Press Reset

While I’ve given myself a garden hall pass this month, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about all matters of gardening. It’s been really nice to do the bare minimum in the garden as the weather has improved – gives one the freedom to bask in the sunshine without guilt. That’s a really rare thing as gardeners are perpetually filled with guilt because there is always and forever several things wanting attention. Having decisively given myself permission to take it easy has been liberating. It’s so much more fun to be amidst the plants and observe the goings on sans reservation.

However, the mind is always working. In a good way. By letting the garden sort of do its own thing, I see how it’s quite apparent that we gardeners, need to reset our artistic expectations of our gardens. Rather than wielding a strict hand on the aesthetics, we must loosen up to work more with nature and changing climate. Our gardens should reflect an awareness of environmental and sustainable requirements, be sympathetic to the needs and habits of native flora and fauna.

I’ve often referred to my meadow as an area of controlled chaos. This is primarily because the native plants have a tendency to look wild as they are let to self-seed and edited only when a plant is trying to overpopulate itself in a thuggish manner. With the knowledge that the fittest, the ones most suited to the conditions offered here do best, I learn from the plants. As much as I might desire a more varied array of natives, and I’m willing to trial them all, I have learned to acquiesce to the workings of nature. What thrives supports a happy number of pollinators and is an ecologically beneficial environment. That is after all the whole point of what I have attempted.

On the other hand, I had originally designed the beds in the front garden to be more traditional – tidier and charming like a cottage garden. More in keeping with what might be universally appreciated by viewers from the street. This is pretty much still true through spring when the bulbs are the principal players. However, over the years, I have replaced the more demanding/cantankerous yet popular summer perennials with natives. I did so for two reasons – one was that the native plants are hardy, reliable and low maintenance. The other was to give a visitor a preview of what is to come as they gradually make their way to the meadow in the far back. Design-wise, it provided continuity instead of giving the garden a split personality. Consequently, the beds take on a wild look in summer and fall. But how they hum, buzz and flutter with pollinators! There is so much more life and movement than ever before.

Both, the front beds as well as the meadow don’t require watering except in times of severe dry spells. A dose of compost and cedar mulch keeps the front beds relatively weed free and helps the soil retain moisture longer. The meadow requires no such applications whatsoever. All in all, so much better for the environment as well as the gardener.

It’s true that many perennials peter out early. This point occurred to me every year until more recently I accepted that I must use annuals to fill in those gaps of color in certain places like the terrace and around the side porch. This is no different from the window-boxes and pots that are filled with annuals to pep up the aesthetics.

Keep in mind, those perennials that have finished blooming, continue to serve. The seed heads ripen and feed the birds and other creatures as they prepare for the cold season ahead. In addition, their intricate designs and shapes have inspired me to paint them. I have a wonderful series going!

Ultimately, the looser, wilder native plantings, respond best to the dire calls for longevity, sustainability and sound ecology while still looking beautiful. It really is time to reconsider our gardens and adapt our design sensibilities accordingly. A shift in mindset makes us winners all around.

Fall is a good time for planting native perennials – get cracking!

Note: Last Saturday, I visited the gardens at Hay Honey Farm in New Jersey. I was thrilled to see that they too have a meadow similar to mine and even the other borders have the same natural sensibilities as mine. Except, theirs are far more extensive and better maintained!

My wild show: One gardener’s paradise and anothers hell?!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Plant Perspective

Last Sunday was most wonderful. The day sparkled in September sunlight with comfortable temperatures and a promise of fun to come. I was scheduled to attend the plant sale at Hollister House in Washington. CT. Following a gap of almost two years, the anticipatory thrill felt new and yet, oh, so familiar!

This was no ordinary plant sale. You were not going to find the most trendy or popular plants. Small growers in the Northeast who specialize in the less common, the special, some rare and others just less known. Many native plants. Most importantly to me, for the most part, they’re grown in the open so they are proven to be hardy in this region. I had missed these plant sales and chatting with the growers themselves. Nothing like firsthand knowledge. For those who’re familiar with these purchasing opportunities know exactly how wonderful they are. So friendly, helpful and modest about their valuable work.

I went with no list or plan about buying anything. Honestly, I simply needed to be in the midst of such an event once again. However, knowing myself and certain that I’d come upon irresistible plants, I went armed with cash, checkbook and credit card. Sensible shoes too. I was not disappointed.

Note: not all vendors accept credit cards.

The sheer joy of being in a spectacular garden, seeing familiar faces and confronting the myriad plant possibilities made me giddy. Having a glass of wine in hand elevated the experience to sublime.

Chat and purchase I did. I bought some must-haves and some cannot-live-withouts. Heaven!

To get really serious for a moment, it is of the highest importance to champion our regional growers. Locally grown plants do better. Supporting these nurseries also means supporting the economy of where we live. Often, they grow plants that could be at risk of being lost or forgotten but are valuable to the preservation of native fauna and flora. I purchased two yellow Slipper orchids – they are hard to source so I was very pleased to find them here.

Many growers also offer interesting, special non-native treasures. Bear in mind, as long as about 70% of the plants in your garden are native/eco-beneficial, it is perfectly fine to have some non-native, non-invasive treasures. Case in point, I bought a new-to-me peony – P. obovata Japanese Pink. Take a look at their bright seedpods in the image below.

Simply put, these folk are vital to how and why we create gardens. Support them – they’re heroes. Look for similar plant sales or visit them directly. You will not regret it.

A word about Hollister House. It is a most wonderful garden that appeals to all the senses. The painterly color combinations, textures, fragrance, shapes, sounds of water and pollinators and, designs of the many rooms cannot fail to delight and instruct. My daughter who grew up being taken ( dragged she says) to many, many famous, fabulous, unique and also not so well-known gardens, declares Hollister House as the best garden she’s ever visited. Do check out their website and plan a visit.

Now, I must get into the garden to install my cache of new plants.

Some nurseries to check out:

McCueGardens – 47, Hartford Avenue, Weathersfield, CT 06109

Broken Arrow Nursery – www.brokenarrownursery.com

Cricket Hill Garden – www.crickethillgarden.com

Falls Village Flower Farm – www.fallsvillageflowerfarm.com

Note: Some images of the gardens at Hollister House and plant growers –

Seedpod of P odovata

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

September Self-Care

September

September slips in

quiet, unnoticed

Whispers softly

I’m here to take Summer down!”

Bit by bit the garden succumbs.

Shobha Vanchiswar

September II

September curls cool tendrils

soothing sun bright flowers

weary and worn

from a wild summer.

Shobha Vanchiswar

I’m taking it slow this month. Just the essential chores. Nothing else. After a summer that was less than stellar, I’ve decided to give myself September to be in the garden simply to enjoy everything. I want to listen to the birds and distinguish their songs, let the hum of the bees lull me into a pleasant nap, follow the butterflies as they flit from flower to flower. I’m going to use this time to examine the flowers closely as though I’ve never done it before. Observe the daily changes in the ripening seedpods and be present when they burst open to release the next generation primed for continuity. As the light grows soft and low, I will soak in as much the sunshine as the hours allow. During the day, I will paint and read and stare in the garden and, when darkness descends, I’ll remain to dance with the last of the fireflies. This is my idea of self-care. Self-Care September.

Note : Click here for garden chores in September.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Exposing True Colors

My Digging Deeper event ‘Wilding Walls And Fruiting Fences’ took place last Sunday. The weather cooperated beautifully and I was more than ready to welcome the folk who’d signed up. That they were willing to spend their Sunday morning in my garden felt very special. I was in my happy place – a chance to be with gardeners/garden lovers exchanging garden ideas, information and experiences is my favorite pastime. I was not disappointed – this was a wonderful group of friendly, curious and intelligent individuals. Such a pleasure.

I’m used to sharing my garden with the public through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program – which is normally in May. Mid-Spring is when it looks most beautiful. And winter weary visitors are particularly complimentary on seeing plants fresh in their new growth, flaunting bright colors.

Late summer however, is not when my garden is at its best. Typically, there is a certain fatigue that sets in as summer is drawing to an end and fall isn’t quite ready to take over. Additionally, I’m most often away on vacation at this time so, the garden has that neglected appearance that makes any self-respecting gardener cringe. This year, while I am very much present, the weather was seriously disagreeable that things did not look much improved. As such, how the garden appeals is pretty much up to the beholder.

In front, the beds that look fetching in a parade of bulbs and early perennials through spring, become boisterous as summer perennials take over. Likewise, the meadow moves from a space of happy bulbs frolicking around to a space thick in all manner of native plants jockeying for space and attention. To those who are accustomed to a garden being well contained and tidy, this can come as bit of a shock. If one spends a little time in the garden however, they’d become aware of the life that this garden supports. Birds, butterflies, bees and all manner of other insects abound. This is exactly what I intended for my piece of paradise.

To please a traditionalist, short of giving my garden complete re-constructive surgery, there isn’t much I can do. Not that I really expect to please everyone at any time.

The garden had taken a beating this year because we’ve had really bad weather. First a spring that was mostly too cold and dry and then a very hot and wet summer. Extremely challenging. Plants struggled, many bloomed but the flowers could barely last. Things were early or late but not particularly on time. Some plants simply gave up trying.

A visitor was going to witness a rather wild looking, not so conventional garden. I know it is not everybody’s cup of tea. As I prepared for the big day doing the usual weeding and tidying up, I was acutely conscious of all that was not right. The flaws glared at me. In addition, certain matters that I kept meaning to address but did not because I am freshly returned from a trip and short on time, were now plainly obvious to me. Why hadn’t I taken care of trimming my side of the neighbors hedge? And what about those annuals I intended to plant to ignite the color palette in the beds and meadow? Why did I let the thuggish (but loved) members to spread unchecked? Honestly, all I could see was everything that was not right.

On behalf of my garden, I felt very vulnerable and exposed.

On the morning of my Digging Deeper, I had my fingers crossed for kind, understanding eyes to be cast on the garden. I needn’t have worried. The visitors were ever so generous in their observations. They noticed the flowers and many features and commented enthusiastically. On spying hummingbirds, there were such expressions of joy. And when it came to the focus of the event, I had a rapt audience eager to understand the art and science of espalier and vertical gardening.

Suddenly, I was seeing my garden through their eyes. They appreciated the variety of native flowers in bloom – not splashy but nevertheless pretty. A couple of people had seen my garden in spring on past Open Days. They too were taken by the summer display – something that I feared was less than best. I realized then, they were gardeners – they understood the vagaries of the weather, the vanity of the gardener and the wonder contained in all gardens.

By letting others tour my garden in all its authentic reality, without any pretension, I had freed myself to share my own experiences and knowledge in exactly the same way. In turn, I gained a new found appreciation of my humble garden and the people who choose to visit it.

Here are some images from my Digging Deeper morning –

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Climate Control

What a weekend it was! Hurricane Henri had a good portion of the Northeast in a heightened state of alert. A fair bit inland, my corner was told to expect a tropical storm. High winds and heavy rains. So, we got down to getting necessary garden chores done. Tethering some pots, laying others down on their sides, harvesting ripened grapes so they couldn’t be tossed off in the wind, bringing in certain things that had no business sitting outside in a storm, hanging pots set on the ground, you get the idea.

Needless to say, the scheduled Digging Deeper event for Sunday was canceled. That was so disappointing as I’d been looking forward to having fellow gardeners to share, commiserate and exchange stories and lessons.

As it turned out, we got lucky. Henri was down graded to a tropical storm and our area missed the predicted winds. It did rain though – all of Sunday and well into Monday. But not quite as fierce as feared. I’m truly grateful. It is now time to shift focus on more usual matters in the garden.

I’ve been taking note of plants that did well this year and those that have not. The weather this year has been so erratic and uncharacteristic that it is not really a matter of selecting or rejecting any specific plants but more about simply observing. This is the sort of information that is useful as one plans ahead. The climate is changing and so must our gardens. Certain plants that rely on colder winters will not do well as my planting zone moves slowly into a warmer one. On the other hand, plants that I’ve coveted over the years but could not survive harsh winters might now take up residence in my garden. It is a very bittersweet reality.

Last week, I learned that our fall this year will be warmer and temperatures will not drop significantly till the end of November. Hmmm. Does this mean that planting spring bulbs should not happen on time? Typically, I plant bulbs at the very end of October into early November. Will the bulb houses know to ship them out accordingly? How much later will be ideal? Nearer Thanksgiving? A more definitive directive is required as I need to plan accordingly! Bulbs are a huge investment for me and I cannot afford to risk any loss. They are such a favorite that without them, I cannot imagine spring. Here’s hoping it all gets sorted out and the situation is not as dire as indicated. As a gardener, optimism is a mainstay.

A few weeks ago, I placed my bulb order. I was a bit later than usual. Just by a couple of weeks. And yet, a couple of choices were sold out. I urge all fellow bulb maniacs to get their orders done ASAP.

Keeping in mind the way the weather directed the time line of the bulb show this year, I tweaked my list with a few more late season bloomers. I also added more of the stalwarts like hyacinthoides, camassia and select alliums. For a little indulgence, I splurged ( just a bit) on the more expensive Frittilaria – imperialis and persica. They are really pricey so I ordered only a few. When I win the lottery, you can bet I will go crazy. Finally, to kick things up in early spring, I ordered a batch of a new-to-me crocus – C olivieri ‘Orange Monarch’ and yes, it is a golden orange with garnet-merlot striations. That should really punch up the usual purple, white and yellow mix. Most folk will not see this particular show. But I will and that’s what matters. Because in the end, I garden for me.

Note: Since it’s not bulb season and we’re only dreaming/planning for it, I’m sharing a few watercolor images of them.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Complaint Box

It feels as though I haven’t as yet got into a summer state of living. Admittedly, my trip to Mumbai swallowed up a few weeks of the season but, that shouldn’t get in the way of feeling it. I put the blame squarely on the weather. It has been way too hot and oppressive to enjoy the days as we’d like. I measure my level of participation by the amount of time I spend in the garden – eagerly and with pleasure.

Typically for me, summer days in the garden are best savored in the early hours of the morning and late afternoon into the evening. High temperatures and humidity do me in so, I avoid those mid-day hours. This year, it’s been unprecedentedly hot and muggy even in those ‘bookend’ hours. I have found it really difficult to work in the garden. As for lingering and simply reveling in the garden goings on, it’s been unbearable. In addition, the biting bugs are in abundance and attack immediately. Using repellents when the skin is already sweaty and hot is not at all pleasant. As a result, time in the garden has been reduced to the bare minimum – just enough to get routine chores done. I deeply miss being able to live in the garden. From dawn to dusk.

Returning home after time away has presented an abundance of work. The garden had run amok. And it has been really challenging to bring back some order. As I’d mentioned last week, I have a deadline. The Digging Deeper event is this coming Sunday and like every self-respecting gardener, I want my garden to look its seasonal best. Last week’s heat put paid to any garden work. Working in temperatures in the high 90s but felt like the 100s would’ve been downright dangerous. So I took care of myriad indoor tasks. The weekend ended up being a marathon of chores. The family rallied like champions. Much got done. Pruning, trimming, weeding, editing, clearing, thinning – it felt endless. Yet, much remains and the clock is ticking as once again, the weather is going to get unpleasant.

In the end, after our best efforts, matters will be what they’ll be. And all who attend on Sunday will surely understand because they are all gardeners. I fully expect all to empathize and eagerly anticipate some commiseration on how this summer has been less than ideal. Misery loves company after all.

Note; With a view to Digging Deeper, I’m sharing images of the espalier fence and the vertical garden. Sign up if you want to learn how to add these features to your own gardens!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Homecoming

One of the first things I do on my return home from a trip, be it a few days or some weeks, is to get out into the garden and poke around. What’s in bloom, what’s not, assess the status of how things have withstood my absence and lack of care. I do this with a mixture of trepidation and excitement.

This past Friday was no different. As luck would have it, an early morning flight arrival meant there was plenty of time to unpack, put away, get settled and go survey the garden at leisure. With jet lag being the default gift of a long journey, it really helps to spend time outdoors getting some light and nature therapy.

The sight of the flowers in bloom is uplifting for sure. It gives the immediate reassurance that things are fine. But very quickly, the rampant growth of the plants has me alarmed – the garden has slowly morphed into a jungle! There’s a wildness to it that can only happen when there has been a great deal of rain, high temperature and lack of due diligence.

As I begin my methodical tour of inspection, I note the messiness of the unchecked growth. The aggressive members are stifling the more timid ones. It’ looks like a banner year for slugs – they’re ALL over the place. Ugh.

The persistently high humidity has encouraged mildew and black spot to move in with gusto. I observe a level of tiredness in some plants – as though they’ve been fighting less than ideal conditions for too long. Having myself just endured three weeks of unrelenting monsoon rains and high temperatures, I can totally empathize.

There’s much damage control to be done. Quite frankly, it’s a bit overwhelming. First order of business over the weekend, was to get the weeding done. It just feels good to know something positive has been initiated.

I’m now going to break up the long list of chores into smaller segments and then go about it systematically. There’s much to cut back, thin out, dig up, clean up and tidy. And, I have a deadline.

On August 22, I’m doing a Digger Deeper event for the Garden Conservancy. This is a masterclass of sorts. Informing and instructing, demystifying and sharing certain elements of gardening. In this case, espaliering and vertical gardening will be the two things that will be covered ( or is that uncovered?!).

As we all know, weather wise, it’s been a strange, unpredictable year. Things in the garden have not proceeded according to expectations. That’s something I cannot change. However, I can do everything else to make the attendees have a good experience in the most pleasing, agreeable surroundings.

So without further ado, I’m off to get started. Wish me luck please!

Note: If interested, you can still sign up for this Digging Deeper event. I understand there are a couple of tickets left.

The immediate survey on my return –

Cardinal vine has made it to the top of the pergola and mingling with the wisteria. Hope the hummingbirds are happy!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

August Aura

August Aurum

Rays so radiant, burnished bright

Sunflower faces beaming high

Solidago spreading yellow light

Peaches ripening as branches sigh

Flickering flames of Monarch flights

     Mantled in gold is August.

– Shobha Vanchiswar

Joy and gratitude in reuniting with my father notwithstanding, I miss my garden. The flowers that showed up and left, the butterflies that visited, imbibed and moved on, the nests that were built and occupied. Being cooped up in a city apartment has revealed most clearly just how much my garden contributes to my well-being. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no remorse in coming to Mumbai at such a difficult, scary time. My heart could simply not bear the forced separation from my father any longer. He and I needed this visit equally. It’s been fraught with emotion and that’s exactly why I miss my garden. The monsoons rains prevent me from seeking a temporary sanctuary in a park or public garden. In fact, the sun has graced us on just two brief occasions over the course of almost 3 weeks!

Being in my little botanical paradise gives me perspective and balance. A daily dose of time in the garden admiring the flowers, being entertained by the wildlife, tending to chores provides the much needed time to muse over whats happening in my life and work out solutions, make immediate and long-term plans and often, take stock of all the many blessings I’m given – in essence, one gains perspective and clarity. It is the therapy so priceless and valuable that I miss it no matter where I am for any length of time.

As I wrestle with future actions to keep my father safe, happy, engaged and comfortable in these uncertain times, I wish I had access to my garden. It would help me make good, wise decisions. As always.

The images below are from last July/August –

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Climactic Changes

Is there any place on earth not experiencing atypical weather? It’s as though an overdrive switch has been turned on by the weather gods. Too much rain, intense drought, extreme heat, super strong winds, widespread fires – anywhere one looks, there’s a weather problem.

We gardeners observe the changes in weather sooner than most. And perhaps, feel it more acutely as well. The rather unusual spring we had this year for example – we noted delayed flowering as well as early flowering. While it appeared that there were always plants in bloom, the timings were out of sync. It wasn’t just the flowers, emergence and leafing out were also not on cue. I worried what impact the discordance in the garden was having on the dependent wildlife. The best laid planting schemes set awry were the least of my concerns.

It’s been a very wet summer so far and the slugs are happier and more abundant than ever. It’s virtually impossible to patrol the garden and pick off all the slimy pests and drown them in soapy water. There are simply too many this year. Some plants that do well in more arid conditions are looking miserable and there’s nothing I can do to fix that.

The reality is that for the past few years, the seasons have not been ‘as usual’. But with no significant problems persisting and the garden still rising to the occasion, it has been easy to ignore the elephant in the garden. Climate change.

It’s time to reckon with it and adapt. While we may have been doing our part all along in our methods and practices of being eco-concious, organic, sustainable etc., we must now reexamine how and what we are growing. Certainly, on top of the list are hardy natives and other eco-beneficial plants. Those that put up with a wider range of conditions and are resilient to change. The choices depend on geographic location, micro-environments and suitability to ones personal aesthetics. It’s a matter of systematically selecting or abandoning plants according to their characteristics and requirements. It has become too expensive to nurture certain plants that clearly cannot compete in these changing times.

I’m only just beginning to confront my reality. No, I’m not ready to pull up all the plants that are finding it hard to cope just yet. But I will not be adding any that are not capable of adapting or are too cantankerous. Native designation notwithstanding.

In my region, it seems our summers of late are often fraught with very hot, dry days between wet, muggy spells. The winters have been milder than previous years but interspersed with sudden blizzards that easily dump a couple or more feet of snow or days that feel very Siberian in temperature. It’s one extreme or another. Perfect weather has became a very scarce commodity. As are perfect plants.

I’m seriously considering putting out an ad in the Classifieds (or should it be Personals?) or maybe there is an App – Looking for botanical companions. Must be American native, very good looking, healthy, highly flexible and adaptable, undemanding, very responsive to gardeners attention, independent, fearless, excellent team player, hardworking and productive. A perfect playmate in every way.

Who knows, it just might work.

Note: Here are a few images of plants I will be keeping fo r sure and a few of the kind of monsoon hitting Mumbai – where I am at present. 

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Holy Flowers!

At present, I’m out of the garden. Instead, I’m in an apartment in Mumbai, visiting my 92 year old father after a very long, heart aching, stress filled 18 month long separation. Needless to say, the reunion is emotional. I feel really grateful. The fact that we’re still in the pandemic cannot be forgotten. It comes with continuing worries and concerns. It is at times such as these when we feel tested. It’s easy to understand why so many hold on to their faith. Belief in a higher power or energy to guide us through difficult times, provides much needed comfort, courage, hope and strength. As a species, we humans set much in store by the presence of something bigger than our collective selves. It’s hard to be positive about the future without that belief in something bigger than ourselves.

These are the thoughts that went through my mind as I sat in traffic yesterday – we were held up due to flooding caused by the powerful rains that have been pounding the region. The monsoon season this year has been particularly fierce. Waiting for passage, watching vehicles and pedestrians wading through the water trying to get to their destinations was of great human interest. How resilient we are in our determination to get on with it. At the same time, I watched vendors of flower garlands for ceremonial worship (and also to be hung up from the rear-view mirrors for good luck/the Almighty’s protection) taking advantage of the traffic jam. They approached the cars with the colorful, fragrant garlands of marigolds, calendula and jasmine and I observed several purchases exchange hands. Some were promptly hung up. Despite the frustrations and delays caused by the weather and Covid restrictions, there was always time and need to obtain floral offerings to appease the gods.

There was something very comforting about witnessing this scene. All over the world flowers are used in religious expression. We celebrate as well as mourn with flowers. Flowers give comfort and joy. We adorn ourselves, our homes and our places of worship with them.

My father likes to have freshly picked flowers to place on the little alter he has in his home. The platter of these blooms waiting each morning to be offered up has always been a sight that brings me a sense of calm. Knowings his prayers will certainly include my well-being is reassuring. The faith that all will be fine. Flower power with a higher calling.

Another day’s offering

Daily offering

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar