Life Hacking In The Garden

Every now and then, one comes upon little nuggets of wisdom that make life better. Like using plain dental floss to slice cheesecake. Puts paid to messy knives and sloppy servings. Or making lemonade/ coffee ice cubes to add to your lemonade or ice-coffee. As the cubes melt, they will not dilute the drink.

Here are some handy hints for the gardener:

Sprinkle baking soda around your tomato plants to get a sweeter yield.

Plant courgettes beneath French or runner bean tepees to save space and give shade later on.

Feed roses with Epsom salt. The same compound dissolved in a tub of cool water is also good to soak your tired feet in after a day in the garden.

Day old tulip blooms can be kept in the refrigerator for as long as a few weeks. Bring them out and place in room temperature water to wake up and open in time for your special event. Keep this in mind next spring.

On that note about chilling flowers, if you have a floral arrangement sitting pretty in your home and you are going away for the weekend, stick said flowers in the refrigerator. When you get back home, your flowers will be waiting to beautify your home once more. I usually stick vase and all in the ‘fridge.

Losing your boxwoods to blight? Ilex crenata is a reliable substitute for boxwood. It is can be just as easily clipped and shaped. Grows in a variety of soils and situations.

This last one is my favorite – I mention it often. Yet, how many of you remember?
Pour boiling hot water on all those pesky, hard-to-get-at-weeds that grow between flag stones and brick work. Do this on a day when rain is not imminent. Easy as pie. No more torn nails or unsuccessfully struggling to pull out the weeds along with roots.

Simple, sound advice easily heeded. Leaves plenty of time to enjoy the season.

August 069




Brick walkway kept weed free with the use of boiling water.

Brick walkway kept weed free with the use of boiling water.

Epsom salt fed roses

Epsom salt fed roses



(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Post-Vacation Depression

No matter how good a vacation I’ve had, I’m generally quite happy to be back in my corner of the world. There is truly nothing like the familiarity and comforts of home. Taking that first shower, settling into my own bed, making my coffee exactly the way I like it are reminders that I’m where I most love to be. Simple pleasures for which I’m enormously grateful. If I never went away I’d never know to appreciate how good I have it.

As much as I’m bursting to explore the garden, I usually take my time. Sometimes, I’ll delay it by as much as a day. Having first taken care of unpacking, laundry, awaiting mail, restocking the refrigerator and generally addressing matters to ensure domestic bliss, I turn my attention to the outdoors. With a degree of trepidation. While the house pretty much remains in the condition in which I left it, the garden appears to assume an alternative lifestyle. A devil may care, no holds barred attitude. If you’ve ever lived with a teenager then you know what I mean. So my hesitation to step into the garden is understandable.

Before this particular trip, I worked extra hard to get all the garden chores done. Weeding, mulching, trimming and tidying up were done with due diligence. Really. I took my leave feeling quite smug about how in-shape the place looked. How wild could it get in two weeks?

The answer is : plenty wild. All the rain that lavishly fed the garden must’ve been loaded with cloud borne super-fertilizer. Everything is out of control. The plants look like they’ve doubled in size. And the weeds! They have invaded, multiplied and conquered. I cannot recall them ever being this prolific. What on earth is going on? And I’d worked so hard to get the garden in order before going away! To absolutely no avail.

With so much to do and faced with an ongoing heat wave, I’m feeling rather disheartened. It is going to take many, many sweat drenched hours to restore some order and frankly, I’m not at all looking forward to it. I’m dreading the guaranteed bug bites and heat induced fatigue. And fully resent giving up a fair chunk of my lolling/reading time. How dare the garden mock my earlier efforts to groom it? Its enough to send me back inside and to the unfailing comfort of a pint ( or two) of ice-cream.

BUT, I refuse to throw in the trowel. I cannot let myself succumb. The garden has taught me well – to persist and never let anybody or anything stop me from going after my dreams. And I dream of a beautiful, life-affirming garden that nurtures and nourishes all who choose to be in it. So there.

The saving grace of this new jungle are the hydrangea and echinacea that are blooming with abandon. There is so much of the former that I’ve harvested arm loads to fill huge pitchers – they now adorn every room in the house. Such bounty, such bliss.








(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

This Unjealous Heart

I’m currently about as far removed from my garden as I could possibly be. In almost equatorial conditions, I’m feasting my eyes on plants that I couldn’t even remotely consider growing. Last week I was in Singapore and this week I’m basking in Phuket, Thailand. Yes, somebody has to live the tough life.

Everywhere I look I see the kind of specimens I only get to see in the conservatory at the New York Botanical Gardens. Things are lush and luscious here. It is also incredible hot and humid so don’t start envying me too much.

What I’m particularly delighted with is seeing plants growing as nature intended. Orchids emerging from the ground or from niches in trees and rocks rather than pots. The same with Birds of Paradise and Lobster Claw plants. The flamboyant flowers of the Tropics that we only get to see at the florist are thriving happily – they are as common as our asters and coneflowers. Frangipani trees festooned with flowers perfume the nights. The heat heightens the fragrances of all the plants.

The ultimate pleasure of such an experience, in my mind, is the wholehearted joy I can take in it without even a drop of envy. It is kind of like going to the museum and viewing masterpieces – I can be inspired and enraptured but I do not covet. The same is true here. As I cannot dream of growing these beauties back in my zone 6 garden in New York, I am not disheartened in any way.

This is so freeing. Unlike visits to gardens back home where one is prone to compare and contrast them to one’s own, there is no such pressure here. I feel neither inadequate nor greedy. I can simply observe and enjoy. Now there’s a state of mind I ought to seriously cultivate.

On that note, I leave you with some glorious images of flowers and a few rather impressive trees. This time next week, I’ll be back in my own garden. Yanking away at weeds no doubt.








(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar

Summer Nights

Summer nights are sensory experiences. Evoking our primal conncection to the natural world. Taking us back to a time when we lived by what was happening around us. Perhaps it is why we still feel the magic of summer nights – when we reestablish our place in the larger scheme of things.

Like me, I hope you too are taking every opportunity to savor these ephemeral, nocturnal pleasures in the garden.

Summer Nights

Wrapped in the thick air
heavy with heat
laden with moist
Watching fireflies
mimic the stars
against black velvet
Serenaded boldly
by tree frogs
and crickets
Fanned from on high
wings of bats
on purposeful sorties
While night moths
answer service calls
of moonflowers
and gardenias
Spicy notes of phlox
rise with the night
perfumed with clove,
oil of bergamot
essence of rose
Lulled into
well being
content to remain
greet the dew
of a new day.

Shobha Vanchiswar


Brugamansia flowers awaiting moths in the dark of the night.
Brugamansia flowers awaiting moths in the dark of the night.


Summer phlox

Summer phlox


White flowers illuminating the dusk in my friend Ron's garden.

White flowers illuminating the dusk in my friend Ron’s garden.

(c) 2015 Shobha Vanchiswar