Life In Waiting

Every morning, I look out into the garden to see whats up. Have all the crocuses bloomed? The scillas are blazing blue but when are the spring leucojum planted to contrast with them going to bloom? And the muscari paired with early daffodils? Even in the midst of reveling in the early spring flowers, I can’t help waiting for the ones to come. It’s as though my mind is trying to hurry along the season so it can get to the next one.

I thought about that yesterday and came to the realization that it’s because of this unfamiliar time we’re in. We don’t know for sure what each day is going to bring. There are predictions, projections and calculations but nothing is certain. How long the crisis is going to last is unknown. So, subconsciously, my mind is looking weeks ahead to a different, hopefully better time. When other flowers will be in bloom.

Once I understood my propensity, I determined to curb it. After all, it wasn’t getting me anywhere at all. Instead, I’m going to really stay in the present. In all its entirety – pleasant and unpleasant. I must experience this epic period in history in full. This life. My life. Only I can live it.

Instead of waiting for the next flower to bloom, for the next month to be over with, I shall take in the days with my whole self. Make each one matter.

It doesn’t mean I’m not going to look forward to future flowers and fruit, for better days. It simply implies that I will endeavor to bring my best self to each day.

In keeping myself at home, it has already become apparent how ‘being busy’ is overrated. With absolutely no place to go, what one does on a quotidian basis is revealed clearly. There’s no hiding behind ‘busy’ or ‘so much to do’. We have to do what must be done. No excuses. There is time – that commodity we’re always complaining we’re short on.

Even if or especially if one is privileged to work from home, there is now time to get other things done. Without need to commute, sans distractions of unnecessary meetings or chatty colleagues, one is free to use the time to make a meal with thought and care. To connect with family and friends for meaningful conversations. To reach out to shut-in neighbors with a phone call or a note / freshly baked muffins left at the door. To complete the house tasks we’ve been putting off. In other words, pay attention to life.

At a time of frustration in not doing enough to help a situation, I’ve come to the conclusion that first and foremost, the most effective contribution we can make is to stay at home.

While my paying work as such has slowed down or completely halted, I’m now at liberty to work on creative projects that were sitting on the back burner and, make business plans that more accurately define my philosophy and philanthropy. This mandatory time at home is a gift of sorts. I appreciate it as such. On waking each morning, I’m grateful I’m still healthy and must therefore try to be and do my best.

In working in the garden, I’m particularly aware of having the time to tackle the chores with the required attention. After all, where else do I need to go? Simply breathing in the fresh air with the sun smiling down is an endowment. Working to create a beautiful, productive garden is a high honor not to be taken for granted. Ever.

The peony supports have been placed, the circulating water system for the vertical garden has been revamped and commissioned, the lawn reseeded, pruning completed, seeds such as tomato, cool weather greens and nasturtium sown and, the birdbath stands filled. Later this week, the ferns over-wintering in the potager will be transferred to their home in the vertical garden, the potager then prepared with a good layer of compost to receive vegetable plants and, the bluebird house cleaned – please let these sweet birds find it this year. All the birds are going about their business and a few have begun building nests. I’ve already observed earthworms working the soil. The pear blossom buds will be opening within the week and I’m fully expecting to see bees make their daily visits. This is life.

Soon, with the temperatures going up, the chairs will be brought out and set up around the table on the terrace for al fresco meals to be enjoyed. This alone strikes me as so special. What has thus far not seemed unusual is now distinctly a benediction.

In preparing this garden, I’m making the world that much better and beautiful. I can’t wait to share it again with everybody. It may not be much but it’ll be my best. That’s about all one can hope.

Scilla

Everything is growing!

Window-box

Hyacinths

Hellebores

Pruning hydrangea

Epsom salts feed the roses

Spreading straw over the reseeded areas

Peony supports in place

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

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

Planting Peace, Growing Gratitude

Two days to Thanksgiving. I love this holiday so much that I wait all year for it. A holiday spent with friends, family and food. A day to come together in gratitude and love – what could be more simple and pure?

Apparently not so simple for many. Holidays are fraught with anxiety for many. Confrontations, resentments and old wounds seem to surface at these times. We are advised to stay away from discussing politics, religion, relationships and gossip. Really, what else is left to talk about?!

Then, we complain about eating too much, drinking to excess, moving too little and feeling awful about it. Why do we repeat this pattern consistently? Surely we can do and be better.

Science has shown that activity and getting out in nature improves the disposition. A walk is a great solution but not everyone is able to get too physical. Besides, people break up into smaller groups and walk at different paces. It can become yet another opportunity to avoid certain nosy relatives altogether instead of connecting to everybody. Similarly, a good game of touch football is not for everyone. No worries, lets get the entire Thanksgiving party into the garden. We’re going to plant bulbs.

This weekend is the unofficial last call for bulb planting. Unless you reside way up north, the ground can still be dug up. While it’s too late for planting shrubs and trees, it is just fine for bulbs. So, get to the local nursery in a hurry and buy up all the bulbs you can afford. By now there might not be much choice left but they are often at very reduced prices. (You will plan ahead next year).

Select the part(s) of the garden where you would like the bulbs planted. Have gloves, dibblers, hand trowels, spades etc., ready and waiting. When your Thanksgiving crowd is gathered, let them know that you are starting a new tradition – a gratitude garden of bulbs. Divvy up the bulbs between all the participants. This is an activity for all ages. Not too strenuous and comes with the gentle instruction of keeping faith and hope. Making a garden is after all, about optimism and belief in a better tomorrow.

Adults will instruct kids, young can assist the old. Whether a trench is to be dug up for a multitude of bulbs or they must go into the ground individually amongst existing perennials, explain the simple rules of bulb planting – holes are three times deeper that the size of the bulb and they are planted pointy tip up. Small bulbs are easier for very small hands.

Suggest to each person that for each bulb they plant, they must privately count a blessing and/or bury a grievance. Encourage laughter and camaraderie. Typically, folk will get into the spirit quite naturally. Prior gardening experiences will be recounted, favorite bulbs declared and undoubtedly lead to further discussions on a myriad topics. One hopes.

In case of inclement weather – have everybody pot the bulbs up. The pots are to be kept outdoors in a sheltered area and towards the end of winter you will start noticing some tiny tips emerging. At this time you can either bring the pots indoors to hurry up the flowering or, leave them outside to bloom in due time. Either way, they will look gorgeous. You might also consider sending each guest home with a pot of bulbs of their own.

This project gets everyone interacting, builds healthy appetites and couldn’t be easier. PLUS, you get to anticipate a beautiful spring. At which time, you will take photographs to share with all your bulb planters. If you’re up for it, invite them all for a viewing!

Happy Thanksgiving from the bottom of my heart. Studies have proven that both incivility and kindness are contagious. So, lets make the choice to put aside our differences, hold hands and strengthen our bonds. Yes we can.

Note: I hope these images will inspire you to undertake the Thanksgiving bulb planting project!

Hyacinths
Daffodil
Tulips
Allium
Frittilaria
Iris

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Giving

Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday, holiday gift giving – ‘tis the season. It seems to be a flurry of assorted giving. Yet, I’m always struck by the limited, ephemeral nature of it all. Come January, we all resume focusing on ourselves and those resolutions. Somewhere in the frenzy of the holidays we lose sight of the true spirit of the season – kindness and goodwill to all that lives on earth. And that spirit should persist throughout the year no?

This past Thanksgiving, while considering my many blessings, I spent a while thinking about how each of those deserved awareness and appreciation every day. The people we value, the home, food, work, pets, health etc., influence our happiness at any given time. Surely then, I must express my gratitude consistently and not simply on that fourth Thursday of November? In addition, must I not reciprocate in action wherever possible?

So, that’s what I’ve resolved – to purposefully practice giving and gratitude all through the year. Starting immediately; not waiting for January 1.

On a daily basis, connect to all I encounter. Greet, appreciate, compliment, listen. Giving voice to every positive thought is the corollary to ‘if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all’. Too often we tell others about someone’s talent, good work or looks but we fail to tell the individual herself. No more. Everybody deserves to hear kind words about themselves. Even a smile makes a difference.

Ditto for pets.

Horticulturally -In the garden, I will consciously appreciate its quotidian offerings and beauty and not merely focus on what’s wrong or needs doing.

Once a week, I will reach out to someone who lives far away. In this day of electronic communications, there is simply no excuse to let relationships lapse. I hope my life is never deemed too busy that I cannot convey a simple hello, thinking of you or how are you to a friend, family member or even a shut-in neighbor. Baking an extra batch of cookies to drop-off or mail to someone is worth the effort. Share the bounty from the garden with a city-slicker or one who can no longer garden. If I’m going to do the work anyway, it’s really easy to do a bit extra.

Horticulturally – Joining a Community Supported Agriculture program is my way of appreciating local farmers – and am I thanked in return! The beautiful, organically grown vegetables are a weekly gift to my health and happiness.

I’ve long had it set up that a monthly donation goes to my favorite charities. This not only ensures that the recipients do not get overlooked but it actually means I give more than I would if it all happened once a year. Of course, certain other causes like disaster relief arise spontaneously and will be responded to duly.

For every service I rely upon, there is a person(s) who serves. So, each month one such individual will be the beneficiary in some small but meaningful way. Hand warmers left in the mail box for the postal carrier to enjoy on a cold day. A gift card for a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop for the dry cleaner. A tray of homemade cookies for my local nursery on a very busy plant buying day ( that’s usually the Saturday before Mother’s Day!). A gift card for a manicure for my cleaning lady. Actually, so many people come to mind that I might have to commit to two individuals a month! This in no way precludes holiday bonuses/gifts.

Horticulturally – visit a public garden. While they receive my membership/support, I reap the benefits of viewing, learning and relaxing. Similarly, visit private gardens through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. I’m a long standing member of the Garden Conservancy and several public gardens but I don’t visit as often as I ought. That frequency must be improved.

Annual memberships to institutions like public gardens, museums, public television and radio are ways to sustain not only oneself but entire communities with a healthy quality of life.

Less on-line shopping and more local, small business shopping.

In keeping with protecting and nurturing the earth, something new that I’m adding to my efforts is that for every garden or home tool/gadget I buy or replace, I will plant a native tree either in the woods behind my property or other appropriate location.

I’m determined to walk the walk rather than just talk the talk at Thanksgiving. In the end, for all that I give, I’ll be so much more wealthy in what I receive. Merci, merci, merci.

Note: Speaking of gifts – please see the ‘Printed Garden’ and ‘ Botanical Note Cards’ merchandise. 100% of the profits goes to support the children with HIV/AIDS at the Mukta Jivan orphanage in India. I’m very proud of the ‘Printed Garden’ products and totally in awe of those children.

A few things for which I’m grateful:

Amaryllis. This was my ‘Amaryllis tree’

The children at Mukta Jivan orphanage. They inspire me.

Magnolias in bloom

Painting with artist friends in my garden

The gift of another birthday

Fall in New York

Walks with family

Thanksgiving and all other celebrations with family and friends

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Grow And Give

Stop Press! I’m in the NY Times!

Thanksgiving! I love this holiday. It elevates the concept of everyday gratitude to a national celebration. It also makes us accountable – how has the year been and how have we made the best of it? This holiday is an annual reminder that one ought to make every day matter. In doing so, we experience personal growth and consequently, have more to offer to the world.

The garden inevitably teaches me how to deal with the highs and lows. Adverse conditions like high heat, storms, drought and such might stunt or stop the plants from growing but, they take it in stride. As soon as the circumstances improve or let up they rally back and push forward. A shrub loses a good portion of itself in an ice-storm and the remaining part will compensate and thrive till the plant is restored and whole once more. A tree topples over in high winds causing some damage to the garden but the exposure to more sunlight promotes fresh plant growth and new opportunities to the gardener while the fallen tree itself enriches the soil as it decays and offers itself up to all sorts flora and fauna.

When the going is good, the garden provides an abundance that one must share. Be it inviting folk to came and enjoy the garden in full glory to taking a bunch of flowers to cheer up a neighbor or donating produce to a food bank. We give our thanks in actions.

The garden has been put to bed but accommodations have been provided for critters such as toads, butterflies, birds and bees ( and in all probability mice ) by way of the compost pile, some corners with leaf litter and/or wood piles, brambly shrubs near the woods and other sheltered hideaways.

On my part, I am grateful for so much. From monumental stuff like my family growing by the arrival of a second great-niece, launching my ‘Printed Garden’ collection, evolving in my art and participating in a record number of shows both solo and group, my poem being read at a community event, my efforts as a gardener getting recognition in the New York Times ( admittedly, I’m really kicked about this!), zip-lining over the rain-forests in Costa Rica to seemingly minor but no less significant events like vacations, reunions with family and friends, coaxing a finicky plant to flourish, reading some good books, seeing an amazing play, making new friends, discovering a new, now favorite restaurant, the list is actually endless.

That’s not to forget how much loss and suffering there has been nationally and internationally. I’m dropping off supplies for a few Thanksgiving meals at my local food pantry, shopping locally, renewing memberships to museums and botanical gardens, donating to the Red Cross, Salvation Army and to http://www.visitcalifornia.com/attraction/grateful-table . This last one helps the vineyards devastated by the fires in northern California. In giving, we grow.

A very happy, abundant Thanksgiving to each of you.

Enjoy the pictures of seasonal abundance:

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar