Bend It Like Bakwin

My dear friend Mike Bakwin died on December 3. Since that day when I got word of the sad news, I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about him and our friendship.

Our mutual love of gardens and gardening brought us together about nine years ago. And then we discovered how much more we had in common. A lovely friendship flourished.

Mike was a man of great means that didn’t get in the way of relationships. I witnessed his philanthropy up close. Never for publicity or status, he got involved because he cared about the cause. He served on several boards and I was particularly aware of the ones to which I myself was connected albeit in a different capacity. At TeaTown Reservation, his concern for the environment and the imperative to preserve was apparent. As a keen fisherman, he understood the need for keeping the ecological balance and taking care of the land, water and air. At Untermyer, he genuinely believed in its restoration and what it could offer the community.

Mike’s own gardens were splendid and he was closely involved with every aspect of its creation and maintenance. This wasn’t simply an affluent person’s showpiece. It was his home – where he loved having family and friends visit and play. He shared magnanimously. He hosted fund raisers for charities and threw parties for friends. Heck, he had fruit orchards, a large caged house for soft fruit and a very big vegetable garden and donated almost all the produce.

He believed in stewardship of the land. When the property next to his came on the market, he bought it just so the land could be protected and not subdivided for development. A native plant meadow has been created there.

Speaking of friends, the man had plenty. From all walks of life. His insanely famous annual croquet party was a great testimonial to his generosity and vast army of diverse friends.

He knew how to enjoy life and make the most of every minute. I observed my friend take big bites of life and savor every chew. Always game for a get together, concert, lecture, performance or trip, he demonstrated his affection, wicked sense of humor and sharp intelligence. I could always count on him putting a person at ease when he attended my gatherings – he was sensitive, warm and kind.

Keeping up with developments and research in gardening, he’d consult me on various garden ideas and projects and I always felt truly honored and humbled that he thought so well of me. After all, the guy had access to just about all the horticultural luminaries/gods of the world. He was pragmatic and very down to earth ( no pun intended).

Mike Bakwin lived on his own terms. His love for his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren was so clear – I thought it simply wonderful. With his family and friends, he accepted each one as they were. No conditions, no hidden agendas.

I am blessed with many wonderful memories of our friendship and I miss him very much already. If I were to say just one lesson I learned from him it is this. Don’t waste any time – life is meant to be savored. With humor, curiosity and kindness.

Thank you Mike for being my friend. Your belief in me meant everything.

Note: Only four days left!

Memories –

Mike

Hanging out in my garden

Croquet award 2018

Mike was honored at Untermyer. June 2017

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Lion Roared

March arrived baring teeth, roaring madly and with claws unsheathed. High winds and heavy snow wreaked havoc along the Northeast. Trees toppled like skittles bringing down power lines and making many roads impassable. There was widespread loss of power. At present, thousands are still without electricity.

Trying to make the most of the circumstances is a challenge. Sadly, storms have become more frequent and more fierce. We should be more prepared. Still, no matter how ready one is, it is never easy to reconcile with the destruction. When old giants lay uprooted it is always reason to mourn. Having homes damaged is particularly hard.

Given the mild month of February when plants were jolted out of their winter slumber and then assaulted by the recent storm, it’s hard to know what to expect this growing season. Weather-wise, we are apparently 20 days ahead of schedule. That is insane! Clearly, we are being called to pay heed and adapt accordingly. How precisely to do so needs serious consideration. Action needs to be swift. From amping up our environmentally conscious, sustainable practices to adjusting our planting and harvesting schedules, we must act. The evidence is clear and there is ample data to support climate change. So lets get smart about what we do.

Whilst still trying to recover from last Friday’s storm, another big one is expected tonight. Heavy snow is predicted. At this point, it is difficult to simply admire the beauty of the snowy landscapes. I feel for the flora and fauna that are vulnerable to all the climactic confusion. There will be a chain reaction and finally, we humans will feel the impact. Big time.

I don’t claim to know the solution. Is there a simple solution? I think not. But, this much I do know – we cannot maintain this status quo. Every single one of us must rise to the occasion. We each have a part to play. Becoming aware is a start. There’s plenty we can do – small changes and big ones too.

By now, we assume recycling, reusing and reducing waste is routine but unfortunately, that not true. I’m consistently shocked by the number of places I visit ( residential and public) where this easy principle is not implemented.

Eating what is seasonal, being mindful of carbon footprints, packaging and processing are other things we can adopt effortlessly.

Planting, growing and literally greening our properties is doable and satisfying. Be it planting trees or growing herbs in pots, every attempt is a step in the right direction.

But, lets think bigger. Stewardship of the land. Yes. I’m suggesting that we make our moves by looking ahead. Way ahead. Rather than plan our gardens for our own immediate and near future enjoyment, lets give future generations something truly valuable. A world in good health.

For those who lost trees and shrubs in the storm, view this as a new opportunity. By no means am I trivializing the loss. It hurts emotionally and financially to have such damages. Recognize and accept the pain. Every type of loss deserves a mourning of sorts. Whenever I had to bid goodbye to a tree, I’ve taken a bit of time and thanked it for its faithful service and wished it well. It is my way of reconciling with the loss and moving on.

Replace a tree with one that is native, deep rooted and appropriate in size and shape for the location. Deep rooted generally means it is also a slow grower. You may not be around to see it mature and majestic. No matter. A subsequent generation will benefit. And think of the many other creatures this tree will support and nurture.

Fast growing trees are typically shallow rooted and come down easily in storms. In nature, instant gratification is not a wise option.

If possible, plant more trees than you lost. Sometimes, the trees that fall have outgrown their location so, while losing them is sad, it can open up the garden to other planting possibilities. The area is now sunny and new beds can be installed. That’s exciting. A long harbored garden dream can come true!

It bears repeating that fallen trees can be re-purposed, they continue to serve well beyond their lifetime – think mulch, firewood, pavers, swing seats, benches and stump-tables. If location permits, leave the tree as is on the ground and let it become a haven for all sorts of creatures. A micro-habitat that results in eventually enriching the earth.

Go organic. Our children and their children do not need chemical laden soil. Organic treatments require due diligence and more effort than non-organic ones. But so worth it. Even with organic, one should be judicious. All treatments are non-specific so good bugs are affected as well. Therefore, in conjunction with organic practices, planting mostly native plants will be the correct thing to do. It’ll promote a healthy, robust garden.

Native plants are not as fussy or greedy about water and fertilizer. Less watering is good all around right? Right? And reduce the lawn size while you’re at it. Lawns guzzle water, fertilizer and pesticides to look pristine and lush. Lawns are the divas of the garden – everybody might admire her but nobody enjoys her needs and demands. Instead, let the lawn support a mix of other low-growing plants like clover and ajuga. Use only compost ( preferably homemade) to feed and mulch the lawn. This, along with maintaining the height of the grass at about 4 inches or higher will reduce the watering needs of the lawn.

All of these points are effective and achievable. Really.

When each of us honors our responsibilities,we make progress as a whole.

I might well be preaching to the choir here but perhaps saying what might seem obvious over and over will reverberate and be felt far and wide, This is after all the only home planet we have. We must protect and preserve if we are to prosper.

Note:

I will have some of my art works in a show at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery, NYC, the week of March 12, 2018. I hope you will visit! Reception is on Tuesday March 13 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.

Here are some of my favorite photos of trees:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar