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

January Jottings

January In The Garden

Feels lazy

Days spent

in waiting

wanting

wishing

Nothing done.

                                                                           – Shobha Vanchiswar

The final week of January. Things feel lighter and brighter. The sun is setting past 5:00pm – this singular fact is mood improving is it not? It might still be very cold with little to get excited about in the garden but the anticipation of the sap rising imminently buoys me up.

I’m currently reading and tremendously enjoying Page Dickey’s book ‘Uprooted’. It reads like a beautiful prose poem on starting anew. I’ve been noting down several plant varieties she mentions and I’m beginning to think I’m going to need more acreage to accommodate them all!

Some years ago, Page gave me a ‘Leda’ rose and an Abeliophyllum ( white forsythia). The latter blooms very early in spring and the rose pinks up the summer. These reminders of a valued mentor keep me in state of gratitude, contentment and humility. Despite how it appears, one doesn’t truly garden alone. There are always the teachers, the helpers, the cheerleaders keeping us company.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of Uprooted. It’ll inspire, instruct and inform in a most gentle, supportive manner.

On my sojourns outdoors, there’s great fun in listening to the birds as they go about their business seemingly unbothered by the cold. This coming weekend, I hope to put up the new bluebird house somewhere in the front garden that suits the potential residents as well as the landlord – I’d like to watch their antics and be entertained whenever I’m in this part of the property. The birdhouse in the meadow in the back has proven its purpose rather successfully. The house is being set up early so as to be ready and available as soon as avian house hunting season commences.

Similarly, the hummingbird feeder in the herb garden is a huge source of joy. Over the holidays, I received by mail a hand-blown glass feeder. It is a beautiful work of art. Oddly, there was no note with this package and I’m still trying to find out who the thoughtful sender might be. I’m appreciating the happy dilemma of finding the most appropriate site for it.

And so January is coming to a close. We’re half way to Spring!

January things:

Enjoying the sunset from indoors as its too cold outside!

Amaryllis

First snow of the new year

Get this book!

January recollections:

Goldfinch on coneflower

Hummingbird hovering just above the agapanthus on left

At the feeder

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

In The Beginning …

The first week of a brand new year. Much hope and expectations rests on it. Everything will be better, bigger, brighter. Gardeners have a bit of an edge here. We are after all, an optimistic lot. Practical too. Never mind the countless plants that died on our watch, the misdemeanors of the weather that put paid to plans and designs or, the times pests took control away from us. We not only carry on but our determination to succeed gets stronger. It’s not because we simply repeat our efforts but that we are good learners.

Gardeners are students of life. We observe, experiment, record, research all the time. We share information freely, heed advice from the experienced. We are constantly collecting and collating information (not on paper but mostly in our heads ). And then, we boldly go and garden our hearts out.

At the start of a new year, in the icy grip of winter, I’m grateful for the time to look back at the past year, review what was successful and what was not. Importantly, I note why. If something I specifically did to make it go either way, I learn what I must change. If however a cool spell kept pollinators away and the apple blossoms went unpollinated and so couldn’t bear fruit, I just accept that it was not in my control.

However, I also dream big at this time. This year, I tell myself , my garden will be brilliant. I will be brilliant. Seeds will be ordered and started on time. Planting, weeding, digging, pruning, deadheading, dividing, watering – every task will be done properly and regularly. And I’m going to do them all perfectly. I can see this amazing garden so clearly! Thriving through the seasons, blooming exuberantly and on time, providing fruit and vegetables in abundance, free of pests, weeds and bad weather.

I know at the same time that I’m merely dreaming of the impossible, reaching for the unreachable. Life is never that straightforward. I’ll get in my own way, the weather will not cooperate and the unpredictable will necessarily disrupt plans. The beauty of this is that, no matter what, the garden will still grow and do its best. And as a good learner, so must I.

In that spirit, I’m beginning the year by getting my gardening calendar organized. For years I had a new year’s day ritual of filling out a physical calendar – obviously started in a time before electronic devices. I realized last year, that I missed my old calendar where I could readily see what chores were scheduled every day. I’m unable to say exactly why I feel the need to revert but I am. I’m now armed with all my garden chores and plans listed and scheduled both on the calendar sent by the Nature Conservancy as well as the ones on my laptop and phone.

Some seed packets have arrived and I await a few more. Seed starting pots, trays and medium are ready and waiting. I’d written about acquiring self-watering pots for tomatoes and other veggies – it’s been done! Three of them arrived last week. Later in the week, I’ll home in on other plants to purchase and source and order them from my favorite local or specialist nursery in time for spring planting. Tools will be sharpened, stakes, ties and twine stocked, leaky watering hoses and cans replaced. To be prepared is half the victory.

Indeed, in the beginning, hope and resolve reign.

Note: While we continue in anxiety filled circumstances, let’s remember that we’re all in this together. As we work in the garden, we will dig ourselves out of these times and emerge stronger. But first, lets be there for each other.

I share with you a few of my recent watercolors of seed heads and pods. They are full of promise for a future full of potential, possibilities and prosperity.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

No Challenge, No Change

The final days of a year give pause to reflect and reassess on how we did, what we’ve experienced and learned. The new year is full of expectations and anticipation. We hope it will be the best year yet.

2020 has been a most challenging year. I doubt if there is even a single person who was not had to face some kind of test in the past ten months. At best, it’s been a struggle for most of us. Devastating for many. 2020 has not been easy.

We have had to adjust, change and rethink so much. How we work, live, shop, communicate, entertain and connect to others and the environment. But, we’ve done it – we humans are resilient. We grow from our problems. We adapt.

I’m giving plenty of thought to how I’ve handled 2020. Undoubtedly, my garden got me through. Like everyone else, I’ve dealt with fears, anxiety, confusion, loss, disappointments and setbacks. Through it all, the garden kept me engaged and busy. I was consoled by it’s beauty, comforted by its bounty, kept productive by the many tasks. Somehow, even easy, uncomplicated tasks like watering the plants, managed to calm the mind and lift the spirit.

So much joy was experienced in the garden. Birthdays, graduation, new jobs, small gatherings were celebrated in the midst of flora and fauna. I found time to do the varied chores with attention and appreciation. Equally, there were plenty of opportunities to sit back and enjoy the artistry of the plants. Beguiled by the antics of the numerous birds and butterflies, my resolve to ensure their continued residency in my garden was reaffirmed over and over.

What I’ve learned is that I need to slow down so I can immerse myself in what truly fulfills me. Short changing the garden by giving the tasks limited time or a rushed effort results in shortchanging my own joy and well-being. Devoting a good amount of time taking care of chores, listening to the birds chatter as they go about their own business, inhaling the perfumes of flowers and aromatics, reveling in the beauty of the plants, watching the bees and butterflies making their rounds has kept me in a state of equilibrium at a time when the world seemed to be torn asunder.

As if to reward my attention, the garden was brilliant all through the seasons. It filled cup repeatedly. And I couldn’t get enough. My only regret is that I was unable to share it with everyone. After all, gardens should be shared and lived in.

Reviewing the year, I understand that the garden recognized where I was coming from and comforted me accordingly. It gently revealed to me that I’d been stretching myself too thin, got involved with too many things and how far I’d moved away from my true north. Not any more.

While a good amount of the global challenges from 2020 will carry over into 2021, I feel better about the coping skills I’ve acquired from under the tutelage of the garden. I now have a clearer , cleaner vision for myself. Simplify, streamline and then full steam ahead. In the garden and in life.

From the bottom of my heart I send each of you the warmest of wishes – health, hope and happiness for the New Year. May 2021 bring peace, joy, love and laughter to all.

Note: Looking backwards –

December

November

October

October

September

August

August

August

July

June

May

May

May

April

March

February

January

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

A Wander To Wonder

But for the odd pot or furniture to put away, the garden has been put to bed. As I gaze out the window slowly sipping my coffee and contemplating the day, it looks very subdued and quiet out there. I’m planning on going into the garden a bit later in the day. Spend some time getting the benefit of the outdoors. Sunshine notwithstanding, it looks cold. I’m tempted to make excuses and stay in. I know that once I’ve made it outside, I’ll be totally fine. It is getting past the inertia that is the hardest.

After a morning of work, I’m ready for a break. I require some diversion to get my mind ready for the next tasks that must be completed. I pull on warm layers kept on the ready, grab my winter gear and step out. The sharp edge of the cold hits me as I squint in the bright sunlight. Right away I feel more awake and my body adjusts to the temperature. It’s not so bad at all.

Instinctively my eyes start surveying the perennial beds on either side of where I stand. I look down at the hellebores left uncut so the emerging buds are protected. Gently lifting a couple of the leaves, I note the tiny buds nestled at the base. In my minds eye, I see the flowers in bloom. Hellebores are so dependable. I cannot have enough of them. The rest of the beds look tidy and flat with the plants cut back. They and the bulbs are nicely tucked away for the winter under a thick layer of mulch. Staring a bit longer, I detect the slightest growth – slender tips spearing through. Crocus or snowdrops awakening way too early? There had been a few days of mild temperatures a couple of weeks ago. Could that have triggered some bulbs? I fervently hope not. There’s not much I can do about it so I tell myself to let it be.

Leaving the front garden, I walk past the vertical garden – a length that looks so devoid of any growth, that one would be hard-pressed to imagine the lush greenery that is a hallmark of this space in the growing season. My heart feels a twinge – I miss the wall garden. It surprises me to realize just how much I love this feature. I wonder if the mosses looking barely present in their dormancy miss their fern companions now ensconced safely in the emptied vegetable bed in the potager.

Standing at the top of the steps that lead down to meadow, I marvel at the filigree of tree branches above. Denuded of leaves, like a loosely knit scarf the patterns trace through the air against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. Below, I become aware of birds hopping around as they forage for food. It’s only in being still that I am able to detect the many sounds in the garden. What at first felt quiet is in reality humming with activity.

The rustle of small creatures in bushes, the scratching of the birds as they avail themselves of worms and scattered seeds, distinct birdsong punctuates the air and I begin to watch the various singers at different locations of the garden. Each time a gust of wind come through, I hear the creak of branches swaying. Airlifted leaves perform balletic dances before settling down again on the ground. The sunlight glancing off the metal sculpture brings into focus the moire pattern on its surface. Reminds me of eddies of water in a stream. I watch a hawk high on a tree of a neighbor’s property – it is feasting on something newly caught. I don’t want to know what its eating. Nearby, I watch a spider hard at work – a web is such a marvel. I wonder if the spider does it instinctively or has some forethought directed the strategy. As an artist, I know both factors come into play when I create.

Before I know it, an hour has passed. My body feels so alive and filled with inspiration. Wandering around the garden, has quieted my mind and prepared it for the work that lies ahead. I return indoors refreshed, relaxed and motivated.

Tomorrow, I will get to do it all over again. The daily gift of Nature.

Note: I’m very pleased to have my series of 6 paintings on “The Women Of India” at the International Art Show Of Raleigh on the Arts Of India. Do please take a look!

Hellebore leaves shielding new growth

Buds peeking through

All bedded down

Up close and personal with dormant mosses

The winter wall garden

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Giving Thanks

For a year replete with so much dissidence and despair, I find myself overcome with gratitude as never before. With Thanksgiving two days away, it is not the meal that is uppermost on my mind but the simple fact that I’m present and accounted for. Everything that has brought me through the months up to this point has my deep, sincere thanks. Every single thing.

Ups and downs, good and bad, sad and happy, birth and death have all been experienced. What a year! As I look back, it’s painful to recall some events but, there have been celebrations as well. If anything, 2020 has exposed the raw reality of life. Nothing glossed over. All the trimmings of how we live have been stripped away to reveal exactly who we are. And that I see is the gift.

The’ pause’ button was pressed and a ‘reset’ was initiated. A new way of living was begun.

To arrive at this realization, I give full credit to the garden. I rediscovered my joy of gardening and paying attention to the lessons it teaches. With so many other plans and projects canceled or postponed, I had no need to rush to be elsewhere. I approached each garden task with the unfettered willingness to do it properly. I even had the luxury of time to take satisfaction in completing each achievement and fully appreciate every chore the garden provided. What I did in all other aspects of my life paralleled what I did in the garden.

As I pruned and cut back wayward branches, I reduced the personal to-do list to only what was essential. Nurturing the plants with a layer of rich, homemade compost directed me to make delicious yet healthy new meals for the family. I took the time to pay mind to the process of creating them. Vegetables, flowers and fruits from the garden were no longer assumed as given; they were admired and prized. I started appreciating my own near and dear ones anew instead of taking them for granted.

Finishing a big task in the garden invariably caused my body to express itself by way of aches and soreness. Rather than complain about the demands of the garden, I noticed how much more energy I had, how my strength had improved and how my mood was uplifted. I took to valuing my physical self instead of grumbling about its decline with each passing year.

In spending more time in the garden, I became acutely aware of the wildlife that enjoyed it with me. Stopping to watch a pair of wrens checking the bird house or a robin foraging for worms to feed its babies, had me breathing deeply and relaxing my muscles. I chuckled at the butterflies and bees vying for a drink from the same flowers. Noting a toad hopping around and then staying completely still once it felt my presence made me stand still as well. A few minutes observing its markings and cuteness instantly put me in a good frame of mind.

I spent many hours watching the birds – right here in my own garden, there are so many different kinds. Over the years, I’d forgotten how pleasurable it is to be in their company. Chipmunks flourished this year – while I was not elated about their presence, I couldn’t help being amused by their antics. A live and let live policy seemed to be good for us all.

All sorts of problems and conundrums got resolved when I weeded and watered. Lines for new poems came to me, I found the correct approach to responding to difficult emails, ideas for gifts or celebrations, resolutions to conflicts, working through worries were some of the personal benefits from these chores. I mourned, adjusted to new circumstances, celebrated, commiserated, vented and worked out dilemmas in the garden. A lot of joy, fears, sorrow, tears, laughter and anger have found expression in this beautiful space.

To garden is to live in hope. That tomorrow will come and it will be bountiful. This, I believe with all my heart.

The more time I had, the more I spent it in simply appreciating the garden. After all the years of being too overwhelmed, I was finally ready to paint my garden. Not simply individual flowers but actual parts of the garden. It was as though I had been liberated. Nay, I had liberated myself. The garden had, very quietly and gently, coaxed me to shed my doubts and uncertainties. I was free to create as I pleased and exactly how I saw it.

I’ve so enjoyed the day by day changes in the garden. I’ve learned as much about myself this year as I have about my garden. It’s an intimate relationship. Together we have grown to be more authentic, articulate and expressive. For which, my gratitude knows no bounds.

I sincerely wish each of you a safe, healthy, meaningful Thanksgiving. It might look and feel different this year but celebrate it we must. Gratitude begets happiness.

Note: Here is a collection of my garden paintings since the pandemic started. I will share the ones done in the autumn (and potentially this winter) another time.

Daffodils

The Light By The Woods

The Embrace

F meleagris

Tree peony

Remembering Spring

The phlox garden

Vertical Garden 1

Vertical Garden 2

A Peek Into The Potager

The Side Path

Nasturtium

Beauty In Passing. Hydrangea

Summer Collapsing Into fall

Amaryllis Social Distancing

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

October, Oh My!

Last week was wild if anything. Full of the unexpected, shocks, surprises and pivots. We are all trying to process the events. It’s made me that much more aware of how fragile life is and how much we need to step back, regroup, reassess and reevaluate the hows, whys and whats of ourselves. It’s an ongoing effort to be and do better.

That’s pretty much the same in the garden. October is an excellent time to consider our gardens. How, why and what we do in them has far reaching effects. Now is the season to divide, remove, plant and reconfigure. Make the garden a haven for all – a place of refuge, relief and reflection. I firmly believe that a garden should mirror ones own personality and philosophy in life.

In my garden this week it’s about beating the retreat. All the tender perennials will start making their way back indoors to the greenhouse, basement or living quarters of the house. The greenhouse has been washed and cleaned. Before the plants get moved to their winter residence, they are clipped and trimmed, washed well to remove dust, debris and any bugs hanging around. It’s a real process and best done with attention and patience. Hygiene matters.

While it is easy to get caught up in the chores, I’m determined to take the time to appreciate the uniquely stunning beauty of October. The last of the summer flowers mingling with autumn blooms, the butterflies and bees making their rounds before long migratory journeys or months of hibernation, leaves turning colors that make the garden glow, strikingly beautiful seed heads and pods revealing future potential and possibilities, harvesting fruits and vegetables sweetened by the crisp chill. Nature offers up gifts all the time but none more varied and bountiful than at this time of year.

Taking the time to pause and absorb the natural beauty all around is unquestionably the best medicine during these particularly turbulent times.

Note: I hope you have registered to vote and have obtained the necessary information and/or materials to vote by mail/ early in person/ on election day.

Here are some images of what I’m enjoying in the garden:

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar