Bedding Down

As I did my chores in the garden this past week, it felt as though there’s much more to do in the fall than in the spring. In a way, this is probably true as a good deal of the work is about getting the garden ready for the spring. Clearing, cleaning up and cutting back right now makes spring so very enjoyable.

But what makes it feel pressured is that having prolonged our pleasure in the garden and delayed the tasks for as long as possible, we now have to get everything done before it gets too cold. Get the tender plants clipped, cleaned and moved indoors before the first frost. Finish harvesting the last of the vegetables and herbs for the same reason. Pull up spent annuals, empty, wash and clean pots. Once dry, put away the pots. Protect other plants and immovable features like statuary. Clean and store outdoor furniture.

Add new plants to the garden. Divide and replant others. Mulch everything. There’s removal, repair and replacement work, It feels endless!

And then there is the bulb planting. It’s a big deal in my garden and it gets harder every year. With almost 2000 bulbs to plant this coming weekend, I’ve called for reinforcements. Daughter and nephew will be joining the effort. I cannot tell you how relieved I am to have their assistance.

Finally, whatever was harvested must be dealt with. Drying, cooking, freezing, canning big time. It’s the last push before one can sit back and catch a breath. But so worth it. The flavors and fragrances of summer will infuse the winter comfortingly.

In my garden, all of this happens over about three weeks. We take on the chores in a divide and conquer kind of way. But one thing is clear – I am the project manager. I have a list, a strategy and a have very clear idea of how the jobs are to be done. Being well organized is super-important. Over the years some minor mutinies have been crushed and slipshod efforts called out.

This year, it has been so much calmer. It’s been possible to be systematic and give proper time and attention to every task. Doing something well is hugely satisfying. It’s because this year, no member of the very small team of three had a pressing social/cultural calendar! And I rediscovered why I love gardening so much – this must be what renewing ones wedding vows must feel like.

I’ve made a note to self – when the world opens up again, do not schedule anything else for the weeks of fall gardening.

The value of being present for each job cannot be overstated. It’s energizing to be so engaged. The intimacy of tending the plants is therapeutic. It’s funny how in doing what we think of as taking care of the health of the plants and the garden as a whole ends up being good for our own well-being.

Note: My painting ‘This Land Is Made OF You And Me’ is in the art show “Sunrise And Solidarity” – Art inspired by BIPOC in Westchester at the Art Closet Gallery, Chappaqua, NY in conjunction with the Town of New Castle’s Council For Race Equity. Art for social justice. The show will in part benefit Showing Up For Racial Justice Westchester Chapter. You can visit in person or on-line. Either way, please take a look!

Herb harvest for winter feasts.

Vertical garden still looking lush and lovely

Greenhouse is fully occupied

One more ‘party’ while the weather is still good.

Autumn Beauty

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Gift Of Timeout

It is such a busy time in the garden. Putting the garden to bed involves many chores and it feels as though one needs to rush before the weather gets really cold. Personally, over the years, I’d taken to doing the fall chores in a state of frenzy. There were always additional commitments demanding attention. But not this year.

This fall, all my free time can be spent in the garden. And for the most part, weekends are wide open for seasonal chores. This is a gift. For the first time in many years, I’m able to give the necessary focus to the tasks. This awareness was foremost on my mind over the weekend. During the previous week, the greenhouse was cleaned inside and out, the heater and fan serviced and set up. The pots of tender plants could be moved in. But first, in the interest of good hygiene, every plant must be clipped back and cleaned thoroughly. This is a process.

I reveled in this chore on Sunday. The weather was perfect too. With nowhere else to be, the whole day lay in front of me like an invitation to play endlessly. A gardener’s dream.

I clipped and trimmed the many standards of boxwoods, bays, roses and myrtles. In taking my time, I was able to identify any damage, disease or abnormality and take appropriate action. The top of the soil in the pots often play host to weeds and roly-polies (wood lice) so it’s always prudent to weed the pots and apply garlic spray to any take care of any bugs.

Once the trimming and checking is done, both, plants and post are ‘power-washed’ to get rid of dirt, debris and any tiny critters hiding around. And only then are the plants moved into the greenhouse. It takes some hours to get it completed. In the greenhouse, arranging the pots so each gets enough light and adequate space for good airflow can be tricky – much shifting and rearranging occurs. Given the size and weight of many of the pots, it is also physically tiring. However, given enough time, it is much less challenging.

For the most part, the really big plants have made the shift. The mid-size plants such as the rosemary, citruses and jasmines along with the many smaller topiaries will be given their check-up during the week – a task that actually serves very nicely as a method of decompressing after a long work day. Come the weekend, the greenhouse will be full.

This year, I’m relegating the Brugamansia, hibiscus and fancy/scented pelargoniums to the basement where the agapanthus and figs have always spent the winter. I’m hoping that this frees up some space in the greenhouse for a small table and chair. Given that we will still be observing current pandemic guidelines and continue working from home, having the opportunity to get a little change of scene in the warm greenhouse will be a very welcome relief. Spending even a short time amidst the plants with the fragrance of boxwood/orange blossoms/jasmines in bloom can make all the difference to one’s disposition.

I have a feeling I’ll have to set up a sign-up sheet so we don’t waste time arguing over who gets to enjoy the greenhouse at any given hour. Yes, the Wi-Fi extends to the greenhouse as well as the tree-house. Now you see where our priorities lie!

Note: Before being moved to the basement, the aforementioned plants will be cut back and cleaned as well. They will spend the winter in dormancy.

Also over the weekend, the espalier of fruit trees was pruned, fallen leaves everywhere were raked and deposited in the woods, a new quince tree was planted in the lower garden. The quince will be espaliered to form a nice feature in what was thus far an unexceptional spot.

I now have a basket full of bay leaves for friends to come by and stock up for winter cooking and fragrant tea. Turns out bay leaf tea has some good health value. I also brought in a nice bunch of rose scented pelargonium leaves to make a few bottles of cordial – I came across a recipe recently that I’m eager to try. Seems like a good way to make any day feel festive.

Several pots of annuals were emptied and washed before being put away for the winter. I gathered up all the nasturtium leaves for more of that delicious, lemony-peppery pesto.

Memories of summer evoked in our winter meals is one way of getting through the cold days in a good mood.

Thinking ahead, root-cuttings of some of the clippings of boxwood, bays etc have been started – by spring there should be new plants to train into topiaries and add to the collection.

So much got done in a day. It was singularly satisfying – something only the luxury of time could make happen. I did not hurry, skip opportunities to start root cuttings or set aside ingredients to try new recipes.

There is still plenty to do but instead of feeling the pressure, I’m looking forward to getting the job done right – with my full attention and presence.

Note: While we’re in the throes of getting our homes ready for the winter and in a state of anxiety about the national unrest and injustices, do take a look at my Printed Garden Collection for the home. Beautiful products to cheer up the home AND support the ACLU. Every effort to improve matters makes an impact.

The vertical garden looks stunning right now!

Rosehips in the sunlight

Beautyberry.

‘Wind Song’ rising above a froth of asters

A few of the pots awaiting clipping and cleaning

Root cuttings

Bay and rose geranium cuttings

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

October, Oh My!

Last week was wild if anything. Full of the unexpected, shocks, surprises and pivots. We are all trying to process the events. It’s made me that much more aware of how fragile life is and how much we need to step back, regroup, reassess and reevaluate the hows, whys and whats of ourselves. It’s an ongoing effort to be and do better.

That’s pretty much the same in the garden. October is an excellent time to consider our gardens. How, why and what we do in them has far reaching effects. Now is the season to divide, remove, plant and reconfigure. Make the garden a haven for all – a place of refuge, relief and reflection. I firmly believe that a garden should mirror ones own personality and philosophy in life.

In my garden this week it’s about beating the retreat. All the tender perennials will start making their way back indoors to the greenhouse, basement or living quarters of the house. The greenhouse has been washed and cleaned. Before the plants get moved to their winter residence, they are clipped and trimmed, washed well to remove dust, debris and any bugs hanging around. It’s a real process and best done with attention and patience. Hygiene matters.

While it is easy to get caught up in the chores, I’m determined to take the time to appreciate the uniquely stunning beauty of October. The last of the summer flowers mingling with autumn blooms, the butterflies and bees making their rounds before long migratory journeys or months of hibernation, leaves turning colors that make the garden glow, strikingly beautiful seed heads and pods revealing future potential and possibilities, harvesting fruits and vegetables sweetened by the crisp chill. Nature offers up gifts all the time but none more varied and bountiful than at this time of year.

Taking the time to pause and absorb the natural beauty all around is unquestionably the best medicine during these particularly turbulent times.

Note: I hope you have registered to vote and have obtained the necessary information and/or materials to vote by mail/ early in person/ on election day.

Here are some images of what I’m enjoying in the garden:

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Reaping Benefits

Harvest season is underway and I’m here for it. What a privilege. In a year when so many craved space and opportunity to be outdoors, those of us who had gardens to nurture and be nourished by, know this blessing all too well. In the months to come, the garden will continue to provide in the form of preserves, sauces, baked goods, seasonings, libations and frozen vegetables and fruits.

I’ve been making batches of basil pesto throughout summer. I think the freezer has enough of it to take us through till spring. So at present, I’m just going to blitz the remaining basil in olive oil, freeze in small amounts to flavor soups and cassoulets. This summer, I discovered nasturtium pesto and I’m hooked. Naturally, I’m planning on making a few batches of it. It’s easy. A handful each of parsley and nasturtium leaves, pine nuts or cashews, zest and juice of a lemon, garlic to taste ( I like lots), salt, pepper and olive oil. Everything gets blended together in the food processor. It is terrific with any pasta. Add grated Parmesan at time of serving.

Last week I made enough sweet and spicy tomato chutney for five ½ pint jars. Kept one jar and gave away the rest. It was quite a hit. By popular demand more will be made to punch up sandwiches, hors d’oeuvres, accompany omelets, cheeses, mixed in mayo for fritters and fries …. the list goes on! Recipe is provided down below.

I’ll make and can tomato sauce and bake up loaves of zucchini bread to freeze. Bunches of herbs like thyme, sage, oregano, mint, lemon grass, bay and marjoram will be dried for a good supply of seasonings.

Sadly, no grape jelly will be made this year. Squirrels got every last Concord grape two weeks ago. Sigh.

I’ve had lots of folk ask how the Eau de Poire was ‘created’. It’s quite simple really. Select a tree branch and find the lead pear in a cluster of tiny, emergent pears. Remove all but that main pear and insert into clean bottle and secure the bottle to the tree. The pear will grow in the bottle. When ready, release the pear from the stem and take the bottle down with the ripe pear in it. Wash the bottle and pear with hot (not boiling) water several times till clean. Fill the bottle with either pear flavored vodka or clear pear brandy. Cork or cap the bottle. Store in a cool, dark place for a couple of weeks. Voila!

The photos below will illustrate the process.

Seeds from native plants such as milkweed, baptisia and amsonia will be collected to make more plants in spring.

Cuttings of rosemary, coleus, geraniums, boxwood and hellebores were started in summer – they will be nurtured through the winter and be ready for planting next growing season in my garden as well as in others ( holiday gifts delivered in time for spring!).

It’s a busy time but oh! so rewarding.

Indian-ish Sweet And Spicy Tomato Chutney –

Ingredients

    •  

2 Lbs tomatoes chopped

    •  

Salt to taste

    •  

Dry red chillies to taste. Broken up into small pieces.

    •  

4 tsp Red chili powder

    •  

6 Tbsp Olive Oil

    •  

2 Tbsp Nigella seeds

    •  

¾ to 1 Cup sugar

    •  

1 Tbsp Asafoetida ( you can purchase this from Indian grocery stores or on-line. Or, you can substitute with minced garlic)

Instructions

    •  

Heat oil in a pan. Add Nigella seeds, dry red chilies, and Asafoetida Saute for few seconds.

    •  

Add chopped Tomatoes and salt. Mix well.

    •  

Cover it and cook it for 20 minutes on medium flame.

    •  

Add chili powder and sugar. Mix very well.

    •  

Cover it again and cook it for 10 minutes more.

    •  

Open the lid to stir once. Again, cover and cook until it thickens somewhat. Remember, this is not a jam.

    •  

That’s it!! Apply standard canning process to filled sterilized jars.

Rooted cuttings of hellebore, variegated boxwood, sanguisorba, rosemary and scented geraniums

Rosemary

Bay standards

Rooted cutting of coleus

Herb awaiting harvest

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Projects Positive

In a year rife with crises and challenges, it’s been a struggle to be positive. As I’ve said all along, the garden has singularly kept me hopeful and sane. It is impossible to tend a garden without the trust that tomorrow will be better.

With unexpected time on hand, I’ve been able to contemplate parts of the garden that are being underutilized and need work. These are not necessarily new observations but ones that have been ignored or put off due to lack of time or motivation. This year, the excuses stopped working.

Two areas needed to be addressed and I’ve called them Projects Positive – they move the garden in the right direction and align even more with my values about the environment and sustainability.

The first area needing attention was the very back of the lower garden where the ‘meadow’ dominates. This roughly 7×40 foot space along the property line buffers the meadow from the woods. Over the years, I’d added some native shrubs and an Amalanchier tree but it remained inconsequential. It had no real role to play. To make it worse, the groundcover was pachysandra that had been there for decades and was therefore very thickly established. The very thought of getting it all out had been the reason I let it remain. Until this year.

With Open Day canceled, I was at liberty to tackle spring work that typically would’ve interfered with getting the garden ‘visitor ready’. So, out went the pachysandra. That was really hard work – the growth was tight and thick and the roots ran deep. I had to get the able help of Ephraim our occasional garden assistant.

Following the pachysandra purge, layers of paper and cardboard ( recycling hack) were put down to smother any pachysandra still lurking around. The paper will eventually breakdown and supplement the soil. Over the paper, we laid down landscape fabric to act as a further deterrent.

Pachysandra can be persistent. I’m certain bit and pieces of root remain and will put out growth so vigilance is called for – pull out as soon as they poke out.

Native Chrysogonum virginianum was planted to replace the pachysandra. It seemed like the correct choice of groundcover for this shady area. The yellow flowers should brighten the area next growing season. I’ve also added to the oakleaf hydrangea, Solomon’s seal, bleeding hearts, ferns and dogwood shrubs with several Fothergilla and Ceonothum. In time, the shrubs will grow, fill out the bed to seamlessly join the meadow and provide what I imagine will be a lovely visual tapestry of shapes, hues and texture. Not only will all the plantings attract the native pollinators, Fothergilla flowers have a fragrance which I believe will invite a person (mostly me) to pause a bit at the conveniently provided stone bench and enjoy the garden from this perspective. I want every bit of the garden to matter.

Having completed the plantings, pine bark mulch was spread all over the ground to conceal the black fabric and to keep moisture in. This latter point is important as the ground can get very dry very quickly.

The second project is also in the lower garden. On either side of the path to the greenhouse, there are good sized patches that I’d left without any deliberate plantings. Over the years, they would put on a brilliant spring show of forget-me-nots, dandelions and violas. A beautiful mix of blue, yellow and white. However once that show was over, they become areas of shabbiness. Not wild and engaging. Just messy and unattractive.

I’ve taken my time trying to figure out what to do – something that was different and yet segue ways smoothly into the meadow. This past weekend, after clearing the two areas, 350 plugs of Carex appalachia have been were planted in one and later this week, 450 more will go into the other. The native sedges will be low enough so as to never block the meadow plantings beyond. They will look natural and provide movement. In addition, several types of native butterflies will welcome the presence of their favored food.

A large number of Fritillaria meleagris has been ordered to augment these areas. In my minds eye, I can see the plum colored, checkered flowers bobbing happily over the sedges in the spring. And when the vernal sun casts its gaze, the whole ‘field’ will look ethereal. A fantasy.

Now you see why gardening is full of optimism? It gives us permission to dream.

May all our projects in life be positive.

Note: If, like me, you too have been deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved Notorious RBG, then you must want to continue her work in uplifting people and making matters equal for all. When I elected to support the ACLU by donating 50% of the profits from the Printed Garden products, it was because  of RBG’s work with that organization. I make a fervent appeal to each of you to please join me in carrying on her legacy. Because,’We the people’ should include every single individual.

Project 1:

Project 2: Observe how it all looks pretty in the spring but by early summer (photo 3), the area in the right foreground looks blah.

Flats of sedge

One side all planted up

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Are You Ready For Friluftsliv and Hygge?

Ah, fall! So fraught with contradictions. New beginnings like school and renewed resolutions – a second new year. And then, a winding down of activity as we prepare for winter and years end. We plant bulbs and make plans for the spring to come and we say goodbye to summer as we put the garden to bed. Beginnings and endings.

The weeks leading up to November will be busy. New plantings of shrubs will happen this week. I’ll slowly start cutting back and cleaning up. Mulching will be done to keep the beds cozy and warm. The greenhouse will be cleaned and readied to welcome back the tender plants. Hundreds of bulbs will be planted and several others put into cold storage for forcing. Outdoor furnishings put away or taken down. Repair or replace items and fixtures. Protect some plants like the roses and also the pots too large to store indoors. Firewood ordered and stacked.

I’m also getting ready to can, dry, freeze produce. Tomato sauce, grape jelly, pesto, store herbs, bake and freeze zucchini breads, This is all with hygge in mind. The Danish concept of ‘a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being’. As we move indoors, I want to make sure we have all that we need to feel good and safe through the dark days of winter. I’m stocking up on games, books, puzzles, lists of shows and movies to watch, podcasts and music to listen, new recipes and some creative projects. Warm throws and blankets will be available for comfort and coziness. This year, I’m bringing several of the smaller topiaries into the house to create a feeling of the garden. Eventually, amaryllis and other forced bulbs will grace every room until once again, we can step back into the garden next spring.

In my home, taking advantage of the weather, family members used various garden areas, terrace and even the tree-house as their ‘office’ through the spring and summer. As work from home continues, proper indoor work spaces need to be accommodated and made comfortable, have good lighting and adequate electric outlets and other essentials. I think it is imperative that we clearly distinguish between work and leisure and strike a good, healthy balance.

To me personally, this year feels a bit emotional. The garden has meant so very much more. In addition to sanctuary, teacher, muse and therapist, this year, it has been my lifeline. It has kept me healthy in mind, body and spirit in a really big way. So, within an overwhelming surge of gratitude, I’m feeling somewhat nervous and sad. As the days get shorter and winter settles in, there will be no garden to keep me grounded and occupied. I will miss safely distanced gatherings with dear friends. Not being able to hug them has been hard enough.

The cold notwithstanding, get outside I will. I must. Nature therapy is crucial. It’s free and inclusive – absolutely no excuse for not helping ourselves to fresh air, a dose of nature’s beautiful healing energy and some much needed exercise. It’s a way of life. That’s what Friluftsliv is all about. Loosely translated from Norwegian, it means open-air living’. Accepted as essential for mental wellness, the outdoors waits to serve.

I’m determined to get the better of my inclination to hibernate ( okay, I’m prone to laziness) and get quality time outside every day. In the hope of extending the time we can linger outdoors and continue to safely meet friends in the garden, I’m researching outdoor heating options. And when winter puts an end to that, going on walks will always be possible. Safe yet social. Nature and social engagement are quite possibly the best prescription combo for good overall health.

Note to self: corral winter walking shoes and other warm active-wear and keep ready.

We have all learned so much this year. And we’ve come so far. The world is still scary. As the pandemic rages, there are storms, fires and social unrest to contend. Lets do what we can to keep ourselves and each other safe and healthy.

Note: In the spirit of hygge, you might want to add some beautiful, useful elements to perk up your home with items from the Printed Garden collection. You will at the same time be supporting the ACLU and help it bring about civil/social justice.

Below are images of things that have brought me joy this past week:

Countryside vibrant with goldenrod.

Camouflaged!

The resident praying mantis

The vertical garden right now

Ready for a socially distanced evening

The tree-house ‘office’

A swathe of sunflowers

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Laborless Days

So much of gardening is seen as a series of plans, lists and chores. Endless chores. And that’s mostly true. But there are ample rewards – life lessons, inspiration, nature therapy, health benefits, food, beauty, sanctuary and a general sense of well-being.

This week, I’m going to do the bare minimum in the garden – watering as needed mostly. The rest of the time, I’m simply going to enjoy being in the garden. No list in hand. I want to hold on to as many memories of enjoying the garden. Once we are sequestered indoors in the winter, those memories will assure me that I took every opportunity to revel in the garden when I could. No regrets.

For now, the myriad chores can wait.

When Does Fall …

When does fall

feel like fall?

When does one stop

dancing at summer’s ball?

Swirling confetti

Brilliant fireworks

Who pauses to see

the season’s perks?

Rushing to clean up

erasing the summer

Readying for winter

planning next year

What would happen

if we could stay

amidst the leaf piles

in endless play?

– Shobha Vanchiswar

The meadow right now –

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

 

 

September To Remember

It’s the first day of September. While the distinct nip in the air is familiar, there is nothing else recognizable about this particular September. The usual end of vacation blues ( what vacation?), back to school excitement, return to work vigor ( return?) and traditional planning for the winter ahead have been replaced with uncertainty and apprehension. All I know is that I must be optimistic and find comfort in the rhythm of the everyday tending to work and home.

Until the pandemic is brought under control and we have the effective vaccines and treatments in place, we are perforce going to remain at home. Our activities will be restricted and as it gets colder, more time will be spent indoors. With that in mind, I’m planning on ways to heighten comfort and joy to offset any feelings of fear or anxiety for not only the winter but the year ahead.

I’ve learned a lot in these past 6 months. About myself, others and the world we live in. We know what we’ve missed, what has brought us joy and what we can do without. It’s been a time of reflection, reassessing, reset.

The garden has been so central during this challenging time. I truly cannot imagine how I might have coped without it. If one was not conscious before, they should be by now – to have a garden, however tiny, is a singular luxury. Lets not ever forget that.

For the most part, doing the myriad chores that gardening demands has been a godsend. It nourished mind, body and spirit like nothing else could have. But, certain tasks could be made easier or even eliminated. Since I’m counting on being able to travel by this time next year (my fingers and toes are crossed as I write), I’m eager to include in my plans more efficient methods to safeguard all the hard work I’ve put into the garden.

Going away on vacation always brings to the forefront the matter of how to keep the plants watered. The easiest is to have someone keep an eye on the garden and take care of the watering. But, unless there is a friend happy to take on this responsibility, it can be expensive to compensate an individual. Specifically, a vegetable garden demands diligent watering and more oversight. To that end, I’m looking into getting bigger, self-watering pots for the vegetables we grow in the greenhouse.

This year, the tomatoes have been targeted by the squirrels. They have been stealing the tomatoes just as they’re ready for picking! Who ever thought squirrels enjoyed this fruit! Without observing a bushy tailed thief ourselves, we could not have solved the mystery of the missing tomatoes. So, some critter-proofing is in order.

Still on the topic of squirrels, they have always been after the apples on the espalier fence. Normally, we have had to cover the whole fence in netting to protect the fruits. I have always found the netting to be unsightly. It makes this pretty feature look like a lumpy, misshapen length of darkness. I’m currently investigating fruit cages. Obviously nothing on the market answers the exact requirements but I’m hoping to come up with something that we can alter to fit our needs. I envision a feature that looks neat, practical and less offensive to the eye.

The maturation and evolution of the meadow is a long process but this year, it has finally shown its potential. I’m quite chuffed about that!

I’m contemplating the gaps to be filled and the plants that require thinning. In other adjoining areas, I’m going to introduce native sedge grasses to not only cover thus far wasted real estate but to also play a role in the overall design of the lower garden. This is always a fun project for me – I love experimenting with plants. Between the hundreds of bulbs and the large number of sedges to plant, the fall is going to be very busy. But just imagine how nice it will all look next year!

Gathering in the garden with small numbers of friends has been possible only because of the warm weather. Hoping to extend the time we can spend out in the garden, I’m researching outdoor heaters. With or without friends, my dream is to be able to sit outside for some time everyday until the winter precludes such niceties.

The outdoor lights I’d mentioned last week are now in place. They certainly make the garden look festive. Which is exactly the point. If there is anything at all this pandemic has shown us is that life is fragile. Everyday must be celebrated.

Note: With so much unrest and injustice in the nation, I’m doing my best to help make matters right. But, I need your support – please join me in raising funds for the ACLU. 50% of the profits from the sales of the Printed Garden Collection will be donated to the ACLU. I believe you will enjoy the products as much as I do!

The sphere at night – I love it!

Chelones and Heleniums in the meadow

An over view of a part of the meadow

Ready for a socially distanced dinner. Notice the string lights!

Hummingbird at rest

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Stock And Bond

Summer is winding down and frankly, I’m eager for cooler temperatures. Between the heat, humidity and biting critters, it’s made gardening less than pleasant. Simply being in the garden is uncomfortable. Given the current paucity of options for visiting, socializing and entertainment, not being able to spend enough time in my garden has been quite frustrating,

However, taking the lessons learned from the lockdown, I’m determined to be positive and make the best of the situation. Typically, I’m away for most of August only to return to a garden in desperate need of care. Forced to stay in place this year has been an opportunity to review and reset the garden. In addition, staying on top of the weeding, feeding and general maintenance is satisfying.

Right off, I finally got around to addressing the Sanguisorba alba conundrum. This plant, obtained at a ‘rare and unusual plant’ event, has the prettiest of leaves. Serrated edged ovals of bluish green foliage gave reason to covet. And I did. After a rain shower, the beads of water sit like diamonds on the leaves. Even more reason to love it.

However, the fuzzy, white flowers are less than stellar. They look like albino woolly worms which quickly turn a sad shade of brown in the heat of the sun.

I’d just cut off the blooms so as to allow the foliage to be the real draw. But, there was always something that made even that impossible. Something that obviously agreed with me on the plant’s beauty. Japanese beetles! Every year, a whole army of the loathsome creatures would devour the leaves rendering them skeletal and unsightly. Still, I was too enchanted with the plants and just a tad too stubborn to admit they were a mistake. Till this summer.

The Sanguisorba were unhesitatingly dug up and disposed off. In their place, were planted Echinacea. Native, attractive, butterfly and bee friendly and happily hardy. I think that both, garden and gardener breathed a big sigh of relief to be rid of the burden of trying to support an inappropriate, high maintenance member. Now, there is so much more harmony in the grouping of Echinacea, Eupotorium, Asters, Solidago and Rudbeckia (the paler yellow sweet coneflower variety) and phlox/stock. The pollinators have certainly endorsed my action.

This year, I have derived so much pleasure from watching the birds in the garden, that I’ve ordered another bluebird/wren house to install in the front garden. I look forward to observing more avian activity from the comfort of the porch preferably with a drink of choice in hand. I also expect to have the increased number of birds patrol this area for bugs and such. A mutual sense of kinship I hope.

Keeping in mind that we expect to spend more time in the garden from now on, I’ve had time to consider more carefully the places and times we hangout in the garden and plan on improving these sites. More comfortable cushions for the daybed in the tree house – it’s my husband’s ‘office’ on good weather days. Better, eco-friendly (solar powered, LED) string lights for the terrace to make it festive and pretty – we are, after all, spending so much time here.

Better systems for protecting the fruit trees from marauding squirrels are under consideration. Similarly, I’m going to re-do the way we are growing tomatoes and squash in the greenhouse but keeping it under wraps till a proper plan is ready before revealing it to my husband who sees this particular growing operation as his realm. Ha.

While the weather is too hot and humid to physically do much in the garden, my mind is working overtime to improve it. For ourselves and the environment.

Note: With so many events of injustice and unrest in the news these days, there is great need to do what we can to help the victims. Please join me in supporting the American Civil Liberties Union – 50% of the profits from the sale my Printed Garden collection of soft home furnishings will be donated to the ACLU. I’m very proud of these products and I believe you will enjoy having them in your home. Together, we can do our part to make things right. Your support means so much. Stronger together.

The wall right now

Japanese beetles on the Sanguisorba

After the attack

With the removal of the Sanguisorba, the bed is reset.

Phlox

Sweet Coneflower

Bees all over the Joe Pye

Echinacea

Hibiscus

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Creature Comforts

There’s no doubt that I’ve been able to manage my concerns during this pandemic, economic crisis and national unrest because of the garden. Every single one of us has been impacted – some far more than others. How we cope has also been a matter of individual circumstances. To find myself with a garden to tend and enjoy has been nothing short of a blessing. A huge blessing.

Spending time in nature is now a scientifically established prescription for ones wellness and wellbeing. To nurture a garden has the added bonus of taking oneself out of ones own headspace to focus on doing, creating and making something beautiful and healthy. That therapy is priceless.

In having the luxury to spend more time than usual in the garden, I’ve reconnected with it in ways that I’d forgotten. In the early years, everything was new and exciting. I was creating a garden from scratch. The learning itself was exhilarating. As my vision was being realized, my other responsibilities and commitments increased. My leisure time in the garden dropped significantly. The chores got done but it became more about efficiency and completion rather than mindfulness and enjoying the process.

With the mandated ‘pause’, I have once again regained the joy and curiosity that gardening permits. Going forward, I’m determined to keep to a schedule that always provides for more hours in the garden than anywhere else. I’m so much better off that way.

One of the most rewarding benefits of hanging out in the garden is observing the other creatures also hanging out with me. The dance of yellow swallowtail butterflies floating gracefully over the meadow before they alight on their respectively chosen flowers. How quickly the butterfly moves away if a bee or wasp gets close.

There is a pair of ruby throated hummingbirds that frequent the feeder at the potager. If I sit in a particular spot under the pergola, I get a very good view of them sipping. The female makes more visits than the male. I find it even more gratifying when I notice them at the flowers in the garden. That’s why I planted them after all.

Something I haven’t yet been able to fathom is the remarkable attraction the agapanthus has for all the different pollinators. More than the lovely native plants in bloom, the pot with the agapanthus bearing large inflorescences of pretty blue flowers is, at any given time humming with bees, butterflies and hummingbird. I wonder if it is the color that has such a draw. At present, it is the only blue amidst a sea of white, pink, yellow, red and orange. Are cool colors preferred? Definitely needs further investigation.

There has been an overall paucity of butterflies this year. I hope this is due to a cyclical process and not a red flag being raised. Fingers crossed.

With this concern in mind, coming upon a mating pair of Monarch butterflies last week made me delirious with joy. I’m really eager to see their caterpillars maraud the milkweed planted just for them.

Thus far, I’ve come across two garden snakes. An urgent, telepathic request for them to have their fill of all the rodent types scurrying around and causing damage above and underground has been sent. Not sure what can be done with the surplus in chipmunks though. They have taken to behaving as if they rule the place. I simply cannot allow that and yet, I don’t know how to stop them. No nasty chemicals permitted of course. Occasionally, there is a neighbor’s cat that prowls through – I sincerely hope it is paying its passage by culling the mice.

The variety of birds that I spy on a daily basis marks my hours as well spent. This past spring, there have been three nests of robins successfully raised. I’ve also noticed fledglings of cardinals, wrens and blue jays. I know there are gold finches, downy and red bellied woodpeckers residing in the trees because I see them foraging freely in the meadow. A red tailed hawk lives somewhere in the area and paid us a visit earlier in the spring. That was an unusual yet remarkable sight.

To share the garden with them and other creatures is this gardener’s wish come true. Because, for all the effort and time I put into it, nothing would work out if not for their part in it. Though, I could do without their gifts of seeds from other parts – a certain porcelain berry trying to invade the meadow comes to mind. Birds will be birds notwithstanding.

Witnessing these natural interactions reminds me of how all living things are closely connected and responsible for maintaining the health of the environment. Their well-being is my well-being. Life is all about balance.

Black swallowtail

Mating Monarchs

Pollination in action

Hummingbird at the agapanthus

Hummingbird at feeder

Yellow swallowtail

Bee on the milkweed

Cardinal fledgling

Feeding time at the Wrens’

Robin eggs

Feeding time at the Robins’

Red Tail hawk visit

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar