Summer Stock

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

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

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

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

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

Hollyhock

Acanthus

The lawn problem

Mallow

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

Ornamental raspberry

Oak-leaf hydrangea

Young grapes

The wall

Baptisia seed pods

Amsonia seed pods

Sanguisorba alba

(c) Shobha Vanchiswar 2018

Second Sight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Great Escape

Summer is here and thoughts turn to vacations and a general slowing down of the days. School is out – I’m nostalgic for those carefree, unstructured days. Oh for the gift of a total break of two whole months.

At the very best, most of us can get away for a couple of weeks. So much planning and preparing goes into making those vacations happen. Money, time and obligations place constraints as well as a thick mantle of guilt that we wear as though its par for the course. Don’t forget the crazy expectation we have – a total escape from our reality.

Vacations are necessary. There is mounting evidence of the restorative, health benefits of taking time away. Yet, despite rising stress levels, many do not take their vacation days. Funds, fear of becoming dispensable at work, family responsibilities such as elder-care are all real but, I think a periodic recess from all work ought to be mandatory.

While there are many benefits to going away, our furloughs do not have to depend on travel or deep pockets. All one requires is imagination and a willingness to let go of our quotidian routines. How often have we mindlessly watched television as an escape? How about those hours wasted scrolling through social media? Problem is one doesn’t come away from those ‘activities’ feeling better about oneself. Mindfully taking time off is necessary.

I have my own take-a-break strategies. A good break requires the right state of mind. Recognizing that I need to get away is the first step. Feeling grumpy for no reason at all, being distracted, not paying attention to what or how I eat are the first most noticeable symptoms. If I don’t take action, my body asserts itself with colds/coughs, migraines and/or general malaise. Disregard those signals and it goes downhill very fast.

Stopping right away to breathe deeply, calm my mind and step into the garden where I sit and let the sights, sounds and smells there wash over me is the first step. Centering myself is best done outdoors – it’s as though I have literally stepped away from whatever is causing stress ( this includes that ubiquitous phone ). Following this, I decide what needs to be done by me to alleviate or solve the problem.

That sort of thinking whilst weeding and deadheading is terrific. By the time I’m done, I’ve found clarity of purpose and tidied up a patch of the garden. Taking a walk also works wonders. I’ve come up with some of my best ideas and solutions during strolls through my garden, neighborhood and parks. The daily ritual of walking worked for Darwin too so, I’m in good company. It’s quite remarkable how such simple activities can refresh both physically and mentally.

Okay, sometimes I need to stray further afield. Like a public garden. For me, that means the New York Botanical Gardens, Untermyer Gardens in Yonkers and Wave Hill in the Bronx. A day spent in any of these beautiful places is the perfect escape. I leave inspired and rejuvenated. Sometimes, I take my paints and set myself up to capture the beauty. Very soon, I’m totally absorbed in my activity that all other thoughts have been pushed aside. A might fine tonic for anyone in need of a mental break.

Recently, I went to the NYBG to take in the current exhibit “ Georgia O’Keeffe in Hawaii”. I started with the art exhibit showcasing some of her works done during her short stay in Hawaii. I hadn’t been familiar with those paintings so they expanded my understanding of the artist. Heading into the conservatory for the plant show reflecting the flora of Hawaii was a whole other experience. I was in a tropical paradise. At first, I started by looking at the plants as Georgia O’Keeffe might have viewed them. But in no time, I was back to my childhood years in India. I grew up with so many of these same plants. Happy memories of times spent in the garden of my childhood home came flooding back. Making ‘buttons’ with Plumeria flowers, crushing hibiscus petals to color my cheeks, stringing jasmines to wear as garlands, bracelets or adorning my braids, plucking ripe papayas to bring into the kitchen …. when I left the conservatory, it felt as though I’d actually been away for a few days. A true vacation.

Yes, one could curl up on the couch and read a good book – books are excellent escapes too. Or watch a funny movie. But, a deliberate sojourn outdoors has a bigger, longer lasting impact. The positive effects of Nature are not all tangible but the healthful effects are there. Moods are improved, spirits are buoyed, blood pressure lowered, muscles relaxed, minds cleared and, best of all, there is a new energy as one gets back to routine. So, go ahead, take some respite as often as you need to. Create your own summer holidays.

Note: Don’t forget to check out Shop for those gifts you need to get – hostess, bridal showers, weddings, birthdays, housewarmings …

Invitation! You are invited to the reception of the art show ‘Waterfronts’ at the Manhattan Borough President’s Office.Tuesday, July 5, 5-7 pm.

My painting ‘A New Day’ is part of this show.

Enjoy the photos taken at O’Keeffe show at the NYBG:

Papaya

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

That Pesky Plastic Problem

I don’t know about you but, I’ve been feeling mighty unsettled of late. There is a lot going on in the world and much of it is not good. Discord is rampant. You, I’m certain, read the news as I do so, I shall not expand on what is wrong. It’s been making me sad, angry, frustrated and heartbroken. Those emotions are powerful and as such, do not feel good. However, that force generated is impetus to do something positive. However and whatever one does to change or solve a problem moves us in the right direction. Besides, just how long can anybody wallow in despair? What good comes of that anyway?

True, in most cases, a single individual cannot do much but, every solution starts with a single person and a single act.

So, I’m looking around my own little world with determination to do whatever I can. From reaching out to members of my community who might be lonely or in need of some help to signing petitions/calling my representatives in government to donating to worthy causes ( money, clothes, books, food) to putting in a few hours volunteering locally to doing my share in protecting the environment by my own practices in the garden and home. Every effort, however small is empowering. And that leads to more efforts. It becomes a mission. The sum impact is seen or felt in due course.

As gardeners, we are very aware of the environment. What impacts it positively or negatively is always on mind. We want that happy balance of flora and fauna that a healthy environment needs to thrive. There is plenty we can do in the garden that protects, revives and restores that balance. Planting native plants, applying organic practices, using sustainable materials, conserving water, composting, mulching etc.,

However, despite all the progress, one thing that still seems to be widely present is plastic. Pots, tools, furniture, ties, stakes, bags, labels, bottles, gloves – you see?

By now, our senses have been collectively shocked by the images of fish found not only with plastic waste in their stomachs but, plastic has found its way into their flesh. So, it is possible then that the seafood one consumes can contain plastic. No, I take that back – we are already eating some of the plastic we have thrown into the sea. Think what those implications are.

All too often, we are smug in the knowledge that we recycle our plastic and therefore we’re doing our part. Not so fast. 78 million tonnes of plastic packaging is produced globally every year. Of this, 14% is burned for energy recovery, another 14% is recycled but only 2% of that is actually recycled into new materials and 40% goes to landfills. We produce 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago and by 2050 it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Imagine what the seabirds will have to eat. Consider the chain-reaction in such a situation.

Okay, so back into the garden. How many plastic pots do you have? It seems that the average gardener has 39 plastic pots hanging around in their garden. In the past, there were genuine attempts to use cardboard and/or paper pots. Whale-hide ( made of rigid pitch and fiber that resembled whale hide) pots were also developed. However all these pots fell apart soon and nurseries could not have plants sitting in stock all year round. Enter sturdy plastic that takes anywhere from 50 to 1000 years to break down. You get the idea. Shipping and stocking made easy.

Enough of the bad news. Lets think pro-actively. Start by reusing as much as possible. Case in point – bags that held soil or mulch or compost can hold garbage. Meanwhile, petition your town to institute a community composting and mulching program.

Think twice about every bit of plastic that comes into the garden. Could you make a better choice? Can you reuse it after it serves its initial purpose?

Consider getting tools with wooden or bamboo handles instead of plastic.

There are indeed products manufactured with recycled plastic. A noble effort that might be but, I fear that in buying such items, it only fosters the continued use of regular plastic with the misguided thought that it’s okay to do so simply because it can be recycled. Recall paragraph 5 above.

Buy from nurseries that use recycled or biodegradable pots. Start seeds in egg-shell halves, clean yogurt containers, make your own seed-pots from newspaper – there is a simple tool for just that.

Use metal or wooden label markers. My preferred choice is actually slate – get remnants from places that sell pavers. Slate is of course highly durable and very discreet in the garden.

You see? We can each do something. That is all that is asked of us – to do our part. Collectively we shall overcome.

Note: I’m not sharing photos of plastic! Instead, here are some images from a couple of gardens I have visited in the last week.

Papaya

Clematis scrambling over Ilex

A slate label on my espalier

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Mediation In The Meadow

The’ meadow’ in my small garden is one of my favorite spaces. Much goes on here – as the plants grow in and out of the seasons, the diverse creatures forage, hide and nest through out. Life happens here. There is a calm that that settles within whenever I spend a bit of time observing and being still in this space.

Since the meadow is really full of bulbs and mostly native plants and I have generally let it grow as it is wont to do, the work has involved only the periodic weeding of obvious thugs such as garlic mustard. In other words, I’ve been kinda lazy about it all. Over time, in my indulgence of its carefree existence, I’ve ignored the crowding that has emerged. This past weekend as I examined what plants were ready to take over from the camassia and alliums and what was emerging, I found myself searching and wondering where certain plants were. There ought to be more color present. The Chelone lyonii ( pink turtleheads) were looking strong, sturdy and preparing for summer flowering but where were the liatris that ought to start blooming about now? And what happened to the geums, echinacea, asters and ornamental grasses? The first had looked so sweet splashing their red earlier in May but were now swallowed up by more aggressive plants not all of which had been deliberately placed there. The rest were either clearly struggling to grow or had simply called it a day. A wake up call I could no longer ignore.

I see how the jewelweed has, without permission, become way too precocious. The wood anemone, drunk with the knowledge that I love it, has spread itself rather too freely. There are numerous other nondescript plants that I’m yet to identify that clearly do not belong here. Little bullies and squatters.

So my mission for the remainder of this month is to tackle the meadow. To get in there to pull out and thin out is daunting. I’m afraid to discover how many precious plants I have lost in my negligence and what critters I might be disturbing after giving them carte blanche in the meadow. Plus, I’m absolutely certain the mosquitoes will learn of my presence in no time at all. This is not going to be pleasant.

But, I must step up, own my indolence and make the necessary amends. It’s what any good, self-respecting gardener must do. Meanwhile. I’m distracting all viewers with baby robins, the roses, wisteria and emerging oak-leaf hydrangea. Even better, the climbing hydrangea is in full bloom and the fragrance is so heavenly that all thought to look at anything critically is forgotten. Perfect decoy.

Note: The images below compare the meadow in May and June. You can see how overgrown it looks in June ( with due diligence it does not have to look this way! My bad.)

May:

June:

Anemone take-over in progress

The worthy distractions:

Close-up. H. petiolaris

Climbing hydrangea

Oak-leaf hydrangea

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Power

It is the moment I yearn for all year long. The month of May in all her glory. Everywhere one looks there are flowers in bloom and more getting ready to join the show. The varied shades of green serve as a complex backdrop to all the other colors filling the garden. I cannot get enough of these days. Yet, all too often, as the year moves along, I find myself feeling I did not get my fill of the flowers and the garden in general.

This year, I have taken deliberate measures to give myself the time to revel in the beauty around. First off, I limited all commitments to only the essential. Then I pared down my interaction with those beloved, time-sucking electronic tools. “ Wander Where The Wi-Fi Is Weak” has become my new mantra. ( I got that from the Swedish Institute)

Those two actions alone freed me up to the point where I spent time admiring, observing and painting the flowers at leisure like I’ve never permitted myself before. It is possibly the best self-care for this or any soul in much need of temporarily and periodically escaping the horrors in the world and gaining perspective, peace and a better path to maintain balance in life.

The restorative power of time spent in nature cannot be over-emphasized or underestimated. It is free, powerful, highly palatable, immediately effective and, one cannot overdose on it. So, step into the garden and let it work its magic on you. Again and again and again.

Note: Here are some images from what’s blooming in my garden. Enjoy.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Sun Shines Even When it Rains

Last week was wet, wet, wet. And cold. Work in the garden was a challenge if not impossible. Till the Friday before when it felt like a gift – dry, cloudy and mild. Taking full advantage of that one day, like marathoners we persevered and got stuff done. By days end, the garden looked ready and ravishing. Then Saturday, the big day for the garden arrived and it was wet, wet, wet. And cold.

Who in their right minds would want to venture out in such weather? Not many obviously. Just some die-hards and some friends who fear your wrath if they’re no-shows. Admittedly, it is disheartening to wake up to inclement weather on open day. After all the work getting the garden ready it feels like such a let down. This is the fourth year running when it has been rainy and chilly. Grrrr! We’ve become gluttons for punishment.

Instead of the usual waves of visitors, it was a trickle. The garden looked lovely and stepped up smartly to please and cheer all who came. I had the satisfaction of knowing all the major spring jobs were done and from now on, it would be all about maintenance – weeding ( garlic mustard is already rearing its ugly head in the meadow), judicial watering and vigilance for pests. That’s a really nice place to be for a gardener. It’s one of the major benefits of preparing for open day. So, on Saturday, despite the weather, I felt good knowing all that needed doing had been done. The rainy day was beyond my control.

Those who come to gardens undeterred by the weather, fall into a very special category – curious, friendly, knowledgeable and most generous of spirit. I had the best time reconnecting with returning visitors and forging new connections with first-timers. We exchanged thoughts and ideas that will no doubt make each of us better gardeners. I found out about a couple of new products that could potentially be godsends – stay tuned for future reports. Even better, I have been enriched with some new friendships. Gardens have a way of bringing kindred souls together.

Whilst I was lamenting on the rain and cold and how it kept people from getting out to visit gardens, I met some folk that just blew me away. Within the first hour of opening, a couple arrived and told me that they had driven down from Rochester, NY to see my garden ( and other open gardens no doubt). Wow, right?!

Then, later on, another couple showed up – they had flown in from St Louis, MO! Just to check out some of the gardens that were open this weekend. Can you believe it?

Both couples were so charming and convivial. I cannot properly express just how honored and humbled I am that my garden was on their must-see list. This alone makes all the work leading up to Open Day worthwhile. Lousy weather notwithstanding.

Through the rain shone bursts of human sunlight and even the cold could not stop my heart from being warmed. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Note: The following photos were taken at Open Day by a lovely young ( all of 23 years ) lady. Lillian Roberts is smart, funny and gorgeous. And she clearly has great taste in gardens.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Flowers, Showers, Zero Hour

What in blazes is going on with the weather? Just two weeks ago we had a rash of summer heat followed by near perfect spring days and now we’ve regressed to days poised to blow hot and cold. And from needing some respite from the dry conditions, it is now wet, wet, wet.

As Open Day draws near ( this Saturday!), I’m searching anxiously for some indication of what will be in bloom. Typically, the meadow should be sparkling with alliums, camassia and columbines in full bloom, the creeping phlox in the checkerboard garden ablaze with starry flowers while the wisteria over the pergola bears imminent promise of a purple explosion. The ‘heat wave’ helped jump start the plants after winter dragged on and on. But now, we’re back to being behind schedule. This is admittedly frustrating. A little warmth and sunshine is not too tall an order right?

The perennial beds in front are looking fetching with tulips and newly opened camassia but even there, the columbines, amsonias and baptisia are lagging behind. With the exception of a riotous carpet of violas, forget-me-nots and dandelions in the meadow, all of the gardens in the back of the property are replete with buds – so, are they going to pop open for Open Day visitors or not?

I guess we will just have to wait and see. Zero hour is 10:00 am Saturday May 19.

I look forward to your visit.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

May Day! May Day! May Day!

I can’t believe it’s May! Looking around the garden, spring is surely here but the flowers are a few weeks behind schedule. The protracted winter kept us waiting and yearning for its end so now that the season of growth has begun, I’m not complaining. Just as long as we are given a proper length of spring. As of tomorrow, for the next three days, we are expecting the temperature to spike up to 80+ degrees. Please lets not have all the spring flowers rush to bloom all at once!

The sight of plants coming awake is so exciting. I absolutely adore this anticipation of the spectacular displays to come. With my garden Open Day a mere three weeks away and TeaTown’s PlantFest less than two weeks away, there is tons of work to do. At double time. I’m juggling other work and garden work in a frenzied sort of way. When I’m working on one thing, I’m feeling the pressure of the other pending projects. The up side is that this will not go on forever. PlantFest will happen.  Open Day will come and fingers crossed, the garden will please the visitors. I’m also doing my best to appeal to the weather gods to bless us with fabulous weather.

In the midst of addressing all the work and responsibilities, I have been completely consumed by the robin’s nest below the kitchen window. I’d become the creepy stranger lurking around spying on an expectant mother. I took pictures constantly and every task that took me away from said window was resented.

Yesterday morning, as I made coffee, I watched the mama robin sitting calmly and patiently on her clutch of four eggs. Took a picture. She turned her head, cocked an eye upwards, indicating she was aware of me.

A half-hour later in my office upstairs, I noticed a couple of large crows flying past the window in front of my desk. Something about them made me uneasy but I had to carry on with the task at hand. About an hour later, I went back down to the kitchen and peered out. It was completely empty. No mama, no eggs. I could see a piece of blue egg shell on the ground. An avian home invasion had occurred.

I’m totally heartbroken. I realize it’s nature at work but this travesty happened in my garden and somehow I cannot help feeling like I failed in protecting the robins. If only the wisteria had begun leafing out as it would’ve normally, the nest situated within its limbs would have been better hidden. Perhaps if I’d stayed at the kitchen window, I could’ve shooed away the crows. If only …

Life, I know must and will go on. But I’m taking some time to mourn this loss. To send thoughts and blessings to that mother – to stay strong and try again soon at a safer site. And for what it is worth, I’m so sorry.

Last Saturday, to help me stay on track with my work ( without being distracted by the goings on in nests and such), I had sent off for a good outdoor camera ASAP. No, pronto, toute suite. It was to be set up so it could take photos of the nest round the clock. I wouldn’t have to miss anything. Sadly, that will no longer be necessary for this occasion.

Instead, I’m going to position the camera to take a series of shots that determine a time-line of sorts of how the meadow evolves through the seasons. Perhaps it’ll be interesting. Or merely prosaic. For the time being, it’s all I can emotionally handle.

Building the nest

Still building

Both parents

Four perfect eggs

Incubating

After the home invasion.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Coloring In Spring

April is National Poetry Month and despite the weather, it is spring. So, here you are:

Coloring In Spring

Entering the pale, cool amber

of the early vernal light

Greeted by avian chatter

half hidden in awakening arbors

Sensing the swell of the air

coming alive once more.

 

Shy hellebores blushing pink

mingle with virginal snowdrops

Gently illumine the garden

lifting the veil of mist

Revealing youth reborn

still damp with dew.

 

Bulbs from beneath the rich brown

nose through in sap green

Testing, feeling

if the time is ripe

Cups in amethyst, buttermilk and gold

unabashedly await visitors.

 

Peony spears hued in burgundy

reach upwards in slow gestures

Quick darts of cardinal red

punctuate brightening skies

Sunshine lifts the iridescence

of purple grackle feathers.

 

Robins in vests of rust

forage with blue coated jays

A truce of sorts reigns

Every being with singular purpose

Distinct colors fresh and new

ancient rituals timeless and true.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Note: In keeping with the season – Spring sprucing, Mother’s Day, bridal showers, weddings and parties are coming up.  Plan ahead. Check out Shop for gifts – note cards, The Printed Garden Collection of pillows, tea towels, napkins, placemats and runners. All profits help educate children with HIV at the Mukta Jivan orphanage.

Enjoy the spring images:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar