Back To Basics

Time spent in the garden has never felt more correct than right now. It is where I feel alive, useful and comforted. It is where I instinctively want to be. I’m relishing the gift of time to work in it unfettered by busy agendas and outside commitments. More than anything, I’m deeply grateful for having a garden in the first place.

As a big city girl, it was a dream come true to have a place to garden – that was 28 years ago. All too quickly, the garden became such an integral part of my life that I just took it for granted. These days, I’m acutely aware of what a privilege it is to have a piece of land to call ones own. With everyone doing their part in staying home, the inherent human need to connect to nature is not always possible for many. With several parks and public gardens closed due to the current crisis, those that are still open are getting unprecedented numbers of visitors. I worry that they too might have to be shut down if folks don’t observe distancing rules.

I’m enjoying walks whenever possible. Good weather and fewer crowds determine those opportunities. But, I always have the garden to provide immediate and consistent relief. That is a blessing I don’t think I’ll take for granted ever again.

It is not surprising that people have instinctively sought the outdoors – we are part of the natural world after all. The healing, soothing, uplifting effect of time spent in nature is both anecdotal and empirical. Even more interesting at present, is how we are rediscovering fundamental practices that we had somewhat forgotten or moved away from.

One of the first items to fly off grocery store shelves was flour and active dry yeast. All of a sudden, America is baking bread at home. Even now, more than a month after we all began staying home, flour is not easy to come by. Apparently, we Americans are actually enjoying baking our bread. Interesting no? Something that demands time and effort was one of the first items we sought to make. We see bread as a staple, a basic food. The same with pasta – more people are making their own but not quite at the same level as bread. I personally find it amusing that cooking rice is daunting to many. Something so ridiculously easy is viewed with trepidation. Yet, here we are. Mind you, I think it is terrific that homemade bread is on the rise; I’m just puzzled that it is one of the first things to be undertaken. There is no actual bread shortage in the country.

Simultaneously, everyone is into vegetable gardening, Apartment dwellers are growing tomatoes, herbs and such in pots and under gro-lights/ on balconies. Those with some property are making vegetable plots or potting up a range of vegetable plants. People are starting from scratch – seed sales have risen so dramatically that some seed companies have had to start directing their seeds to only commercial growers.

From what I’ve heard, for the most part, seeds are being sown not in fancy seed starter kits but in old tin cans, the cardboard cylinders from paper rolls, newspaper molded into pots etc., Sustainability! These are very good developments. Healthy for humans and the planet.

I have a feeling we are each growing the vegetables that hark back to our ethnic roots or childhood cuisine. We are seeking comfort in the familiar. Trying to relive fond memories of (perhaps) less complicated times.

I myself, have seeds sprouting in my tiny greenhouse and no matter how many years one has sowed seeds, the thrill of seeing new growth never gets old. I’m also getting ready to take cuttings to root them on to get more plants. Geraniums, rosemary, heuchera, bay, myrtle to mention a few. I might even give boxwood a try.

Yes, it is back to basics these days. Sowing seeds, growing ones own food, rooting cuttings, making fertilizer such as comfrey tea ( I hear rhubarb leaves work just as well) and composting are seeing an epic revival all across the country, In advance of harvest time, I’ve already corralled all the necessities for canning – jams, sauces, pickles, chutneys and pestos to stock the larder. Secateurs and the blade of the manual, push reel mower have been sharpened. Stakes, twine and trowel sit ready.

Homesteading is back in style.

Note: My garden is still primarily a flower garden so, while I’m going about dealing with the veggies and herbs for the year, I’m thoroughly enjoying the early bulbs bursting forth on a daily basis. Seeing the new growth of perennials is always exciting and reassuring. I also have a couple of fun projects I’m working on – more on those when I develop them further along. Stay tuned!

In the garden this week:

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Nesting Instinct

It is officially Fall. Despite my attempts to be in summer mode, I’ve begun the retreat – preparing the nest for cold, short days and long nights ahead. As though in response to a primeval instinct, it happens naturally.

It began with a huge harvest of arugula. Adding the leaves in salads alone wouldn’t be the best use so I decided to make pesto. Lacking in pine nuts, I used cashews and it turned out that they tempered the bitterness of the arugula just perfectly. Goes well with pasta, sandwiches, soups and anything that needs a little oomph. I made enough to freeze a couple of jars for the winter.

This week, I’m harvesting all the basil. So there will be plenty of basil pesto to freeze as well.

Unable to resist the peaches from a farm stand, I bought a whole bushel. Several disappeared on the drive home. A couple of pies got made and consumed with impressive alacrity. At present, a few jars of freshly made preserves sit twinkling like jewels. Flavored with Pinot Noir and cinnamon, they are a notch above the usual jam I make. Sounds rather posh and grown-up right? I’m already looking forward to Sunday breakfasts of toast slathered with butter and this preserve with strong hot coffee while I gaze at the winter landscape outside.

In a couple of weeks, I’m anticipating making and canning sauce with the last of the tomatoes. This comes in handy for so many meals. Knowing the fruit and herbs come from the garden always gets me planning for the next growing season.

I stopped at my favorite local nursery last Saturday because I’d got word that the shipment of fall pumpkins and gourds had just arrived. What a display greeted the customers! I had such fun making my selections.

I also picked up a whole bunch of hyacinth bulbs for cooling – they will be ready for forcing just ahead of the new year. In another couple of weeks, I intend to get some more to keep the show of indoor hyacinths going through the bleak days of February. That month always needs serious brightening and I want to be ready.

A box of paperwhites sat looking pretty right by the cashier so, I picked up some of those as well. They will soon be in bloom to herald the retreat to the indoors. The chill in the morning says those days are not too far off.

Over the weekend, I brought in a huge amount of hydrangea flowers from the garden. Just turning a rosy blush, they sit resplendent in an urn where I can enjoy them as they dry.

And then, last Sunday, in the shadow of the sculpture ‘Wavehenge’ that marks the solstices and equinoxes, I participated in an event to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox at Riverside Park in New York City. I was one of three poets invited to read poems associated with the season. A definitive acknowledgement of summer’s end.

Yes, fall has arrived and I am embracing it. But, just like the bees and butterflies still working in the garden, I’m not totally done with summer. I’m just content knowing my nest awaits in readiness.

Note: I hope you’ve bought your tickets to the Untermyer Symposium’ Restoring Gardens’. I’d love to see you there.

The ‘Walk In Our Shoes’ art show is on till September 30. Do stop by and see!

“Wavehenge” at Riverside Park North at 145th, NYC
Reading my poem
Pumpkins and gourds galore at Rosedale Nurseries in Thornwood, NY
My selection
My haul of hyacinths for forcing
Paperwhites in place
Monarch butterfly gracing the asters
Hydrangea heaven
Peach preserves

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar