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

Dead Heat

It’s been an unusual warm summer globally. Here in the Netherlands, I’m witness to the impact of the record heat that lasted several weeks. Being unused to such extreme weather, the average Dutch gardener didn’t quite know what to make of the high temperatures and the accompanying lack of rain. Typically it rains so consistently that one is not accustomed to watering the garden regularly. By the time many of them realized the stress the plants were under, it was already too late to save some of them. Due to regulations, farmers were not permitted to pump water from the underground aquifers. Consequently, it has led to some serious loss of crops. It goes without saying that this single summer will have a lingering effect on the environment, the economy and the general sense of well-being amongst the populace.

Where at this time, there’s usually a glut of summer blooms at their glorious peak, I see instead many gardens prematurely displaying an autumnal look with dry foliage, faded flowers and assorted seed-heads pushing for immortality. Too soon, too early! It is easy to discern the gardens that were watered during the days of heat – they are the ones looking entirely unscathed. But, there is one other category of plantings that have come through the heat admirably – the drought tolerant ones. Water being a limited resource cannot be used with abandon. Simply turning on the hose and/or sprinklers every time we are hit with a drought is not the solution. A more realistic, sustainable approach must be identified and implemented.

At present, the normal weather pattern has returned with rain and seasonal temperatures and I’m pleased to see that in several cases, the plants are valiantly attempting a full comeback. Yet, there is ample evidence of the toll taken by those hot, dry days. Damaged and dead plants remain as somber reminders that it takes just a short shift in the weather to have a long effect on the earth. Climate change is evident. What on earth are we going to do about it?

Note: Don’t forget! September 29 approaches!

Drought tolerant grass looking radiant.

New plantings to replace the ones lost to the drought.

Awaiting replacements …

Well watered

(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

Growing The Future

“ Screen time” is a hot button issue. As adults, we’re all guilty of wasting ( yes, I said wasting ) far too much time on our digital devices. And being an adult, means we should know better and do better. The choice is simple – get away from whatever electronic devise you’ve developed an unseemly attachment to and do something useful, creative and meaningful instead.

But when it comes to our children, it’s become a true dilemma. I’m not going to elaborate into this because we’re all aware of the problem. There are enough data out there confirming that the young are exposed daily to far too much screen time. Recently, the American Association of Pediatrics put out new recommendations on this topic.

Recommendations are all very well but good, fun alternatives must be offered as well. New interests and hobbies are key. As parents/caregivers/teachers, it starts with setting a good examples ourselves. Needless to say, our own passions and pastimes serve the cause best. So, what are you doing with your time?

Given that outdoor activities are unanimously extolled as antidotes to boredom, stress, anger, poor physical and mental health, I am unsurprisingly making a solid case for children taking up gardening. It is instructive in responsibility and time-management, educational in the sciences, physically demanding, therapeutic, creative, useful and, best of all, hugely rewarding. Exposing a child to the powers and wonders of nature is perhaps one of the single most gratifying experiences. We’re putting at their disposal a toolbox for life-management. Something they can use consistently for the rest of their lives.

I’ve written previously about getting children involved in the garden and, it bears reaffirming the ways to do so. Here goes –

Give them a plot of their own. A patch in the sun, amended with compost ( another lesson to teach!) for a child to work on freely. If space is at a premium, a big planter or a raised bed on a terrace will do just fine. Here, a young one can learn all the lessons of tending a garden. And you, the adult will have no worries about other parts of the garden being accidentally dug up or trampled upon.

Give them the right tools. Not toy tools! Invest in a good set of gardening tools designed for small hands. The right size will make all the difference in both their morale and in their work. Toss in a small wheelbarrow as well!

Provide some early gratification. Patience is not a virtue found in children. Let them begin with quick growing crops like radishes, arugula and other salad leaves. From seed sowing to harvest, these will take about four weeks. Starting with young plants that will flower or fruit quickly are also good options. Let the child have a say in what they want to grow. They will be so proud to provide to the family table and flower vases. In time, they can have fun growing watermelon radish, purple carrots, zebra tomatoes, lemon cucumbers – stuff that is attractively different and not commonly found in the supermarket. Same with flowers – black pansies, green zinnias, giant sunflowers in colors of gaudy sunsets …

Offer extras. Build with them butterfly, bird and bug houses. Create butterfly gardens full of native wildflowers. Set up a birdbaths and bird-feeders. Permit specialization – they can develop collections of whatever plants they like most. From succulents to dahlias to tomatoes, a young gardener can become an expert on any particular plant. Give them bulbs to plant in the fall – their eager anticipation for the spring and sheer delight at observing the bulbs emerge and bloom will get them hooked to gardening. Even jaded teenagers will get weak-kneed at the sight of a bed of daffodils trumpeting open. Mark my words.

Let them grow further. Show them how to learn about what they see. Bird watching, butterfly spotting – identifying and creating an electronic log book could well give them lifelong hobbies to pursue. Show them how to take photos and/or make drawings, sketches or paintings of their gardens, the creatures that visit and finally, of their produce. Developing their creativity gives more meaning to their efforts in the garden.

Tie it all in. To show that you’re not being a Luddite or fuddy-duddy, encourage them to blog or vlog about their gardening life through the seasons. Posting on Instagram their own fabulous, homegrown flowers and vegetables will be exciting. After all, you want them to know that you aren’t anti-technology. You just want them to be well-balanced individuals. Just like you n/est pas?

Note: Exciting news! Mark your calendars! Get your tickets! Click here to find out!

There is still time to see the ‘Waterfront’ show in which I have a painting. Don’t miss the views of the city from the windows there!

Here are some photos taken over the years –

Getting May baskets ready

Bulb planting

Making music in the tree-house. Garden Open Day 2011

Harvesting apples from the espalier orchard

There’s always time for play

(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

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