Communion In The Garden

This week has a divine quality to it. As though my normal activities have taken on more significance. In this season of renewal and rebirth, I am distinctly aware of the holy and revered. Or it could be the extended hours of light that elevate my spirit. After a particularly harsh winter, I am desperate for signs that better days have indeed arrived. Even as an Alberta Clipper is anticipated today in my neck of the woods, there is a sure impression that spring has begun. That silent presence of the sacred is palpable. In the thawing earth, the emerging snowdrops, in the fattening buds on the pussy willow.

So my mind has been tuned in to the talk of God in the media. Who is God Today? The Future Of God. Faith And Spirituality. Captions to provoke the mind and get one to think, start a dialogue and with any luck, understand ourselves better. I have been ruminating on this matter too.

Nature is my temple. It is amongst the trees, the birds and butterflies that I sense the presence of the source of all energy. In the call of the cardinal, the raindrop beaded Alchemilla, the perfection of the spider’s web, I’m conscious of something bigger than myself. So much bigger.

Who has watched a sunset or sunrise and not been struck with awe? The sight of a rainbow is cause for pause. Every single time. Which one of us is immune to the newly unfurled rose?

Every time I work in my garden, it is in service of that higher presence. I meditate as I weed, I pray for the well-being of that which I plant, I vow to do better in my efforts. As I work, I surrender my fears and anger in the conviction that I will be freed from the shackles that hold me down. Answers to problems are revealed when I’m focused on doing something useful beyond myself. Being occupied in the garden strengthens me physically, mentally and emotionally.

Nature delivers eloquent sermons in showing the cycle of life from seed to fruit and back to seed. I bear witness to miracles all the time – the transformation of the caterpillar to butterfly, the explosion of blooms on what looked like mere sticks just a few weeks ago, the cicadas that know to surface at just the right time. From the tragedies of failed plantings, destroyed nests and hard work coming to naught, I am taught that life has ups and downs but that I cannot stay down. I must get up and keep going. Trusting that things will work out is a matter of faith. Learning to accept what I am dealt is just as important as dreaming big.

In minding nature, I am never lonely. After all, we are each a vital part of a beautiful whole. I see how kindness matters – our returns in the garden are directly proportional to the care we put in. Coming in from the garden, I am invariably converted. I am not the same person who went into the garden earlier. I believe that this is how I pray best. The wind carries my intentions and my wishes. The Universe will deliver.
Botanical eggs 1
Robin eggs 5.23.14
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Never Too Busy

In a world that moves at an accelerated pace and glory is given to those who are perpetually busy, it is hard to come to terms with the oft repeated mantra Keep it simple. Somewhere in the haze of obligations and self-imposed , ambitious agendas, we have become a society that justifies its existence by how preoccupied it is. We are busy being busy.

It appears that busy people are also the electronically connected people. The busier one is, the more their time with a digital device. Face time has replaced face to face time. At the risk of sounding outdated, I have been picky about the technology I embrace. All my writing and filing is done on the computer. E-mails are my chief form of communications though I still deeply value the hand written note. I rarely text anyone but my daughter and almost never have my cell phone turned on. That last bit drives many crazy but my thinking is that I’m either home or I’m not. I prefer to have conversations without disruptions. When I’m not home, it is because I have other things to do and hence unavailable to take calls. Facebook and Twitter are mere platforms for the work I do and not to broadcast the minutiae of my life. In all honesty, if I got into all the social media available, I wouldn’t know how to find the time to read a book let alone hear myself think. This is not meant to be judgmental. I believe we each must know our own selves and our role in a community. I’m content with my limited association with technology. I simply feel no compunction to be in the thick of it all. I have no FOMO*! But what are we really saying about ourselves?

That we are not quite in charge of our lives? Or we are so important that we haven’t the time for more prosaic matters like watching the world go by? Perhaps it is how we indicate our success? Well, I for one have decided not to be too busy. What I truly want is to clear up my calender, free up my days and unclutter my life to be with those I cherish or do the things that matter most to me.

In order to make myself available to what is important, some things must be let go. We all take on more than our share simply because we want to be useful or because we don’t know how to say ‘no’. We start defining ourselves by the things we do and relieving ourselves of some of it feels as though we’re surrendering a part of our identity.

In my own quest to simplify and focus, this letting go is about becoming more of who I want to be and what I really want to spend time doing.

For purposes of this gardening-centered site, I’ll share what I’m aiming to do and not do in the garden this season. While certain aspects of my life demand greater attention this spring, other matters need to be postponed or adjusted. And still more obligations must be relinquished.

First and foremost, I gave up the idea of planning any big project in the garden. There are a couple of notions I was intending to try out but, I’m putting them on the back burner where they will simmer till the time is right.

This year, I am not going to start any seeds. This decision is a big one for me. I belong to that cadre of gardeners who take pride in doing most things from scratch. It is an arbitrary distinction and all in ones mind that ‘real gardeners’ must per force grow from seed. Not true of course but I had allowed myself to accept that belief. As easy as it is to grow from seed, it takes time, space and attention to successfully grow flats of annuals and vegetables. Since I have a few other events to prepare for, I will not stress myself by adding on the extra effort when I’d be just as satisfied to get the required flats of plants from the nursery. Hence, I will be free to put my mind where it is most needed.

Similarly, I am one who does not want to entirely automate the watering of plants. I like watering. For one thing, in the heat of summer, the water feels good as it splashes around. More importantly, when I water, I observe the garden and take note of what looks good, what weeds have crept in, insect activity, what is in bloom or fruit etc., However, as I will be away off and on, I’m going to have most of the watering on an automated system. It will give me peace of mind to know that the plants are not being neglected due to my hubris.

I will continue to weed regularly and do my best to not worry when I cannot. It’ll be okay. Due diligence will pay off with fewer weeds in general.

Whenever help of any kind is offered, I shall accept. Pride or a bid to express fierce independence is over-rated don’t you think? After all, what am I trying to prove?

While liberating myself to be more present for all that is scheduled to happen this spring will enrich my enjoyment of them. Including time spent in the garden.

And any time I find myself with nothing to do, I will simply sit and take in the gifts of nature. I’ll watch the grass grow, listen to the seeds explode from pods, smell the rising perfume of flowers as the day unfolds. I’ll track the flight patterns of bees and count the butterflies on the roses. I’ll follow the slow blushing of the apples. In not doing anything, I’ll have so much to keep my attention.

No, I will no longer be too busy. Instead, at any given time, I’ll be fully engaged in life. You see, I want to remember showing up.

* – Fear Of Missing Out

Rose arch
Tree house
Apple blossoms
Stone bench
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

To Suhr With Love

With Henriette
Today, March 17, 2015, I lost a cherished friend and mentor. Henriette Suhr passed away. She died quietly and quickly – exactly as she would’ve wanted. At 98, Henriette had lived a long, very full life. She was prepared and unafraid to die. Her passing will not lead to a funeral or anything traditional because that would not be in accord with her style. A celebration is in order. A party to rejoice in her life and what she meant to all those who knew her.

For each of us, the loss is very personal and at the same time, one that we can all relate to. We understand so well the enormous impact Henriette had on everybody.

I met Henriette twenty-five years ago. A mutual friend thought we ought to meet. I’m forever indebted to that friend. Henriette and her beautiful, beloved Rocky Hills became an integral part of my life. Simply being with her as she went about doing whatever needed doing taught me valuable lessons. She led by example. Everything Henriette did, she did with her unique blend of grace, elegance, artistry, fierce determination and, practicality. Her incredible intelligence combined with a dry sense of humor became her hallmark.

To paraphrase Isaac Newton, if I have gardened further than others, it is because I garden standing on the shoulders of giants. Henriette was one of those giants. But it was not just garden lessons she taught, she showed me how to live.

Henriette took with her a piece of my heart. Rest in peace dear friend. I raise a glass of whiskey and soda to you.
To read about Rocky Hills – click here
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Melting Into Spring

I hope I’m not being too premature in saying the the Great Meltdown has begun. In the past week, as temperatures have risen, the height of the accumulated snow has dropped. That is good news indeed. As long as this pattern is kept at a steady pace, the ground will thaw in time for mid-April planting.
Now that day light lingers past the early evening and we officially ring in spring this Saturday, like the rising sap, my gardening spirits are on the ascent. What a wonderful feeling!

The light seems brighter and clearer and there is a distinct freshness to the air. Soon the earthy aroma of an awakening world will call us into action. I notice that the magnolia down the street is wearing velvety plump buds in abundance. The birds sound like children being let out from school for the summer – giddily cacophonic. When I took a walk this morning, I had to laugh out loud at the mad chatter. Are they catching up on their winter doings, making plans for nest building, baby raising, food sourcing? I’d so love to know what exactly the excitement is all about. I feel a bit left out.

A trip to the local nursery is in order this week. Shipments of pansies have begun arriving and I’m eager to pot some up to get the season started. They will be the warm-up act for the early bulbs waiting under the departing snow. For certain the hellebores are also sporting shy buds that will be coaxed into blooming as soon as the sun smiles on them. I imagine I can feel the impatience of the crocus and snowdrops trying to push through the still unyielding ground.

If the December holidays are a time for peace and joy, then this period of rebirth is one of hope and aspirations. As gardeners, we get to start over. Past transgressions and failures are forgiven if not forgotten. We can try again. All is possible.

Although no big projects are in the offing, there is plenty on my to-do list. As eager as I am to get started, I’m savoring these days of promise. When all wishes are realized and no failures are on the horizon. One envisions perfect weather and other conditions. A state of high-mindedness and magnanimity is in place. One feels kind and generous. I’d like to bottle this sense of unbridled optimism. It would fetch me the fortune I require for the champagne dreams I have for my corner of paradise. And for so much more. Sigh.

For the moment, I revel in this bliss. It is enough. We are blessed to be gardeners.

Happy Spring One And All! Lets do our very best this year.

Under The Snow

Under the pile of quilted snow
the snowdrops stir
Restless green ready
to meet the golden light
of a newly hatched world.


Crocus pushing through

Crocus pushing through

Tulips spearing past the snow

Tulips spearing past the snow

Forcing magnolia

Forcing magnolia

Hellebores coaxed awake

Hellebores coaxed awake



(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

View Finder

IMG_3000It has been a challenging winter. Even though spring is a mere two weeks away, it will be a while before the deep snow has melted and fresh earth will emerge in sight. At this point, staring at the white expanse has become tiresome – is there anything living underneath? I’ve certainly been doing my share of staring.

Given our severe winters, the landscape is prone to being inundated by snow. While one may read about resisting cutting back plants such as ornamental grasses and other perennials in the autumn and keeping them to adorn the winter scenery as well as provide food for the birds, the reality is that they will be buried quite early by snow. Nothing will be visible enough to serve any purpose. Come spring, there will be the unpleasant chore of clearing the sodden mess.

Instead, I’ve found that the hardscaping and trees play a prominent part in relieving the monotonous white of winter. Different elements can be incorporated to give depth, interest and visual texture in the garden. Now is the right time to consider what we can add – treat the snow like a blank canvas!

In general, these elements are important through all the seasons but I’m going to focus on some points just for this snow burdened season. So we can feel that much more excited about the scenery.

Boundaries can be well used to make a winter-scape alive with pattern and shapes. Depending on the height and material used, snow will reveal new designs and direct our eyes to look at the familiar in a new way. Ironwork seems obvious – the curls and swirls will work nicely against the snow. But even humble wooden fences can rise to the occasion. Hedges take on unique organic shapes that imitate mounds and bluffs under thick coverings of snow. Undulating forms present artful chiaroscuro.If you can, consider your boundaries – while they are meant to contain and limit, they can have other expansive uses.

If one is fortunate to have a pond or stream on the property, then the feature guarantees an escape from monotony. Reflections on the water, visiting wildlife, icy sculptures formed by the wind on the water and the sounds of water freezing and thawing all contribute to making such an ecosystem a world unto its own. To enjoy them in winter, make sure they are visible from the house and somewhat accessible to walk to even if one needs to wear snowshoes. A stroll to the water can be a part of a mindful, meditative practice. A quick getaway from the busyness of our days.

There are many choices of trees and shrubs that provide year round interest. Their shapes, the colors and patterns of bark, deciduous or evergreen, are all factors to take into account. When planting in spring or fall, factor in how you’d like to enjoy the view in winter and situate them accordingly. It will upgrade your cold season vista.

Gates and railings also enhance the snow-scape. From ornate designs traced by the snow to more modern shapes, these seemingly dismissive elements can add just the right flourish.

Sunlight, whilst not particularly in ones power to regulate, casts stunning shadows and designs on the snow. A humdrum expanse can be transformed to stunning by sunshine. Take this into your plans when installing any of the elements mentioned above. The contrast of dark shapes and shadows against the pristine white is pure drama.

Finally, something as simple as a bird-feeder or two will bring to life any garden. The avian activity will entertain as much as they will add beauty whilst serving the birds much needed sustenance. Boring will be a forgotten word.

We cannot predict if this winter is a sign for future winters to come but, at least we can be creative about how we cope no matter what. With grace, beauty and forethought.
(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Live Long And Prosper

Leonard ‘Spock’ Nimoy died last week. I was a huge Star Trek fan – of the original series. This was entirely due to Mr. Spock. No, I didn’t have a crush on him. He was way above that. Spock was more like a hero to me. His intellect completely impressed my teenage self. He set the bar high. His logical thinking and calm approach to crisis solving were just as instructive as were his lack of social skills and inability to feel emotion. I understood that one needed to strike a balance to be truly human.

His very last tweet read:
“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.”
He signed off with “LLAP” – a reference to his character’s famous catchphrase, “Live long and prosper”. Don’t you just love that oh so accurate garden reference?!
Mr. Spock was the coolest nerd ever. And Leonard Nimoy was a pretty cool all round human. RIP.

While contemplating the part good science fiction plays in bringing science to the mass as well as inspiring outside-the-box scientific research, I came across three separate efforts to boldly go where no man has gone before. Gives one plenty of food for thought.

For small spaces especially in urban areas but really anywhere one lives it is now possible to have a lush, productive garden. A self-contained eco-system will help grow fresh, organic, healthy food inside the house. It has fish making fertilizer for the plants and plants filtering the water clean for the fish. To top it all, the system improves the air quality. Two graduates from MIT came up with this concept and design and are now marketing for ‘early adopters’ in the Boston area. Check out:
Given the thrashing that region has taken this winter, having this indoor potager might be just what the Bostonians need in a hurry!

And then there is the case of the Beefalo – a hybrid when bisons were crossbred with cattle. This was an attempt to come up with a hardy, commercial animal but is now the result of a failed hybridizing program. But, they did actually succeed in a bizarre sort of way. Some of these creatures got loose and have created a serious environmental problem in the Grand Canyon.

The animal is super thirsty and consumes about 10 gallons of water each time it lumbers over to a watering hole. This can deplete the water supply rather fast. To make it worse, they pollute the watering holes by defecating right there. Their impressive weight compacts the soil which of course makes it hard for plants to grow. What does grow, the beefalo eats up voraciously. They also take leisurely dust baths. All of which leaves the ground quite utterly bare. They have indeed proved to be hardy.
Meanwhile, other animals indigenous to the area are being pushed out. Insects and rare plants are affected along with the habitat. The ecosystem is thrown out of balance.

I have many opinions on hybridizing programs but I will restrain myself and not make this article my soap box. But if anybody reading this works in such a field of research, please go very, very carefully. Thus far, how have the beefalo, liger, pizzly bear and Africanized bees benefited the earth?

Finally, in a vault inside a mountain on the Arctic archipelago Svalbard, the first consignment of forest tree species seeds have been accepted. This is the Svalbard ‘doomsday’ vault created for protecting global food crop seeds. The tree seeds were those of the Norway spruce and Scots pine both very important economically, ecologically and socially. Researchers hope the tree seed samples will help monitor long-term genetic changes in natural forests.

The vault is designed to withstand all natural and human disasters. The purpose of the depository, owned by the Norwegian government and maintained by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT) and the Nordic Genetic Resources Center, is to store duplicates of all seed samples from crop collections around the world.
So while we grapple with the influences and damages caused by climate change, forest management, fragmentation of populations, new pests and diseases, preserving these tree seeds along with numerous other seeds of life supporting plants will give us a fighting chance to ensure that future generations can be sustained on this beautiful earth of ours.
This bit of knowledge gives me some peace of mind. As all sorts of research proceeds in the far corners of the world for diverse reasons, lets hope we keep in mind that the world itself is a vast sacred garden. Let it live long and prosper. Please.
Here are some images of the eco-system in my corner of the planet:IMG_6807
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar