Where did January go? Wasn’t it just yesterday when we welcomed in 2020? But here we are in February, just past the mid-point of winter. And yesterday, the New York metropolitan area enjoyed a spring-ish (yes, spring) day. Which, while out of place for this month, put me in a mind to start thinking about spring. That’s a mere six weeks away!
There are plans to make, tasks to schedule and things to get ready. Click here for a list of February chores. It’s a good comprehensive register and will get you on the right track.
Last Sunday, the grape vine was pruned. Typically, that chore is done later in the month but, given the atypically mild winter we’ve had thus far, it seemed prudent to do it ahead of time.
A friend is starting some seeds for me and I’m ever so grateful. My greenhouse is so crammed with overwintering plants that there’s no room for seed flats. Besides, my travel/work schedule is a bit more hectic this season so it is particularly nice to have one less thing to do.
Much to my family’s relief, the hyacinths I had cooling in the refrigerator ( taking up prime real estate) are slowly coming out for forcing. Observing the daily progress of these bulbs sustains me enormously. It’s funny how something as simple as that can have such a profoundly uplifting effect on the mood.
The charming pots of primroses at my area Whole Foods proved irresistible. I now have five of them in different crayon-box colors cheering up the kitchen.
Both, hyacinth bulbs and primroses will find a home in the garden once they’ve finished blooming.
In the garden, February can be an austere month. But really, it is a month of promise of the beauty and bounty to come. It provides that quiet window before spring bursts forth rambunctiously and all hands must be on deck to cope with the myriad garden chores.
February is that plain looking gift that waits patiently for its value to be discovered.
Instagram can play with this gardener’s heart. It’s bad enough that I’m confronted with lush summer gardens from down under and sure signs of spring from across the pond but, now there are images of early bulbs from my region. Spurred on by reports of snowdrop sightings and hellebore hunts, I decided to scan my own garden.
It’s funny how excited one can be at the thought of seeing those first signals hat the season is going to change. Yet, I was not that eager to actually find any blooms. It is way too early! We are still in January and frankly, any bulb in flower right now is not a good sign. Already, this winter is ringing alarm bells. With several days of above average temperatures and barely any snow, it’s hard to imagine what is to become of the seasons as we know them. Consequently, what, if at all, will flower and fruit is anybody’s guess. It’s all very unsettling.
A week ago, I’d come across a woolly worm. Folklore says that if the rusty brown band is wide, then it will be a mild winter. The more black there is, the more severe the winter. This one had a broad brown band. So there you have it.
Still, I ventured on my search. Nothing was blooming I’m kinda glad to report. No snowdrops or Irisreticulata. I peered around the hellebores still protected by leaf mulch and last years leaves. The buds are tightly closed but they’re emerging. That’s exactly how they should be!
Here’s a useful thing I recently learned about hellebore harvesting. You know how sometimes when you incorporate cut hellebore flowers in a floral arrangement, they go limp almost right away and yet at other times they stay bright and upright for as long as you like them? Turns out it is all in the timing of when you cut them. Erin Benzakein, the It girl of the flower world and owner of Florets, says to wait till the stamens have dropped and the seed pods are starting to set. Cut them at that moment and you’ve got yourself some nice, long lasting hellebores. I’m quite pleased to learn this nugget of wisdom.
The American wisteria and climbing hydrangea are showing the tiniest buds. So much promise in such minuscule packages.
These glimpses of what is yet to come was enough to make me optimistic. Thus far, there is no need to be worried about any premature activity. Fingers crossed, we will see a more familiar February.
The heart shaped stones I collect reminded me that hearts will be aflutter in February. Always a sweet tradition to express love to all who mean so much. And this brought me to Entada gigas. Otherwise known as Sea hearts/ sea bean/monkey ladder. I’d picked up a couple of seed packets on one of my trips. What attracted me to them were the large heart-shaped seeds that spread throughout the entire world via the sea currents and originate from the Amazon. One of the most special seed varieties in the world. The undisputed record for the longest bean pod is the sea heart.
I thought simply having the large, shapely seeds as decorative objects would be nice. But curious to see how they grow, I’ve given them to a gardener friend to get them started. Drew is experimenting with lots of unusual plants for annual arrangements in large pots and is willing to try out my contributions. So good to have him as my partner in horticultural high jinks. Love of all things plants is a sure sign of a friendship worth nurturing.
Woolly worm with broad, brown band
No sign of anything
Emerging hellebore buds
Climbing hydrangea buds. Still very tiny and tight.
January is for dreaming. About all things garden. These reveries are about the ideal horticultural scenarios. Perfect weather, perfectly well-behaved plants, perfect fruits and flowers … It’s how we envision our gardens to be. Without that fantasy, we could never find it in ourselves to garden. Gardening is risky! Weather and pests can put paid to all ones efforts. It’s the imagination that fuels a gardener’s ambitions. And an almost unhealthy dose of optimism/faith/whatever you choose to call it. Unlike farmers who are trying to feed the world, gardeners have a more selfish interest. We want the accolades – even if its only from a long-suffering spouse or neighbor.
Think about it. Aren’t we ever so proud when we hear “ that is the sweetest tomato I’ve tasted! ”, “ Such amazing roses!”, “ Such a perfect dahlia!”, “Wow! Are those tulips real?”, “ Your peonies are spectacular!”, “ This garden is a gem!”. Am I right? You can’t deny that you don’t feel mighty pleased. It’s no different from the ‘likes’ one looks for on social media. In both cases, it’s an addiction!
We constantly seek validation and approval. It’s a fact gardening-people! Just accept it.
And so, I’m doing my share of dreaming. The new plants I’m going to try – they are sure to impress. The flower arrangements that will adorn the house – bigger and better. The entire meals made from garden produce – most delicious ever. The lively garden parties perfumed by roses and jasmine – best soirées to get invited to.
There is no harm in dreaming. At the very least, it gets me through the winter blues. At best, the garden will benefit from my renewed enthusiasm and look delightful ( if not spectacular).
Start dreaming already! There are no rules or limits. And no one else needs to know.
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!
Ah, a new year begins. So many possibilities. So much potential.
Resolutions to be made, dreams to realize, wishes to make true. Yes,
a clean, new canvas to begin again. Really?
Why do we put so much pressure on ourselves? Having dreams and
determination to do better is just fine but must we make it so hard?
How is it possible for one to turn over a new leaf almost overnight?
It’s not as though you go to bed on December 31 and wake January 1
a new person. Eat better, lose weight, sleep more, exercise everyday,
read a book a week, cook every meal, learn a new language, land that
dream job, meet the right life-partner, reduce stress, master a new
skill – the list is endless. We expect way too much from a mere
twelve months. In the scope of a single year we are effectively
hoping to undo all that preceding years have built up or, accomplish
everything we failed to achieve in all those years.
As the years go by, I see clearly how ridiculous so many expectations
from a new year is. Having given up making resolutions a long time
ago, I freed myself to simply see the start of a year as a good
marker to do better in whatever I am already doing. No matter what,
there is always room for improvement. And certainly, it is
never too late to learn/try new things. But, that doesn’t need to
wait for the arrival of January 1. Every day is an opportunity. If I
need to get more exercise, then there is nothing like the present to
get started. If your hair looks raggedy you go get a cut as soon as
possible. If you need a new car/towels/shoes/appliance or anything
else, as long as budgets permit, you acquire those right away. You
see? Working out, eating healthy, starting on that pile of unopened
books, registering for the course in Portuguese, seafood cooking or
salsa dancing, giving up smoking etc., shouldn’t have to be put off
till the planets line up. Start now!
In fact, having followed this practice of getting on with what needs
doing or starting on any given day, has given me that liberty to
welcome the new year as one would an old flame. I’m already doing
my best and own who I am. There’s nothing to hide, pretend or
apologize. Showing up strong is a pretty good place to be. So there.
Having said all that, lets consider the garden and how we go forth
into 2020. This year, I really tried as hard as I could, other life
obligations notwithstanding. Bear in mind, flexibility is key –
things will come up and the best laid plans will be foiled. Never
mind, adjustments must be made. C’est la vie.
In 2020, I will continue with getting the ‘meadow’ more
established with the native plantings and closer to the vision in my
mind. I hope to try out some new varieties of vegetables in the
potager. Having received some seeds of tropical plants, I’m keen to
design new plantings in pots to make exciting splashes of bold color
While I created this garden to be organic from the start, I have been
consistently working towards more sustainable and eco-friendly
practices. From improved water management, better composting,
reducing the amount of plastic ( nurseries! Are you reading
this?), adding more native species etc., it is an ongoing effort.
The new year is merely an annual reminder to up my game.
Happy New Year one and all. Please accept my heartfelt wishes for
health, happiness and harmony. Just promise yourself you will try to
the best of your ability. That is all one can and should ask.
Whatever one believes in, celebrations are in order. Winter arrived with the solstice. Hanukkah is underway, today is Christmas Eve and Kwanzaa starts in two days. The New Year is just a week away. Best of all, we are past the shortest day of the year and slowly but surely the days are getting longer. Hallelujah!
At this time, we remember years passed and look ahead to the future. Friends and family are precious – this is a perfect time to reaffirm those bonds.
Trimming The Tree
Love hangs memories
on awaiting arms
twinkling happy thoughts
as new stories get written.
While the past is shed
the present unfolds itself
into the future.
– Shobha Vanchiswar
Before one gets caught up in the festivities, water the plants! Be they house plants or those being overwintered, they need to be kept hydrated. It’s easy to forget about them when you’re busy with so much else. Ditto for those bulbs such as paperwhites. Amaryllis bulbs do not need potting up and watering until after they finish flowering – for now, they can sit pretty anywhere you choose.
Take a turn in the garden and check if anything needs attention – broken tree limbs, plants wanting some protection, debris to clear, bird-feeders to fill and such. It’ll give you peace of mind. And the fresh air and sunshine will improve your disposition greatly.
Wishing you all a beautiful holiday.
Note: Some holiday trees through the years. Due to my daughter’s allergy, we switched from conifers to more unconventional ‘trees’.
Another alternative.This year I’m using my bay standard as the tree.
I’m finally feeling the holiday season. Towns are decked out for it and one is greeted with holiday music any shop one steps into. Not to sound too Grinch-like but I’m a little tired of this non-stop ‘seasonal’ music as though I’d forget what season I’m in if they played something else.
I do adore the strings of white lights tracing the bare limbs of trees, the lamp posts and railings. Just as winter has officially started, the lights infuse a much needed element of cheer. At the same time, I worry about the impact the illuminations have on birds and other animals that dwell in trees and bushes. It is well documented that our street lights, neon signs and such affect the avian bio-rhythms . It stands to reason that our holiday lights must interfere as well. Imagine how you’d sleep with bright lights being turned on in your bedroom. And then how you’d feel from the poor rest night after night.
The artificial lights mimic daylight and hence cause confusion in the birds. It not only causes sleep deprivation but affects their breeding. The timing of egg laying goes out of whack and the number of eggs laid are diminished. You can understand the problem. So, it behooves us to curb our decorating enthusiasm, use the cooler (as in temperature) LED bulbs, and shorten the time the lights are on. Yes, I’m aware that LED does not have the same warm ambiance as the fluorescent bulbs but, it’s the responsible, ethical and ecological thing to do.
To decorate outdoors, preferably select bare limbed trees over the evergreens. Non-migratory birds and squirrels take shelter in those leafy trees and shrubs. Keep in mind that more is not better. We are going for tasteful not airport runway style.
Similarly, as far as possible, stick to natural materials. Particularly for outdoor decorations. Critters have the habit of eating or using the materials for their nests. Plastic, Styrofoam and other synthetic decorations look enticing and appealing. But they are dangerous if not deadly to all creatures who unfortunately, do not know this. We do. It is incumbent on us to do right by them.
In the true spirit of the season, lets spread good will to all. Human and otherwise.
Gifts come in many guises. While commercialism obliterates and/or skews how we celebrate the season, in our hearts we know we can do better than simply following the directive to shop with abandon. Giving thought to each gift we select makes it that much more meaningful and valuable.
I have long abandoned the shopping
frenzy encouraged at this time. It is overwhelming and undermines my
I largely give socially,
ecologically and culturally conscious gifts.
Selecting what is appropriate to each recipient is the best part
primarily because it gives me pause to think about my relationship
with them, what I know about them and how much I value their part in
my life. At the same time, I want the gift to reflect who I am and
what I stand for. That means, I cannot in good conscience give
anybody a fake plant, gas powered mower or a flat of impatiens.
(About that last one – I’m allowed to have my personal
dislikes so don’t bother setting me straight please!)
So, here’s a comprehensive list of what I think are good gifts.
They benefit deserving organizations and people and offer enjoyable,
sustaining experiences to the recipients:
2. Gift certificates to a local nursery. In my neck of the woods, my favorite is Rosedale Nurseries. Similarly, gift certificates or actual products from local merchants would not go amiss.
3. Products that support worthy causes. Profits from my own soft furnishings thePrinted Garden collection andbotanicalnote-cardsgo towards the education of orphan girls with HIV. I would appreciate your support very much.
4. For the folk who subtly drive your days in ways that we easily
overlook. Hand warmers plus tip for mail carriers and garbage
collectors – they work in cold weather and slipping a warmer in
their gloves would I’m sure make their work a tad bit nicer. Tips
for anyone who assists you in living better is a must –
hairdressers, house cleaners, garden helpers, snow-plowers etc., I
like giving a little something along with the tip.
From homemade cookies to fat beeswax candles to a piece of artisan
jewelry to gift certificates to a movie house, one can always give
something meaningful. The first year I gave movie tickets to a person
who’d helped with odd jobs in the garden, I discovered that this
was the first time he’d been able to take his whole family to the
5. As an artist, I know what it means to sell my work. Gratifying,
validating and so encouraging. Buying from local artists is a great
way start your own collection, add to somebody else’s and in making
such a purchase, you are supporting the arts. Potters, painters,
sculptors, jewelry makers, crafters could all do with your patronage.
Hire a local musician to your next big event!
In this vein, the New York Art Students League is having their famous Holiday Art Sale. Lots of affordable art by emerging artists to be found here. Full disclosure – I have a painting in this show.
I’m also very proud to have my painting ‘Willow’ in the art show ‘Fragile Waterways – Protecting What We Love’ at TeaTown. All the art has been donated by local artists and 100% of the sales goes to the Croton River Stewards Fund.
Finally, the priceless gift of all – the gift of time.
Spending money is all very well but one always has limits on
budgets. However, giving of
ourselves can be much better. Offering to help with a chore/project,
going on weekly walks, meeting regularly to catch up over
coffee/lunch/brunch/tea/dinner, setting up a recurring date to see
art shows, concerts, plays or any other shared interest, promising
to call/FaceTime/Skype someone who lives far away on a regular basis
are all ways to show how much you truly care. Time, we know, is the
most precious. Imagine what it would mean to the receiver.
garden has been put to bed. Now what? Time to dream, hope, plan and
get organized. But first, let’s get inspired. Winter is a good time
to reboot our creative aspirations by quite literally getting away
from the garden all together.
This month, in keeping with the festive spirit, I turn to the NYBG’sHoliday Train Show. This exhibit cannot fail to delight and get your spirits soaring. The sheer creativity with which the buildings are constructed of all natural materials easily foraged in the great outdoors is impressive. It will change the way you look at ordinary materials found in the garden and on walks in the woods. I’ve been going to this annual show since it first started and I’m still eager for it every year.
Invariably, a seasonal concert or two is on my December calendar. Music has transformative powers. I go to the opera and philharmonic concerts all year round but at this time, I’m hankering for music generally performed for the holidays. Not necessarily restricted to Christmas music but appropriate for the season of goodwill to all. This week, I’m going to the Chanticleer concert in NYC– acapella singing par excellence. I went last year for the first time and came away so uplifted. The music stayed with me for days.
I will end the month with the performance of arias at the Met Opera – what an inspired way to enter the new year!
between the music, visits to the art museums is always in order. As
an artist and gardener, there is so much to fire up the imagination.
Be it a simple nudge from an Impressionist to consider a bench or a
color theme for your garden to a gorgeous presentation of floral
combinations from a Dutch still-life to a call for boldness and out
of the box thinking from an Abstract, you are guaranteed to come away
with inspiration for your own ‘canvas’. The effect is not always
obvious but for certain you will be revived.
This month, I’m looking forward to the Metropolitan Museum’s new exhibits – Felix Vallotton, painter of disquiet, Making Marvels, science and splendor at the courts of Europe and, In Pursuit Of Fashion.
trying new foods, new places, books and movies/TV have the power to
teach and elevate. I have lists of movies/shows to watch, a pile of
books to get through, a folder of recipes to try, and towns and
nature preserves to explore on day trips – December is merely the
start of what promises to be a season for growth and gain. For self
I’m fortunate to live so close to NYC but I also believer in going
local. Community theater, regional museums, galleries, music
orchestras and bands can be top notch. Check your local paper for
In case you’re still hankering for a garden to-do list, check out my December list.
The images below are from past forays for inspiration:
Yeah, it’s not what you think. Get your mind back into the garden!
Winter has arrived – a little too early. Fall is not
quite done! On Halloween night, the temperature was in the low
70’s and by the following night, we had a hard frost.
With the tender perennials already ensconced in the greenhouse, I
wasn’t too worried about the sudden cold. However, the greenhouse
heater is being cantankerous and is yet to kick in. The engineer in
residence needs to get it working soon. Or else.
The great bulb cover-upping happened on Sunday. All 700 plus bulbs.
With snow expected on Thursday, I didn’t want to take the risk of
doing the project in stages. It’s all done now. The assortment of
little brown packages are now under their winter blankets of earth
and mulch. In my mind’s eye I can see them in splendiferous bloom.
Spring cannot come soon enough. Wait, I take that back. Given how
erratic the weather/seasons have been, I’m willing to be patient
and wait till the appropriate time for spring.
The fallen leaves in the meadow are let to remain to give some cover
to the plants and also enrich the soil subsequently. This area does
not receive any additional fertilizer so Mother Nature’s
free-falling bounty is the one we depend upon. Similarly, other
shrubs and all the roses are provided a pile of leaves at their feet
to keep cozy. In time, the roses will also acquire a windbreak of
burlap for additional protection.
The large pots that stay outdoors all through the year are shielded
in the winter. First, they get fully concealed in plastic and then
given a more aesthetic looking wrapping of burlap. Throughout the
winter they look like big packages left by some careless delivery
The perennials have been cut back and it always makes me a bit sad to
see the garden so bare. Despite the lingering colors of autumn, the
long, dark days of winter loom ahead.
To combat the seasonal sadness, I’ve started setting aside all those gardening magazines I hadn’t got around to reading in the busy months. Soon, the seed and plant catalogs will begin to arrive and they too will join the pile. Since October, the refrigerator has been cooling bulbs for forcing – they’re sure to cheer up January and February nicely. For now, paperwhites are coming up and I’m counting on them to pretty up Thanksgiving. Firewood has been stacked, fresh candles placed in the candlesticks, snuggly blankets rest temptingly on all the couches, jars of pesto, tomato sauce and jellies await impromptu gatherings for board-games and Charades, the list of shows to binge watch is on hand as are novels picked up throughout the year. Winter is suddenly looking mighty attractive.