Waiting For Spring

In ten days and some hours, my garden opens to the public. That’s May 9 from 10 am to 4 pm. But where is Spring in all her regalia? There is a vague warm up act going on but I’m beginning to wonder if the star acts have fallen asleep backstage. They are well overdue.

There have been years when it has seemed that spring was in a hurry and I’ve been concerned about flowers blooming too early. Not this year. As a friend mentioned recently, I might have to consider putting heaters outdoors to get the plants going. Mind you, given the pressure of getting visitor ready, I didn’t think that suggestion was as funny as intended. My sense of humor is being seriously tested.

I have absolutely no idea what will be in flower on Open Day. I can only hope that between today and that Saturday deadline, the weather will coax many of the bulbs and other perennials to display themselves in full glory. And then, bless us all with perfect garden-visiting weather for after all, what good will it do to have a somewhat wet or chilly climate on that day? The event will be held rain or shine but we all know that visitors like shine. I’d like shine too for if I must await the friendly crowd, I’d like to do so when everything sparkles. When the flowers are the main attraction, my other transgressions in the garden will be happily overlooked.

Like an events planner, I’m working at a madcap pace. Winters overextended stay delayed all garden work by weeks. That is a major handicap. Big tasks, minor to-dos, difference making details, have me constantly reviewing my endless list of chores. I don’t want to drop the ball on anything. A couple of items cannot be accomplished in this time crunch and must wait till after open day – I hope no one will notice. And I’m not telling because then you will notice!

Instead, I’m going to put my intentions and wishes out into the Universe and have faith that I will be heard. It shouldn’t be hard to do because gardening in itself is an act of pure faith.
However, as extra insurance, I ask that you help me out by asking the weather gods to be kind and most importantly, I’d like to see you in my garden on Open Day. Please come.

For details, click here.

While you’re marking your calender (for my Open Day of course), do make note of this other event. I’d love to see you there:

Postcard_1IMG_5149IMG_5143IMG_5158(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

On Plantsmanship

These past seven days of glorious weather was the sort of gift every gardener covets. Much got accomplished in my garden. Getting my hands in the earth is enormously life affirming. This is where all life begins!

With my garden Open Day less than three weeks away, it has been necessary to amp up the pace of action. The winter that dragged on and on has set us back on many time sensitive tasks. From pruning to seed sowing to getting the compost turned, has been a matter of maintaining grace under fire. It is no fun to focus on chores and miss out on what’s blooming and who is doing what in the garden.

The pruning got done and it has been noted that much of the David Austin ‘Heritage’ rose suffered from the harsh winter. The New Dawn on the two arches, Paul’s Himalayan musk, Bonica and Leda roses have come through all right. With the fruit tree prunings done just a week ago, the espalier is looking neater and the buds are forming nicely. The grapevine prunings are now camouflaging the peony supports. It is best to set up stakes before plants grow too full to manage.

A layer of newspaper, a good two inches thick, has been placed down in the beds and then topped with compost and cedar mulch. The paper works wonders suppressing the weeds and seeds of unwanted self-sowers. It also holds the moisture well and eventually decomposes to further enrich the soil. An excellent and ecologically sound re-purposing of paper. Mulching is crucial to the health of the plants so, it too is best started early in the season.

The composter is now open for the season. It was very satisfying giving it its first turn over of the season. Compost is both mulch and health food. If you doesn’t already make compost, then I strongly encourage you to start doing so this year. It is totally doable and contrary to common belief, do not attract skunks, deer, coyotes or raccoons. A regular application of compost will guarantee the health of the plants and lawn. No other fertilizers needed. Composting is easy, organic and economical. By making your own compost, you will be certain of what it contains and hence you’ll be feeding your plants only the best. As in our own nutrition, home-made is better.

On the subject of food, a comfrey tea is a fabulous elixir for plants. I make this later on in the season when the comfrey plants are done blooming the first time around. I cut back the plant and put the cuttings in a large bin, cover it with water and close it tightly. Placed in a remote location like the woods, I forget about it for a few weeks. The steeping plant renders the water super-rich with all sorts of healthy contents. It also smells very foul – hence the remote location. Filter the water and feed the plants in the garden. They will thank you profusely.

I re-planted the entire checker-board garden. It was looking ragged as the old plants had been there a while. As much as perennials come back every year, many do not remain robust and need to be replaced every four to five years. So, a whole new batch of creeping phlox was planted. Its youthful beauty is disarming. This area will be radiating a pale mauve when the buds open in a few days.

Likewise, the espalier has been under-planted with lavender. Not only will they look pretty but I’m hoping to attract lots more pollinators. The dwarf blueberry I purchased recently has been given a home right next to some roses and across from the pear section in the espalier. I’m already dreaming of blueberry muffins and lavender infused lemonade.

The hellebores, crocus, scillas, iris reticulatas, forsythias and hyacinths are in bloom. The daffodils are popping open daily. The meadow is coming to life.

Still more needs to be accomplished but I’m determined to be fully present in the garden. Yesterday, as I repotted plants, I noticed it was Open House at the bluebird house. No bluebirds came looking but chickadees and sparrows were the prospectives I saw. I shooed away the sparrows.

I also observed that some butterflies had determined that the weather was right for them. There were a few adventurous cabbage whites and admirals flitting around taking advantage of the early blooms.

While we are enthusiastically going about gardening, I thought I’d include the latest list of prohibited and regulated plants in New York state. Check here:


As in medicine, every gardeners first tenet should be to Do No Harm. Plant wisely.

Do check out the Shop’ page for my note cards and fabric pattern. Prints of my art work are also available – I’m currently working on the Gallery page. Stay tuned!

Please also check the Happenings page to get information about my art show all of May with reception and poetry reading on May 2 and, my garden Open Day on May 9. Mark your calender and come! I look forward to seeing you at all the events.

Setting up the planting pattern in the checkerboard garden

Setting up the planting pattern in the checkerboard garden

Phlox all planted! Don't miss the diagonal pattern.

Phlox all planted! Don’t miss the diagonal pattern.

Up close to a daffodil

Up close to a daffodil



Grapevine prunings on peony supports

Grapevine prunings on peony supports

My red glove temporarily in the opening of the bluebird house - to ward off sparrows

My red glove temporarily in the opening of the bluebird house – to ward off sparrows

(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar


Nesting Instincts

The birds are getting busy. Even as I gradually shrug off winter apathy and answer the call of spring, the feathered ones are already well into the season. The season of renewal and rebirth is well under way.

A pair of cardinals have commandeered the old apple tree in the meadow. Covered with the exuberant growth of Paul’s Himalayan musk rose, the tree offers the perfect shelter. This rose bears lethal thorns so any nest within is well protected and well concealed. The romance of a home covered in roses appeals to me. Even the knowledge that birds do not have a notable sense of smell, does not hinder my satisfaction that the rambler will be in full bloom and radiating its sweet scent when the baby cardinals are born. This tree has been the keeper of a cardinal nest for some years now and at the last winter storm, I watched the adult pair sit atop the ‘umbrella’ of rambling rose and observe the snow fall. As though they were simply onlookers to a parade from their very own balcony.

Friends of mine have a college of cardinals that resides in his rhododendrons. Which leads me to believe that these birds are indeed quite romantic and select sites based on not just practical. Charming is important as well.

There is a robin who isn’t wasting any time. She ( her industry makes me think it is a she but I’m biased) took her time inspecting various locations in the garden. A site in the espaliered fruit trees has been selected. One by one she ferries small twigs and dried grasses to this place. I haven’t yet determined her mate as I only see one robin at any given time. The focus with which she works is impressive. Sometimes, holding building material in beak, she pauses at a different location. I believe she does so to lead away any creature that might bring harm. So wise.
I’m so glad the dormant oil treatment of the fruit trees has already been completed. Otherwise, it’d have to be put on hold or not done at all so as not to taint the eggs or babies. I do enjoy picking apples and pears in the fall and it would be no fun to find them riddled with bugs.

This year, I’ve put up a bluebird house. I’m hoping fervently that they will come. Earlier in March, a friend spotted a bluebird not too far from my garden so I’m optimistic. The literature on siting the birdhouse is daunting but I’ve done my best. The one fact that bothers me is that apparently, sparrows like such houses too and we are told to thwart them if we see them near a bluebird house. If a sparrows nest is found in the house, it is recommended that it be removed. I know I cannot do it. While I understand that sparrows are not native and their population needs to be curbed, there is simply no way I can do such a thing to a fellow mama. I just can’t. I don’t mind shooing away a house hunting sparrow but remove the nest? Not a chance. So the blue birds had better get to this house first.

I hope that this year I will have the pleasure of encountering a hummingbird nest. Unsurprisingly, these diminutive birds weave fine grasses and plant fibers to make the nest. Then they hold it all together by using spiderweb silk! How does this tiny, exquisite creature know about the super-resilience of this material? It blows my mind how smart and skilled birds are. Nature astounds and impresses consistently.

To support all the construction in progress and yet to happen, I’m hanging up a nesting wreath. It is a plain wreath of grapevine prunings to which I insert feathers, string, ribbons, grasses, mosses and small twigs. Nothing artificial or fake of course. I know birds like to liven it up as, on several occasions I’ve seen nests with a piece of bright ribbon, a strip of foil or even a gold thread woven into it. After all, any good interior designer knows that when working with earthy neutrals, a shot of color or shimmer will give a room just the right pizazz.

So, while I’m not planning to expand my family, the birds have inspired me to do some spring cleaning and repairing and a spot of redecorating. I have been given the cue to make the best possible nest for my loved ones.

I hadn’t planned to but this post segues perfectly to reminding you to consider sprucing up your homes. New curtains or a throw pillow. Upholster a tired looking chair. It is also that time of year to start thinking wedding/engagement/baby shower/hostess gifts. Stock up on stationary to send invites or thank you notes. Yes, despite the ease of e-mails, a handwritten note still works best. So, do check out the ‘Shop’ page for my note cards and fabric pattern. Prints of my art work are also available – I’m currently working on the Gallery page. Stay tuned!

Please also check the Happenings page to get information about the Rocky Hills talk this Thursday, my art show all of May with reception and poetry reading on May 2 and, my garden Open Day on May 9. Mark your calender and come! I look forward to seeing you at all the events.

Baby robins in the espaliered apple trees

Baby robins in the espaliered apple trees

Watchful mama robin

Watchful mama robin


Goldfinch within the buddleia

Goldfinch within the buddleia

Cardinal on top of the thorny Paul's Himalayan rose

Cardinal on top of the thorny Paul’s Himalayan rose

Dove nest in pine bush

Dove nest in pine bush

(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Persecution Complex

What would you say if you were told where exactly you would be allowed to reside? There is no choice given. How tall or wide you could get determines your chance of survival. What you eat, how you look, your coloring, how you smell, are all subject to one person’s wishes. When you could have babies or even how long you could live was not up to you at all. In fact, just about any habit or proclivity was selected for you. One strike and you’re out. That would be an absolutely terrifying nightmare right?

Yet, we gardeners do it all the time. Just ask the plants in our gardens.

Persecution Complex

Gardeners are bullies
They take nature
create faux naturelle
Steadfast conviction
A false heaven
from a perceived hell.

Controlling, suppressing
Evicting all not selected
those neither lovely nor rare
Cajoling, coaxing
favoring the beautiful
with attention and prayer.

Dictating designs
color schemes and shapes
to suit personal tastes
Taming independent tendrils
relegating the unsuitable
to the compost waste.

Plants submit
to ruthless acts
that test and torture
But who is true master here,
the one with secateurs
or that which enraptures?
'Controlled' chaos in the meadow ‘Controlled chaos in the meadow
'Bounded' by borders‘Bounded’ by borders
'Training' espalier tress‘Trained’ espalier trees
'Designated' to climb the gazebo‘Designated’ to climb the gazebo
'Caging' the peonies‘Caging’ the peonies
'Forcing' bulbs‘Forcing’ bulbs
(c)2015 Shobha Vanchiswar