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 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

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

Quick March!

Last week was as though Winter had dug in her heels and wasn’t going to budge and then the weekend arrived with Spring at full throttle. It was glorious. Galvanized me into action.

During that wintry spell, I spent my time in the garden doing clean up work. Area by area, each day I helped the garden shed itself of winter debris – twigs and broken branches scattered around, bits of paper and plastic blown in. Half the garden looks so much neater now. Still have the other half to go. I’ve told myself to remember the lessons from Lockdown 2020 – take the time to work mindfully. It was such a pleasure to do the chores last year without time pressure. Both, the garden and I, benefited enormously.

I’ve been hardening off the sweetpea seedlings and this week I shall plant them out. Bulbs planted in pots and wintered over in a sheltered spot have been moved to where they can be viewed – they are coming along nicely. I feel the quickening of my pulse knowing I’ll be seeing the pots in bloom well before their counterparts in the ground.

The stratified columbines sown in seed pots are yet to show any sign of awakening but I’m hopeful. Patience not being a virtue of mine makes me check on them way too often. Later this week, I’ll get the nasturtium and micro-greens going.

Over the weekend, I pruned the roses and secured the limbs of the climbers. While the oak-leaf hydrangea do not get pruned in spring since the flowers are borne on old wood, they’d suffered significant snow damage. Several limbs had been broken and a trimming, tidying up was performed. The H. paniculata however, was given a severe pruning. Until now I’d been giving it a little trim but felt emboldened this year to do a good chop. Lets hope the plant rewards the torture with a splendid showing of blooms.

On cleaning out the birdhouse in this area, it was so interesting to see how the nest was built and what materials were chosen. I wonder if the sparrows that moved in after the wrens made any changes as we humans tend to do when we move into new quarters.

I want to emphasize that one must wear a good mask when doing this task as it is possible to breathe in particulates and microbes that can cause serious lung disease.

In cleaning up in the meadow, we noticed the ivy from the neighbors property had made great progress in here. That was dealt with but clearly this will be an ongoing job.

Along the side pathway, the peony rings were put in place since the grapevine prunings were awaiting re-purposing in being wound around the rings as I cannot permit the mechanics to show and distract from the flowers. I use the grapevine prunings to conceal the ugliness of a pipe railing that is set into a retaining wall as well.

Routine repair work on the front fence was begun – it’ll be in tip-top shape by the coming weekend. There are of course other things needing fixing in the wings but I’m just glad to be doing the jobs systematically. Slowly but surely.

A mason bee house was put up near the fruit espalier and I cannot express how fervently I’m praying for it to be duly occupied. Having the bees around when the apple and pear blossoms open is so critical.

The new bird house for the front garden goes up this week. It’s all about getting ready for the birds and the bees!

To be working in the garden once again, is not only life affirming but there is a profound sense of gratitude. After the year gone by, being present to witness this spring fills me with unparalleled joy and humility. I’m sure you agree.

Note: Due to Covid restrictions, the Garden Conservancy has moved my garden’s Open Day to June 5. Mark your calendars!

Mother’s Day is coming up. Do shop from the beautiful selections in the Printed Garden Collection. 50% of the profits go to the ACLU – an organization working very hard to right so many wrongs across the country. They really need all the support they can get.

Old nest in the birdhouse

Bulbs potted up in November 2020

Bee house on the ready

Grapevine after the pruning

Awaiting the sweetpeas. This reminds me of a natural looking harp!

Grid showing where I planted sedge last fall

Tidied up front beds

Snowdrops coming up everywhere

(c) Shobha Vanchiswar

Marching Orders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note that disc of snow on top of the pot!

I love seeing the meadow emerge as the snow melts.

Poppies sprinkled last week

First snowdrops – happens where the snow melts first!

Forced hyacinths – Spring has sprung indoor

Day 1 of last week’s warm weather

Day 3 of warm weather

Grapevine awaiting pruning

Snow melt pattern in potager

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

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

My Real Garden – Part II

Grab a drink and settle in – This is the long-ish story of how a special group came to be, how they collectively dealt with the last 12 months and how much good resulted from this association.

This time last year, we had just started sheltering at home in New York State. In the beginning, it seemed strange – we understood so little about the virus that the threat felt surreal. As we learned more and New York rapidly succumbed, the gravity of the situation was unmistakably severe. I realized that the lockdown was a powerful step to mitigate the spread of the disease. Our fear of the unknown, invisible and formidable enemy was very real. It became instinctive to want to stay home and be safe.

I was fully aware of how fortunate I was to have a home that gave me all the comfort I needed. And not confined indoors either – I was blessed with my own bit of the outdoors. My garden which has always been essential to my well-being, took on greater significance. With no other items on my agenda to go anywhere, the benefit of unlimited time amidst my plants was unquestionably a gift beyond measure.

For the first time in more than a decade, I could devote my total attention on the garden. Time was ample, spring had just sprung and the myriad tasks offered the ideal solution to be productive, creative and content. It was so therapeutic to immerse myself in this space and not fret about the raging virus.

But, I missed the company of others. Particularly like-minded folk who were out in their gardens coping, healing and learning in the process of planting, weeding and nurturing. And I struck gold.

I came across @myrealgarden on Instagarm. Of all the innumerable accounts on Instagram, something about Ann-Marie Powell’s (AMP from now on) posts connected with my core. Here was someone who could be my friend in real life – it seemed as though we shared very similar sensibilities.

Boy! Was I right! AMP, with her inimitable exuberance and sense of humor drew me into her garden so to speak. Every day for a half hour we hung out talking about all things garden via IGTV. Seasonal chores, how to do them, mistakes, successes and just about everything in between were covered. No pretensions or gloss overs. This was real gardening.

Of course I Googled AMP. Turns out she’s a somebody! A highly acclaimed garden designer in the UK, Chelsea Show medalist, very well regarded by her peers in the industry, smart, shrewd and total fun person. She knows all her garden stuff and while she has created some truly impressive gardens both private and public, her own garden reflects her true self. And she is unhesitant about showing you every bit of it – warts and all. Something every single gardener can appreciate and relate to wholeheartedly. AMP is the genuine article – a gardener’s gardener. No airs and graces, not high and mighty. She’ll cringe that I’m saying good things about her!

When I started following @myrealgarden, I assumed that most of the followers were from the UK. But before long, I identified many from other parts of the globe. The group just snowballed in size and formed a most delightful MRG community. We began following each other – commenting, passing on advice and tips, complimenting, comforting and cheering everyone on.

For myself, following AMP going about her tasks, was a lovely thing – the UK is a few weeks ahead of us in the garden calendar. I knew to stay on track with my chores but observing what was to come in AMP’s garden spurred me on in an exciting way. It was so critical to be positive and motivated. Ann-Marie made it that much easier. FYI – I was brave enough to ruthlessly execute the Chelsea Chop because of her!

We were all in the same boat and each doing the best one could. Connecting to @myrealgarden was a daily highlight – her half-hour live always put me in a good mood. This was so important because in addition to the pandemic, the economy was a mess, people were going hungry, racial injustices were being rightfully protested, the political climate was appalling. I’m certain I was not the only one in a prolonged state of being on edge. Gardening was the one thing that took me away from all the problems and gave me hope. Tending to it was productive and uplifting. With all the attention, I do believe my garden hasn’t looked better.

At the same time, I was looking to find ways to help with the various needs arising. Donating to ACLU through the sales of my Printed Garden Collection was a no-brainer. But there were also other organizations and individuals in need of urgent assistance. I could certainly do my part in supporting small businesses, local restaurants, food pantries, worthy political candidates and. checking in on friends and neighbors living alone. There was just so much need at every level that I sometimes felt I didn’t have enough time, money or energy to give to them all. It was overwhelming. It still is.

Then, in late summer, AMP came up with a brilliant idea that infused the MRG community with new purpose. A book! Full of images, tips and tales from our own gardens. That in itself was a welcome project to participate in – everyone was enthusiastic. But it got better – the proceeds from the book sales would go to Green Fingers Charity  – an organization in the UK that creates gardens for children’s hospices. That we gardeners could help in any way was perfect.

AMP teamed up with her friend and fellow member of MRG Tamsin Westhorpe (she of Stockton Bury Gardens) to put together all the submissions. The task was quite big and I can only imagine the many hours that went into it. The book is now a reality! Crowd funded by the MRG community and its many friends, it is a beautiful manifestation of what can be achieved in the name of friendship and gardening. Globally and during a pandemic.

I am so proud to belong to the MRG group and be a part of the book. And immensely grateful to AMP for starting it all and consistently, generously providing motivation, inspiration, joy, humor, relevant information and support to her entire tribe. All along, she was dealing with her own lockdown demons. Thank you dear friend – I look forward to meeting you in person in the not too distant future!

Note: You can read AMP’s own version of the @myrealgarden story . it’ll show you what I meant by our like-mindedness!!

Here AMP talks more about the My Real Garden Book .

How To get yourself a copy of the My Real Garden Book – at present and until April 1, the book can be pre-ordered through British Garden Centres . After April 1, there will a choice from where to purchase. I’ll let you know as soon as that information becomes available. Stay tuned!

Sharing photos from my garden that you might see in the MRG book –

Ann-Marie Powell

Checkerboard garden

Printed Garden Pillows

The Vertical Garden

Pear In A Bottle in progress

Overview of the potager

Alliums in red, white and blue

Garden concert for the neighborhood. Memorial Day 2020

Meadow

Front Garden

The MRG book!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Snow Show

The Northeast is smack dab in the midst of a big blizzard. After last year’s mild winter with hardly any snow, it feels strange to be anticipating 20 inches of it. The gusts of wind turns the falling snow into a spectacle of whirling dervishes. Pretty awesome.

From the warmth and security of the indoors, I’m enjoying this performance art that Nature is executing so expertly. How grateful I am not to have anyplace to get to. In this whiteout situation the only thing to do is to call it a ‘snow day’ and make the most of it. With WFH in place, it might feel as though it is business as usual but I’m determined not to let it be so. It would be a shame to waste the opportunity to make hot chocolate, change ones office location to a cozy spot by a roaring fire and get outside to tramp around in the snow. After hours of screen time, the bracing effect of standing in the falling snow even for a few minutes is stimulating. Chances are, one will want to play – snowball fights, making snow-angels or snow-person building contest anyone?

As I watch the beautiful winter scene outside, I’m reassured that the dormant plants are safely insulated under the thick blanket of snow. I like to imagine that the seeds of wildflowers scattered by the wind and critters last fall will rest comfortably until the snow-melt gently coaxes their parched coats awake. Already, I can envision the meadow come alive with many more flowers this spring.

Watching the trees sway and shake in the fierce wind is a tad unsettling. Much damage is possible if one falls. Fingers crossed the trees are all healthy and firmly rooted. In the spring I’ll be sure to find interesting branches sprinkled around the floor of the woods. They will make good stakes and tepees for gangly plants in need of support. This year, I’m going to earmark a couple of good ones to use in outdoor decorating projects. Ostensibly we are all still going to only gather outdoors through the better part of this year. So, why not plan to make the terrace more festive?

The plants in the greenhouse are safe thus far but I’m constantly worrying about their heat supply. What if the propane tanks get depleted more quickly? Or, what if there is a technical glitch that fails to inform that the temperature in the greenhouse has dropped too low? Having a greenhouse can be both a blessing and a curse. Still, I’m very grateful for my tiny extravagance. Okay, okay, it’s a folly of sorts.

I make a note to myself to remove most of the snow around the fruit trees after the storm. A few winters ago, rodents made themselves cozy under the snow and had a good feast on the cambium at the base of some trees leaving a few of them completely girdled. It was heartbreaking to lose them. Replacing trees within a mature Belgian espalier is not easy or inexpensive. I’m forever determined to thwart those tree murderers. If I could, I’d banish them for all eternity but living in the ‘country’ makes that pretty much impossible.

Something to bear in mind – observe how the snow melts in the garden. As the garden resurfaces, it’ll become clear which parts are more sunny or sheltered. It isn’t always as obvious as one might think. Often, we fail to notice changes as trees grow or die or, new constructions come up. But, noting the speed with which snow disappears in certain locations and lingers on in others, tells you the different micro-climates within the garden. This information is very useful when choosing plants and designing beds.

In my garden, there are patches a mere two feet apart where the snow responds to the warming temperatures very differently.

I love the way snow silently traces over the elements and features in the garden. Almost like black and white pictures, they render the designs prettily. Any gap or lack of interest shows up clearly as though pointing out where one needs to remedy or improve the composition.

Snow brings out such emotions in us. We are awed, pleased, challenged, irritated and sometimes even devastated. But perhaps, the best effect it has is to bring out our inner child. So, before we clear the snow off our lovely, longish slope of a driveway, I simply must pull on a snowsuit and get in some sledding fun. Otherwise, what would’ve been the point of all that powder?

In the beginning-

After some hours –

Beauty indoors too!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Sharp And Smart

This week, I’m taking advantage of the January lull and getting organized with my garden tools and accessories. I love gadgets and tend to want every new and improved contraption that comes my way. Over the years however, I’ve wised up to myself and don’t give in to every temptation. The tools I actually use over and over and cannot do without are a small selection of tried and true implements.

I’m conscientious about keeping tools clean and easily accessible. It’s my co-gardener who tends to create disorder by not putting things back in their rightful places. It drives me crazy to have to search for simple things like secateurs and trowels. Worse, he always denies such travesties. This pattern is clearly not going to change. Instead, I make sure to have multiple secateurs and trowels available and I hide my very favorite ones. Yes, I resort to such devious practices because they not only safeguard my own trusty tools but also preserve domestic peace. That latter bit is high priority – one cannot let petty problems sabotage the harmony at home.

After a year of extensive use, most blades and edges lose their sharpness. It’s not only frustrating to deal with tools that do not work well but, they can cause harm to plants by tearing and fraying them at the cut. So, I’ve rounded up the mower blade from the push reel-mower, different pruning shears, sawtooth knives, shovels and such to drop off at the local hardware store for professional sharpening.

The hand-held secateurs and scissors are given the once over and kept in good working condition by using them to cut up different grades of sandpaper. This is an easy, effective method to sharpen them at home.

It pays to start with good quality instruments. But taking care of them is a commitment that will ensure a good many years if not a lifetime of devoted service. Clean after use, put back in place, sharpen and/or lubricate regularly, be thankful for having them. That’s my mantra.

I use the tool sharpening trip to the hardware store to stock up on twine, stakes and other necessary accessories. Replace worn-out gloves perhaps?

In a couple of weeks, the roses and grapevines will need pruning. While it isn’t fun to do this task in the cold, the job gets done quickly with well sharpened tools. And soon enough, it’ll be time to mow and dig, trim and train. I shall be ready!

Note: The Open Day for my garden through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program has been scheduled for Saturday, May 22. When the Conservancy determines the new Covid-safe protocols, I’ll keep you posted. Mark your calendar and keep fingers crossed!

Here are some early March images from last year –

The newest addition to my tool kit.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Transitions And Traditions

Transition : the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.

Tradition : the handing down of information, beliefs, or customs from one generation to another.

Over the weekend, the cutting back, clearing and mulching got started. The leaves were raked and added to the compost pile. There are sufficient ‘safe harbors’ in the garden for all manner of critters that the general clean up does not make the garden inhospitable. While it is necessary to provide shelter for birds and such, it is also important to get ready for the next growing season. Equilibrium

The big in-ground bulb planting took place a couple of weeks ago. But I also wanted bulbs to pot up so I went to my local nursery and got myself the leftovers from their bulb stock. While one has a very small variety to select from this late in the season, it is actually fun for me to not have too much choice. The combinations can be unusual and quite lovely. The bonus is that the prices are highly discounted. I also picked up a bag of 10 hyacinths marked ‘assorted’ – it was added to the bulbs already cooling in the refrigerator. I’m so curious to see just what colors those hyacinths will be!

I started many paperwhites as well. For me, they start off the winter – watching them grow and bloom never fails to thrill. I love how the green and white cheer up the rooms in the house. By the time they are finished, the amaryllis have begun growing. The cooling bulbs follow the amaryllis and then the potted up bulbs. It’s a progression I absolutely need to get me through the winter.

At this time, the work in the garden is all about transition. Closing out one season and moving into the next. What we do now determines the future. When we cut back and clean up, we are getting rid of debris and potential disease. We are making space ready for new growth. Seeds are collected to ensure a continuity in succession and hence our own supply of flowers and food.

As I wash, dry and put away pots and tools, I’m conscious that my effort now means I get a good start in the spring. What needs repair or replacement, I address at this time. It is reassuring to know that everything is ready and in good order. I am prepared.

Gardeners follow traditions and wisdom handed down from those who gardened before them. None of what we do is new. It’s been happening through the ages. How we do them might’ve changed. New inventions and understandings drive us forward but in essence, we are still practicing a well known sequence of chores and order.

At this current time of uncertainty, it’s easy to feel frustrated and/or anxious. It seems so outside ones control. However, I believe there are things we can do in our own immediate spheres that will collectively impact the big world. As gardeners we already have a role in making the world beautiful, bountiful and healthy. Our gardens are havens for all manner of living beings. We are but custodians of this precious earth. So it follows that we conduct ourselves responsibly and with thoughtful attention.

In turn, we are setting an example for the next generation of gardeners. The tradition of gardening and caring for the world, the knowledge of lessons learned, the gain of progress and innovation so when the time comes the trowel is passed smoothly and with grace.

Perennial bed 1 before cut back and mulching

Perennial bed 2 . Before.

Bed 1. After

Bed 2. After.

Pots with bulbs ready to winter over.

The urn getting prepared

Paperwhites

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

A November To Remember?

There is just so very much that’s not in our control. I’ve learned to tune out the ‘noise’ and instead focus on the things that I can manage. Having the garden has admittedly been a big reason for keeping me not just occupied but also motivated and engaged in my day to day activities. Being able to share the garden with nature starved, apartment dwelling city friends has not only been a pleasure but also reinforced my faith in the healing, restorative powers of nature.

So, heading into a winter with much of the same concerns as earlier in the year feels mighty daunting. How will I cope when its too cold to be outside in the garden? I have spent some time preparing for this season. Our overall health (mental, physical and emotional) depends on the ministry of nature.

To that end, here’s what I’ve come up with. A brisk, daily walk around my neighborhood or, time and weather permitting, in one of the many nature preserves nearby should clear the cobwebs in my head and get my blood flowing while absorbing some sunlight.

In packing the tiny greenhouse with the numerous tender plants this year, I deliberately relegated several plants to the basement just so I could carve out space for a small table and single chair in one corner. With work-from-home continuing, it will be good to have an alternate space for a family member who might crave a change of scene or some ‘green’ time during a particularly busy day.

The greenhouse is positively heavenly when the orange blossoms and jasmine bloom. I predict it will be a very popular location and I might have to institute a ‘sign-up’ for this perk so as to prevent conflicts or monopolizing. Yes, like the tree-house, the greenhouse receives WI-fi.

After a great deal of searching on the Internet, we finally scored an outdoor heater. This opens up the possibility of regularly getting outside and also having friends over to enjoy some social time with drinks and/or comforting soups. I look forward to returning from a hike and extending the time outdoors sipping hot cocoa and breaking bread. Indoor gatherings may not be possible at present but, we can still make the best of the outdoors.

Currently, the house is aglow with hibiscus and brugamansia in bloom. Both plants were heavy with buds so I brought them in – they have repaid my kindness very handsomely. When the flowers are done, they’ll be relocated to the basement to spend the winter in dormancy.

I have a whole slew of amaryllis bulbs started in the house. They will bring much cheer through the holidays and into the new year. Following that, the bulbs of hyacinths and crocuses already cooling in the refrigerator will be forced into bloom. February and March will not seem so bleak with the fragrance and color of these harbingers of spring.

Note: It’s not too late to get started on the amaryllis and bulb cooling.

The drinks ( remember the eau de Poire and rose-geranium cordial?), chutneys, jellies, sauces and pestos I made through summer will do more than perk up our winter meals. They will remind us of the good things about the year and that summer will come again. Heartwarming.

There are a few more chores still pending before the garden is truly put to bed. I’m loathe to finish up because the winter seems too long, dark and cold. So lets hope between my efforts to mitigate the anxiety and what unfolds this month, spirits are lifted and the light at the end of the tunnels shines bright. Take courage.

Note: GO VOTE!

Brugamansia in bloom

The coveted WFH location

Amaryllis in waiting

Fall beauty

  

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Bedding Down

As I did my chores in the garden this past week, it felt as though there’s much more to do in the fall than in the spring. In a way, this is probably true as a good deal of the work is about getting the garden ready for the spring. Clearing, cleaning up and cutting back right now makes spring so very enjoyable.

But what makes it feel pressured is that having prolonged our pleasure in the garden and delayed the tasks for as long as possible, we now have to get everything done before it gets too cold. Get the tender plants clipped, cleaned and moved indoors before the first frost. Finish harvesting the last of the vegetables and herbs for the same reason. Pull up spent annuals, empty, wash and clean pots. Once dry, put away the pots. Protect other plants and immovable features like statuary. Clean and store outdoor furniture.

Add new plants to the garden. Divide and replant others. Mulch everything. There’s removal, repair and replacement work, It feels endless!

And then there is the bulb planting. It’s a big deal in my garden and it gets harder every year. With almost 2000 bulbs to plant this coming weekend, I’ve called for reinforcements. Daughter and nephew will be joining the effort. I cannot tell you how relieved I am to have their assistance.

Finally, whatever was harvested must be dealt with. Drying, cooking, freezing, canning big time. It’s the last push before one can sit back and catch a breath. But so worth it. The flavors and fragrances of summer will infuse the winter comfortingly.

In my garden, all of this happens over about three weeks. We take on the chores in a divide and conquer kind of way. But one thing is clear – I am the project manager. I have a list, a strategy and a have very clear idea of how the jobs are to be done. Being well organized is super-important. Over the years some minor mutinies have been crushed and slipshod efforts called out.

This year, it has been so much calmer. It’s been possible to be systematic and give proper time and attention to every task. Doing something well is hugely satisfying. It’s because this year, no member of the very small team of three had a pressing social/cultural calendar! And I rediscovered why I love gardening so much – this must be what renewing ones wedding vows must feel like.

I’ve made a note to self – when the world opens up again, do not schedule anything else for the weeks of fall gardening.

The value of being present for each job cannot be overstated. It’s energizing to be so engaged. The intimacy of tending the plants is therapeutic. It’s funny how in doing what we think of as taking care of the health of the plants and the garden as a whole ends up being good for our own well-being.

Note: My painting ‘This Land Is Made OF You And Me’ is in the art show “Sunrise And Solidarity” – Art inspired by BIPOC in Westchester at the Art Closet Gallery, Chappaqua, NY in conjunction with the Town of New Castle’s Council For Race Equity. Art for social justice. The show will in part benefit Showing Up For Racial Justice Westchester Chapter. You can visit in person or on-line. Either way, please take a look!

Herb harvest for winter feasts.

Vertical garden still looking lush and lovely

Greenhouse is fully occupied

One more ‘party’ while the weather is still good.

Autumn Beauty

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar