my patience and commitment.

I’m also looking sternly at the borders to see what needs to be moved/divided and what needs to be added to give them a more natural, cohesive appearance. It’s time to cut back many plants like the peonies and irises. More will be ready as the season progresses. I’m keeping an eye on the acanthus that looks ripe with seeds – I’d like to see if I can make more of them. For fun.

The drop in temperature has jolted me to the realization that the greenhouse needs to be cleaned and prepped for the plants returning to their winter residence. A frost can happen without notice and I’ll be very sorry if I lost plants due to sheer negligence. However, at present, the tomato plants are going strong in the greenhouse. There are still lots of fruit in various stages of ripeness. I’m torn between harvesting the fruit as is or waiting a bit longer. Maybe a week tops. Cannot hold up everything for the temperamental tomatoes. Yet, I’ve been enjoying eating them so much that I’m suffused with guilt for considering harsh action against the plants.

Russian and curly kale seeds have been sown afresh – they should be ready for picking well before winter truly settles in.

I’ve also got hyacinths cooling in the refrigerator – they’ll be ready for forcing in mid-January just in time to bring cheer to the post-holiday slump.

The newly seeded grass is coming up nicely and will be established by leaf raking time.

We’ve lost all our apples and pears to the vandalizing squirrels. This year, instead of covering the trees with ugly netting, I decided to experiment with the reusable bags from Japan. I’m guessing they don’t have the same hooligan squirrels that we have here. Every bag was shredded and littered all over the neighborhood. Nets will return next year.

Indoors, I’m getting ready to can tomatoes and have started to cull the recipes that call for hard-skin squashes, pumpkins and root vegetables. The sweaters and throws are coming out of closets and soon the fireplace will be called into service.

But for now, I’m still basking in the last few summer-tinged days. I want to hold on to the sounds of the birds in the morning, the perfume of the remaining roses at midday and the glow of the white phlox at sunset. Those memories will keep this gardener warm through the cold days of winter.

Note – Looking forward to seeing you at the symposium this Saturday, September 29!

At Rosedale Nurseries

Acanthus gone to seed

(c) 2019 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

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

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

Feeling The Sizzle

It’s seems the summer this year is just heat wave after heat wave. Could this be the new normal? I’m ready to pack it in. The combination of high heat and humidity is my kryptonite. In my opinion, air-conditioning/refrigeration is the greatest invention of the twentieth century. Without it, this weather would have me in the throes of relentless migraines, intense fatigue and a general state of grumpiness.

Needless to say, I’m not putting much time in the garden. I’m just barely on top of the watering and weeding. That makes me sad but c’est la vie. I’ve become an armchair gardener instead. Making plans and drooling over the most gorgeous photos in garden periodicals is pretty much it.

Enjoy these random photos of what’s doing in the garden. Full disclosure – all the tired, beat up looking parts of the garden have not been presented! Keep cool everybody; this too shall pass.

(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