The Gift Of Timeout

It is such a busy time in the garden. Putting the garden to bed involves many chores and it feels as though one needs to rush before the weather gets really cold. Personally, over the years, I’d taken to doing the fall chores in a state of frenzy. There were always additional commitments demanding attention. But not this year.

This fall, all my free time can be spent in the garden. And for the most part, weekends are wide open for seasonal chores. This is a gift. For the first time in many years, I’m able to give the necessary focus to the tasks. This awareness was foremost on my mind over the weekend. During the previous week, the greenhouse was cleaned inside and out, the heater and fan serviced and set up. The pots of tender plants could be moved in. But first, in the interest of good hygiene, every plant must be clipped back and cleaned thoroughly. This is a process.

I reveled in this chore on Sunday. The weather was perfect too. With nowhere else to be, the whole day lay in front of me like an invitation to play endlessly. A gardener’s dream.

I clipped and trimmed the many standards of boxwoods, bays, roses and myrtles. In taking my time, I was able to identify any damage, disease or abnormality and take appropriate action. The top of the soil in the pots often play host to weeds and roly-polies (wood lice) so it’s always prudent to weed the pots and apply garlic spray to any take care of any bugs.

Once the trimming and checking is done, both, plants and post are ‘power-washed’ to get rid of dirt, debris and any tiny critters hiding around. And only then are the plants moved into the greenhouse. It takes some hours to get it completed. In the greenhouse, arranging the pots so each gets enough light and adequate space for good airflow can be tricky – much shifting and rearranging occurs. Given the size and weight of many of the pots, it is also physically tiring. However, given enough time, it is much less challenging.

For the most part, the really big plants have made the shift. The mid-size plants such as the rosemary, citruses and jasmines along with the many smaller topiaries will be given their check-up during the week – a task that actually serves very nicely as a method of decompressing after a long work day. Come the weekend, the greenhouse will be full.

This year, I’m relegating the Brugamansia, hibiscus and fancy/scented pelargoniums to the basement where the agapanthus and figs have always spent the winter. I’m hoping that this frees up some space in the greenhouse for a small table and chair. Given that we will still be observing current pandemic guidelines and continue working from home, having the opportunity to get a little change of scene in the warm greenhouse will be a very welcome relief. Spending even a short time amidst the plants with the fragrance of boxwood/orange blossoms/jasmines in bloom can make all the difference to one’s disposition.

I have a feeling I’ll have to set up a sign-up sheet so we don’t waste time arguing over who gets to enjoy the greenhouse at any given hour. Yes, the Wi-Fi extends to the greenhouse as well as the tree-house. Now you see where our priorities lie!

Note: Before being moved to the basement, the aforementioned plants will be cut back and cleaned as well. They will spend the winter in dormancy.

Also over the weekend, the espalier of fruit trees was pruned, fallen leaves everywhere were raked and deposited in the woods, a new quince tree was planted in the lower garden. The quince will be espaliered to form a nice feature in what was thus far an unexceptional spot.

I now have a basket full of bay leaves for friends to come by and stock up for winter cooking and fragrant tea. Turns out bay leaf tea has some good health value. I also brought in a nice bunch of rose scented pelargonium leaves to make a few bottles of cordial – I came across a recipe recently that I’m eager to try. Seems like a good way to make any day feel festive.

Several pots of annuals were emptied and washed before being put away for the winter. I gathered up all the nasturtium leaves for more of that delicious, lemony-peppery pesto.

Memories of summer evoked in our winter meals is one way of getting through the cold days in a good mood.

Thinking ahead, root-cuttings of some of the clippings of boxwood, bays etc have been started – by spring there should be new plants to train into topiaries and add to the collection.

So much got done in a day. It was singularly satisfying – something only the luxury of time could make happen. I did not hurry, skip opportunities to start root cuttings or set aside ingredients to try new recipes.

There is still plenty to do but instead of feeling the pressure, I’m looking forward to getting the job done right – with my full attention and presence.

Note: While we’re in the throes of getting our homes ready for the winter and in a state of anxiety about the national unrest and injustices, do take a look at my Printed Garden Collection for the home. Beautiful products to cheer up the home AND support the ACLU. Every effort to improve matters makes an impact.

The vertical garden looks stunning right now!

Rosehips in the sunlight

Beautyberry.

‘Wind Song’ rising above a froth of asters

A few of the pots awaiting clipping and cleaning

Root cuttings

Bay and rose geranium cuttings

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Are You Ready For Friluftsliv and Hygge?

Ah, fall! So fraught with contradictions. New beginnings like school and renewed resolutions – a second new year. And then, a winding down of activity as we prepare for winter and years end. We plant bulbs and make plans for the spring to come and we say goodbye to summer as we put the garden to bed. Beginnings and endings.

The weeks leading up to November will be busy. New plantings of shrubs will happen this week. I’ll slowly start cutting back and cleaning up. Mulching will be done to keep the beds cozy and warm. The greenhouse will be cleaned and readied to welcome back the tender plants. Hundreds of bulbs will be planted and several others put into cold storage for forcing. Outdoor furnishings put away or taken down. Repair or replace items and fixtures. Protect some plants like the roses and also the pots too large to store indoors. Firewood ordered and stacked.

I’m also getting ready to can, dry, freeze produce. Tomato sauce, grape jelly, pesto, store herbs, bake and freeze zucchini breads, This is all with hygge in mind. The Danish concept of ‘a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being’. As we move indoors, I want to make sure we have all that we need to feel good and safe through the dark days of winter. I’m stocking up on games, books, puzzles, lists of shows and movies to watch, podcasts and music to listen, new recipes and some creative projects. Warm throws and blankets will be available for comfort and coziness. This year, I’m bringing several of the smaller topiaries into the house to create a feeling of the garden. Eventually, amaryllis and other forced bulbs will grace every room until once again, we can step back into the garden next spring.

In my home, taking advantage of the weather, family members used various garden areas, terrace and even the tree-house as their ‘office’ through the spring and summer. As work from home continues, proper indoor work spaces need to be accommodated and made comfortable, have good lighting and adequate electric outlets and other essentials. I think it is imperative that we clearly distinguish between work and leisure and strike a good, healthy balance.

To me personally, this year feels a bit emotional. The garden has meant so very much more. In addition to sanctuary, teacher, muse and therapist, this year, it has been my lifeline. It has kept me healthy in mind, body and spirit in a really big way. So, within an overwhelming surge of gratitude, I’m feeling somewhat nervous and sad. As the days get shorter and winter settles in, there will be no garden to keep me grounded and occupied. I will miss safely distanced gatherings with dear friends. Not being able to hug them has been hard enough.

The cold notwithstanding, get outside I will. I must. Nature therapy is crucial. It’s free and inclusive – absolutely no excuse for not helping ourselves to fresh air, a dose of nature’s beautiful healing energy and some much needed exercise. It’s a way of life. That’s what Friluftsliv is all about. Loosely translated from Norwegian, it means open-air living’. Accepted as essential for mental wellness, the outdoors waits to serve.

I’m determined to get the better of my inclination to hibernate ( okay, I’m prone to laziness) and get quality time outside every day. In the hope of extending the time we can linger outdoors and continue to safely meet friends in the garden, I’m researching outdoor heating options. And when winter puts an end to that, going on walks will always be possible. Safe yet social. Nature and social engagement are quite possibly the best prescription combo for good overall health.

Note to self: corral winter walking shoes and other warm active-wear and keep ready.

We have all learned so much this year. And we’ve come so far. The world is still scary. As the pandemic rages, there are storms, fires and social unrest to contend. Lets do what we can to keep ourselves and each other safe and healthy.

Note: In the spirit of hygge, you might want to add some beautiful, useful elements to perk up your home with items from the Printed Garden collection. You will at the same time be supporting the ACLU and help it bring about civil/social justice.

Below are images of things that have brought me joy this past week:

Countryside vibrant with goldenrod.

Camouflaged!

The resident praying mantis

The vertical garden right now

Ready for a socially distanced evening

The tree-house ‘office’

A swathe of sunflowers

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Laborless Days

So much of gardening is seen as a series of plans, lists and chores. Endless chores. And that’s mostly true. But there are ample rewards – life lessons, inspiration, nature therapy, health benefits, food, beauty, sanctuary and a general sense of well-being.

This week, I’m going to do the bare minimum in the garden – watering as needed mostly. The rest of the time, I’m simply going to enjoy being in the garden. No list in hand. I want to hold on to as many memories of enjoying the garden. Once we are sequestered indoors in the winter, those memories will assure me that I took every opportunity to revel in the garden when I could. No regrets.

For now, the myriad chores can wait.

When Does Fall …

When does fall

feel like fall?

When does one stop

dancing at summer’s ball?

Swirling confetti

Brilliant fireworks

Who pauses to see

the season’s perks?

Rushing to clean up

erasing the summer

Readying for winter

planning next year

What would happen

if we could stay

amidst the leaf piles

in endless play?

– Shobha Vanchiswar

The meadow right now –

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

 

 

September To Remember

It’s the first day of September. While the distinct nip in the air is familiar, there is nothing else recognizable about this particular September. The usual end of vacation blues ( what vacation?), back to school excitement, return to work vigor ( return?) and traditional planning for the winter ahead have been replaced with uncertainty and apprehension. All I know is that I must be optimistic and find comfort in the rhythm of the everyday tending to work and home.

Until the pandemic is brought under control and we have the effective vaccines and treatments in place, we are perforce going to remain at home. Our activities will be restricted and as it gets colder, more time will be spent indoors. With that in mind, I’m planning on ways to heighten comfort and joy to offset any feelings of fear or anxiety for not only the winter but the year ahead.

I’ve learned a lot in these past 6 months. About myself, others and the world we live in. We know what we’ve missed, what has brought us joy and what we can do without. It’s been a time of reflection, reassessing, reset.

The garden has been so central during this challenging time. I truly cannot imagine how I might have coped without it. If one was not conscious before, they should be by now – to have a garden, however tiny, is a singular luxury. Lets not ever forget that.

For the most part, doing the myriad chores that gardening demands has been a godsend. It nourished mind, body and spirit like nothing else could have. But, certain tasks could be made easier or even eliminated. Since I’m counting on being able to travel by this time next year (my fingers and toes are crossed as I write), I’m eager to include in my plans more efficient methods to safeguard all the hard work I’ve put into the garden.

Going away on vacation always brings to the forefront the matter of how to keep the plants watered. The easiest is to have someone keep an eye on the garden and take care of the watering. But, unless there is a friend happy to take on this responsibility, it can be expensive to compensate an individual. Specifically, a vegetable garden demands diligent watering and more oversight. To that end, I’m looking into getting bigger, self-watering pots for the vegetables we grow in the greenhouse.

This year, the tomatoes have been targeted by the squirrels. They have been stealing the tomatoes just as they’re ready for picking! Who ever thought squirrels enjoyed this fruit! Without observing a bushy tailed thief ourselves, we could not have solved the mystery of the missing tomatoes. So, some critter-proofing is in order.

Still on the topic of squirrels, they have always been after the apples on the espalier fence. Normally, we have had to cover the whole fence in netting to protect the fruits. I have always found the netting to be unsightly. It makes this pretty feature look like a lumpy, misshapen length of darkness. I’m currently investigating fruit cages. Obviously nothing on the market answers the exact requirements but I’m hoping to come up with something that we can alter to fit our needs. I envision a feature that looks neat, practical and less offensive to the eye.

The maturation and evolution of the meadow is a long process but this year, it has finally shown its potential. I’m quite chuffed about that!

I’m contemplating the gaps to be filled and the plants that require thinning. In other adjoining areas, I’m going to introduce native sedge grasses to not only cover thus far wasted real estate but to also play a role in the overall design of the lower garden. This is always a fun project for me – I love experimenting with plants. Between the hundreds of bulbs and the large number of sedges to plant, the fall is going to be very busy. But just imagine how nice it will all look next year!

Gathering in the garden with small numbers of friends has been possible only because of the warm weather. Hoping to extend the time we can spend out in the garden, I’m researching outdoor heaters. With or without friends, my dream is to be able to sit outside for some time everyday until the winter precludes such niceties.

The outdoor lights I’d mentioned last week are now in place. They certainly make the garden look festive. Which is exactly the point. If there is anything at all this pandemic has shown us is that life is fragile. Everyday must be celebrated.

Note: With so much unrest and injustice in the nation, I’m doing my best to help make matters right. But, I need your support – please join me in raising funds for the ACLU. 50% of the profits from the sales of the Printed Garden Collection will be donated to the ACLU. I believe you will enjoy the products as much as I do!

The sphere at night – I love it!

Chelones and Heleniums in the meadow

An over view of a part of the meadow

Ready for a socially distanced dinner. Notice the string lights!

Hummingbird at rest

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Stock And Bond

Summer is winding down and frankly, I’m eager for cooler temperatures. Between the heat, humidity and biting critters, it’s made gardening less than pleasant. Simply being in the garden is uncomfortable. Given the current paucity of options for visiting, socializing and entertainment, not being able to spend enough time in my garden has been quite frustrating,

However, taking the lessons learned from the lockdown, I’m determined to be positive and make the best of the situation. Typically, I’m away for most of August only to return to a garden in desperate need of care. Forced to stay in place this year has been an opportunity to review and reset the garden. In addition, staying on top of the weeding, feeding and general maintenance is satisfying.

Right off, I finally got around to addressing the Sanguisorba alba conundrum. This plant, obtained at a ‘rare and unusual plant’ event, has the prettiest of leaves. Serrated edged ovals of bluish green foliage gave reason to covet. And I did. After a rain shower, the beads of water sit like diamonds on the leaves. Even more reason to love it.

However, the fuzzy, white flowers are less than stellar. They look like albino woolly worms which quickly turn a sad shade of brown in the heat of the sun.

I’d just cut off the blooms so as to allow the foliage to be the real draw. But, there was always something that made even that impossible. Something that obviously agreed with me on the plant’s beauty. Japanese beetles! Every year, a whole army of the loathsome creatures would devour the leaves rendering them skeletal and unsightly. Still, I was too enchanted with the plants and just a tad too stubborn to admit they were a mistake. Till this summer.

The Sanguisorba were unhesitatingly dug up and disposed off. In their place, were planted Echinacea. Native, attractive, butterfly and bee friendly and happily hardy. I think that both, garden and gardener breathed a big sigh of relief to be rid of the burden of trying to support an inappropriate, high maintenance member. Now, there is so much more harmony in the grouping of Echinacea, Eupotorium, Asters, Solidago and Rudbeckia (the paler yellow sweet coneflower variety) and phlox/stock. The pollinators have certainly endorsed my action.

This year, I have derived so much pleasure from watching the birds in the garden, that I’ve ordered another bluebird/wren house to install in the front garden. I look forward to observing more avian activity from the comfort of the porch preferably with a drink of choice in hand. I also expect to have the increased number of birds patrol this area for bugs and such. A mutual sense of kinship I hope.

Keeping in mind that we expect to spend more time in the garden from now on, I’ve had time to consider more carefully the places and times we hangout in the garden and plan on improving these sites. More comfortable cushions for the daybed in the tree house – it’s my husband’s ‘office’ on good weather days. Better, eco-friendly (solar powered, LED) string lights for the terrace to make it festive and pretty – we are, after all, spending so much time here.

Better systems for protecting the fruit trees from marauding squirrels are under consideration. Similarly, I’m going to re-do the way we are growing tomatoes and squash in the greenhouse but keeping it under wraps till a proper plan is ready before revealing it to my husband who sees this particular growing operation as his realm. Ha.

While the weather is too hot and humid to physically do much in the garden, my mind is working overtime to improve it. For ourselves and the environment.

Note: With so many events of injustice and unrest in the news these days, there is great need to do what we can to help the victims. Please join me in supporting the American Civil Liberties Union – 50% of the profits from the sale my Printed Garden collection of soft home furnishings will be donated to the ACLU. I’m very proud of these products and I believe you will enjoy having them in your home. Together, we can do our part to make things right. Your support means so much. Stronger together.

The wall right now

Japanese beetles on the Sanguisorba

After the attack

With the removal of the Sanguisorba, the bed is reset.

Phlox

Sweet Coneflower

Bees all over the Joe Pye

Echinacea

Hibiscus

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Name Game

I understand the importance of nomenclature. Names matter. Working in a biological science, it is incumbent on one to know the scientific name of a microbe or any other living subject – so critical to ones understanding. Yet, as a gardener, I have been less than diligent.

This lapse is due to some laziness on my part. While I’m good with knowing the Genus, I haven’t tried very hard on the species or variety. If I know them, it is really because it came to me without effort. But for a large number of plants, I tend to rely on my archive of plant labels to recall the exact type. I know, that is inexcusable.

The other reason is that all too often, we gardeners use common and botanical names interchangeably. Common names are fine as long as one restricts their use regionally. The colloquial titles can change across the country. I like common names of plants because they’re typically on point in description as in ‘coneflower’ or ‘lady’s mantle’ or, in purpose/usage as in ‘bee balm’ or ‘butterfly weed’. Either way, they are easy to identify. Frankly, common names are charming and often amusing.

Fun fact: Sometimes, the common names of herbs are downright macabre. According to author Sabrina Jeffries, this was so herbalists and healers could conceal their recipes for medicinal potions and lotions from their clients. For example, ‘eye of newt’ as in the witches brew in Macbeth, is actually mustard seed! Similarly, ‘toe of frog’ is buttercup and ‘tooth of wolf’ is monkshood. By giving ominous titles, a mystery or secret was maintained.

Botanical labels are more tricky. While still mostly descriptive, they are generally in Latin or Greek. So unless one is, at the very least, passingly fluent in them and can therefore interpret the names, it means the scientific designations must be memorized. Easier said than done.

Once out of the regional area, the easiest way to speak with other gardeners is by way of the proper names of plants. All over the world, this is the agency of communication. After all, botany is a science. That fact is often overlooked because unlike other sciences that require work in laboratories and under specific conditions and procedures, gardening is possible anywhere and by just about anybody. The garden itself is perhaps the oldest laboratory. Humans have been working the soil from time immemorial. We learned what worked and what didn’t as we went along. And we labeled the plants as we saw fit. Until Linnaeus came along and created order in the chaos of common names. Thank goodness.

As I pottered around my garden over the past weekend, I was appalled over how few of the species names I remembered. It’s mostly because I’ve simply not taken the trouble to commit them to memory. ‘If I can look it up, why bother memorizing?’ Well, the truth is, I don’t often look up the entire names unless I have to. This is despite the fact that I’ve long admired my gardener friends and mentors who not only use only the scientific names but also remember them without effort. Some of these friends are my seniors by several years if not a decade or two. So age is not an excuse I can make for my ignorance or forgetfulness.

I’m resolved to do better. Just like it is not cool to say one is bad at remembering names of people, it is equally uncool to ignore plant names. No buts about it. As a gardener worth my soil, I pledge to step up my game. It’ll be a process as I’m still a work in progress. But then, so is my garden.

Note: Don’t miss out on contributing to the ACLU whilst acquiring something beautiful for your home or somebody else’s! Stock is limited. Your support is needed. Thank you!

Some flowers currently in bloom:

Echinacea purpurea/purple coneflower with yellow swallowtail

Agapanthus/Lily Of The Nile with yellowswallowtail

Helenium autumnale/sneezeweed

Monarda fistulis/wild bergamot

Lobelia cardinalis/Cardinal flower

Asclepias incarnata/Rose milkweed

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Masked And Muzzled?

The garden looks and feels different these days. Mostly because I’m spending more time in it than I ever have. It’s a privilege to be privy to all the routine goings on in the garden. It feels more intimate.

My garden has always been an extension of our home. Apart from the actual time spent gardening, it is where we enjoy gathering for meals with or without friends, spend time reading in a shady corner or take a snooze. When my daughter was little, she’d play in the garden endlessly and nap in a hammock while I went about my weeding and planting chores.

But, these months, the garden has taken on a greater importance. It’s the go to place. For everything. Starting in the spring when lockdown was mandated, the only way to get some sense of normalcy was in the garden. Sunlight, fresh air, new growth – all life affirming and reassuring. To me, it was as though the world was telling me that it was going to be all right. When the news was scary and we were all getting anxious about the unfamiliar, formidable virus, stepping out in the garden and communing with nature was the sanity-keeping elixir.

Very quickly we each found ourselves in the garden for all sorts of things. My daughter finished up college from home. She attended her Zoom classes in the garden. My husband made the tree house his office. Phone calls were taken as he walked around the garden. I too brought my work out to the terrace – writing, planning, designing, painting. We Zoomed, FaceTimed and Skyped with family in far flung places and friends living much closer. We shared our garden with many. Virtually.

All along, we enthusiastically did all the necessary seasonal tasks required and savored the opportunity to watch it gradually grow and transform itself into a beautiful sanctuary. Our shelter from the stormy world.

Right now, as one looks around my garden, you get the feeling the garden itself is in compliance of the New York State mask mandate. The grapes, apples and most of the pears have been covered in bags. To protect them from pests and critters.

This year, I decided to try something I’d been wanting to do for years – growing pears in bottles. Of the original four bottles, two are doing well. I’m hoping the current heatwave does not harm them. The two other pears broke off from their stalk very early. It’s a simple project but it’s a thrill watching the fruit grow in their glass ‘muzzles’. I can totally envision the bottles in October –sitting pretty with a full pear. Ready to be filled up with pear brandy. For those cold winter nights up ahead.

These days, the garden is where we can meet our friends – safely and comfortably. We share meals and drinks at a distance. Play games. Easter, birthdays and a graduation were duly celebrated in the garden. Very small parties but party nevertheless. Quality over quantity.

We meet our visitors masked and distanced. But we meet – that means everything to us.

And speaking of celebrations, absolutely every good thing, big or small, is honored. The first sighting of a Monarch butterfly, the first fig or tomato of the season, a clean bill of health for a friend who has emerged safely from chemotherapy, the success of growing topiaries from root cuttings, a positive review of a poem or a sale of a painting, spying hummingbirds feasting at the cardinal flowers in the meadow, a handwritten note from a long ago friend, fresh flowers from the garden.The list is endless!

We’ve all come to know how fragile the world we’d come to take for granted truly is. Never again. The pandemic unmasked our hubris. Now, humbled and openly vulnerable, we relearn how to care. For ourselves, each other and our planet. In time, the physical masks we must now wear will come off but until then, they’re a small price to pay for our well-being.

Note: Sprucing up your home? Need gifts for brides/ newlyweds, housewarmings, hosts, birthdays? Do check out The Printed Garden collections. You will be supporting the ACLU at the same time!

Bagged grapes

Bagged pear

Coming along!

Photo shoot of the Collection 2 of The Printed Garden

Haircut in the garden

Graduation parade

Cheers!

Nephew helps with allium project

Setting up for a music video

Keeping masks on the ready!

Masked and distanced audience

Concert in the garden

Painting in the garden

Zoom class in progress

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Green, Greener, Greenest

July is lull time in the garden. The rapid fire blooming of spring is over and summer exuberance is yet to happen. This is the calm, green space between. Calm but with the promise of excitement to come. I have finally learned to appreciate this phase.

Looking around the garden, it appears overwhelmingly green. The splashes of any other color are far and few between. In the perennial beds out front, only the acanthus and astilbe are in bloom. Their shades of pink understated and subtle. The Cimicifuga, Joe Pye weed, Phox, Solidago and other summer flowers haven’t yet to make an appearance. They will be in full bloom in August. Until that time, these beds don’t look like much and I’ve often been tempted to rip it all up and do something different. Maybe I will someday. But not this year.

Along the side path, the peonies finished a while back and the only bits of color are from the Echinacea at the head of the path and the clump of day lilies in the middle. The roses are taking a break as it is much too hot and humid for them. Unripe figs hang from the tree near the roses but in my mind, I can already taste their sweet, honey flavored flesh. The espalier across from these plants are thick with leaves sheltering fruit still green and empty robin’s nests.

The side terrace however, has become a Mediterranean–tropical refuge. The jasmines and gardenias have started blooming and send their perfume to all parts of the garden. The citrus are bearing fruit too – the Calamondin oranges are hanging like Christmas ornaments and the Myer lemons are growing plump. They will keep growing well into the fall and after they’re brought back into the greenhouse. Late fall/early winter will be brightened by the ripe, sunshine yellow fruits and memories of summer will be relived as we savor lemon tarts, marmalade and evening cocktails.

For now, I’m content with the quiet assurance of the green fruit.

The herb garden/potager has the most color. The yarrow’s sulfur yellow flowers hoot and holler, late foxgloves toss out pink and white splotches, the Monarda bursts in red, the pelargoniums sport hot pink and the borage beams in blue. The colors clash wildly and it feels festive and noisy. Yet, it’s all relative – green still dominates.

In the meadow, some of the milkweed has begun to bloom and I can’t help but look impatiently for the butterflies. The white flowers of the oakleaf hydrangea are turning rosy as if the summer heat has got to them. But largely, the whole space is a vast mass of green. The pink turtleheads, asters, rest of the milkweeds and other plants are nowhere ready to bloom. I’m eagerly awaiting that time when this will be a very busy place full of color and visiting insects.

The vertical garden is the greenest. It was always meant to be so. As calm and cool the greenness is, it still feels ebullient and cheerful. A reminder that green is more than we think it is.

And that’s the whole point in this period of lull. Now is the time to appreciate plants for themselves. The variety of shapes in their growth, the different types of leaves, the many shades of green. A gardener must design for this time as well. Use the green forms, texture and hues to provide the visual interest. Without benefit of other colors to distract, this is a real challenge. I’m still struggling with it.

So, while its easy to congratulate oneself in the spring, July is really the test of my skill in design. Thus far, I am duly humbled by green.

FYI – as an artist, green is equally challenging. But still I try …

Note: Do please check out the Printed Garden – cheer up your ( or someone else’s) home and support the ACLU at the same time. Thank you! Those of you who have already purchased some items, please accept my heartfelt gratitude. I hope you are enjoying your ‘flowers’!

Front bed of perennials. So much green!

The other bed in front

Acanthus in front

Astilbe in the perennial bed

Butterflyweed in front bed

Echinacea at the top of the side path

Overview of the herb/potager

Yarrow and Monarda

In the checkerboard garden.

The meadow mid-July

Milkweed starting to bloom

Texture and shapes in the meadow

Oakleaf hydrangea blushing

Sparks of orange nasturtium and blue nemesia

The wall

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Thought For Food

A significant upside to the lock-down is that more people are gardening. This makes me so happy. Of all the things one could resort to during this uncertain, scary time, gardening is perhaps one of the best activities to do. You and I both know all the benefits so I shall not reiterate them but for myself, working in my garden has been my salvation.

Vegetable gardening is what most have taken up. There is something fundamental and inherent about that. Historically, how and what we eat dictates how well we survive. In good times and bad. An unprecedented crisis such as this pandemic had us naturally look to our basic need. Subconsciously, food is always ( okay, maybe mostly) on our minds. This threat, being a challenge to our health got us to think about keeping us in good, robust condition. Growing and preparing owns own food is the obvious solution. It gives one a sense of taking charge and doing something positive. All good I say. It reminds me of the Victory gardens that proliferated during WW II.

While seed companies were suddenly faced with a run on their stock, people were (re-)discovering the joys of gardening. Friends living in tiny city apartments were growing herbs, radish and tomatoes on their window-sills and balconies. Some have been training peas and beans around their windows. A quick search on the Internet reveals a plethora of innovations for apartment gardening. I’m quite blown away by what cool stuff is available.

Others who already had a yard, have gotten busy making all manner of vegetable gardens. Raised beds, French potagers, English kitchen gardens, vegetables ‘plots’ solely comprised of pots – it’s been exciting to learn of all the activity. Even better, swathes of lawn have been turned over to rows of vegetable plants, pollinators have been encouraged with the addition of native flowering plants, organic practices have been adopted, composting has become routine – my goodness! We are already doing better.

I myself upped my veggie game this year. For the first time, I started growing peas and micro-greens, increased the number of tomato and zucchini plants and added more herbs. In the fruit department, a long desired persimmon tree joined the apple, pear and fig trees already in residence. FYI – While we get a nice amount of produce, the garden in no way covers all our vegetable needs as we follow a mostly plant based diet.

More significantly for me, I widened the usage of the plants and have been trying new recipes. The repertoire of family meals has grown substantially and we’re thoroughly enjoying the experience. I suspect that we have each become even more particular about where and what we select when we eventually dine out. The bar has been raised.

The CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture) Co-Op I belong to started up their 2020 weekly deliveries a couple of weeks ago. It’s a joy to get the produce from a local farm instead of the supermarket. And we’re continuing to try new recipes.

I’ve received several recipe requests so I thought I’d share a couple of old, tried and true family recipes as well as a couple of new ones that I’ve tried recently..

Cilantro Chutney – Most people think of chutneys as a sweet-salty-spicy mix but in Indian cooking, chutneys are not always sweet. This one is not sweet but is great on sandwiches, brushed on roasted vegetables, meats, fish and anything needing a little oomph.

This recipe is from my mother-in-law who was a highly gifted cook.

Jaya Mani’s Cilantro Chutney

1.

2 T oil

2 T urad dal (white lentil)

1 T fenugreek seeds  — optional

1 pinch hing (asofoetida powder)  — optional

1 large dry red chilli

 (2)

1 t black mustard

 (3)

1 medium bunch cilantro washed and drained (including stems)

Salt to taste

Fry (1) together until lentils are toasted – light brown. Strain but save the oil. Add strained mixture (1) to blender. Add (3), some water and grind to a paste. Remove chutney paste from blender. Add (2) to drained oil and fry until mustard starts to pop. Add (2) to chutney  and mix well. Use within 2-3 days or freeze.

 Suggested servings:

  • Sandwiches with thinly sliced white bread, butter, chutney, thinly sliced coriander

  • Chutney with cooked  rice

  • Chapati/paratha roll with scrambled egg and chutney

  • Crackers, chutney and cheese

Rose geranium syrup over roasted figs – This combines two things from my garden. It’s a very simple but elegant dish. Add a few rose-geranium leaves when making a sugar syrup. Once the syrup has cooked down to desired thickness, remove the leaves. Let cool.

Roast figs – Cut fresh figs in half and arrange cut side up on a baking sheet. Drizzle some extra-virgin oil over them. Roast in oven at 425 degrees for 10 minutes or until they bubble.

Serve figs with syrup dribbled over them. Add a dollop of plain Greek yogurt on the side. You feel healthy that way. To up the ante, decorate the plate with a few rose-geranium flowers.

Strawberry-Basil Ice Cream – When I came across this recipe, I was intrigued. Basil in a dessert! It is delicious and so refreshing.

Ribs with rhubarb glaze and radish-rhubarb salad – I wanted to use rhubarb in more than the usual crisp or compote. This recipe from Bon Appetit turned out well.

Strawberry-basil ice cream

Khao Soi by @miravanchiswar Recipe from dear friend @sonal.nair. Cilantro from the garden

Basil pesto

Dolma using leaves from my Concord grapevine by @muralimani

Sandwiches using the cilantro chutney

Rhubarb cake

Chive quiche @miravanchiswar

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

A Kind Of Hush

It was an important week. My daughter graduated college – a virtual ceremony. No pomp nor circumstance but to be fair, given present state of affairs, it was as good as it could get. One can feel bad about what the fresh graduates have missed but lets face it – this is a historic time and they now have stories to relate that will outmatch previous generations!

Then, there was not only the summer solstice but a total solar eclipse to go with it. While we don’t ourselves have anything to do with the phenomenon, it just feels like the earth and it’s principle star have been busy. Quietly.

In all honesty, I’ve really appreciated the quiet that has resulted in the lockdown. The lack of vehicular traffic heightened our awareness of the sounds of nature. The birds didn’t get louder, they could be heard better. Likewise the peepers, the bees, even the breeze rustling through the leaves. With less outside distractions, I’ve observed the sounds, activities, colors and smells in the garden. It’s been nurturing, inspiring, healing and grounding. A gift.

At this time of year, another sort of quiet creeps into the garden. A lull of sorts. The spring hoopla slows down and the summer soirée is yet to begin. The garden right now is mostly shades of green punctuated with the hues of minor players like cranesbill geraniums, evening primrose, yarrow, borage, woodland anemone and such. One could see this as poor planning on my part. I should think about adding more late June flowering plants. On the other hand, I’m happy giving attention to these less flashy members of the garden. They are so valuable in serving the pollinators. Plus, as an artist, I’m able to admire their forms more closely. They’re easy to overlook when the roses and peonies dominate.

The summer asks for none of the frenzied work that spring demands. From now on, it’s all maintenance – deadheading, weeding, feeding and watering. On each day of the week, one of those tasks is tackled – Weeding Wednesday, Feeding Friday, Trimming Tuesday, Thirsty Thursday, Mowing Monday. You get the idea. The days settle into a comfortable rhythm. There’s time to simply enjoy the garden because doing the daily tasks regularly means I’m not spending long hours doing them. After all, Summer is for Sitting Back. Am I right?

Meanwhile, the first peas have been consumed right off the plants. Two batches of basil pesto made last week sit in the freezer in anticipation of winter meals. A third batch has already contributed to a delightful pasta dinner. The Mojito mint has been called into service and I’m thoroughly enjoying fresh cilantro, rosemary, thyme and oregano sparking up our meals. The lettuce and Swiss chard are also being harvested regularly. All of which contributes to a sense of quiet satisfaction.

No doubt about it. There’s a kind of hush. All over my world.

 

Tomato flowers

Washed basil

Pesto

 

Peas

Stevia for sweetening tea

Cilantro for chutney

Mojito mint

Herb ‘wall’

Yarrow

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar