Slow Gardening

These uncommon days have brought me to a rediscovering of the pleasures of fundamental garden work. As I mentioned last week, I, along with so many across the country (world maybe?), are getting back to basics. Seed sowing, root cuttings, composting, growing vegetables etc., It isn’t that I stopped doing any of that but now, I’m once again taking the right amount of time to do those tasks with attention, appreciation and anticipation.

Over the past dozen years or so, I’d gotten into the habit of accomplishing the tasks with a sense of urgency. Admittedly, there was the pressure of getting the garden ready for Open Day by mid-May but, that was only part of the story. So many other commitments and projects had been taken on that I was spreading myself too thin. This year, under unforeseen circumstances, I find myself doing exactly the same chores but with a renewed energy and spirit of purpose. Once more, I’m having fun sowing seeds, eagerly checking daily to see if they’ve sprouted even though I know the typical amount of days it takes to germinate.

This past weekend, the pea shoots were transplanted to the potager. I had not sown peas in years because I really felt I hadn’t the real estate to set up a trellis for them. And I didn’t want to spend the time to do so. Well, all of a sudden, I knew exactly where to plant the seedlings. Along the edge of a potager bed that borders the pergola, seven pea plants were planted. To guide them in their climb, strings were strung from the top of the pergola down to each baby seedling. Like a 7 fretted instrument, it waits for the plants to start ‘plucking’ the strings and create sweet music. As the peas grow, they will provide some welcome shade at lunchtime gatherings at the pergola. By the time the whole potager is in full growth and the wisteria ( native variety so it blooms later) on the structure is fully leafed out, the peas will be done and that ‘window’ will once again be opened up to enjoy the view of the potager. Why didn’t this idea occur to me before? Because I hadn’t paused long enough to let the garden reveal the solution to me.

I’ve also started a project of growing micro-greens. It began with a large shallow pot of peas whose shoots add a seasonal something to salads and the occasional egg salad sandwich. As soon as I obtain the seeds, broccoli shoots are going to join this project. Since the lockdown is about staying healthy, micro-greens are a good thing to bring to the dining table – they are chock full of nutrients and very easy to grow. A nice rhythm of succession planting is the plan.

I didn’t get to start the root cuttings as intended last week. Between bad weather and other garden work, that got postponed – to hopefully sometime later this week. Instead, I divided some tiarella to make several new additions to the vertical garden. Herbs got re-potted and put up on the herb ‘wall’ in the potager. Nasturtium seeds started in the greenhouse were ready for transplant – they are now underplanted in the large pots that hold the bay standards. The citrus hued flowers should look lovely spilling over the pots.

I find myself short on pots – another reason I did not do the propagation from cuttings task. By setting up all those pots with daffodils and pansies to cheer up passers-by, there aren’t enough pots for much else! The current stay-home situation has forced me to reconsider the number of trips I make to any place. One makes do with what is at hand. Or do without all together. This week, I shall make one precious foray to my local nursery. Cannot wait!

Gardening these days is so mindful and sensory. I’m taking the time to smell the earth and how it feels in my hands as I dig and plant. The aroma of geosmine that we associate with spring is so life affirming.

As I carefully wash the soil off the roots of plants for the vertical garden, I marvel at the exquisite pale roots and how strong they are despite their delicate appearance. Nature is genius.

A regular distraction is following the goings on of the avian real estate market. One afternoon, we watched a turf battle between cat birds and crows, another time, we observed a pair of cardinals touring the garden checking out suitable sites for building a home. I really hope my garden came through – as such rejections are taken very personally. The hummingbird feeder is up but I think it is still a bit too chilly for those tiny friends. The robins that built a nest in the pot on the wall by the front door, get all irate when we step out or linger on the porch. So we are limiting our passage through that door and my time on the porch is restricted to watering the various pots there. At which point, I take advantage to quickly check the status of the eggs.

These days, I’m not nearly as efficient each time I work in the garden. Diversions not withstanding, the tasks are nevertheless getting accomplished. The garden is coming along just fine. And I’m so much more relaxed and fulfilled. As we know, slow and steady … I’m re-learning. This time around, I’m a better, more mature student. I think.

Note: Mother’s Day is less than two weeks away. For lovely gift selections – take a look at botanical notecards and soft furnishings for the home. All images are from my original watercolors. Original artwork is also available at Gallery. All profits go to support HIV/AIDS orphan girls’ education. Your support means everything to this cause. Thank you!

The herb ‘wall’. Soon, the A/C unit behind will be hidden by the growing plants.

The plant waste headed for the compost pile looks like abstract art

Note the strings!

Another view of the pea trellis

Note the pea shoots planted at the base .

The ‘meadow’ getting set to burst into a floral chorus

Leucojum

Two-toned muscari

Snakeshead fritillaria in a sea of forget-me-nots

Two types of fritillaria

See the robin keeping watch from the nest behind the pansies?

Pea shoot micro-greens

(c) 2020 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

 

Going Dutch

I’ve had the most restorative week in the Netherlands. The Dutch are doing many things right: particularly in regards to how we care for our home planet. Do right by Earth and you automatically do right by your life. My faith in humankind has been reaffirmed.

First and foremost, the weather was absolutely splendid. Sunshine on all but one day. Open-toe shoes. Mild temperatures. Birdsong all day. Walking and bike paths galore. Al fresco meals. What’s not to love?

The amount of avian activity I observed was unparalleled. I’ve never seen so many nests and nesting birds in any one place before. And this was not in special preserves or gardens. They were all over! In bustling towns, by highways and of course suburban areas. I walked by one townhouse that had a notice by its mailbox informing the mailman that there was nest inside so could the mail please be placed in the box provided on the ground. I regret not taking a photo of it.

Yet, that’s not to say that the number of certain bird species hasn’t dropped over time. Loss of habitat, pollution, climate change have all played a part. However, this country is taking action to remedy and restore. The citizens are more aware and responding positively to fiercely protecting their wildlife.

Recycling everything is standard practice across the country. Even compostables are collected weekly and turned into community compost. As a result, ‘gray’ refuse ( actual garbage) is much smaller.

The use of clothes dryers is low and instead, clothes are hung out to dry. Electricity is costly and as we all know, dryers guzzle energy. So, despite the typical damp weather in Holland, most folk prefer to ‘air dry’ their clothes. In general, attics and balconeys are reserved for line drying when the weather is inclement. Being conscious of cost, consumption and consequence leads to corrective courses. Knowledge is indeed power.

I liked noting that some tried and true practices are still in place. As I mentioned last week, new technology or focusing on the bottom line is not always progress or a step in the right direction. We have to question, weigh the pros and cons before we choose our action. Case in point, if you can walk or bike safely to work or shop, then why drive?

There are simple playgrounds everywhere. Wherever one lives, there is a playground near by. So families can get to them easily. No planning a special trip and piling into cars necessary.

For the most part, Dutch gardens are small. They are intensively and diversely planted. Contrary to the worldwide impression that tulips and other bulbs are ubiquitous fixtures in every corner of Holland, the private gardens are full of plants and trees that reflect the individual personalities and preferences of the gardeners.

Magnolias were at peak during my visit. The pears had just begun. Plants really thrive in the Dutch climate – makes me kinda envious. Lush, neat and green are the hallmarks of their gardens.

At the weekly, local markets, the flowers and plants available made me absolutely crazy. The huge variety, fine quality and low prices had me so frustrated that I couldn’t bring home anything.

Finally, I enjoyed a very good lunch at De Kas restaurant in Amsterdam. De Kas means greenhouse. Set in a park in an industrial part of the city, it is an oasis. They grow all their produce in a charmingly designed garden and in attached greenhouses. They have additional greenhouses thirty minutes away. Everything is organic and, but for the fish entrée, the fixed menu is vegetarian. Bursting with flavors from an innovative use of herbs and spices, the meal is interesting and satisfying. As the weather was so lovely, we sat outdoors on the terrace overlooking the garden and were witness to the flights of birds, cheers of children at play at a playground nearby and, as a real bonus we observed a pair of storks tending to their young in a nest high atop an old, brick chimney left in the park as a testimonial to the industry that used to flourish here. Eat your heart out NatGeo.

I’m already looking forward to returning to the Netherlands in summer.

Note: Mark your calenders – I’m a vendor at the PlantFest at Teatown Lake Reservation on May 11 and 12. Just in time for Mother’s Day, hostess, bridal,and wedding showers, birthdays and to spruce up your own home. Do stop by and say hello!

My garden’s Open Day cometh! Saturday May 19. 10am – 4pm.

Enjoy these photos from Holland!

At the market

Storks tending to their young

Restaurant De Kas

De Kas Garden

De Kas garden

Pear blossoms

Sheep grazing

Magnolia magic

This magnolia tree is three stories high and just as wide. Magnificent.

Nesting duck

Nests!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Bird Brain

It all started whilst standing in the kitchen at the cooking range – from the corner of my eye I noticed a flurry of activity outside the kitchen window. Turning to look, there was a robin with a beak full of fine pieces of twigs hopping around on the pergola directly below. Observing more closely, I spotted the nest. As though sited for my viewing pleasure, it sat nestled in the wisteria branches atop the pergola, giving one a perfect aerial perspective. Oh joy!

Watching nesting birds is one of my favorite pastimes. Here was that chance like no other. No climbing ladders, straining awkwardly or being stealthy – all that was needed was to stand at the window and look down. The nest is barely six feet below. Needless to say, this discovery took me completely away from all intentions to get my work done.

I was so loathe to leave for my trip to the Netherlands. Throughout my flight there I obsessed about the nest. Was it sited too visibly? Is it too easy for the squirrels o find? Would the afternoon sun hit it too harshly? And how about the rain? With reports of the heavy downpours yesterday, I’m anxious to find out. Oh the worries! I’m due back in a day so thankfully, the wait won’t be too long.

My walks in the Dutch country side have taken me through farmlands where I’m privileged to see cows with calves sticking close to their mamas, sheep with lambs that resemble balls of wool for the taking. Signs are posted making the public aware the this is an area that farms in a way that protects creatures that nest at ground level. Sure enough, I’ve discerned ducks in grassy fields sitting on what must be clutches of eggs. The farmers do not cut the hay the typical three to four times of the year. Instead, they do so only once. This allows wildlife to flourish. At any given time, some fields are left uncut and other fields are cultivated. Consequently, the yield may not be as high as we have come to expect from modern practices but, it is a comfortable compromise between man and animals. In time I heard enough bird song and became aware of sufficient activity that proved how well this policy was working. Did my heart a world of good. To take up modern ways is not always progress. Certain ancient principals have held up to time. To live and let live is one of them.

As I prepare to fly back home, I take with me a fresh resolve to assiduously support the wild life I have come to appreciate and depend upon.

Notice the robin with its beak full?

The Dutch countryside:

See the nesting duck in this field?

Protected birds here

‘Ekster’ – is the Dutch name of this bird

Ekster nest

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar