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

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

Foresight

Right in the middle of a summer ripe with heat and humidity, the hour is on hand to scheme and dream for the next year. Fall being the ideal season to plant bulbs and most other plants, I’m spending time this week with catalogs, pages torn from magazines, scribbled pieces of papers, i-phone photos and notes.

July and August are what I call the doldrums of the gardener’s year. No heavy work is done at this time. It’s all about maintaining a steady state of weeding, watering and harvesting. This allows one to peruse the plant magazines and catalogs at leisure. Keeping sight of how the garden is doing at present helps in identifying successes and failures with an immediacy and accuracy that photographs alone may not convey later. While winter is another opportunity to design and plan, it behooves every gardener to take this lull in garden activity to honestly assess the garden, consider future actions, do the research and set in motion the next steps. From ordering bulbs and plants for fall planting to other projects such as installing watering systems, compost bins, laying paths, repairing or renewing walls, fences, decks or terraces, this is the time to make the arrangements. Make necessary appointments, schedule services, take bids and consults, order plants and materials – all of these can be done now so that once the seasons change, the work can commence in an orderly, efficient manner. No scrambling to find the time, hiring the right personnel, sourcing the required materials etc.,

Over the years, I have learned that planning now reduces not only the stress of last minute actions but it also serves to find the best people, products and plants at the best prices. Plus, I enjoy the process of perusing and preparing so much more whilst seated in the garden with my feet up, a choice, chilled drink in hand, listening to birdsong and time stretching ahead.

Note: The art show ‘Waterfronts’ is on till Sept 5. Do go! Don’t miss the exceptional views of the city from the windows at the gallery!

A wild orchid in the herb garden – I’m trying to identify it.

Dwarf hollyhocks. I think I prefer the towering ones.

The wall is looking so fine.

(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

Second Sight

We are suffering through a horrid heat wave at present. It’s been five days of 90 + temperatures and given the dew point, it feels above 100. The weather authorities are trying to keep our spirits up by assuring us that by weeks’ end there’ll be a break. One can only hope.

It’s too hot to do anything outdoors. It’s too hot to even be in the garden. I’m spending my time mostly holed up in cool interiors catching up on reading and binge-watching TV shows. So I cannot really complain. At least I’m getting up to speed on The Bridge, Master Of None and How To Get Away With Murder. When I’m all caught up, I think I’ll check out the new attraction A Very English Scandal. Imagine how erudite and on trend I shall be at the myriad social events this season.

But, back to the garden where even the bees are not too busy. I do believe every living thing is struggling to conserve energy and keep cool. Apart from watering the plants in pots, no work has been attempted by me. Weeding just has to wait. I was hoping to cut the asters and other fall blooming plants this week to nudge them to get fuller and more floriferous but that task too must wait till the heat wave passes.

I’m gearing up to seriously rethink the plants in the meadow. First off, a major thinning out has to happen. Then, instead of trying to have too many types of native plants, I’m going to focus on maybe a dozen only. The ‘immigrant’ bulbs and primulas will remain to give that extra oomph in spring but each season will showcase perhaps just 2-4 types of natives. Columbines and geums to grace mid to late spring with their light splashes of color for example. As I work on this project, I’ll report back here.

There is need for editing and refocusing in many parts of the garden. It’s now reasonably mature and things are looking a bit unkempt – some effort to bring back my original vision is called for. Plants I want to emphasize are being overshadowed by the supporting cast, some candidates are not working out at all and, it’s time to introduce a few new plants to infuse a bit of horticultural energy in the mix.

When assessing ones garden in this way, a gardener can always use an objective eye to give counsel. This can be tricky. Advice can often be mistaken for criticism and we gardeners can be somewhat sensitive. But, I’ve got the perfect solution. Have a bunch of talented artists paint in the garden.

Artists naturally edit and compose as they work. They see subjects with the view to enhancing certain areas, blurring others and ultimately giving the essence of a place. Atmosphere, light, shapes and color are all elements that come through in good art and in good gardens.

This past Saturday, heat and humidity notwithstanding, a group of my studio-mates from the Art Students League of New York came to paint in my garden. They painted all day and how prolific they were! I’m never surprised by how amazing the paintings are but I am always inspired and impressed. A very talented, interesting and fun group that I’m privileged to call my friends.

Here’s the best part – the resulting paintings give me insight to my garden. The artists’ editing, focusing, different perspectives are all giving me fresh ways to review and plan on what I myself want to address in the garden. So sneaky right?!

Note 1: Don’t forget! Art show reception this Thursday, July 5 –

Note 2: Go to Shop for great gifts! 100 % of the profits supports orphan children with HIV/AIDS

And now, enjoy the photos of the artists and their work –

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

That Pesky Plastic Problem

I don’t know about you but, I’ve been feeling mighty unsettled of late. There is a lot going on in the world and much of it is not good. Discord is rampant. You, I’m certain, read the news as I do so, I shall not expand on what is wrong. It’s been making me sad, angry, frustrated and heartbroken. Those emotions are powerful and as such, do not feel good. However, that force generated is impetus to do something positive. However and whatever one does to change or solve a problem moves us in the right direction. Besides, just how long can anybody wallow in despair? What good comes of that anyway?

True, in most cases, a single individual cannot do much but, every solution starts with a single person and a single act.

So, I’m looking around my own little world with determination to do whatever I can. From reaching out to members of my community who might be lonely or in need of some help to signing petitions/calling my representatives in government to donating to worthy causes ( money, clothes, books, food) to putting in a few hours volunteering locally to doing my share in protecting the environment by my own practices in the garden and home. Every effort, however small is empowering. And that leads to more efforts. It becomes a mission. The sum impact is seen or felt in due course.

As gardeners, we are very aware of the environment. What impacts it positively or negatively is always on mind. We want that happy balance of flora and fauna that a healthy environment needs to thrive. There is plenty we can do in the garden that protects, revives and restores that balance. Planting native plants, applying organic practices, using sustainable materials, conserving water, composting, mulching etc.,

However, despite all the progress, one thing that still seems to be widely present is plastic. Pots, tools, furniture, ties, stakes, bags, labels, bottles, gloves – you see?

By now, our senses have been collectively shocked by the images of fish found not only with plastic waste in their stomachs but, plastic has found its way into their flesh. So, it is possible then that the seafood one consumes can contain plastic. No, I take that back – we are already eating some of the plastic we have thrown into the sea. Think what those implications are.

All too often, we are smug in the knowledge that we recycle our plastic and therefore we’re doing our part. Not so fast. 78 million tonnes of plastic packaging is produced globally every year. Of this, 14% is burned for energy recovery, another 14% is recycled but only 2% of that is actually recycled into new materials and 40% goes to landfills. We produce 20 times more plastic than we did 50 years ago and by 2050 it is estimated that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Imagine what the seabirds will have to eat. Consider the chain-reaction in such a situation.

Okay, so back into the garden. How many plastic pots do you have? It seems that the average gardener has 39 plastic pots hanging around in their garden. In the past, there were genuine attempts to use cardboard and/or paper pots. Whale-hide ( made of rigid pitch and fiber that resembled whale hide) pots were also developed. However all these pots fell apart soon and nurseries could not have plants sitting in stock all year round. Enter sturdy plastic that takes anywhere from 50 to 1000 years to break down. You get the idea. Shipping and stocking made easy.

Enough of the bad news. Lets think pro-actively. Start by reusing as much as possible. Case in point – bags that held soil or mulch or compost can hold garbage. Meanwhile, petition your town to institute a community composting and mulching program.

Think twice about every bit of plastic that comes into the garden. Could you make a better choice? Can you reuse it after it serves its initial purpose?

Consider getting tools with wooden or bamboo handles instead of plastic.

There are indeed products manufactured with recycled plastic. A noble effort that might be but, I fear that in buying such items, it only fosters the continued use of regular plastic with the misguided thought that it’s okay to do so simply because it can be recycled. Recall paragraph 5 above.

Buy from nurseries that use recycled or biodegradable pots. Start seeds in egg-shell halves, clean yogurt containers, make your own seed-pots from newspaper – there is a simple tool for just that.

Use metal or wooden label markers. My preferred choice is actually slate – get remnants from places that sell pavers. Slate is of course highly durable and very discreet in the garden.

You see? We can each do something. That is all that is asked of us – to do our part. Collectively we shall overcome.

Note: I’m not sharing photos of plastic! Instead, here are some images from a couple of gardens I have visited in the last week.

Papaya

Clematis scrambling over Ilex

A slate label on my espalier

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Sun Shines Even When it Rains

Last week was wet, wet, wet. And cold. Work in the garden was a challenge if not impossible. Till the Friday before when it felt like a gift – dry, cloudy and mild. Taking full advantage of that one day, like marathoners we persevered and got stuff done. By days end, the garden looked ready and ravishing. Then Saturday, the big day for the garden arrived and it was wet, wet, wet. And cold.

Who in their right minds would want to venture out in such weather? Not many obviously. Just some die-hards and some friends who fear your wrath if they’re no-shows. Admittedly, it is disheartening to wake up to inclement weather on open day. After all the work getting the garden ready it feels like such a let down. This is the fourth year running when it has been rainy and chilly. Grrrr! We’ve become gluttons for punishment.

Instead of the usual waves of visitors, it was a trickle. The garden looked lovely and stepped up smartly to please and cheer all who came. I had the satisfaction of knowing all the major spring jobs were done and from now on, it would be all about maintenance – weeding ( garlic mustard is already rearing its ugly head in the meadow), judicial watering and vigilance for pests. That’s a really nice place to be for a gardener. It’s one of the major benefits of preparing for open day. So, on Saturday, despite the weather, I felt good knowing all that needed doing had been done. The rainy day was beyond my control.

Those who come to gardens undeterred by the weather, fall into a very special category – curious, friendly, knowledgeable and most generous of spirit. I had the best time reconnecting with returning visitors and forging new connections with first-timers. We exchanged thoughts and ideas that will no doubt make each of us better gardeners. I found out about a couple of new products that could potentially be godsends – stay tuned for future reports. Even better, I have been enriched with some new friendships. Gardens have a way of bringing kindred souls together.

Whilst I was lamenting on the rain and cold and how it kept people from getting out to visit gardens, I met some folk that just blew me away. Within the first hour of opening, a couple arrived and told me that they had driven down from Rochester, NY to see my garden ( and other open gardens no doubt). Wow, right?!

Then, later on, another couple showed up – they had flown in from St Louis, MO! Just to check out some of the gardens that were open this weekend. Can you believe it?

Both couples were so charming and convivial. I cannot properly express just how honored and humbled I am that my garden was on their must-see list. This alone makes all the work leading up to Open Day worthwhile. Lousy weather notwithstanding.

Through the rain shone bursts of human sunlight and even the cold could not stop my heart from being warmed. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Note: The following photos were taken at Open Day by a lovely young ( all of 23 years ) lady. Lillian Roberts is smart, funny and gorgeous. And she clearly has great taste in gardens.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar