Some Like It Hot

For the longest time I resisted hot colors in my garden. Growing up in India, I was accustomed to the gaudy oranges, reds and yellows of calendula, marigold, nasturtium, lily, canna, dahlias , salvia and such. In my mind, they were tropical colors. So, when I started gardening in my current garden in New York, those colors felt inappropriate.

Blues, pinks, purples, soft yellows and whites shone in this space. And they do look spectacular in spring. I was rather strict about it. I shunned sulfur yellow yarrow, reserved the annual, school prompted, Mother’s Day pot of orange marigold that my daughter brought home all through elementary school to a good but discreet location, selected only paler nasturtiums and made an exception for the claret red Monarda in the herb garden. I had convinced myself that those hues were wrong for this garden.

Yet, as the years passed, I was struck by the lack of summer exuberance in the garden. The pale hues were washed out in the strong sunlight. The garden lacked oomph. But, as summer was also the time I traveled for several weeks, I never made any serious attempts to change anything. Then, in 2019, a late August photo shoot was scheduled by the Garden Conservancy for the 25th Anniversary of their hugely popular Open Days Program. I returned from a long vacation to a bedraggled, lackluster garden with just a few days to whip it back into some semblance of summer splendor. The marathon weeding and trimming brought in order but there was serious lack of punch. Off I went to the nursery looking for inspiration.

True to form, the nursery was a riot of summer color – all the plants of my childhood dominated. I had a sense of comfort in seeing old plant friends. They made me happy. I brought home some canna sporting flames of red and orange. Installed into the pair of pots leading down to the potager, they instantly lit up the space. What a difference that small tweak made.

The following year, 2020, became the year the garden and gardener were transformed. I had all the time in the world and the garden was my salvation. It was a rekindling of my romance with it. Like most long term relationships, I had gotten complacent with the garden. I realized I hadn’t been giving it my all. A good partnership requires consistent effort and attention and I was resolved to do better.

With no possibility of travel and pretty much no distractions, I sought out elements that brought joy and comfort. Happy colors that shine bright as summer unfolds. I planted cardinal vines to scramble up the pergola, red and yellow hibiscus standards in the urns on the terrace, orange, red and yellow nasturtiums to ramble freely in the potager,and tumble boisterously from the big pots of bay standards, yellow calendula and saffron hued marigold in alternating rows in the bed of leafy greens, cannas again in the pots – the potager and terrace was ablaze. In the meadow, the colors were echoed by Monarda and Lobelia ( cardinal flower) punctuated by Solidago golds. Everything was so much in keeping with the season – summer became a true celebration.

And that’s how it has come to be. Sometime in June the softer shades of spring give way to the hotter hues of summer. It’s become my cue to ease up and slide into the season of kicking back and relaxing- rules, rituals and reservations. Let’s drink to that – Cheers!

Random glimpses of summer color  – 

          

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar     

 

Sizzling Into July

Both temperatures and garden are distinctly taking on summer sizzle. I don’t do well in the heat so I’ve learned to keep my time in the garden to the cooler hours of the morning and evening. I leave the hot midday to mad dogs and Englishmen.

It’s now all about balancing between letting the sounds of birds and insects lull us into a happy state of doing nothing and keeping on top of weeding, tidying and watering. The weeds are the biggest offenders – they seem to come up with an enthusiasm that I wish would rub off on the choice plants that are taking time to spread.

The season to gather with friends has commenced. I firmly believe gardens are created to be shared with others. Have you noticed how everyone instinctively inhales visibly and relaxes in nature? Entertaining outdoors is unfussy and naturally easy. The food is simple and fresh and the garden does its magic at putting everyone at ease.

I’ve had the pleasure of hosting several groups of artists in the garden this month. A garden is a perfect muse – inspires us to paint and stretch ourselves, it relieves us of inhibitions and nudges us into working more freely, exploring, experimenting, learning to see anew. Encouraged by the creative company and commiserating about the challenges of all the greenery, the whole experience is joyous. As both gardener and artist, I absolutely love to see how others view my garden. It’s the same when I see photographs taken by visitors. I learn a great deal and grow as gardener as well as artist. Quite possibly, in sharing the garden, I’m the one who gains the most!

As we head into the long weekend, here’s incentive to get stuff in the garden –

Things To Do In July

1. Weed, weed, weed! Remember, pouring boiling water over bricks and other stonework will kill  weeds growing in-between.

2. Deadhead often. Neatness matters.

3. Mulch, fertilize, water.

4. Mow regularly but keep the mower blade high.

5. Watch out for pests and/or disease. Use organic control.

6. Plant out vegetable seedlings for fall harvest.

7. Keep birdbaths filled with fresh, clean water.

8. Order fall bulbs

9. Take time to watch dragonflies by day and fireflies by night.

Happy Fourth!

Summer vibes

Veronicastrum lighting up the meadow.

Lady Slippers getting worn out

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

In June’s Spell

June Jiving

June sashays in on May’s wake

Jiving to music the winged ones make

Swishing and swirling gossamer petals

In colors that flirt with summer’s sizzle.

– Shobha Vanchiswar

Do you get the feeling that it’s hard to focus on any one flower in this month? What a lovely problem to have! So many flowers and so little time to enjoy them!

The peonies and roses vie for the most attention. Both are so popular but in longevity, the roses win. Easily succumbing to rain showers and/or high temperatures that often plague June, the peony is something of a delicate darling. Before every impending thundershower I rush to harvest the peonies and bring them in to adorn every room. For a couple of days the house smells divine and looks festive. Then they start dropping petals as if they’re bored and wish to leave the party. And leave they do. That fleeting time we spend together is precious but it does leave me wishing they had more staying power.

Note: I do also pick peonies just as the color peeks through the sepals in the buds and those stick around longer as they slowly unfurl and spread their goodness. Keeping them away from direct light and in cooler areas helps too.

The roses are easier. They adorn the garden longer – even the one time bloomers. And they’re better at withstanding the weather tantrums. Truth be told, I’m quite happy to leave the roses to shine in the garden, Very few are cut for indoors. The bonus is that it allows for rose-hips to develop for fall color and to feed the birds.

The roses in various parts of the garden are exploding and are almost a cliche – roses in June and all. Though who can have any complaints? They look beautiful and there can never be enough of them.

Meanwhile, the native wisteria blooms in this month as well. Shorter racemes than its Asian cousins and not so fragrant, they still look fetching. However, just when they are at their peak and the pergola is charmingly festooned, the temperature is sure to rise and burn the delicate petals. I so loathe when that happens! Is it too much to ask for a few more weeks of cooler days? This type of wisteria will bloom a second time but never in the same abundance.

As I write this post, the perfume wafting into the house tells me to mention the climbing hydrangea also in bloom. A froth of creamy-white flowers overtakes every other perfume in the garden. On returning home from errands and such, the fragrance greets me long before I approach the property. What a welcome!

The hibiscus, marigolds and nasturtium are giving the terrace and potager a preview of summer with their hot colors of yellows and oranges. Joined by the blue comfrey and aforementioned purple wisteria, there is an exuberance that is contagious. Uplifts the viewer fo r sure.

The meadow is having its quiet time. The native anemone is in bloom and the white flowers against the vast green soothes the eyes. Which is just as well because it helps one notice the shy, diminutive lady’s slippers stepping around softly amongst the bigger plants in the meadow. They’re so easy to escape notice that I’ve placed stakes to indicate their location. It’s be such a shame to miss these flowers.

Irises and alliums are still going strong as are the baptisia rendering the front garden in lovely hues of purple and blue. Allium siculum have joined in the festivities – scattered in front and in the meadow, their bells nod dance gracefully in the breeze.

There are still pansies in pots bravely facing the rising heat but their time is coming to an end. The geraniums, pelargoniums, dwarf nicotiana, daisy topiaries, all in pots, are adding their colors to this month of June. What a month! And I’m here for it.

Note: Some beauties from the garden –

Rose. Compare to peony look alike!

Peony. Compare to the rose!

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

This, That And The Other

I can hardly keep abreast with the flowers exploding in the garden. I might be gazing adoringly at the alliums when from the corner of my eye I notice the irises gracefully unfurling themselves. The clematis on the arch tumbles in a cascade – its exuberance is contagious. In counterpoint to the rounded heads of allium, the camassia shoot up in tall cones of pale blues and cream.

The foxgloves are having their moment in the potager. Their speckled spires distract me no end. It’s hard to work in their towering presence. And just this past weekend, the native wisteria scrambling up the pergola nearby, decided to join the party. The tiny bell shaped flowers of both the common and the more unusual blue comfrey are supporting actors in this cast of performers. Their part is no less important in the tableaux. Indeed, the bees and other insects seem to prefer them to the more showy companions.

The first rose to bloom is the David Austin R.Boscobel but the others are getting ready to compete any day now. Surprisingly behind schedule, the Baptisia and Amsonia are adding their shades of blue to the late spring parade. It’s rather interesting to view them amidst a new cast of characters. They fit in rather well.

What has excited me the most is something diminutive and easy to escape notice amidst this floral carnival are the Cypripedium parviflorum – the yellow lady’s slipper. I’ve long coveted them and acquired two plants last summer at the plant sale held at Hollister House. Both were planted in two different parts of the meadow. One is currently in bloom and the other is in bud. I am so pleased.

On the other end of my excitement was the discovery of cutworms on a small, potted pine. They looked so creepy writhing around in a cluster. Already a branch had been totally denuded and the vandals were working on another. They were dealt with swiftly. Felt very satisfying.

Today, the temperatures are expected to rise to the low 90s. Just when the late spring garden is looking so glorious. Don’t you just hate that! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that no real damage is done. I went around late last evening harvesting the peonies in bloom and those just about to. The anticipated heat would burn them easily. So now, while I work in the cool indoors, I’m basking in peony perfume and beauty. That’s a pretty good upside.

Lady’s Slipper

Wisteria on the pergola

Wisteria viewed from above

Cutworm cluster

Rescued peonies before the heat wave.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Flowers

It’s finally looking and feeling like spring. After last week’s cool, windy days, the weekend arrived bright, sunny and warm. A gift! It’s now a mad dash to get the garden in ship-shape for its May 14 Open Day. Lots got done over the weekend – aching muscles bear testimony. Still more remains. Because of the unprecedentedly cold weather, we’re running behind schedule. But, that’s life in the garden. Nature is always in charge. However hard we gardeners work, we are not in control. Ever. That is a good lesson to take to heart – do your best, stay humble, be resilient and work with Nature not against.

Our relationship with Nature, whilst seemingly collaborative, is an unequal one. It is best to accept that. Leave the ego outside the garden or else it’ll be shredded ruthlessly in no time. And in the end, when the garden looks gorgeous, graciously accept your part in it but know in your heart who really had the last word.

So, I’m keeping my head down and focusing on getting the work done. I’m also beseeching the powers that be to be kind and generous to send good weather, get the plants blooming and bring in many happy visitors.

Here’s the general To-Do list for May –

Things To Do In May

  1. Weed regularly if you want to keep the thugs in check.

  2. Put stakes in place so as plants grow it’ll be easy to secure them.

  3. Deadhead spent blooms for a neat look. Some plants will reward you with a second wave of blooms. Of course, if you want to collect seeds, do not deadhead.

  4. Water as necessary. Add a splash of compost tea to fertilize – about every 2-3 weeks.

  5. Plant in summer vegetables, summer bulbs and tubers and, annuals.

  6. Keep bird baths filled with clean water. Use mosquito ‘dunks’ to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. The same goes for fountains.

  7. Start mowing lawns but do the right thing by keeping the mower blade high at about four inches. Leave clippings in place to replenish the soil.

  8. Make sure all beds, shrubs and trees are mulched to retain moisture and keep weeds from proliferating.

  9. To take care of weeds in areas that are paved or bricked, pour boiling hot water over them. The weeds will be killed and no chemicals were used!

  10. Stay vigilant for pests or disease. The earlier you catch a problem, the easier it is to treat them. Always employ organic methods.

  11. Stir the compost heap regularly. Keep adding in kitchen and garden waste.

  12. Take time every day to simply enjoy the garden.

  13. Visit other gardens through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. You will be vastly instructed and inspired. Www.gardenconservancy.org/opendays

Note: I’ll be at Teatown Lake Reservation’s eagerly awaited and hugely popular PlantFest May 6 &7. Look for my Seeds Of Design booth – items from my Printed Garden Collection will be available. Beautiful gifts for Mother’s Day, teachers, hostess, brides , birthdays and yourself. All profits donated.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Disarray Brings May Open Day

For the past 14 years, this time of year is somewhat frenetic in my garden. With Open Day in mid-May, everything needs to get done in double time pace. None of the deliberate, systematic course of action. Instead, I must approach the various tasks all at once.

The upside is that it’s pretty much all the necessary work that gets completed – tasks that need to get done anyway. However, it can be physically punishing doing so much in a short time. And then, there is the weather. Some years, it’s too wet and prevents working in the garden. Other years, it gets warm too soon which means the best of plans can be thwarted when expected flowerings are over and done by the time Open Day rolls up. It’s not like I can simply rush out and buy replacements to stick into the beds. That would lose the whole point of Open Day – folks are coming to see my garden as it is meant to be. Authentic and bearing my personal stamp. In a way, my garden is my soul laid bare.

But I’m always reminded of the I Love Lucy show when Lucy enters the garden club contest and accidentally mows down her tulips. With mere hours left for the judges to arrive, she replaces the tulips with wax ones. Which of course proceed to melt in the sun.

This year, it has been much cooler than usual so the unfolding of flowers is behind schedule. I’ll take it. While it means some annuals are still unavailable at the nurseries and several plants cannot be brought out of the greenhouse, it’s so much easier to get the heavy work done.

As a result, much of the chores are being done in timely fashion. Am I aching and creaking? Yes! But it is enormously gratifying to be on track. With the birds singing as they go about their business of house hunting and building and spring bulbs in bloom, it’s a very congenial atmosphere to do my work. With husband and daughter willingly doing their share, I really cannot complain.

There are bags of soil, water hoses, assortment of tools and pots and plants all over. It looks somewhat messy but truly, it’s coming together! As this year’s experiment with dahlias is on tap, I’ve got the bed for them ready – it meant digging up a mature witch-hazel and relocating it, moving a few other plants, weeding and loosening the compacted soil. This week, I’ll add a good topping of compost and next week, the tubers will be planted. A layer of mulch will follow and then we wait. I’ve already got some tubers started in pots – they’re staying warm in the greenhouse and should be up and running well ahead of their cousins in the ground.

Pruning, placing supports and other mechanical elements have been completed. The hummingbird feeders are up. The veg bed is planted up with cool weather candidates and the herb wall is up. The vertical garden is greening up as the moss comes back to life and the ferns and heuchera are peering out cautiously. Lots of other tasks were done this past weekend. The tulips have just started blooming so perhaps the weather will permit a showing on Open Day.

Slowly, more order than disorder is becoming apparent. There is still plenty to do till the very last minute but in all honesty, I love getting the garden ready to welcome old friends and new. I hope you’re all registered and we can see each other on May 14.

Note: I’ll be at Teatown Lake Reservation’s eagerly awaited and hugely popular PlantFest May 6 &7. Look for my Seeds Of Design booth – items from my Printed Garden Collection will be available. Beautiful gifts for Mother’s Day, teachers, hostess, brides , birthdays and yourself. All profits donated.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Antics

April

Starts as a joke

Teases with the weather

Dresses in shades of green

Giggles in daffodils

-Shobha Vanchiswar

I wrote that verse early in the month. At this point, April has carried its joke all the way through. From an 80 degree day last week, snow showers on Easter Sunday and a Nor’easter last night, it’s been a riot. Not. However, there is greening up happening and the daffodils along with other flowers are giggling. Or they just shivering?!!

I’m getting on with the tasks – I have less than 4 weeks to get ready for Open Day! Lots to do but hopefully, the garden will be ready for its close up come May 14.

Hope you’re coming! Remember – registration is required.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

April Agenda

Ah April! I love this month. With the garden waking up, every day unveils more flowers. A month full of promise and possibilities. And an urgency to get to all the seasonal chores in the garden.

To that end, I’m putting the to-do list here.

 Things To Do In April

1. Time to restart the compost pile! Give it a good stir and add fresh compostables. If you don’t have a composter, please do make or buy one.

2. Clean up all winter debris.

3. Can you believe weed patrol begins now? Be regular about it and you will always be on top of this chore.

4. Seedlings started indoors can be planted out once the soil has warmed up and has been well prepared for planting. Stay vigilant for spells of late frost. Keep cloches and fleece covers at hand.

5. Attend to the lawn. De- thatch, aerate, reseed and finally, fertilize with a good layer of compost.

6. Similarly, feed trees, shrubs and all garden beds with compost.

7. Remove burlap and other protection from plants and pots.

8. Divide overgrown perennials.

9. Plant summer-flowering bulbs.

10. Remove any dead, damaged or diseased stems/branches from roses, other shrubs and trees.

11. Start using an organic control to put off slugs and snails.

12. Put out nesting material such as wool, moss, cotton string, shredded paper, small twigs, feathers and hay for the birds. Nothing synthetic please!

13. Uncover the outdoor furniture and give them a good cleaning. Now you’re prepared for the first truly warm day!

14. Plant or move evergreen shrubs and conifers.

15. Take the time to revel in the beauty of the bulbs and other plants in bloom. They and you deserve this moment.

Get to it!

Note: Have you registered to come to my Garden’s Open Day? Do please! Tickets must be purchased online only. Saturday May 14 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Lawn service! Removing thatch, aerating, reseeding,

Lawn reseeding

Starting seeds for summer

Planting spring window boxxes

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Has Sprung

Oh happy days – the garden is waking up! With the lengthening days and emergence of the early bulbs, my spirits are high. This is my most favorite time of year. Expectations are limitless and the anticipation is almost too exciting to bear. At this moment, all dreams and plans are entirely possible. There is every reason to believe that this year, the perfect garden is going to be realized. And I am going to be the perfect gardener. Yes indeed. ing palette of colors.

This fresh start is a gift to savor. Slowly and deliberately. No mindless dive into a list of chores and frenzied activity. Rather, it’s a time to immerse oneself in the garden with all our senses. Feel the sunlight and fresh air caress the skin. Soak in the atmosphere – we’ve waited all winter long for this.

Smell the petrichor as the damp, newly thawed earth stirs itself into activity and the delicate perfume of early bulbs and emerging grass rise gently with the sun. Breathe deep.

Spend some time looking around at the landscape. What at first seems mostly brown and bare starts morphs into a canvas of a myriad colors. Young, bright green shoots, periwinkle blue flowers of Vinca minor, smokey blue grape hyacinths, sulfur yellow forsythia, royal purple crocus, pristine white snowdrops, dusty rose hellebores – nature teases out her ever-expand palette of colors.

Sitting quietly, one becomes aware of the myriad sounds in play. All sorts of birds are busy finding mates, building nests, foraging for food and guarding their territories. Not to be outdone, the bees shake off their winter stupor and step up their pace. They buzz and hum in chorus. Butterflies flit and descend so gracefully that it takes my breath away. They’re quiet but attention grabbing.

Nature serves up delicious treats from the get go. Tender young leaves of dandelion, a few of the early pansies can transform a green salad from simple to sublime.

This is a very special time of the year in the garden. Yes, there is plenty to do but never at the expense of communing with nature. This is what an abundant life looks like.

Note: My painting ‘Labor Pains” is in an International art show online. The show titled Femina 2022 honors women – this is Womens History month. Please do take a look at the show. Like and leave comments. Online shows need the feedback to keep doing such impactful shows. My sincere thanks in advance.

Some glimpses of the garden as of last weekend:

Looks blah and brown

Wait! There’s green too!

And slowly more growth and colors are discerned

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

March Moves

Can’t you just feel the approach of spring? The light feels brighter and days are distinctly longer. As the sap rises in the trees and the buds begin to swell, the pulse quickens and spirits soar. It’s time to get moving in the garden!

Things To Do This Month

  1. Cut some forsythia and pussy willow branches for indoor forcing. Place in water and keep in a cool place until the buds are swollen. Then move them to a location where they can be viewed as the blooms burst forth. A lovely prelude to spring.

  2. As snow melts, start clean up process. Twigs and other debris can be removed. Protect the still wet areas of grass and beds by first placing cardboard or wood planks and stepping on those instead. They help distribute the weight better.

  3. Later in the month, remove protective burlap and/or plastic wrappings and wind breaks.

  4. Get tools sharpened. This includes the mower blades.

  5. Commence indoor seed sowing. Begin with the early, cool weather crops. Read seed packet instructions and calculate dates for planting out.

  6. Order plants that will be required for the garden as soon as the ground has warmed up. Let your local nursery know your needs – they will inform you know when shipments arrive.

  7. As soon as possible, once snow is all gone and soil has thawed, spread compost on all the beds including the vegetable plot.

  8. Finish pruning fruit trees, grape vines and roses early in the month.

  9. Take an inventory and stock up on whatever is lacking. Soil, gloves, mulch, stakes, twine, tools, water retaining crystals, grass seed, pots, hoses etc.,

  10. Survey the garden and see what needs replacing, repairing or painting. Schedule and do the needful.

  11. Start bringing out or uncovering outdoor furniture. It’ll soon be time to linger outdoors!

  12. Get Open Days directory from Garden Conservancy – www.gardenconservancy.org. Mark your calendars to visit beautiful gardens in your area. Come to my Open Day on May 14 between 10 am and 4 pm. I’m looking forward to seeing you!

Let’s get on with it.

Current glimpses of what’s doing in my garden –

Swelling buds on climbing hydrangea

Snowdrops braving the snow

Hyacinths coming along indoors

My watercolor of a snowdrop

Forced bulbs from a past year

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar