The month is drawing to a close and I can hardly stand the anticipation for spring. Unlike other years, this has been a particularly mild winter. Franky, I’ve missed the snow and polar vortex. I miss normal. Yet, it’s hard to stay unaffected by all the early signals of spring. Makes me feel the need to fast forward the to-do list for spring garden chores. Yet, that voice of reason in my head whispers Not so fast – winter just might decide to make a big comeback with all the drama and power we know she’s capable of.
I’m doing my best to listen to that caution. List is on hand, plans are set, plants sourced, aspirations declared. Now, it is simply a matter of waiting. All in good time. I really don’t mind waiting as I worry that an early spring could be cut short by an early, protracted summer. That’s not good at all. We’d have to relearn gardening as we know it.
It might well be that, the inevitable, the unavoidable, the unthinkable has already arrived and settled in. Climate change has begun and we’d best acknowledge it. Gardeners are after all , the first responders of the horticultural world. This is a call to unite, act, impact, influence, protect. The moment is nigh.
part leaden skies
Frost and fire
earth shifts and sighs..
at Spring’s gate.
melts in drips
send hearts aflutter
Weather and emotions
soar and splutter.
– Shobha Vanchiswar
Note: Just to make a point, I offer no images this week. Imagine a world without flowers or fruit. No beautiful gardens. If we don’t do the right thing, that’ll become a reality.
Gardening Is Landscape Painting’ – Alexander
It’s become something of a tradition to have a group of artist friends spend a day in June painting and bonding in my little garden. This year, it happened last Saturday. The weather was perfect. Neither hot nor cold in temperature, the air was dry, sunny with a few white clouds … like I said, perfect.
have often said that the garden is my muse. My painting, poetry and
all other writing is inspired by the garden. How and what I choose to
cook, the décor of my home and
much of my taste in clothes is influenced by nature – her seasons and
colors. Heck, even books or movies set in a garden or about one stand
a good chance of being picked up by me. So, it’s always exciting
when others are inspired to create in my
All the artists come up from New York city so, they notice the air quality, the clarity of light, the colors that abound, the sounds of myriad birds, the fragrances swirling around – everything. Things that I’m so used to and often take for granted are newly appreciated as I observe their responses and delight.
From the hues of fallen petals to the shapes of flowers to the patterns of leaves to the shifting shadows to the juxtaposition of stone and plant, I see it all through their eyes. As an artist myself, I appreciate the way they see my garden. As a gardener, I’m humbled by their appreciation and sensitivity to the thought and design of my horticultural creation. After all, the garden itself is my personal, never ending, forever evolving work of art. Having the artists here is a valuable critique session of sorts.
or plantings each
of them selects
to paint and how they interpret what they see is eye-opening and
exciting. It feels to me I’m learning to see my own garden in a
whole new way. Remarkably,
this happens to me every year!
is gratifying and instructive.
we reconnect with nature and remedy some of the harm we humans cause
to our natural environment. In
the process, the gardener hopes to create something beautiful and
have always observed, studied and imitated Nature. They give astute
commentary to what is going on in the world.
I am the happy beneficiary of feedback from gardeners and garden lovers on my Open Day and then again from artists ( a few are gardeners as well) on Painting Day. Taken together, I am the one most enriched – making me a better gardener and artist. That’s priceless.
Humans have always known the
importance of being connected
to the natural world. Not simply for the obvious – food, shelter (
caves, construction materials), fuel and, medicine. We are inherently
aware that there is a deeper, spiritual relationship between us and
the plant kingdom. From using flowers/plants to mark every
significant event in our lives, returning our spent bodies to the
embrace of the earth, to adorning and anointing ourselves with
flowers, leaves, bark and roots for their perfume, cosmetic
properties in a bid to enhance our looks, the horticultural world is
intrinsic to our human-ness.
There is a plethora of anecdotal and
scientific evidence to support the positive effect of time spent
outdoors. Garden therapy is an accepted and valued method to heal all
sorts of human conditions – physical
and mental. Be it a stroll in the park, a hike in the woods,
puttering in the garden or just sitting quietly amidst some
greenery, a positive effect is palpably
felt. Lifting ones mood,
being physically energized after a stint out in nature is something
every one of us can relate to. Gardening
is empowering. To create something useful and beautiful is
transforming. There is even a
‘Gardens Without Borders’ effort to help refugees in camps and
war zones cope with their
circumstances. That’s plant
Humans generally go about assuming
their position at the very top of the living world. I’m not certain
how we got to possess such hubris because in my experience, nothing
is more humbling than observing
nature closely as one does in
gardening. Before one assumes what we do outsideis the principal effector,
consider the plant community itself. What do we truly know about the
kingdom of plants?
We have generally assessed plants
from a very human perspective – how do they serve us? We regard
plants as being there for our specific purposes. And we are in
charge. Their very separation
from us and all animals to a kingdom of their own shows how we think
about plants. They are totally unlike us. But, are they really?
This past Saturday, I attended two
highly interesting talks/panel discussions. Both were events made
possible by the World Science Festival. The WSF takes place at this
time of year in New York City – five days chock full of talks and
discussions on all sorts of scientific topics. Leading scientists
from different parts of the world participate in these talks and
enlighten auditoriums packed with people
thirsting for answers and understanding the issues currently
affecting our lives. From cancer research to cosmic riddles to
climate change to contemplating the cerebrum as we know it. I’ve
been going to the WSF since it began about 11 years ago. I get
positively giddy with excitement going through the line-up of talks
and making my choices for the ones I’m most eager to attend.
This year, I chose two events that
were so closely related that I believe they should’ve been proposed
as a double feature. ‘Rethinking Thinking’ and
‘ Intelligence Without Brain’ were
my picks. Both were so interesting and certainly enlightening. The
take home is having a brain
and neurons is only one way
to think and navigating
life. And humans are not special at all
– we are just one form of life. Given my own background in
molecular biology, this was not surprising or hard to accept.
It was fascinating
to learn that even stuff like fungi and slime mold are capable
problem solving and decision making.
More so than one can imagine. In
the animal kingdom, there is’ intelligence’
that parallels humans –
only in ways more suited to their own genus and/or species.
And when it comes to plants, they do so much more than we ever
In recent years, we have learned
that plants communicate by sending out chemical messages to warn,
commiserate about disease and other life conditions. On Saturday, I
found out that they make sounds via their roots! They have
voices. At this time, we don’t
know the how
or why. It’s
possible they can ‘talk’
above ground as well – we just don’t know how to test/hear them.
Going further, there is now data that plants can reason and remember. Yes, that’s right. This is all cutting edge scientific research and terribly thrilling. I won’t go into details and you don’t have to take my word for it as all the talks can be accessed at worldsciencefestival.com
So, circling back to my original commentary about how we are healed and invigorated by just being in the presence of plants. Perhaps, plants ‘silently’ comfort and/or treat our wounded selves in ways we are yet to determine or measure. They have after all been around so much longer than we humans and get this – the plant kingdom is 99% of all living forms found on earth. Surely then, it stands to reason that they know more than us. Stay tuned!
Here are some feel good images from the garden. Enjoy –
In general, once my garden Open Day has passed, a respite of sorts is
granted. The garden looks its best, all the heavy work is over and
it’s simply a matter of maintenance. Weeding, watering,
deadheading, mowing – the usual tasks to keep the garden looking
neat and cared for. It’s time to start relaxing and lolling about
in the garden. But not this year.
I had, over this past winter, decided to go for a bigger push in the
‘meadow’. Envisioning this space as a true four season
performance arena and inspired by Piet Oudolf’s matrix planting
system, I ordered 18 different native plants totaling 200 plants.
That’s a lot of plants. Given that the ‘meadow’ already has a
range of plants and bulbs in residence, the new introductions would
be a bit of a challenge. So, I sourced a nursery that would provide
young plugs of the plants making it a bit easier to get into the
ground between the existing plants.
This new order arrived a day before the Open Day. Needless to say,
planting them had to wait. Given the need to take a little time off
post-Open Day and a couple of days of inclement weather, a whole week
went by. Memorial weekend it had to be. As much as I was keen on
simply enjoying the long weekend with no tasks on the agenda, the
plugs of plants could not be ignored. Hence, over the afternoon of
Saturday to well past sunset we planted one side of the ‘meadow’.
The weather was ideal but getting around the established plants was a
game of Twister. Marking the spots for the plugs using bamboo stakes,
making the holes ( my engineer husband/under-gardener used a drill
and that made it so much better) and placing the plants took so much
longer than if one were starting on a blank canvas of earth. Our sore
backs and legs were testaments to the effort.
Sunday dawned and we began at 8:00am by which time it was already hot
and humid. So vastly different from the day before. The bugs were out
in full swing. We finally got all the planting done barely in time to
start preparing for our first garden party of the season. We hadn’t
as yet shopped for the event! Needless to say, it became a marathon
of shopping, prepping, baking (dessert), setting up, laying the
table, firing up the outdoor wood-fired oven, showering and dressing
… in a matter of hours.
All was accomplished just in time for the first guests’ arrival.
Then, just as the party was nicely underway and we were considering
starting on pizza making, the first raindrops dropped. Yikes! Very
soon we realized it was only going to get worse. This crowd was not
the kind to run indoors. Not a chance. Instead, with all hands on
deck, a big tarpaulin was spread and tethered over the
pergola ( with me urging them to “mind the wisteria buds!”). The
pop-up tent was brought out of storage and commissioned to allow the
pizza-maker/husband and guest helpers to work unfettered by the rain.
And the party continued in much hilarity and good cheer. Well into
Planting time, good times – it’s
all in the timing. And a can-do attitude.
P.S – Aforementioned under-gardener has categorically stated that he is done with all planting for the rest of the growing season. Hmmm, we shall see about that.
Spring! It’s definitely staging a comeback. Where I reside, it’s
not quite so obvious but the signs are there. The snowdrops are up.
However, one has to look a bit harder to notice that the witch hazel
is quietly gracing the garden with its tassels of flowers and
characteristic fragrance. Bulbs like daffodils and hyacinths are
fearlessly pushing through the still crusty earth and slender spears
of crocus appear as though they were secretly planted in the cover of
night. The climbing hydrangea is studded with fattening buds. I hear
birdsong more clearly; it’s only a matter of time before feathered
couples will begin house hunting. Everywhere, one can observe nature
Which brings me to hellebores. In my opinion, no garden should be without them. They live to serve the gardener. Starting from that time of year when you know winter is still in session but you cannot help look for some signal that spring is on its way, one need only check carefully at the base of the hellebores. Nestled close to the ground, safely tucked under the canopy of large leaves of the previous year, the shy buds have silently emerged. Long before anything else is stirring, the hellebore gives a sweet heads up for spring. This singular sight is reassuring and exactly what an impatient gardener needs.
Soon after, it’s time to cut back the old leaves and unleash the new growth. Stands of upright stems extravagantly displaying cup-shaped flowers nodding in the garden are sure sights of spring. Single, semi-double or double, the hellebore flowers appear as though painted in watercolor. Translucent and soft, the hues range from dark, almost black to deep pink to rose to cream to yellow. Some new varieties sport petals gently edged in a complementary color recalling finely hand-painted porcelain cups of another era.
There are today a variety and color that would suit every taste or
situation. The flowers last a very long time – often through
summer. The colors may fade or deepen and turn less showy as the
season progresses but I still love their look. Hellebores self seed
very easily and some gardeners complain about it but in my
experience, if you mulch diligently, then it is not a problem at all.
The mulch suppresses the seeds from germinating. I typically get only
a few seedlings that I often pot up to give away or plant elsewhere
in the garden.
Hellebores prefer deep soil rich in hummus, moist but not soggy. They
do not require regular feeding. I find that an annual application of
compost topped with the mulch of wood chips is sufficient. The plants
do best in cool, semi-shaded locations. At a full height of about 18
to 24 inches and a spread of the same, they are ideal in border
fronts. The large leaves will shade out more diminutive neighbors so
plant accordingly. In the fall, I let the leaves remain to protect
the following season’s young buds and remove them only around late
March. Hellebores are slow growing and do not get too big so it is
best to not divide them. To grow your collection, get new plants or
start from seed.
In pots – Because of their extensive root system, they require large
pots to allow for growth. A nurseryman friend recently presented me
with a couple of hellebores in bloom potted up splendidly in a French
zinc pot. While I adore how beautiful it looks on my dining table, I
think the plants are displaying a restlessness as though they want to
be planted in the ground. As soon as the thaw happens, I will do
Hardy, low-maintenance, easy to grow and oh so dependable, hellebores
are a mainstay in my garden. Bonus – deer generally stay
away from them.
Hanging out with hellebores is indeed a very good thing.
Note: I’m in the upcoming New Horizons art show in Cos Cob, Greenwich, CT. Do stop by to take a look! April 2 – 28. Click here for details.
Mark your calendar – my garden Open Day is May 18, 2019.
Here are images of some of the hellebores I hang out with:
Ready for spring? Of course you are! The season officially starts with the happening of the equinox on March 20. Open windows, put away blankets, swap out clothes, freshen up house … heck, redecorate. Bring in flowers, plant up the garden, prepare for celebrations and milestones. Easter, Passover, Mother’s and Father’s Days, Memorial Day, graduations, weddings, showers, birthdays – the list goes on. So much to look forward to. So much to do. Despite the eagerness and anticipation, it can feel somewhat overwhelming. A little inspiration, a splash of motivation is needed.
Enter the annual Lyndhurst Flower Show and Antique Show.Lyndhurst is a beloved treasure in my neck of the woods. I adore the house and, the grounds are absolutely sublime. And the river view! A total stunner. Well worth visiting at anytime but, there are seasonal events that quite simply put it at a much higher level. Aforementioned flower show is one of them. The beautifully proportioned and furnished rooms are spectacularly decorated by local florists. Each florist brings their unique artistry to appoint the spaces as they see fit. The visitor is promised an experience that will delight because after all we’re talking flowers here.
However, one gets more than that visual pleasure. Knowingly or unknowingly, we get to learn about colors, best combinations and complementary hues. This lesson can be extrapolated to the garden for planning new flower borders and beds. Sometimes a flower one never paid much attention to can be viewed in a new light and join the garden. Ideas abound in the flower show.
Indoors, it gives suggestions on how to translate the colors in our
own homes and furnishings. I pick up novel ways to use flowers in the
house. Because the florists are local, if you’re looking to hire
one for an upcoming wedding or other event, this is an opportunity to
review the style of several all at once in real time. Saves so much
‘interview’ time too! I heartily approve the decision to give
area florists a chance to strut their stuff.
Armed with ideas and notes, move on from the flower show to the
Antiques Show in the Carriage House – where one can get choice
articles for both home and garden. You can pick up that elusive
garden ornament, rare urn or add to your collection of period silver.
Most times, all it takes is a single object to transform a space.
Some of the best loved pieces in my garden are those I purchased at
antique shows like this one. If your budget does not permit any
purchase, you can still pick up more decorating ideas at this show.
When the time is right, you will know exactly what you want and what
will work best.
If these two shows are not enough, there is a plant sale! I feel
giddy with anticipation when I’m at a plant sale. I invariably find
plants I need but I secretly look forward to some impulse buys. A
real guilty pleasure. And pretty harmless if one doesn’t get
By now, a visitor is more than likely feeling a bit peckish. A toothsome piece of cake, a flaky scone or a light sandwich accompanied by a strong cup of tea would hit the spot you think. Fear not, that situation has already been covered. High tea is served! Elegant, restorative and delicious. Exactly what you need right now. However did they know?!
Have I convinced you to catch spring fever by going to Lyndhurst April 6-7, 2019? Come on down! Shake off the winter apathy, envision your home and garden as you’d like them to be, grab your list, camera and note pad, pick up a friend or two to go with and, head to it. You’ll have yourselves a lovely time. Maybe we’ll even run into each other. And at that time you can thank me. So there.
Note: I’m sharing a few images of my garden as it looks right now. Spring is a stirring!
I can feel the quickening. We turned the clock forward last Sunday.
The temperature got close to 50 degrees yesterday. While its back to
the 40s today, Friday looks promising – it could get as high as 60
degrees! Yes, I can sense winter’s grip loosening.
With that comes an almost overwhelming awareness that much needs
doing in the garden. Especially if there is an upcoming occasion for
which it must look tip-top. My garden Open Day is looming large. May
18 might still seem a bit far off but given the myriad tasks
involved, the uncertainty of the weather and most significantly, my
other commitments both personal and professional, that available time
is shrinking. Between project deadlines and celebratory occasions, I
must squeeze in the garden work. I’m feeling excited and
apprehensive all at the same time. It’s a good problem to have.
To mitigate unnecessary stress and frustration, my focus is to
simplify. I have nothing to prove. I don’t have to pretend to be
super-anybody. I decided to skip starting plants from seed – my
schedule just doesn’t have the time to tend to them this year.
Instead, I’m getting young plugs of native plants to add to the
meadow and vegetable plot. Even for that I was beginning to get
anxious about getting them all planted before open Day till I thought
more calmly and realized that the plants for summer and fall can most
assuredly wait till after that day.
The bones or hardscaping of the garden are already in place. So,
there is a sense of order and flow to the design. Some features are
focal points and others are backdrops to the plantings which are the
true stars. To shine that light on the plants, I’m sticking to a
less is more attitude. Less variety, more numbers of the plants.
Taking my cue from those stunning swathes of snowdrops or fields of
poppies one sees in Europe, I’m going to plant in larger groups and
have these groups complement each other. This should highlight forms,
colors and texture to the meadow giving it a cohesive and distinct
character. I hope.
Spatial identity for the garden is important and by keeping it simple
and timeless, the different areas remain unique yet work together as
Keeping it simple, does not mean bland or generic. This is where
details matter. Sculptures, pots and other features like fountains,
troughs and seating bring style and personality. These can change or
evolve as one desires. There is a certain feature I’m working on
for this year – I’m hoping it will all come together in time for
May 18. If not, it will be by next year. I’m not going to stress
myself out. However, my fingers are crossed.
In the early years, I prided myself on doing as much if not all the
work by myself. I had fewer responsibilities and obligations. And a
whole lot more youthful energy. These days, I’m happy to bring in
some help. What the English refer to as a jobbing gardener –
someone who comes in when extra chores or heavy work needs doing
during the season. It has made my life so much more manageable. Now,
if I’m in the throes of meetings and appointments, I can still get
those time sensitive garden jobs addressed. Such a relief. No sense
in trying to do too much in too little time. I just wish I’d
understood that much earlier instead of all the pressure I used to
put on myself to act as though I was superwoman.
As Isaac Newton put it – Nature is pleased with simplicity. And nature is no dummy. And now, neither am I.
Note: I’m currently busy with my second collection of the Printed Garden products. I’m sharing with you some of the pillow samples. The square pillows are 18×18 inches and the rectangular ones are 14×20. I would love to hear your thoughts ( favorites?) about them. So please drop a line or two in the comments column! Thank you!
Something I read
recently has got me reexamining how I approach situations I would
typically characterize as annoying/inconvenient/weird/all of the
above. Even as one who has a glass half-full attitude, I find myself
thinking pessimistically on occasion.
March has arrived
with snow, more snow and plummeting temperatures. Spring is nowhere
in sight. And it got me all hot and bothered. My garden to-do list
has grown in leaps and bounds and I’m beginning to feel the
pressure to get things done well in time for my Open Day. Between now
and that day, other work projects and commitments are not going to
permit me the luxury of focusing solely on the garden. Hence,
anything that appears to delay the start of garden work, feels like a
It’s easy to start
railing at the elements and all concerned as though a conspiracy of
sorts has been set up simply to thwart my plans. All this achieves is
put me in a grumpy mood that quite literally holds me back from doing
anything productive. Yet, even as I’m cognizant of this danger to
myself, I can at times embark on a downward spiral and hate myself
for doing so. But, no longer. I’m done with self-sabotaging my
A timely reminder,
simultaneously elementary, profound and sobering, to see things
differently was all it took. Nothing new or earth shattering. Often,
that is all it takes to improve ones disposition. A tweak, a subtle
adjustment, a slight shift in attitude can change the trajectory of
intent and action dramatically.
because I cannot remember where I came across this ‘advice’ –
climate change is going to make us long for the four seasons. So,
make the most of whatever we have right now. Embrace
the weather we’re experiencing. Snow, intense cold and all. Admire
the beauty, play in the snow, go for a walk, cozy up indoors
afterwards to relax and appreciate the opportunity to slow down and
be present. We need the snow to fill our water reservoirs and the
cold freezes out ticks and other nasty bugs.
I’ve also realized that we often have lots of snow in March. This
current weather is actually par for the course. In fact, I recall a
big blizzard on April 1 about 21 years ago. The urgency of having so
much on my agenda was making me feel as though everything was awry. A
simple pause and reality check fixed that!
there you have it. No complaining. ( Maybe a little inevitable
worrying?) Be optimistic. If you look for the positive, you will find
the positive. It then
follows that we will do
Beneath that foot of snow lies spring. Ready and waiting.
Note:This evening, Tuesday March 5, is the reception to the group show I’m in at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery he New York Art Students League. 6 – 8 pm. Stop by! The show closes on Saturday, March 9.
Mark your calendar! My garden’s Open Day this year is on May 18th. 10 am – 4 pm.
Enjoy these snowy images taken over the years – pause, take in the quiet beauty, notice the rich details, the play of light, the contrasts … breathe deeply and allow yourself to relax.
Yeah, I know. I’m feeling goofy. Happens about this time every year
when I can almost feel spring
making her way. It’s part imagination, part will, part reality.
Spring’s official arrival is four weeks away. I’m weary of winter
and my head space is full of garden plans and to-dos. I’m
frustrated, excited and impatient all at once. Some diversion is
As though sensing my state, the NYBG always comes to the rescue with the annual Orchid Show. Ah! Just the cheery lift I need. Surrounded by the lovely plants vying for attention, it’s impossible to remain glum. The colors and forms of the orchid flowers are incredible. I also love the way other plants are combined in the displays to expand and elevate the palette. It’s not just about the flowers; the inspired use of foliage should not be overlooked. Good horticultural design instruction right there.
Admittedly, beyond the
basics that I already know I
learn very little about orchids at the show. But if one can set aside
need for such shows to be properly educational, such an exhibit can
be a very positive experience. It uplifts the winter-worn
spirit and entertains the senses. That, I believe is precisely what
is required right now. A chance to simply feel good and get lost in
the beauty of flowers. After
a visit, one comes away pleased and positive of mind.
Flower power can never be
This year, the theme of the show is
Singapore – the mecca of orchids. Having had the privilege of
visiting that city-state’s orchid collection, my NYBG visit this
past Friday not only did the job of putting me in a happy mood but it
also reminded me of that very pleasant vacation. Now I have spring
fever and the travel
bug. Go figure.
P.S. Wandering through the garden
on my way to the Orchid Show in the conservatory, I noticed the
pointed tips of bulbs pushing their way through and yes, the
snowdrops have started blooming. Joy!
That typically means my own garden will begin to stir in a couple of weeks. More joy.
Note:Check out the art at the Phyllis Harriman Gallery at the New York Art Student’s League, March 4 – 9. I have four paintings in the show.
Thanks to Instagram and my backlog of horticultural periodicals, I’m
in a state of seasonal flux. In catching up with my reading, I’m
perusing articles about gardens in summer and fall. It’s easy to
get caught up in all those well-written descriptions and I’m right
there weaving in and out of dahlias blazing through August heat and a
riot of autumnal colors of leaves and grasses. In parallel, the
Australian gardens I follow on Instagram are spilling over in summer
glory in real time. How can I not start believing its all happening
While I’m eagerly anticipating spring and enjoying my forced hyacinths and tulips in the cozy confines of home, I’m keeping up with the current progress of spring across the pond in the UK. Swathes of Eranthis, carpets of Galanthus have me covetous and impatient all at once. I imagine my own garden having the same glorious features heralding the season. I can see this! And I feel the thrill of it all. It seems so true. And then, I look outside and consider the reality. Snow, bare limbs … blah.
It appears that at any time of any
given day I’m likely to believe I’m in any one
of the four seasons. It’s plainly disorienting and yet, just as a
child keeps aiming for ice-cream induced brain freeze, I’m hooked
to following the seasons evolve in far flung corners of the earth.
it’s also exciting, hopeful
and inspiring. It’s got my juices flowing and I’m madly making
notes and lists and ordering up plants.
The Internet/social media has conflated the seasons and shrunk the globe for this gardener’s pleasure and perplexity. Just wait till my wallet wises up to these goings on. All this wild exploration might be leading up to pandemonium in penury.
Join me! Follow me on Instagram @shobhavanchiswar and @seedsofdesignllc