Life In Waiting

Every morning, I look out into the garden to see whats up. Have all the crocuses bloomed? The scillas are blazing blue but when are the spring leucojum planted to contrast with them going to bloom? And the muscari paired with early daffodils? Even in the midst of reveling in the early spring flowers, I can’t help waiting for the ones to come. It’s as though my mind is trying to hurry along the season so it can get to the next one.

I thought about that yesterday and came to the realization that it’s because of this unfamiliar time we’re in. We don’t know for sure what each day is going to bring. There are predictions, projections and calculations but nothing is certain. How long the crisis is going to last is unknown. So, subconsciously, my mind is looking weeks ahead to a different, hopefully better time. When other flowers will be in bloom.

Once I understood my propensity, I determined to curb it. After all, it wasn’t getting me anywhere at all. Instead, I’m going to really stay in the present. In all its entirety – pleasant and unpleasant. I must experience this epic period in history in full. This life. My life. Only I can live it.

Instead of waiting for the next flower to bloom, for the next month to be over with, I shall take in the days with my whole self. Make each one matter.

It doesn’t mean I’m not going to look forward to future flowers and fruit, for better days. It simply implies that I will endeavor to bring my best self to each day.

In keeping myself at home, it has already become apparent how ‘being busy’ is overrated. With absolutely no place to go, what one does on a quotidian basis is revealed clearly. There’s no hiding behind ‘busy’ or ‘so much to do’. We have to do what must be done. No excuses. There is time – that commodity we’re always complaining we’re short on.

Even if or especially if one is privileged to work from home, there is now time to get other things done. Without need to commute, sans distractions of unnecessary meetings or chatty colleagues, one is free to use the time to make a meal with thought and care. To connect with family and friends for meaningful conversations. To reach out to shut-in neighbors with a phone call or a note / freshly baked muffins left at the door. To complete the house tasks we’ve been putting off. In other words, pay attention to life.

At a time of frustration in not doing enough to help a situation, I’ve come to the conclusion that first and foremost, the most effective contribution we can make is to stay at home.

While my paying work as such has slowed down or completely halted, I’m now at liberty to work on creative projects that were sitting on the back burner and, make business plans that more accurately define my philosophy and philanthropy. This mandatory time at home is a gift of sorts. I appreciate it as such. On waking each morning, I’m grateful I’m still healthy and must therefore try to be and do my best.

In working in the garden, I’m particularly aware of having the time to tackle the chores with the required attention. After all, where else do I need to go? Simply breathing in the fresh air with the sun smiling down is an endowment. Working to create a beautiful, productive garden is a high honor not to be taken for granted. Ever.

The peony supports have been placed, the circulating water system for the vertical garden has been revamped and commissioned, the lawn reseeded, pruning completed, seeds such as tomato, cool weather greens and nasturtium sown and, the birdbath stands filled. Later this week, the ferns over-wintering in the potager will be transferred to their home in the vertical garden, the potager then prepared with a good layer of compost to receive vegetable plants and, the bluebird house cleaned – please let these sweet birds find it this year. All the birds are going about their business and a few have begun building nests. I’ve already observed earthworms working the soil. The pear blossom buds will be opening within the week and I’m fully expecting to see bees make their daily visits. This is life.

Soon, with the temperatures going up, the chairs will be brought out and set up around the table on the terrace for al fresco meals to be enjoyed. This alone strikes me as so special. What has thus far not seemed unusual is now distinctly a benediction.

In preparing this garden, I’m making the world that much better and beautiful. I can’t wait to share it again with everybody. It may not be much but it’ll be my best. That’s about all one can hope.

Scilla

Everything is growing!

Window-box

Hyacinths

Hellebores

Pruning hydrangea

Epsom salts feed the roses

Spreading straw over the reseeded areas

Peony supports in place

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

A Time To Give

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 true intentions.

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:

1. Membership to the New York Botanical Gardens, Wave Hill Gardens, Jay Heritage Center, the Garden Conservancy, Teatown Preservation. Each of these institutions provide a very valuable environmental and educational service to the country. An annual membership means one can visit and enjoy them all year long. I’m sure you will have additional institutions to add to your own list.

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 the Printed Garden collection and botanical note-cards go 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 cinema.

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.

6. 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.

‘Tis the season.

Wave Hill, NY
TeaTown’s Wildflower Island. Pink Lady’s Slippers
“Willow” my painting at TeaTown’s art show
“Dawn Over Rousillon” at the Art Students League’s Holiday show
Pumpkins and gourds galore at Rosedale Nurseries
NYBG annual orchid show
A glimpse of my products
A glimpse of my products

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Plant Wise

After two weeks of arctic temperatures and a “bomb cyclone” thrown in for good measure, I’m feeling particularly grateful for central heating and Netflix. When it’s so cold that any time spent outdoors is nothing short of torturous, it brings to mind how easily we take our creature comforts for granted.

Too warm, there’s air-conditioning. Too cold, central heating. Too buggy, window-screens. Too much food, refrigeration. Clothes for all seasons, comfortable couches, cozy beds, running water both hot and cold, well-equipped cars, myriad choices for entertainment, constant connectivity to everything/everyone and, so it goes. And yet, we grumble.

If our basic needs of food, shelter and requisite clothing are taken care of, everything else is gravy. Really. Just look to the garden. A plant given its primary requirements of light, water and residency, thrives gloriously. It doesn’t ask for any more or any less. Satisfied, the plant does exactly as it ought. It withstands the storms, occasional neglect and unexpected variabilities in weather. Plants are resilient.

We humans are resilient too. We tend to forget that. Instead, we get angry, upset or into a panic. It helps to remind ourselves that our kind has seen just about everything through the ages. Famines, droughts, deluges, fires, earthquakes, wars, tsunamis, storms, avalanches, more wars, meteor hits, locust invasions, volcano eruptions, yet more wars – we have endured them all.

So this recent dip in temperatures is nothing in the big picture. We’re already rebounding as temperatures climb to normal this week. What we need to keep in mind is that while we make the most of good times, we must be prepared for the not so good ones. Plants store energy, they know to conserve/go dormant/set surplus seed as stressful conditions arise. They are in tune with themselves and the environment. There is now scientific evidence that should a tree come under siege, they send signals to their neighbors and even further beyond so those plants can arm themselves by producing chemicals to thwart the enemy.

Hence, taking a leaf (!) from a plant’s survival manual, we too can be prepared for most of life’s curve-balls. From stocking up on food and fuel supplies within reason ( it’s about having sufficient reserves not hoarding ) to maintaining physical and mental wellness to keeping our homes and cars energy efficient and in good running order ( think roof repairs, insurance, wills, safety measures etc., ) we get ourselves ready. Going beyond ones own needs, we think and do similarly for our communities, cities, nation and beyond. Yep, that’s it. And no whining allowed.

Typically, we look to freshen up our home at this time of year. Do check out the “Printed Garden” collection – works with any decor! Free shipping within the 48 contiguous US states!

Mark your 2018 calendar! Saturday May 18 is Open Day at my garden!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar