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

FOMO In The Garden

FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out

I really appreciate that our very human anxiety about feeling left out or missing out on something has been recognized and owned. As social animals, we need to be included and informed on all the goings on. Every one of us can recognize that FOMO feeling – we’ve not only been there but we continue to go there. It simply cannot be helped. Which is why we say ‘yes’ so often. And why we bring upon ourselves a state of business that more often than not, provides no satisfaction.

I’m currently going through a different sort of FOMO. It’s a deep seated resentment of missing out on the happenings in the garden. Due to the days of intense heat alternating with long bouts of rain, I’ve had very little opportunity to hang out in the garden. The humidity in particular really does me in. Snatching windows of tolerable conditions to get basic chores done is about all I’ve managed. There has been no real chance to enjoy what’s in bloom (or not), observe wild life and just linger in the life affirming atmosphere of the garden.

These conditions invariably makes me a grump. The sense of not being there to note the myriad events in my garden is unsettling to say the least. What’s the point of planning, planting and working in the garden if I’m not there to savor the fruits (no pun intended) of my labor?

Instead, on my rushed forays, I spy poppy petals scattered around but not a single flower in sight. Missed those blooms. I dutifully refill the hummingbird feeders but do not get to watch any of the thirsty drinkers. I know the cicadas have emerged, mated, laid eggs, eggs have hatched and nymphs have molted only because I spot the exuviae, their transparent exoskeletons still clinging on to tree trunks. How I’d have loved to monitor those stages! Soggy roses browning on the limbs tell me I missed their beauty and fragrance. And so it goes …. on and on.

A similar FOMO is experienced when I must go away for any reason. I might be super-excited to travel to beloved places and yet, I’m loathe to leave my garden. I know what I’m going to be missing and that makes me sad. In the big picture, none of this is a huge deal. I know that. But I’m here owning my own FOMO. It’s real and not to be ignored. There, I’ve said it. Anyone else coming forward?

Note: I’m sharing some of my recent black and white paintings. They were after all inspired by the garden

Gardenia

Tree Peony

Clematis

Columbine

Magnolia Grandifolia

Parrot tulip

Iris

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Nurturing Nature?

This past weekend, we finally took a mini-vacation. A long weekend at the beach – a much craved change of scene. After staying home for so long, it felt strange to be packing and yet, so familiar. Our eagerness to be in the sun, sand and water brought back memories of other beaches around the world when it all felt so accessible. Yet, here we were going to a beach house within the state and it felt surreal to be going anywhere at all. Clearly, returning to ‘normal’ is a process.

The one response that came back without hesitation was my worry about the garden. For as long as I can remember I’m loathe to leave my garden for any length of time. What if it got too hot/ too windy/too cold/too wet? What if pests take over? Will the weeds take over? Without deadheading, plants that should bloom longer will set seed! How to make sure the mowing ( of a very tiny ‘lawn’) gets done? An endless list of potential problems plague me.

Despite all the trips made over the decades and the garden surviving each time, I fret about the garden and miss it even before I’ve left. Crazy. I know.

It felt even harder to get away this time. After all, the garden has been the mainstay through all the months we’ve had to be sheltering at home. Without it I’d have found life during the pandemic so much more difficult. Caring for the garden was my salvation. And now I was being called to let it go. Albeit very temporarily. I still found it challenging.

This got me thinking about all the things we do for our gardens that might well be viewed as unnecessary. Even a bit too much. I cannot help myself. It’s who I am. Please tell me I’m not alone as I recount some of the stuff I’ve done to safeguard my piece of paradise.

Years ago, the morning of the day of my departure to a destination overseas, two little baby robins fell from a nest high up in a tree. Obviously, I could not get them back to the nest. I could not stand sentry over them myself as I was going away. The thought of predators coming for these birds made me very anxious. I put the little ones in a shoe box lined with leaves and grass and set it where I hoped the robin parents would find and feed them. And instead of packing and doing the numerous things that needed doing for the trip, I spent the better part of the day calling all sorts of agencies to see if they could advice or help in any way. No luck. They mostly thought I was unduly concerned. But I did find out that should a domestic cat kill a bird on my property, I could sue the owner of the murderous cat. Really? Punishment for a cat doing what is in its very nature? Even I, in my heightened state of worry could see the absurdity of this law.

I finally conceded that I’d done my best and frantically moved to finish packing and dash to the airport.

The following year, because the eggs in the nest that sat nestled amidst the branches of the climbing rose that scrambled over the arbor leading to the front door had hatched and we were once again headed out on vacation, I slung a child size hammock beneath so if the babies fell, they would land safely in it and the parents could still tend to them. This arrangement effectively precluded access to the front door but who cared!

On my return, the hammock looked unused and the nest was empty and intact. Presumably all had gone well. Whew. Having to explain to neighbors this strange arrangement without coming across as batty was however a different matter.

Last week, we netted the espaliered fruit trees to protect the pears from marauding squirrels. The evening before going away for aforesaid weekend to the beach, it occurred to me that one of the hummingbird feeders sat too close to the netting and I was concerned the diminutive drinkers could get entangled n the net if they didn’t pay attention. I had to most certainly move the feeder to a safer spot nearby. My husband kidded me about imagining ‘drunken’ hummingbirds leaving the bar and getting entangled but I was not to be dissuaded. Feeder was not only moved but I waited till I saw that the initially confused hummingbirds discovered the new location and resumed their drinking activity.

Just having/hiring someone come by to check on the garden to water and weed is not enough. I need someone who is very familiar with my garden and also loves it. Okay, at least really likes it. Person must be kind and caring in general. I’m happy to report that I’ve found just such a person. A nephew who lives 20 minutes away and is willing to indulge his eccentric aunt. Dedicated garden–sitters are true godsends and I have no doubt there’s a special place in heaven for such people.

But please, please tell me I’m not the only gardener obsessing about how to keep the garden cared for whilst one is away. After all the ribbing about babying the garden that comes my way, I need some serious validation. Help.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the weekend away was lovely. Weather cooperated and the beach was just wonderful. I watched a gull pick clams from the water, fly up high and drop the clams so they opened on impact and the bird could easily access the contents.

I got yelled at for coming too close to the roost by a nesting osprey. It was at least 20 feet above ground and had nothing to worry about. But then, who am I to talk about worrying.

I was entranced by a flotilla of ducks guiding their babies ashore to settle down for the night and great egrets parading around nonchalantly like they were too cool for school.

Dog roses were in full bloom along the beaches. And in the gardens I passed by were other roses, hydrangea, yellow baptisia, magnolia and Montauk daisies looking quite spectacular. I also noted deer and rabbits in good numbers. I wonder what sort of compromise they’ve reached with the gardeners.

Note: Enjoy the images of nature that made my weekend so rewarding:

Swan

Going ashore for the night

Duck flotilla

Osprey

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Whatever May Come

The only thing consistent about May has been its inconsistency. It has run the gamut of all four seasons in three short weeks and now, in its final stretch, we finally get to enjoy the month as it ought.

The intense heat last week put paid to the tulips and I’m still feeling cheated. It was a very short time with them. Meanwhile, the alliums are ablaze and I can only hope they will last longer. Much longer.

The two clematis at the arch in front are in full flower – typically, the buds open in sequence allowing one to enjoy them in a prolonged manner. Not this year.

It feels as though spring has been cruelly compressed. I worry this might well be the pattern to come. Globally, we are experiencing unusual weather. From heavy rains in some parts to high heat to others and widespread strong winds whipping up frequently. Nothing is typical or predictable. Like it or not, climate change is underway.

In my little corner, I see that I need to be flexible and think deeply about future plans and plants with climate changes in mind. For instance, I’m still going to order bulbs because I cannot imagine a spring without them but my expectations will be more in accordance with the reality.

These developments also underline strongly the need for us all to look to native and/or ecologically beneficial plants that are proven to be hardy and adaptable.

The rain barrel serves well during the dry spells – best to seriously start looking to conserve water. Pots are watered as needed. We turn on the hose to water the plants in the ground only when and if it has been unbearably dry and there is a threat of plant loss.

I’ve taken to checking the bird bath assiduously. Between the heat and wind, it seems to dry out very quickly. The same diligence with the hummingbird feeders. With heat, the sugar water begins to ferment and can harm the wee birds. There is a helpful guide that I follow about when to replace the water. Note: always clean the feeder before each refill.

It’s easy to feel the lack of control in the garden when the weather is so uncertain. However, I’ve found solace in doing my part in tending to the chores that are in my control. That covers my choice of plants, organic, sustainable practices, encouraging pollinators of all kinds, conserving water and most importantly, accepting change. That last one is truly hard and my progress has been slow. Very

Yet, I must persist. My planet is counting on me. And you.

Note: Reminder! My Open Garden Day is June 5. Get tickets online.

Alliums coming up strong. Camassia too.

First iris

Clematis

Calycanthus

Alliums taking over from the tulips

Last of the tulips

Itoh/intersectional peony

Primula in a friend’s garden

Buttercups with primula.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Be, May Be Not

From unseasonable days of April-cool. we’re now in a week that promises to feel more like June. As a result, I have lost track of what exactly to expect for my Open Day on June 5. ( Have you made your reservation to visit yet?). It will be what will be.

This past week, the tulips have shone brilliantly. I’m not at all happy to have this rise in temperatures as it means a hasty end to my tulip season. Another cool week would be so nice. But, as if to assure me that the fun will continue, the alliums are bursting open everywhere and one cannot help being cheered up. In the checkerboard garden, the creeping phlox is rippling in bloom. I wait all year for this brief but effervescent presentation. Its habit of growing with merry abandonment makes this plant a personal favorite. But, just to make note – the alliums are a bit early and the phlox a bit late. Thats how May rolls this year. Unpredictable.

The peonies and roses show buds ripening but nothing to see as yet. Fingers crossed, they will perform in time for visitors on Open Day.

With the sudden realization that I have less than three weeks to get the garden visitor-ready, I’m armed with a very long list of things that must absolutely get done by then. In trying to delegate some of those chores to my in-house labor force, I’m being met with some reluctance to hop to it. Worse, both, spouse and daughter have the audacity to tell me that there are certain other tasks I’ve overlooked. So, I have issued an all-hands-on-deck order and I have become the uber task mistress. My facial expression and general body language has been set to Don’t Mess With Me.

With the warming days, there’s been the reassuring sight of bees busy in the garden. And the birds are going about madly building nests and singing loudly as they do so. Butterflies sightings are increasing too. Stuff like this never gets boring.

Now that the possibility of frost is no longer a threat, it’s time to get some tropicals installed in pots to add a bit of drama. I’m looking forward to a trip to my nursery – the anticipation alone is thrilling. For me, nothing beats horticultural retail therapy.

With all the iffy-ness of this May weather, I find myself frequently wondering about things like, will the climbing hydrangea bloom in a week or so? The roses? The peonies? Will the alliums and camassia last long enough?

The pressure is on! There’s no telling what will be shining in the garden on June 5. Please do come and find out! .

Note: Just to reiterate – Open Days tickets must be purchased on-line. The link is not live as yet but please check here to get up to date information.

Now that we are slowly getting back to gathering with family and friends, its fun to plan and decorate for the occasion. Select from the Printed Garden collection for pretty and practical (machine washable) decorative pillows, tea towels, napkins and such.They make good gifts too!

Here’s some of what is blooming in the garden at present –

Amsonia twinkling brightly

Any day now!

First clematis of the season

Alliums in the meadow

Phlox in the checkerboard garden.

Tulip heaven

Quince in flower

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Flowers

Is it just me or is 2021 rushing by? After waiting impatiently for spring, I’m surprised that it’s already the end of April. There’s a fullness in the garden that makes me stop and wonder ‘how did all this happen so fast?’ I still have so many seasonal chores to do that it feels like a race to catch-up.

The fruit trees and roses were given a good feed over the weekend to get them prepared for the hard work ahead. The pear blossoms are fully out and look ravishing. I spotted a bee flitting around them yesterday so fingers crossed that there will be a good harvest in the fall. The apple blossoms are just emerging and the fat buds stained a pretty pink are a joyous sight I’ve come to wait upon rather anxiously. All too often in past years, a sudden cold spell has kept the bees away and put paid to potential fruit.

When temperatures were predicted to dip below freezing this past Friday night, we rushed out to protect the pear trees burgeoning with bloom. Happy to report the flowers came through unscathed.

My new ‘field’ with the sedge, white violas and snakeshead fritillaria continues to delight. Forsythia and Amelanchier, in yellow and white respectively, echo the colors of the daffodils which are still going strong in the meadow. The myriad other plants are emerging strong and getting ready to succeed them with their own flowers. Spring never fails to thrill.

Out front in the perennial beds, the tulips have begun blooming and each day brings more color and excitement.

Everywhere one looks, there is new growth to see. The succession of flowers carries one through the seasons and I’m always wanting to slow the pace just so I can luxuriate a while longer with each plant at its best. Spring picks up momentum as it proceeds and it can overwhelm the senses – what a happy state to be!

As May is nipping at April’s heel, I’m trying to get the greenhouse emptied out. The pots of citrus, jasmine, gardenia and Datura have been enjoying their extended stay in warmth and comfort. But, its getting time to get the greenhouse cleaned and prepared for its summer job of nurturing tomatoes and other summer veggies. I’m very eager to commission the self-watering pots I purchased in December. They are big and should accommodate the plants very handsomely.

The new-ish oak barrel I received from a brewer friend needs to be set up for its new role as rain barrel. The old barrel served very well for many years but is now falling apart. I might still be able to salvage the bottom half and use it to house new plants that are not quite ready for permanent homes in the garden.

The new birdhouse that was set up in the front appears to have its first occupants. I spied a wren going in and out over the weekend. While I’d hoped for bluebirds, I’m content with the wrens. I just don’t want the English sparrow to become a fixture in my garden.

The vertical garden is filling up with heuchera and ferns once more. In a month, this wall will start looking lush and textured once more.

Oh! How I love Spring!

Note: Do not miss out on these opportunities!

  • My garden’s Open Day is June 5.  The Garden Conservancy has worked very hard to make Open Days happen with Covid compliant policies in place so do be sure to get all the information. I cannot wait to welcome everyone into my garden.
  • Do not forget your Mother’s Day shopping! Order now!
  • I’m super excited to be participating in Together ApArt at the ArtsWestchester’s Gallery– I have art and poems in this show. It’s a return to in-person gallery shows and that in itself is really significant. We can, once again, experience art as it ought. Your attendance will be greatly appreciated. Here too, visits require appointments – a sign of the times we live in. For those of you who live farther away, the show is also on-line so do take a look!

Some of the goings on in my garden right now –

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Earthly Days

I’ve been sticking rather low to the ground lately. Literally. Remember when I planted hundreds of native sedge Carex appalachia plugs in a part of the garden and then added in hundreds of F. meleagris last fall? Well, this ‘field’ is looking absolutely delightful right now. The sedge is greening up nicely and the frittilaria are up and waving their checkered bells very sweetly. I’m smitten. Imagining is one thing but having it become a reality is excitement overload.

All weekend I kept taking frequent breaks from other garden chores to gaze at my little ‘field’. Joy. Joy. Joy.

This sedge is the larval food for the Appalachian brown butterfly. I’ve given my family direct orders to take pictures of any brown butterflies they might see flitting around the garden lest I miss such an important sighting.

Life in the garden is one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Connecting with nature is fundamental to our very existence. The past year demonstrated this imperative loud and clear. With Earth Day two days away, I reckon it’s a good reminder to renew this bond to make it stronger, better, healthier.

As gardeners, we are acutely aware of what’s happening in the environment. The situation is dire and its all hands on deck to mitigate climate change. I recently watched a morning news segment of a major network wherein each host voiced the one thing they have adopted to be more ’green’. They mentioned things like returning dry cleaning hangers, carrying their own bottle of water and such. All good practices but I had to think – surely all of these measures ought to have been adopted a long time ago no?.

At this point, we should be doing so much more. And please lets not get complacent about how we’re conscientious in our recycling. Simply tossing all recyclables into the appropriate bins and putting them out for pick up is not a big effort. Reducing the amount in those bins is.

In the garden, organic practices, collecting rain water, composting, using electric tools instead of gas powered ones, growing a majority of native plants, encouraging pollinators of all sorts, mulching etc., has always been my modus operandi. What I struggle with are the plastic pots the plants come in. Even the ‘biodegradable’ ones aren’t so great as they take a really long time to degrade. I truly wish all nurseries would take back the empty pots to be returned to the growers for reuse. I understand this is not so easy to manage but there must be a viable solution.

On a bright note, growers that ship out plants directly to gardeners are coming up with many ‘green’ ways to safely transport plants. Perhaps something similar can be invented for nurseries and garden centers. Personally, I’d be more than willing to take my own containers to fill with plant purchases – much the same as taking bags to the farmer’s market or supermarket.

Similarly, in the house, we use non-toxic/organic/homemade cleaning products, consume organic, locally sourced foods, carry our own drinking water, cloth napkins, use beeswax cloth, silicone freezer/sandwich bags, reusable bowl covers to reduce the usage of plastic, aluminum or other paper wraps. Paper towels and toilet paper are from Who Gives A Crap that uses 100% recycled paper and donates 50% of its profits to build toilets in needy areas all over the world.

Recently, we switched to toothpaste tablets from By Humankind. This totally eliminates toothpaste tubes – something that is not even recyclable. The same company also sells floss that dissolves or can be composted. The entire packaging it arrives in is compostable. The containers to keep the tablets and floss are made of glass with silicone tops. They’re really clean and minimalist looking. By subscribing, one receives refills to serve several months at a time. This helps with the carbon footprint. Ditto for the aforementioned paper products.

While we have been using woolen dryer balls instead of dryer sheets to fluff and ‘soften’ clothes for some years, we were a bit hesitant about ‘green’ detergents that could clean the clothes properly. We tried a few options but were not too satisfied. Just recently, we’ve made the switch to laundry soap sheets from Tru Earthno more dealing with plastic jugs or cardboard boxes.. One sheet per wash – hot or cold and usable in any type of machine. The soap itself is free of all harsh-to-the-environment ingredients. The jury is still out on the efficacy of the sheets but I’m very optimistic.

I go into those details because we can each do better in every aspect of our lives. There are  always more efforts to be made of course but for now, I know I’m trying my very best to do as much as I can. In the end, that’s what matters – committing wholeheartedly to doing our part in caring for this beautiful, wondrous planet we call home.

FYI – The companies I’ve mentioned were discovered in my research to find good eco-products. I am NOT sponsored by any company.

Note: Reminder! Mother’s Day is fast approaching! Do shop from the Printed Garden Collection mom will love the products!

Daffodils

Amelanchier in bloom

Tree peony pushing up.

The ‘field’ of sedge and frittilaria.

Watercolor

 

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Overture To Spring

Contrary to the saying, March is going out like a lion. Rain and high winds are escorting its exit. It seems as though we’re getting days of such strong winds more frequently. And it would not be remiss to plan for this pattern going forward. This of course means the soil will dry out more quickly which then could imply more watering. I’m also giving serious consideration to securing various climbers and planters more firmly. Ditto for furniture and other movable structures. In the right circumstances, even a small object can become a powerful projectile. I’m not trying to cause panic – just being more aware and proactive.

A couple of warm days last week coaxed the garden fully awake. Each day, the canvas of earth is rendered with more and more colorful splashes. The early bulbs have a very short window to shine before they’re overshadowed by their bigger, flamboyant cousins. I relish this time with them – so diminutive and so exquisite. Even more gratifying is to spy hungry insects quenching themselves on these tiny flowers. The give and take in nature is perhaps one of the most beautiful, life-affirming exchanges one can witness.

A much longed for trip to the nursery had me happily potting up the window-boxes and other pots/urns over the weekend. They set the stage for the season’s drama yet to unfold. The fence post in front was replaced and the whole fence got new roping – it all looks quite smart and ready for duty. I got a few plants to add to the front beds and with any luck, they will be planted imminently. Once the tiny lawn is raked over and reseeded, the entire front garden will be properly spruced up for the season.

In the meadow, the ivy invading from the neighbor’s yard has become my daughter’s number one target. When I asked her to cut it back, I had no idea she’d find the job so satisfying – I’m pleasantly surprised the way things have worked out. She even discovered the pathetic state of the Dutchman’s Pipe I’d planted a couple of years ago to replace the ivy. I’d written it off when I couldn’t see it on a cursory examination last summer. The poor plant was being strangled by that invasive thug. Once relieved of its oppressor, a good feeding was given and I’m determined to keep an eye on it so it can do the job its been assigned to do. I have a feeling the under-gardener is even more determined but I’m not going to say anything lest I jinx her gradual evolution into a first rate gardener ( it’s happening despite all her early protests as a child).

The birds are very busy house hunting and the morning chorus can be deafening. But oh so welcome! I’m keeping my eye on a pair of cardinals near the grapevine. Out front, the robins are involved in what seems to me a bidding war for the rose arbor. Fingers crossed the new birdhouse will be claimed by bluebirds. Wrens usually commandeer the one in the meadow.

Last Saturday’s warm weather brought everyone including the garden snakes outside to enjoy some sun and fresh air. One was unabashedly sunbathing on a flagstone by the greenhouse. I fully expect it (and the rest of its family) to do their job of keeping all the rodent forms under control. They’ve been negligent some years and I don’t take kindly to such laziness.

And so the season is in full swing. Let there be beauty, growth and grace.

Hellebore

Fence all fixed up

New birdhouse ready and waiting

Plants awaiting planting

Slytherin the snake

Window box potted up

They don’t look like much at present but soon they will be shouting SPRING! – anticipation is half the fun.

First crocus. More have quickly followed.

First daffodils

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Marching Orders

So typical of March to arrive with in the guise of winter, abruptly show us what spring could feel like and then, just as quickly go back to winter again. Last week’s mild weather had me realize that my sabbatical from the garden was over. It’s funny how from December on, I’m in a state of anticipating and planning for spring. And then, with the first days of mild weather, I feel unprepared and already behind schedule.

I promptly got my master list ready – this is a detailed inventory of every task to be done to get the garden in good growing shape. The checklist is divided by each sector of the garden. It allows me to easily see what is immediate and what can wait a bit. I’ve found that it prevents me from feeling overwhelmed. While a good many chores are pretty much standard, additional ones get added after a walk around the garden to take note of how things look. What has taken a beating through the winter and needs repair or replacement invariably shows up. A broken fencepost, displaced stepping stones, a worrisome hole in the middle of a flower bed – there’s much to contend with.

Over the weekend, I got started. The columbine seeds I’d stratified got sown indoors. I’ve never done this before but finding myself in need of many native columbines, it seemed time to grow my own. I’m so curious to see how it’ll work out. Fingers crossed!

I started the hardening off of the sweetpeas sown in mid-Feb. A daily dose of some hours outdoors helps acclimatize them. The trellis to support them was also restored so all is ready for when the seedlings will be planted in another week or so.

Last Friday, I sprinkled Shirley poppy seeds over the snow in a certain part of the meadow. Today, no snow remains so I’m fervently hoping the seeds have ensconced themselves in the earth and stirring about to begin the gradual process of sprouting. It’s supposed to rain hard this Thursday so lets hope the seeds don’t get washed away.

This week, I’ll prune the roses – cut away dead or wayward limbs. A light shaping too. Climbers will be re-secured as the winter somehow manages to loosen them out of the ties. A dose of compost and Epsom salts will be welcomed by the roots as they begin their work in earnest.

Likewise, a pruning and a compost feed for the grapes and fruit espalier is in order. Now is the time to spray dormant oil to smother any pest eggs.

The grapevine cuttings will be put to use in concealing the peony supports and other unsightly mechanics.

The new bee and bird houses will be put up by the weekend. Old bird house cleaned and made ready. I often make ‘nesting’ wreaths and hang them nearby to give the birds a little assistance as they make their nests. Simple wreaths of grapevine decorated with natural materials like moss, tiny pine cones, bits of straw, lichen, jute and cotton string. The wreaths look festive and seasonal and have been repeatedly endorsed by discerning homemakers. I get a special thrill when I come upon a nest decorated with my offerings.

If I do a bit of clean up every day, the garden will look greatly improved by the weekend. As much as the chore doesn’t sound fun, it actually gives me an opportunity to observe whats coming up and get excited about each returning old friend and some unexpected new ones.

Materials for repair have been noted and shall be purchased during the week so no time is wasted over the coming weekend. Lots to do!

Something I did last week when the warm weather lured us out, was to take note of the progression of the snow melt. This is the ideal time to see which parts of the garden get more (or less) sunlight. It can be quite surprising. Areas you think should be similar are often not. Things can change as trees grow or get taken down, new construction happens along next door etc., Knowing about the assorted micro-climates serves to make better decisions about what to plant and when to expect their bloom. Or even what to change.

There you have it – I’ve received my marching orders – get off the couch by the fireplace and into the garden. And hop to it. Yes ma’am.

Note that disc of snow on top of the pot!

I love seeing the meadow emerge as the snow melts.

Poppies sprinkled last week

First snowdrops – happens where the snow melts first!

Forced hyacinths – Spring has sprung indoor

Day 1 of last week’s warm weather

Day 3 of warm weather

Grapevine awaiting pruning

Snow melt pattern in potager

Lower end of side path. The middle melts first, then the bottom and finally the top end. Which is surprising because the top looks most exposed but the neighbor’s tree actually casts a shadow just long enough in the day so the snow remains longer.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

My Real Garden – Part I

Last March, when we went into lockdown, I, like everyone else, felt confused, unsettled and more than a little scared. With all plans and projects canceled for the foreseeable future, the work shrunk down to almost nothing. Kept apart from anyone not living with me felt isolating in a way I could not fully adjust to. I have close family across three continents and the physical distance between us suddenly seemed as good as living on different planets. It was not good.

I believe four things kept me from going crazy. First, I was ‘stuck’ at home with the two people most dear to me. Second, with Skype, FaceTime and Zoom, one could ‘visit’ with family and friends – we were able to stay in touch consistently. Third, the entire world was grappling with the same situation – we were all in this together and many were struggling with extremely difficult conditions. Lastly, I had a garden that was my salvation – it is where I always go for solace, comfort, life lessons and inspiration. A blessing but still, quite a luxury.

In the grand scheme of things, I had nothing to complain about. And I didn’t. But privately, worries, fears and demons did surface up and I had to find a way to keep myself positive, motivated and engaged.

A big advantage I had was that for the last so many years, I’ve worked from home. Unlike most others, I did not need any adjustment to that. Instead, I naturally gave expression to my emotions in painting, poetry, other writing and design work. I spent blissful hours in the garden. Even the smallest of garden tasks felt good to do. Being creative and productive is key to my sense of wellbeing.

While I was figuring ways to keep the creative juices flowing, I became more active on Instagram. I began posting daily – marking each day with a single activity/observation with the tag-line “Social Distancing Day __”. Today is Day #360. That’s right. – it’s almost a full year since New York went into lockdown/sheltering at home.

On my @seedsofdesignllc Instagram account, I follow mostly gardens, gardeners and garden designers. I believe gardeners form communities easily – we relate and connect to each other almost instinctively. The problem I began having was that a good many of the garden ’influencers’ were posting images of what they were up to whilst sheltering at home that had what I call the Marie Antoinette Syndrome. They were showing images that appeared as though their lives were untouched by the global crisis – fabulous (read big and expensive) garden projects, lavish meals of certain items that were either unavailable at the supermarkets or beyond most budgets. As though they had risen above the fray in the most naturally obvious manner. I thought they were tone deaf and could not relate to most of these people at all. It’s one thing to be upbeat and positive and quite something else to flaunt a ’ Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous – Garden Version’ sort of message. With a pandemic, socio-economic inequities and racial injustices raging, it was frustrating and often enraging to see such posts. I’m not suggesting people don’t live they way they want to. I am however making clear that there is much need for us all to be aware, sensitive and empathetic.

It’s entirely possible that I was following some wrong folk on Instagram but, I started looking for other gardeners who were as affected as I was and found connection through the mundane yet life affirming acts of regular garden tasks. One from across the big pond, became a genuine source of support and encouragement. And it led to a wonderful global project that I’m deliriously excited to share with you. Next week!

Note: It’s not too early to start thinking of spring home sprucing and/or Mother’s Day! The Printed Garden collection offers a choice of beautiful products AND 50% of profits goes to support the valuable work of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU is fighting to correct all those aforementioned inequities and injustices.

I’m re-sharing some random photos from the last 12 months –

Last day of my group art show in NYC and first day of lockdown. March

Peony gone to seed. Watercolor

April – hid eggs around house and garden and created a virtual egg hunt for great nieces in the Netherlands and Singapore

Robin babies

Checkerboard garden in bloom

Memorial Day concert for neighborhood friends

Newly minted graduate after a virtual ceremony. June

Allium fireworks for the Fourth

Printed Garden photo shoot

‘A Peek Into The Potager’. Watercolor

Hummingbird friend

August birthday – all 3 birthdays in my family are in August

Vertical garden in August

‘Gilded’ Watercolor

October in gold

Paperwhites for the home. November

Beautyberry jelly

Lemons ripening in the greenhouse. December

Gilding alliums for the holidays

December dusting

Meyer lemon marmalade

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar