My Big Little Garden

A few days ago, I watched the The Big Little Farm – ‘an award-winning documentary about bringing a farm back to life after years of neglect. New farmers, the Chester family, work with nature – not against it – to create a living system with biodiversity where each plant, animal and insect contributes to the health of the land’. I encourage everyone to watch it. It is inspiring, informative, life-affirming and heartwarming.

The basic principles applied in the film are easily implemented in our gardens both public and private. It is how we humans should be cultivating the land. In harmony with nature, maintaining that balance that is so fragile and yet so critical.

The day after I saw the Big Little Farm, I sat a while outside thinking about the film. I could drew a parallel with the evolution of my own garden. When we first bought our property, it was a completely neglected piece of land. The house, built in 1915 was sound and solid. It needed updating but nothing drastic. The garden however, was a total shamble. Left on its own for a few years, it had lost the the battle with the woods in the back which had started encroaching well into the property. We had to measure exactly where the property line was and then started removing all manner of invasive vegetation and debris.

To the side of the property, weeds had quite literally become trees. You couldn’t walk there let alone examine that side of the house. Just out of grad school, we were so naive that we bought the house without really knowing what condition this part was in. After we closed on the house, we had to hire a tree service to remove the “weeds” and open up the space to create a proper path connecting front to back. Mercifully, that side of the house was intact.

In front, there were sickly evergreens right up against the house. They’d grown so tall and gangly that you couldn’t quite see the house. Imagine how dark it felt inside.

Separating us from our neighbors on either side were jungle-like hedges and raggedy shrubs totally gone out of control. In general, we’d inherited a complete mess.

Slowly, we cleared and cut, waited and watched, planned and prepared. I realized I could create garden ‘rooms’ with the different levels that were naturally presented. One squarish area sat atop the old septic tank. This meant that beneath a foot and a half to two feet of soil, was a thick layer of concrete. Nothing with deep roots would do well here. I made it the potager where herbs and vegetables could grow. (The neighbor’s cedar tree was much shorter at that time – it is now huge and casts more shade than I’d like). The fact that I’ve added native wisteria and espaliered pears on two sides of this space is typical of how I’m always pushing the limits.

After the clearing and opening up happened in the front, a charming garden was envisioned. I believe I succeeded and the beds are a happy mix of bulbs and mostly native perennials that have something in bloom through three seasons. It starts off in spring looking colorful and orderly, then gradually gets looser and assertive in the summer and by the fall, it looks rather wild and rambunctious. I like it that way. As do the bees and butterflies.

The meadow in the back was my big push to eliminate all lawn and create a lush area of native plants where native wildlife could thrive and result in an ecosystem that was in balance. This is the most ambitious project in the garden. It’s still evolving but, it is certainly already the busiest area! Birds, bees, butterflies, worms, toads, garden variety snakes and a whole slew of other insects thrive here.

Right from the start, we knew we wanted to practice organic methods and began composting kitchen and garden waste. We also set up a rain barrel to water the garden. We eschewed gas powered mowers and found ourselves a manual push-reel mower that had been put out at the curb for garbage pick-up. This was in the early 1990’s. We knew nobody who was composting or using rain barrels. Gas was cheap and non-organic products were prolific. We were bucking the trend and labeled quaint or hippie-ish. This was amusing to me – I have a strong background in Microbiology and molecular biology. All I’d been doing was applying that knowledge to restore the health of the soil and ecosystem of the land. Straightforward science.

Through old-fashioned research ( pre-Google) and much trial and error, the garden is now a place of biodiversity, beauty and balance. It is a very hardworking garden and tries to serve all life forms well. As small as it is, this garden works big. I’m constantly learning and growing with it. Perhaps most significantly, it stands testament to what each of us blessed with a bit of land (or pots) can do to become a contributing part of the larger effort to keep our planet and ourselves healthy, happy and in harmony.

Note: A bit of what’s doing in the garden this week –

Some images from how the garden used to be. I wish I’d known to take more photos of the ‘Before’.

The potager/herb garden is ready for planting!

A bit of the mess on the side-path taken from indoors.

The original front garden!

Ripping up turf and compacted soil over the old septic tank

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Open Season

After all the weather related trials and tribulations, the garden opened for visitors this past Saturday. After a year of forced ‘hiatus’, the Open Days Program was up and running! And it felt so good. Opening my garden to visitors is a sly way to meet lots of like-minded folk and have fun, interesting conversations all day long. While the visitors invariably appreciate the sharing of my garden, little do they know how much I enjoy meeting fellow gardeners and garden lovers.

Open Day 2021 was no exception. Following a few days of torrential rain, Saturday was sun filled and bright. The humidity and temperature was high but, nobody cared. It felt wonderful to be outdoors. I was so ready to see people that the fact that the garden was a bit toned down on the flowers in bloom section, did not bother me. Abnormal heat from the previous week had put paid to several flowers that would typically have been at peak beauty. But, there was enough color provided by the baptisia, roses, geraniums, native wisteria, hibiscus, nasturtiums, peonies, irises and others.

As gardener and designer, I know my garden all too well. Warts and all. So it is hard to be objective. The critical mind always takes over. Stuff will bother me that absolutely nobody will notice. Still, until I improve or change it, the ‘problem’ will nag me. And by its very existence, a garden is never done. There is always more to do, undo and redo. And then, like a knight in shining armor, Open Day arrives to rescue me from myself.

After doing the usual last minute fussing and primping, the garden is what it is as the clock strikes the start of Open Day. Visitors arrive and perhaps it was my imagination but this year, they seemed more eager to tour and observe. Like me, they too must’ve missed Open Days. How else can we see all the beautiful private gardens that we yearn to see and covet?

On my part, I’m always impressed by the depth of knowledge and degree of curiosity that visitors bring . I’m gratified when they take note of elements and plants that I’ve designed and/or selected. Seeing my garden through their eyes and preferred interests is enlightening and fun. We commiserate about trends and fads, discuss cultivars and species, joke about chores, share ideas and information and linking it all together is our deep and abiding love for gardening.

I don’t know or care to know their political leanings, religion, socioeconomic status, level of education or other credentials. All that matters is the universal connection we have to nature and consequently to each other. Surely, if we can come together on all aspects of gardening, that in itself becomes, literally and figuratively, the common ground upon which we, as a people can build better relationships and understandings.

At the end of the day, I was, as always, euphoric about the new alliances made, plant suggestions, garden recommendations, good feedback on my own garden, humorous anecdotes shared and hopelessly optimistic about achieving all my horticultural dreams.

After the last guests had left and all paraphernalia had been put away, it was with such satisfaction that I ‘closed’ the garden. Days like that are truly special. At many levels.

My sincere thanks to all who came from near and far – I loved meeting each of you. Deepest gratitude to all who purchased from the Printed Garden collection. Your generosity supports good causes like the ACLU and orphan children with HIV.

Note: Do sign up to visit private gardens through the season and all across America at the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. They will inspire, motivate, teach and entertain. I promise!

All but the first image below were taken by ceramist and photographer August Brosnahan:

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Wow! Factor

It is human to want the Wow! Factor. When we take effort to create or do something, we seek gratification in impressing others. A meal, a sculpture, a song, an outfit, a speech, the list is endless, we want some kind of accolade that confirms our excellence. In turn, we expect to be impressed when we experience, attend or view someone else’s effort. Ordinary is ho-hum.

Gardens are no exception. Gardeners want to create something special and garden visitors want to see something special. As my Open Day approaches, I am acutely aware of this tenet.

Typically, most gardens on the Open Day roster, are large gardens. Large is impressive. Swathes of lawn, tall specimen trees, sweeping borders, big garden rooms demonstrate the impact of size. There are vistas and vantage points. It is hard not to be in awe.

On the other hand, small gardens like mine must work hard to justify their presence on that impressive roster. As my friend Timothy ( head gardener at Untermyer Gardens) said to me recently – “It’s much harder to do what you do in a small garden.” Thank you Timothy! Simply hearing him say that felt validated.

Yet, over the years, I’ve observed that garden visitors feel more comfortable in modest gardens. This is because, those gardens are more relatable. After all, more people have similar sized properties themselves. It is easier to see how similar plantings and/or design elements can be replicated. It takes a greater stretch of the imagination to scale down something from an estate sized landscape to a typical suburban plot. I’m always gratified when at the end of their visit, folk tell me how many notes or photos they’ve taken to help them in their own gardens. That is exactly what Open Days should be about – to share, learn, empower and support. Note: I am not immune to a bit of praise 😉

In return, I too have learned from visitors – from unfamiliar plants to seek out to gardens/nurseries/places I ought to visit. Best of all, I’ve gained some wonderful friends over these years. With a shared passion already established, it is easy to grow a friendship.

As much as it has welcomed Open Day visitors for the past dozen years or so, at its heart, my garden has and will always be a place for me and my family. It is where we spend a great deal of our time working, creating, eating, relaxing, hanging out and of course sharing it with friends. I never design any aspect or area to impress anybody. What the garden is, is a testament to my creativity, design, philosophy and lifestyle. As I look around with a critical eye, I see myself reflected clearly in this space. It is my heart opened up.

This year, the weather has been unseasonable and unpredictable so, like you, I have no idea what will be in bloom to wow the eyes. Do come and visit this Saturday, June 5 between 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. My garden and heart await.

Note: Starting this year, all Open Day tickets must be purchased on-line. The link to get Open Day tickets goes live Wednesday June 2. The Garden Conservancy will send the link out to all its members and those on the mailing list. If you are not a member or on the list, please check their website. There’s no excuse for not stopping by at my garden!

I’m sharing pictures from my friend Lulu’s spectacular garden this week. She has an impressive peony collection (tree and herbaceous).

(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 Givings

Last week was mostly cool and wet. As much as I was grateful for the rain, by the end of the week I was so done with it. The cool temperatures I can take as it prolongs the blooms and consequently the season I love so much. But the rain essentially precluded any satisfying time spent in the garden. Without a daily ‘fix’ of garden time, I tend to be a bit of a grump.

Mercifully, this week will not be as wet.

The apple blossoms that were looking so promising a week ago, have been put paid to by both the rain and the lower than normal temperatures. I doubt any bees braved the cold and bothered visiting the few flowers in bloom. The remaining buds didn’t have a chance. I’m so disappointed. I’d intended to stand in for the bees by hand pollinating with a paint brush but the rain made that impossible. Once again, there will be barely any apples this year. Hopefully the pears have fared better.

It’s funny how despite setbacks in the garden, a gardener always finds something to keep positive. Without optimism and faith in a better tomorrow, gardening of any kind would not be possible.

The tulips are looking stunning at present. The cool weather is in their favor so I’m hoping for them to linger on much longer. After all the hard work of planting them in the fall, it’s only right that we get the pleasure of the flowers for as long as possible. The alliums are getting ready to take over from the tulips and I’m already full of the excitement that comes with the anticipation for that glorious parade.

In the checkerboard garden, the Phlox subulata are beginning their annual show. It starts with a smattering of flowers and then builds to a full force that takes the breath away. Again, that build up of the excitement is pure joy. Short bloom time notwithstanding, it never fails to make me happy.

The hummingbirds are back and I’ve resumed my habit of loitering around in the vicinity of the feeder because I cannot get enough of watching them. One would think I’d take my cue from how hard these birds work and get on with my own but instead, I find every reason I can to position myself such that I can spy on them at length. A hugely satisfying, not-so-guilty pleasure while garden chores remain undone.

Weeding has commenced in earnest. The rain is a double edged sword – it enthusiastically promotes the weed growth and it also makes removing the weeds more easy. To stay on top of them, an alternate day regime is de rigueur.

There are a couple of shrubs to plant this week – purchases from TeaTown Lake Reservation’s annual PlantFest that happened this past weekend. I ordered them knowing exactly where they needed to be installed in the garden.

However, on a separate foray, also this past weekend, I made an impulse purchase. I fell in lust with an espaliered magnolia tree. It’s about a couple of years old and trained in a fan shape – I can imagine it looking spectacular all year round against a wall. Some years ago, I’d seen a pair of impressive, espaliered magnolias growing against a building at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Clearly, the image has stayed on my mind. Where exactly I’m going to plant this new acquisition is not at all apparent. My greed for plants has clearly got the better of me. I’m fervently asking the Universe to show me the ideal ( and available) site as soon as possible before the spouse tells me that I should’ve heeded his words discouraging me from making the purchase.

If my past record is anything to go by, I shall prevail. I hope.

Ha. There’s that gardener’s inimitable optimism again.

Note: I’m speaking at the reception for the ‘Color Blind’ art show this Friday, May 14 at 5:30 EST. I hope you will join on May 14th on Zoom for Color Blind –  a presentation of a selection of fine art and creative voices from CT, NY, and NJ and a brief conversation on the topic of “symbols of liberation, resistance, and empowerment”.  Registration is required.

Arts Westchester Show’ Together ApArt.’ May 7 – August 3. Free but appointment required. In-person viewing starts May 7. It can also be viewed online. Though, there’s nothing quite like viewing art in person right?!
 
New York Affordable Arts Fair ( New York Art Students League booth) 20-23 May. Buy tickets online. Tickets are going fast!
 
Katonah Museum Artist Association presents ‘Ricochet’. Online show. May 15 – June 13.
 
Do not forget! My garden’s Open Day is June 5. Digging Deeper on August 22. Preregistration required for both.
 
Back to garden images –

The new magnolia

Alliums getting ready in the meadow

Checkerboard garden with phlox

Hummingbird returns!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswaro_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

May Flowering

As if on cue, May kicks things up by several notches in the garden. Almost overnight it appears that the plants are growing exponentially. Color is popping up all over the place and I can’t get enough. Spring green is my favorite shade of green. Against this backdrop, the flowers are at their finest. There are none better than May flowers in my opinion. March/April flowers cheer the winter weary mind and June onwards, the blooms must compete with the many, heavier greens. But in May, it is all in beautiful harmony.

With a couple of warm days, the tulips have shot up. The front beds are having a wild party. Tulips have such a way of looking elegant and wanton all at the same time. Makes all the hard work of bulb planting in the fall a worthy effort. Bulbs are a necessary part of my spring garden. I cannot dream of doing without. The joie de vivre they bring is simply incomparable. Whilst bulbs can be expensive, I’m happy to forgo all other bijoux just to have the budget for a big order of bulbs. More is more is the edict of bulb planting. So no skimping on the numbers. My advice is to do as I do – put aside as much funds as you can, learn to do without things that don’t bring you any joy – like eating out with anyone you don’t truly adore or buying expensive lipstick that nobody is going to see behind your mask. You will never regret your bulb obsession.

The apple blossoms are in their pink and white finery. I’m considering doing the deed with a paint brush as I’m not certain the bees are as busy as they ought. I want to be sure there will be an apple harvest this September. A cool spring last year kept the bees away and we had no homegrown apples at all.

In the meadow – as the daffodils and snakeshead frittilaria are waning, the leucojum, forget-me-nots, violas and dandelions are performing as sweet fillers before the alliums and camassia get going. The many native plants have put forth strong growth. They will take over once the bulb show is over.

The creeping phlox in the checkerboard garden are beginning to flower. This is always a very precious interlude and I’m very glad I designed it so many years ago.

Over the past weekend, cool weather greens were planted in the vegetable bed. With the greenhouse emptied and cleaned, the new self-watering pots were installed and planted up with tomato plants. They are now sitting pretty in the confines of their glass house. Such luxury.

Everywhere in the garden, buds are plumping up. The pulse quickens at the sight of old flower friends returning for their annual stay. I feel very privileged.

The garden is open for business. The business of outdoor living.

Note: I’m in the following art shows. Please do visit them all. In person viewing is back – so exciting!

Arts Westchester Show’ Together ApArt.’ May 7 – August 3. Free but appointment required. In-person viewing starts May 7. It can also be viewed online but I don’t have a link as yet. I have art and poetry in this show.
 
New York Affordable Arts Fair ( New York Art Students League booth) 20-23 May. Buy tickets online. Tickets are going fast!
 
Katonah Museum Artist Association presents ‘Ricochet’. Online show. May 15 – June 13.
 
Do not forget! My garden’s Open Day is June 5. Digging Deeper on August 22. Preregistration required.
 
Come, let’s tip-toe through the tulips-
(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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Public Relations

 The spring chores in the garden are amping up as the weather gets warmer. Cool weather greens are planted, much of the clean up is done, pots from the greenhouse are gradually being moved out, topiaries and other candidates given a neatening up trim, new purchases planted in the ground, outdoor furniture reinstated, plants in need re-potted, the list is endless! It’s easy to get completely absorbed in the tasks.

But, take a breather and get out of your garden. Get thee to your local public gardens. There is much to delight and inspire. I promise. Something I particularly enjoy in making these forays are the flowering trees and plants that my own garden cannot sustain. Like big magnolias. Or entire hillsides of a particular plant in bloom. In making a practice of visiting 21those gardens for such specific visual pleasures has given me a sense that in some way they belong to me. And to you. Thats the genius of public gardens – they belong to us all. /Knowing I’m a member of the NYBG and Wave Hill or consistently supporting gardens like Untermyer gardens which are free to everyone, allows me to have a personal sense of pride in their success. I play a part in making this beauty happen.

This past week, I visited both Wave Hill and the NYBG. Wave Hill has a spectacular blue moment every spring. A hillside of scillas sets the stage for the season just unfurling. To me, it looks as though the heavens tipped over all the stars to give us this cascade of twinkling blue. In the sunlight, the hill sparkles. A brief show that is worth waiting for all year long.

My own meadow has scillas naturalizing and mingled with the opening daffodils, the splashes of blue and yellow is one of the most joyous sights of early spring.

While at Wave Hill, I also stopped to admire the many hellebores in bloom all through the gardens. I do not have the real estate to house such a vast collection but they give me reason to appreciate what I do have. Observing the various areas yet to emerge was comforting to this impatient gardener. Wave Hill being further south from my garden is a week to a couple of weeks ahead of mine in bloom time. It’s like getting a preview of what’s to come.

And new ideas are borne – last year, Wave Hill gardener Harnek Singh (@plantstani), created a window-box of succulents that was pure inspiration. Along with my daughter ( a budding succulent collector), we are designing our own window-box and have an ideal location for it. Stay tuned!

At the NYBG, I took advantage of Members Preview day and got to see the Kusama exhibit. The show was scheduled for last year but got put off for obvious reasons. This artist’s work has given me, also an artist, much to think about. Do try and see the show – appointments required.

Here again, there were personal bonuses – the many daffodils and trees in flower! Simply breathtaking. One cannot help but feel joyous in the presence of magnificent magnolias and cherry blossoms.

Similarly, there is a magnolia down my street that gives me enormous pleasure every spring. It belongs to a neighbor but grows right by the road – so for all conceivable purposes, it belongs to everybody. While it is in bloom only!

My Belgian fence espalier of apples and pears is getting ready to bloom. The pears flower ahead of the apples. In a good spring (one with no sudden cold snap or unseasonal heat), this fence in bloom is glorious. Just as grand and exciting as anything anywhere I believe.

This week, I’m aiming to visit Untermyer Gardens to revel in Daffodil Hill’s display. Thousands of daffodils loudly trumpeting the glory of spring. If you have a hillside, do please create your own show. I’m happy to live vicariously and would love to visit. Meanwhile, I invite you to come and be inspired by my Untermyer Gardens. After all, my support played a small part in this spectacle.

Note: Due to Covid-19 restrictions, please check the websites of each public garden to learn about timings and requirements for reservations/appointments.

Mother’s Day is fast approaching. Shop my Printed Garden Collection for beautiful, useful gifts!

At Wave Hill –

Hellebores

More hellebores

Swathes of scillas

Setting up my topiaries

Window-box

More topiaries

The magnolia on my street

NYBG –

A Kusama sculpture

My assortment of hellebores

Some of my scillas and chionodoxas with daffodils

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Awakening

April

Starts as a joke

Teases with the weather

Dresses in shades of green

Giggles in daffodils.

– Shobha Vanchiswar

April’s joke this year was to give us a winter blast. It was not funny at all. I was concerned for the emerging buds on the trees and shrubs. The star magnolias in the neighborhood were looking beautiful and then, overnight, they succumbed to the cold and all the petals turned limp and brown. Don’t you just hate when that happens? A real shame. A reminder that life is ephemeral, make the most of the moments.

The weekend however was gorgeous. The early bulbs bloomed confidently in the warmth of the brilliant sunshine. Spreading out across the ground so casually as though they know exactly how cool they are. I adore the days when the scillas, crocuses and hyacinthoides are having their moment. Before the rambunctious daffodils commandeer my attention. The minor bulbs are like an exquisite, sweetly simple overture to an epic symphony full of drama and crescendos.

While it was too cold to do much last week, the weekend permitted a fair amount of organizing and clean up. I potted up urns and such with pansies and daffodils and immediately they made the garden look smart and ready. Cosmetic elements for sure but so transformative.

The first proper garden celebration in over a year also took place on Sunday. What a joy to be with beloved friends once again. Fully vaccinated feels very good!

The early morning choir of birds have begun chiding me for lingering in bed too long. They are incredibly loud and I might have to start rising with them. The guilt is overwhelming. As much as I am loathe to get out of bed early, I know that I’ll feel wonderful once I’m up. And so much gets done that it leaves more time at the other end to sit back in contentment.

It’s tempting to bring out the plants from the greenhouse but the weather can be capricious. Perhaps in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, there is other work to do – seeds to start, new plants to get and install, the tiny lawn to de-thatch, aerate and reseed. The list is long as always. But, I’m going to enjoy the garden as it ought – make time to watch the birds and other critters, closely observe the plants, feel the garden soothe my soul. Otherwise, what exactly would’ve been the point of it all?

What I’m enjoying in the garden at present –

 

Set to celebrate.
For Table linens

(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