You Have The Time

`If you knew Time as well as I do,’ said the Hatter, `you wouldn’t talk about wasting IT. – Lewis Carrol’s Alice In Wonderland

If you were given an extra chunk of time each day what would you do with it? That was a question I asked myself on the first day of this year. There is so much we seem to have to/want to do that the most common lament is that we don’t have enough time. Not having the time is the #1 reason given for not gardening. Possessing a black thumb is the next most popular excuse. The problem of a lack of time begs close examination. Are we truly overwhelmed or is that merely a perception? Has being ‘too busy’ become the hallmark of being important/valuable? Is it just an easy excuse for not doing something?

So, with that gift of extra time, how would you use it? Would you spread the current to-do list to give yourself a better chance to handle it? Would you add new chores into that time? Or, would you designate something fun like dancing to your favorite music or playing with the children and/or pet, make a garden or, as in my case, reading more?

As I pondered this matter of extra time to reduce the reading material towering by my desk, how we actually use our normal hours needs serious consideration. In the course of any given day, how could one carve out, at the very least, an hour to do as one pleased and still accomplish the other necessary tasks without pressure? There is good news and bad news. Depending on how you look at it. To give up some habits or adjust oneself to a different approach can be inspiring to some and very challenging to others.

To put it plainly, I can expertly waste a huge amount of time every single day. While I might address the most urgent and/or important matters, I could and have spent a good many hours on the unimportant and non-urgent.

“Checking the news” is one such time guzzler. I come away with more unhelpful trivia than actual news I can use. And yet, I’m a repeat offender..
In the name of research, I log in several hours reading up on a variety of subjects. While all that material is no doubt good, solid data, more often than not, it has very little to do with the topic on hand. Though, I must say, at the time of doing this kind of reading, that fact escapes me altogether. Everything seems relevant and interesting.
Taking a break by watching a bit of mindless television can wreck havoc with my day or evening. Time truly is elastic because that break just stretches and stretches.
Saying ‘yes’ to too many demands on my time has invariably led to sideswiping my own responsibilities. And then I’m scrambling with deadlines and worried I’m not giving my best efforts.
While I am not one addicted to social media or even my phone, I find not prioritizing my emails can lead me to while away precious hours with completely silly communications. Haven’t I got anything else to do?!

Just as I know very well that gossiping and negative thinking are a drain on my energy and time, mindless activities like those mentioned above do the same. I cannot recall ever feeling good about myself after spending any length of time on any of them. (Okay, doing research is not all bad.) While it may have felt fun for a moment, the aftertaste is anything but. It is exactly like overindulging on desserts. So yummy and comforting but so energy sapping, unhealthy and, guilt inducing.

And I know that multitasking does not work. While I might think I am getting so much done, once I step back and review, the reality is disappointingly different. In my experience, multitasking is always followed up with damage control and/or redoing. Worse, it leaves me so dissatisfied with myself that I get grumpy and unpleasant to be with.

Eliminating, okay minimizing, time wasting activities is fine but what do I do about procrastination? At this point I could write a book on the subject but then, I have other stuff to do first.

So, here is how I’ve developed a way to create a chunk of time for myself. These ‘rules’ work well for me in as well as out of the garden

Take time to organize first, do the research. Not general research but specific to the task. Say you’re thinking about creating a Belgian espalier of fruit trees. Read up on this ancient, space-saving method of growing trees, source the nurseries that will provide the young trees, consider the cost and amount of work, understand the maintenance required. Talk to experts. Visit gardens that have such a feature and find out as much as possible from the gardeners themselves. Set up a schedule to address all the steps. Then, get cracking.
The winter months are ideal for this sort of planning. When I plan well and things are set up right, I’m not likely to put off doing them.

Instead of talking about it, just do it. Avoid all the unsolicited comments and advice that come forth when you do talk. That is a drain on your time and often leads to procrastination. The time spent on talking is better used in preparing and executing

Say ‘no’ politely but firmly – forget about FOMO (fear of missing out). Agreeing to do whatever/whenever something is asked of you gives one a false sense of importance. Instead, offer to think about it. Consider what you must give up to do what is asked. Question your real motive. Say ‘yes’ only if it is truly the right thing to do.

Budget your time. By allowing x amount of hours/days for each of my projects and commitments, I’m able to cover different tasks and meet deadlines.

By staying on top of regular maintenance chores like weeding, deadheading etc., I am hardly ever surrendering too many hours toiling in the garden. A half hour every other day patrolling for weeds is usually adequate. Another half hour to tidy up and check for problems/pests. I take action right away if there are signs of pests. Nip it in the bud so to speak. However, as I love being in the garden, I’m happy to putter around tweaking and tending much longer.

In the garden, practicing environmentally sound, ecologically correct, organic methods are perfect examples where doing the right thing is actually easier. Growing mostly native plants, using compost, mulch and living ground-covers, reducing lawn area are huge time, energy and money savers. Really. You get to sleep with a clear conscience to boot.

As a result of operating in this manner and seriously curtailing those time wasting habits I mentioned earlier, I find myself with absolutely no excuse not to do what I want to. There is always time to create, work, gather with loved ones, share, play, read, learn, pursue passions, sleep, exercise, day dream, learn something new … If something is important or meaningful enough, the time for it is unfailingly available. One activity at a time.

You have the time, take it.

P.S Please don’t be offended if you hear me say ‘NO’. You’ll understand!

The images below demonstrate what we can miss seeing if we don’t take the time to be present:












(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

Those Unseen Deeds

Men do not value a good deed unless it brings a reward – Ovid

As I’d mentioned a couple of weeks ago, house painters have been hard at work Chez Nous. All the indoor woodwork ( windows, doors, stairs, baseboards etc.,) was in dire need of being refreshed. And my goodness, it was long overdue. It’s surprising how easily one can get used to neglected maintenance. With the general upheaval caused by this commission, I was ready to call it all off and return to having tired, peeling joinery.

While I had been anticipating using the project as reason to declutter and spruce up the rooms, the volume of work involved kept growing. After removing items that were no longer relevant, re-organizing what remained, cleaning areas rarely reached or visible and finally putting together rooms as the painters got done, I was more than ready to sit back and bask in the new and improved abode.
And you know what? While everything appeared bright and tidy, it was impossible for anybody else to see what exactly had been done. Quite precisely like cosmetic surgery done really well.

I’d have genuinely liked an obvious, dramatic change. A ta-da! Instead, I’m left with a subtle effect and the knowledge that much effort, time and money was spent for it. On the one hand I’m enormously satisfied to have had this project completed and on the other, I’m still yearning for it all to be widely noticed and complimented. Wishful thinking.

The individual tasks are hardly ever lauded. While extremely vital, they are not acknowledged in their own right. Yet, the quality of our lives depend on a myriad such efforts. Who else but you notices the tidy, organized closets, thoughtfully stocked kitchens/bathrooms, carefully planned trips? Only you know the time spent each day in keeping home looking inviting and comfortable. The extra work hours in the office that win the company more clients. The years of volunteer service to uplift and improve the community. The long nights passed in finishing Halloween costumes/baking birthday cupcakes for school/ playing midwife to the family dog delivering six puppies a half-hour apart. How about the sacrifices in time and money just to put a smile on somebody’s face? All so integral and yet mostly unnoticed, unconsidered or taken for granted. These are not thankless efforts just unrecognised ones.

It is exactly the same in the garden. After knee grinding, back throwing, nail tearing hours of weeding, cutting back, staking, deadheading and tidying up, one is left with a garden that definitely looks well tended and could possibly elicit some praise but nothing to seriously impress anybody. No, those ‘Oohs’ and ‘Aahs’ are reserved for the showy flowers and cunningly propped up plants as though they could’ve achieved their beautiful, well-groomed state all by themselves. No one has ever given me kudos for my dedicated weeding. However, when I’m behind on that chore, I can usually count on a few ‘well-intended’ criticisms.

But, admit it. Despite not receiving the commendations we’d like for each of our accomplishments, there is still that inner glow of satisfaction that comes from knowing we did something (s) good and necessary. And that is all that matters. Our own peace with our contributions is sufficient reward. We each have a part to play and play them well we must. In the end, to paraphrase Koffka’s ‘the whole is other than the sum of its parts‘, our lives are indeed bigger and better than the sum of its parts. That, I do declare is synergy.

Reminder – My show is still on at the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library. Do go see!

I’m presenting here a bunch of feel good images. So feel good!










(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Senescence Scene

Senescence is generally defined as the condition or process of deterioration with age.
loss of a cell’s power of division and growth.

Somehow that sounds depressing. As though that is it. It’s all over folks. I doubt any living form, humans included, want their final season expressed that way. I’d like to believe that everything is valued, vital and vibrant till the very end. Yet, each year, as fall makes way for winter, senescence is a word that comes up to describe the state of affairs in the horticultural realm.

I get it. The word in itself is only meant to define a stage in life with scientific accuracy. I myself have used it often. But recently, walking around gardens and woods, I remembered that in cell biology, this definition continues by saying that although a cell in senescence is no longer capable of dividing, it is still alive and metabolically active. Now, doesn’t that instantly cheer you up?

Look around in the garden, at this time in the north-East when nothing seems to be happening and all the deciduous plants have ‘died’ back, there is in reality a wonderful undercurrent at play. The same anticipation suffused tension that is palpable when the baton is being passed in a relay race, is underway in the garden. The lack of snow and mild temperatures this season have extended the time we get to view the beauty of plants in senescence.
First, take an overview of what lies in front of you. There is an almost abstract beauty in the shapes of the plants and trees. The stands of withered plants provide seasonal interest in their sculptural forms and the palette of earth tones is an artist’s delight. Is there really that large a range of shades in the color brown?! Many of the flower heads retain their shapes and impart an ethereal loveliness in their faded hues.

The dried flower heads, curled, wrinkly leaves and mysterious seedpods evoke the imagination. But even more than that, they epitomize life. Yes, life! While most of the organic matter will get broken down by microbes and the elements to enrich the soil that will nurture plant life, the seedpods signal the very birth of life. This is not just the end but also the beginning.

Look closer at those seed-bearing forms. There is such a variety in their representations; each of which, in its exquisite design tells how its seeds are dispersed. Feathery, fluffy, papery packages are primed for air mail. The wind carries them to destinations near and far. Then, there are those that hold appeal for birds by hiding within edible fruit. Distributed after digestion is complete, the seeds set up home when and where conditions are ideal. Some plants, like mothers who cannot let go, drop their seeds right around themselves.
Seedpods are also miniature instruction manuals illustrating sound  form-follows-function design. They hint broadly at the interdisciplinary nature of art, physics, engineering and architecture. And at the very heart of it all, is the lesson in biology. The circle of life. There is no beginning without end and no end without beginning.

A tiny seed is enough to remind us of the marvels of nature. It contains all the information it needs for its life purpose and, goes about doing just that. Waiting patiently for the right time and making the most of wherever it finds itself, a seed fulfils that commitment to the very best of its ability. It shows how to live bravely and die just as bravely. There is a strong yet gentle lesson in there for us.

“To see a world in a grain of sand
and heaven in a flower
hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour”
– William Blake

Lots of images below to celebrate senescence! :

















(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar


It finally feels like winter. Hallelujah! There is a slight upswing in temperature coming tomorrow but for right now, for today, it is as how it should be. Bitterly cold. And that is reason enough to cheer. Makes me look ahead to the gardening year with some optimism. And that’s the way I like to be.

Winter months are a good time to review what needs doing and how we can improve ourselves. With the holiday trimmings and trappings removed, it seems as though there is a lightness in the air. A sort of cleansing – out with the old, in with the new. Maybe it is simply because of the start of a new year but the act of putting things right after getting rid of the tree and garlands, is incentive to purge the house of stuff not needed any more. In my case, since I’m getting some interior painting done this month, all draperies and carpets are going to the cleaners. A refreshed, more organized home is eagerly anticipated. I’m determined to be ruthless in getting rid of anything that no longer serves me. This painting project has galvanized me into taking much overdue action in organizing and sorting. I’m certain I’m not alone in desiring simplicity and authenticity. The detritus from my erstwhile negligence will be banished!

I want to get back to making spaces work for how we live. This translates to no high maintenance anything. The business of living should not require attending to the care of objects or environments that do not play a part in our philosophy. Think silverware that need regular polishing,shelves of books that haven’t been opened in ages, outdated clothes, knick knacks with no real sentimental value, uncomfortable or no longer enjoyed but nevertheless pretty furniture ( that last one goes for shoes too!) – you get my drift. What I discard could be useful to others so of course they will be donated appropriately. Thrift stores, Goodwill, Salvation Army, libraries etc.,

The same approach works in the garden. Make your plans now before the busy season. Fussy plants, over-enthusiastic/invasive growers, play-sets that are in danger of becoming fossilized, outdoor furniture that need constant care, lawns demanding way too much attention are all things to get rid of. Fix steps, paths, railings and fences that have become shabby or broken. Introduce native plants that will thrive with minimum care. Reduce the lawn area by creating new flower/vegetable beds or planting trees. Mulch and groundcovers reduce the need for frequent weeding and watering. Keep with organic, environmentally sound practices and use sustainable, native woods for pergolas, gazebos, fences, furniture and such. Alternatively, consider hardworking metals. While plastics have made huge progress in appearance, it is still plastic and must eventually head to already burgeoning land-fills. Children’s play areas should stimulate imaginations and create a sense of adventure and understanding of the natural world.. I’m a big believer in blending that activity space with the rest of the garden. Await a future post on this subject!

With house and garden set up for how we live, it translates to more time to enjoy that lifestyle and fewer obstacles or excuses for not getting on with what we really want to do. That is definitely cause to celebrate.

Announcing my art show at the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library in North Salem, NY. It’ll be on all of January 2016. Please visit!

Just for fun, I’m posting photos of how it looked last year at this time and how it looks now:

Last year:








(c) 2016 Shobha Vanchiswar