Dallying With Dahlias

I’ve always seen the garden as a natural laboratory and the gardener as the chief scientist or principal investigator. In the making of a garden, we are but creating something of our own ideas and vision. Under certain given parameters of geography, climate and such, the gardener attempts to come up with something that fulfills a human need. These are contrived spaces where nature is manipulated. And when the hypothesis is realized, the work is deemed a success.

In truth, sowing a seed is nothing but an experiment.

A gardener will tweak, adjust, change and alter things all the time. Improving and trialing plants, colors, designs, shapes and always pushing boundaries both literal and metaphoric. No two gardens are ever alike because conditions are never identical even on plots sitting side by side. It’s always about experimenting.

Trying a rose in a seemingly unsuitable location in front of the air-conditioning compressor only to find success because nobody else accounted for the ideal combination of light, rich soil and the healthy air circulation resulting from the compressor hard at work cooling the house.

Or planting apple trees in the perfect location but ignoring the big cedar tree on the adjoining neighbor’s plot. Apples abound but all affected by cedar rust. The fruits taste fine but don’t look great. An experiment with mixed results. I have personal experience here and I’ve learned to live with blemished fruit. Keeps me humble but well fed.

We experiment with watering, light/shade requirements, new plants, new combinations of colors and/or plants, locations, styles – every effort is a mix of knowledge, hope, risk and curiosity. That last factor is the very essence of the mind of a scientist. Curiosity – the more we have it, the better the gardening experience. It’s not really about the successes at all. Success feels good but like a drug, one just keeps wanting more of it. Failures teach much more. There’s real growth from learning from mistakes. But curiosity is what drives the whole experiment, Every single time.

Curiosity makes us ask questions – What if? How about? Will this work? Why?

This year, my biggest experiment was all about growing dahlias. I tried them in pots and in ground. The pots got a head start because they went into the greenhouse as soon as it was vacated by all the over-wintering plants. The ground however had to wait till it was warm enough.

The spot I’d thought would be good for planting dahlias turned out to be smaller and not as sunny. Still, the plants grew and bloomed. It became crowded though. The asters nearby became thuggish and encroached on the newcomers. Clearly, my first mistake was in ordering too many dahlia tubers. That was sheer greed. And beginners optimism.

I ran out of big pots and crammed all the remaining tubers into a space that was inadequate. The lilac tree on one side cast more shade than I’d realized. So it is quite surprising that I got a fair number of beautiful flowers. The site however was not attractive at all. Despite the staking, it looked rather messy. Okay, ugly.

The pots did well. They started early, got moved outside and grew handsomely. A couple of them got attacked by some bug but appeared to overcome the problem on their own. I was too busy traveling so failed to be diligent. Pots were also watered regularly by a drip system set up for all pots in our absence while the dahlias in the ground were left to Nature’s mercy. In both cases, they came through well. I understand from dahlia veterans that this was a difficult year. Intense heat and lack of rain affected when the plants started blooming. Commercial growers were uncertain about the harvest. Last Christmas, I’d been given a dahlia subscription for this year and the weekly bouquets came with a fair amount of filler blooms which I’m pretty sure was not part of the deal. There simply weren’t as many dahlia flowers this year. I personally did not mind. The farmer is not responsible for the weather and did their best to please the subscribers.

Overall, I learned a lot and was quite happy with the whole experiment. Furthering the experiment, to store the bulbs through the winter, I’m following the traditional rules to pull up the tubers from the ground, clean and air dry, then store in cool, dry and dark location. Checking periodically to make sure they hadn’t gone moldy or desiccated. The tubers in pots however are going as is inside the unheated basement. The plants have been cut down of course. But I want to see how those tubers do compared to their naked cousins. I’m also experimenting similarly with the Canna, dwarf banana and Elephant ears. Other than all the big pots really crowding up the multi-purpose basement, the investment is very minimal. But the pay off could be good! Shall report on how it all goes.

Additionally, I’ve all together abandoned the idea of replanting dahlia tubers in the ground. I simply do not have a really suitable spot. Instead, I’m going to put them all in pots and keep them in the greenhouse throughout their growing season. It’ll be the dahlia cutting garden under glass (doors open of course). They’ll get enough light, regular watering, good air circulation. We shall see if this pampered set up yields an abundance of flowers.

Hot house beauties of a sort!

Note: I’m very pleased to be participating in the KMAA ‘Members Best’ Art Show at the Katonah Library all through November. Please visit this exhibit – creativity abounds!

My painting in the KMAA show’. Moon Shine’_watercolor

 

Dahlia in a pot

Dahlia plot looking unkempt

Dahlia in pot – ready for winter sojourn

Canna before being pulled up and prepared for storage.

Tropicals before being cut and moved into basement

Dahlia and Canna. Awaiting cleaning, drying and storage.

The meadow ready for bulb planting

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Fall Feelings

Last week, it really felt like Fall was happening. The leaves turned color in what seemed an overnight change. Not as brilliant but beautiful nevertheless. Temperatures came down significantly and concern grew that the show would soon be over with the trees simply dropping the remaining leaves. There was widespread worry about imminent frost. Happily this week, temperatures are back in the 60’s and I feel reassured that we will have more autumnal joys to experience. Now that’s more like it.

I really love a prolonged Fall. Mild days and cool nights, brisk walks in bright sunshine and cozy fireside chats, blushing apples and bold orange pumpkins, leaves in hues of ocher cascading down to meet earth ready with freshly sprung mushrooms, putting garden to bed and planning for spring, Halloween treats and Thanksgiving feasts, a season of gratitude.

In the garden, with the tender plants safe in the greenhouse, I’m delaying the general clean up and bulb planting. With the weather returning to milder temperatures, there is no great panic to rush. Instead, I’m going to use this week to be present for the simple pleasures – those aforementioned walks, appreciating the foliar colors and shapes, gathering with friends for conversation and hot cider (spiked and not) around fire-pits and heaters, fully enjoying every possible minute to be had in the pleasures of the season.

This past Saturday, we hosted a Diwali* party in the garden. The weather was just perfect and everyone was cognizant that this day was a precious gift – very soon, winter will be here and it’ll be much too cold to be enjoying a leisurely meal on the terrace. It’ll have to wait till Spring before we can do it again. Surrounded by the loveliness of the fall garden in senescence, we ate, drank and made merry. The evening ended with lighting the lamps and having some fun with (harmless) fireworks. Nothing like the joy of sparklers to bring out the child within us all. Truly, a befitting way to close out the outdoor partying season. To me, it felt particularly precious because we now live in a time when indoor gatherings are no longer easy. The holidays will certainly be celebrated but we will be in smaller groups, cautiously optimistic for brighter, merrier times to come.

On a more prosaic topic, I’m considering over-wintering my cannas and similar tropicals. In the past, they’ve been tossed on the compost heap as part of the clean up. It’s always felt wasteful So, this year, I’m going to cut back the elephant ears and cannas that are in pots and then move the pots into the garage/basement. An occasional splash of water to keep the tubers from drying out and making sure they are not exposed to extremely low temperatures is all I can offer – lets see if this works. Those plants in the garden will be dug up and the tubers stored much like the dahlias. Fingers crossed!

Yes, I’m definitely feeling the season. Are you?

*For those who may not know, Diwali is the biggest Indian holiday – it celebrates the victory of good over evil, light banishing dark, love triumphing over hate. This Festival Of Lights is a huge, joyous celebration of fellowship, food ( mostly delicious sweets) and fireworks. Lamps are lit and the whole world is set aglow. Magical!

Fall glory –

Party ready

Fireworks fun

Lit lamps

The tropicals I plan to save

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Performance Report

Going about the business of autumnal chores and putting the garden to bed, gives me time to review the growing season gone by. Even as we’re closing out the year, gardeners are planning and preparing for the next year. It’s a time of ending and beginning, the cycle of life in continuum.

I think about what plants did really well and what did not. Most importantly, I ask why. Often, the weather had a big part to play. A cold/warm spring, early arrival of summer, a lack of or too much rain, long spells of high heat – the garden responds to every shift and change. The consequent reduction in pollinators and/or increase in pests. Plants that thrived before may now be struggling as surroundings have changed – growing trees, new construction, trees coming down create a whole new environments. From sunny to shady or vice versa, the change demands a rethinking of the plantings.

And then, there is ones own part in the success or failure of the gardening season. This, for me, is the most humbling experience. Owning up to my mistakes and recognizing that the high points had less to do with me and more to do with the grace of Mother Nature or sometimes, pure dumb luck puts my role into perspective. I see this as a positive thing. Arrogance has no place in good gardening. The more I garden, I realize how little I know. Nature has been at the job since the beginning of time after all. She teaches well but does not tolerate big egos.

This year in the garden began well but then a cold snap affected the apple blossoms that were getting ready to bloom. No apple harvest. On the up side, the tulips lasted longer. Very hot, humid days with scarcely any rain marked the summer. The flowers of oakleaf hydrangea got roasted. Leafy green veggies bolted fast. Some plants like the native wisteria bloomed later. Others bloomed early and for a shorter period. The Concord grapes had been coming along really well but then they succumbed to the heat and drought and simply surrendered and dropped to the ground. Things were discernibly out of sync though in general, native plants not only fared better, they saved the summer garden.

Climate change underway.

I noticed fewer butterflies which was hugely upsetting. The diversity of bees observed lifted my spirits somewhat.

Then, by going away for half the summer, I left the garden to manage on its own. While we’d set up a watering system for the plants in pots, the rest of the garden had to deal with the temperamental weather and gross negligence. The garden actually coped rather well. But not the vegetables. Lack of due diligence put paid to them. I’m reconsidering the whole summer vegetable garden – what;s the point if I’m not going to be around. And I do like to get away for a good part of the summer – I realized just how much when travel was not possible the previous two summers.

Some plants did not do so well because yours truly had not divide them last year. Often, older plants do not bloom in abundance because they’ve grown too large. By dividing, there are not only more plants but they do better overall. Time constraints and laziness are my pathetic ‘excuses’.

The big success were the dahlias. To be fair, this being the first time I’ve grown them, there is no reference point to determine the degree of success. From all reports, the dahlia season was delayed due to the weather. Since my return from vacation in mid-September, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a daily crop of new and assorted blooms to display around the house. I’m desperately hoping they will keep blooming for a few more weeks. Weather Gods! I beseech you to prolong the season!

Fingers crossed I do right by the tubers so they’re in good shape for next year.

So, what is the final performance verdict?

Garden – an all-round good worker. Highly self-motivated, resilient and independent performer.

Gardener – Average worker with potential to do much better. Needs to improve time management skills. More focus and less distraction recommended.

Please indulge me as I proudly share some images of my dahlias –

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Catching Up To October

It serves me right. I was away for a good part of the summer, neglecting routine garden chores. So now, I’m busy playing catch up. The fall chores are slowly getting done but my goodness, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. A great deal on the To-Do list remains. The need to press on is primarily because we’re racing with the clock – before it gets too cold.

The big focus this past week was to get the tender plants that are in pots into the greenhouse. First the greenhouse is given a thorough cleaning inside and out. The panes must be squeaky clean to let in the sunlight. Before the plants are taken indoors, they must be trimmed and cleaned, their pots washed to remove debris and stowaways. Hygiene is important so the greenhouse doesn’t become a breeding ground for disease and pests. I like taking the necessary time and effort to do this task properly. It can be quite meditative.

Typically, I begin this work in mid-September. This year, it waited till October. A couple of weeks makes all the difference. The greenhouse was washed and prepared last weekend. During the week, we began corralling the pots so I had a work station to trim and clean. Through the week and weekend, this chore went on. The greenhouse is small – just 8’x4’. It gets filled to the gills easily. Moving the large pots is a physically demanding job. Thankfully, but for the largest of bay trees, all the plants are now safely ensconced inside. Said bay will go in very soon. There will then be no more room in the horticultural inn.

Apart from making the plants more compact which is better for small space accommodations, a nice result of the trimming work are the cuttings of rosemary, bay and other herbs that I enjoy giving away to friends who love to cook. We ourselves use them to ways that will perk up winter dishes. Mint leaves are turned into an Indian chutney which is delicious in sandwiches as is or combined with cheese or chicken. Sage leaves are fried flat and stored in the fridge – laid over soups or salads, they look pretty and taste quite sublime. Curry leaves are sauteed with black mustard seeds and turmeric – they are essential for certain South Indian dishes. Kept in the refrigerator, they last a long while. We create little bundles of bouquet garnis with rosemary, bay, marjoram, oregano and lavender – perfect to flavor hearty winter stews and roasts.

Before tossing off annual plants on the compost heap, we save those that can be used in arrangements to decorate or transformed into delicious food. Nasturtium leaves are turned into pesto as are the last of the basil. Note: I use cashews instead of pine nuts to make the nasturtium pesto. I also skip the Parmesan.

Time permitting, I’m going to freeze fennel and nasturtium flowers in ice cubes – should be pretty in holiday cocktails.

A lot of other chores must be dealt with before the Big Bulb Planting marathon. Almost a 1000 bulbs will be arriving soon! Talk about overwhelming. But, I’m pausing, taking deep breaths , admiring the dahlias and all the fall flowers still going strong and, plugging away at my tasks. It will all get done. All hands on deck.That’s what family is for right?

Greenhouse filling up …

Topiaries to baby under lights in the house.

Ball of bay

Still life

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

October On Tap

Ah October! This month offers so much. Fall in full swing. Crisp, brisk weather, gorgeous burnished colors, the smell of wood smoke and pumpkin spice, bonfire gatherings, fireside reads, rain softened soil for new plantings. putting garden to bed days, pumpkin picking, apple tasting, soup simmering, Halloween decorating, long walks, reuniting with sweaters and fleece – yes, this month is full of blessings.

While there’s much to do in the garden, the weather makes it pleasant doesn’t it? Bug free, dry, cool air goes a long way in getting the chores done.

What To Do This Month –

1. Yes, weeding continues! Last call so be thorough.

2. Time to plant perennials and trees. Give a good dose of compost to each. Water regularly. Perennials already in place can be divided and re-planted as well.

3. Cut back all spent plants except what is needed for seasonal interest and to support animal life.

4. Collect seeds. Store in labeled envelopes in a cool, dry space.

5. Last call to root cuttings of geraniums, coleus, rosemary etc.,

6. Get all pots of tender perennials into clean greenhouse or other winter shelters. Wash plants and pots thoroughly before relocating – minimizes pest infestation.

7. Plant bulbs as weather gets consistently cooler. Bulbs can be planted until soil freezes solid.

8. Rake leaves. Add to compost pile, existing beds or deposit in woods. This has become a controversial subject but, I believe there is a compromise.

I do not let the leaves remain over my tiny lawn because I’m surrounded by trees so, the leaf fall is heavy and tends to smother all the grass, clover and friendly ‘weeds’ that support insects in early spring. I let leaves remain in the various beds and all over the meadow. As a result, there is plenty of leaf litter for butterflies, squirrels, birds and other critters who depend on it for shelter and food.

9. Give compost heap a good stir.

10 Clean out vegetable garden except for cool weather plants that are still producing. Apply several inches of compost on cleared beds. Plant green manure/cover-crop to enrich the soil – optional.

11. Clean and put away (or cover) outdoor furniture.

12. Check what needs repairing, repainting, replacing and get to it!

13. Lift tender bulbs, corms and tubers. Store in dry, frost-free place.

14. Drain and close all outdoor water faucets. Empty rain barrel and hoses.

15 Clean all equipment and tools. Store neatly.

16. As temperatures plummet, protect tender shrubs and immovable  frost sensitive pots and statuary. I cover the former with burlap and for the latter, I first cover with sturdy sheets of plastic and then use burlap so it looks halfway decent. They end up looking like big, brown packages ordered by the wildlife.

17. Remove suckers from ornamental and fruit trees. Prune roses and wisteria so as to protect from damage due to strong winds and ice/snow. Remove dead and decaying limbs from all plants.

18. Fill up bird feeders. Keep them filled through the winter.

19. Get into the seasons festive spirit – fill window boxes and urns with seasonal plants and produce.

20. Take time to enjoy the beauty of the season.

Let’s make it a great week!

A few seasonal glimpses from the garden and elsewhere:

Somewhere in Brooklyn

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Simply Summer

A lot rides on summer. A season so full of plans and expectations that it feels as plump and juicy as the fruit it bears. It’s time to switch to a lighter schedule so we can make the best of the long light filled hours. Reading lists, picnics, outdoor concerts, beach fun, pool time, ice cream tastings, hammock naps, freshly picked produce, crayon box colored flowers – we demand so much of summer. In our bid for simple, easy living, we expect to do a lot!

And then, there’s summer vacation. Where to go? For how long? With whom? To do what – chill out, sight see, find adventure, reunite with friends/family? It’s as exciting as it is stressful to plan that ideal getaway.

I’ve learned to pare down my own expectations and get very organized ahead. Mostly, I free up my schedule and create more space in my days for spontaneous activities. The to-do list is shortened to the bare minimum. Even in the garden. Weeding, watering, deadheading and lots of lounging to count butterflies and watch birds. Pure heaven. It’s the much awaited period when pleasure is prioritized over purpose. I believe I’ve earned it.

However, it’s what needs doing before going away on vacation that is invariably the challenge. How to best ensure the well-being of the garden when I’m away.

An intensive weeding is done right before. As is the mowing and tidying. I try to leave the garden looking as groomed as possible so on my return, it doesn’t look overly disheveled. Nothing like an unkempt garden to wash off the vacation glow.

Ensuring that the plants are well hydrated is a whole other matter. As I’ve mentioned before, plants in the ground are expected to hold their own – unless it’s been unduly hot, they are not watered routinely. It’s only the plants in pots that get regular quenching. And I have many pots.

In the past, I typically arranged for someone to come periodically to water the pots in various parts of the garden. It was a bit of a hit or miss as it depended wholly on the diligence of the person doing the watering.

This year, we’ve corralled all the pots in one place and set up an automatic system that turns on at a specific time of day for a specific length of time. There’s a moisture sensor attached so it does not turn on the water if it is raining or has done so recently. I just returned from being away for two weeks and the potted plants look lush and fine.

My nephew stopped by regularly to ensure everything was generally okay but most importantly, he cleaned and refilled the hummingbird feeders. I had made a quantity of the sugar solution and stored it in the refrigerator. A word of caution – the feeders must be refreshed more frequently during particularly hot spells because the water can start fermenting and this is unhealthy for the birds.

Overall, this new system, whilst requiring some effort to set up and move pots together, seems to be a better way to serve the plants. At the same time, it requires less of my nephew so he doesn’t feel too put upon by his garden obsessed aunt.

I’m going away again soon and it’s comforting to know that the care of the garden is in hand. So now, back to savoring the joys of the summer. Whats left of it.

Pots gathered together for watering:

The garden at present. I notice some hints of fall! –

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Forward

Spring in the middle of a heatwave? Yes, I’m thinking about next spring. Regardless of the heat, now is the time to consider bulbs to order for Fall planting. It’s perfect timing when you think about it. Firstly, the intense heat is keeping one indoors so, might as well address the bulb order.

In picking up the bulb catalogs now, I have the luxury of time to peruse the pages to ensure my favorites are available and check out new introductions. It permits a thoughtful selection keeping in mind color schemes and bloom times to get the most of the spring bulb season.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to tulips. There are so many choices of color, forms and varieties – its such fun selecting. I generally think about a color scheme – nothing rigid. A loose blend of shades that go together or complement/counterpoint well with a bit of surprise thrown in. This year, I went with my regular mainstays and added several new ones. I cut out the pictures and laid them out randomly ( that’s how way they get planted anyway) to see the effect. Of course they will not all bloom at the same time but this visual gives me a rough idea that it’ll work. Anything jarring will be noticed and rejected right away. It’s a lovely activity of dreaming and planning in the cool comfort of air-conditioning.

It’s easier selecting daffodils, alliums, fritillaria and such. The biggest obstacle is my budget. I covet certain bulbs like F. imperialis both lutea and rubra maximus and would love to order a great many but can only permit myself a handful. So be it. A few of them will still look impressive. However, when it comes to the alliums, few will not do. A few hundreds are required in the meadow so I stick with Purple Sensation and Summer Drummer which are beautiful and less costly. One day, after I win the lottery, I’ll include Globemaster and others. I don’t have any complaints about having to compromise – there are so many great choices that one way or other, a suitable selection can always be made.

Bulb growing is not an easy industry. For that matter, growing anything is not easy. I’m quite content with what I can afford and careful to factor in all expenses when deciding a realistic budget. I’m always happy to forgo designer anything for plants. And art supplies.

This year, I’m not adding any more crocus, ornithogalum, hyscinthoide and other minor bulbs. I want to see how the ones already in place continue to perform. It’s necessary to make periodic assessments.

While I believe there’s no such thing as having too many bulbs, it’s just wasteful to keep adding bulbs without allowing those that naturalize easily to do their thing.

By ordering bulbs now, one has the best chance to ensure their choices are not sold out. It always surprises me how fast certain varieties get bought up. Even when I think I’m relatively early, I’ve sometimes been too late to grab popular choices.

In the process of selecting bulbs, the mind is wholeheartedly in spring season – a very pleasant place to be when its blazing hot outside, A little side bonus of advance planning.

Once ordered, I’m free to enjoy the summer without that pending task. The order gets charged only at the time of shipping which is scheduled according to the right planting time for your zone. Pretty convenient.

Happy spring planning!

Note: Ordering now means ordering from bulb houses – you get the largest selections and best prices. Large quantities can be ordered wholesale. Buying bulbs later on from local nurseries is just fine if you’re buying only a few bulbs and not looking for a big choice. I usually get my amaryllis and paperwhites for holiday decorations and hyacinths for forcing from my local nursery. Often, I go again towards the end of the season and snap up the remnants for potting up and getting an early start on the spring show.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Parched Earth

This past Saturday it rained. Not for long but, the garden plants got a decent watering. The relief I felt was disproportionately huge. It’s been a very dry summer. The rain barrel has been low for a while and but for the fact that the condensation from the central air-conditioning unit is directed to the barrel, it would’ve been bone dry some weeks ago. Saturday’s rain did not fill the barrel. But I’m grateful for every drop of water.

Yesterday, we finally got a true ‘rainy day’. Thunder and lightening too. Torrents so powerful that there was flooding of roads and basements. The problem with this kind of rain is that the earth cannot soak up the rain in a hurry so there’s a lot of run off water. Still, it quenched the thirsty plants.

And now, for the foreseeable future, we are in a heat wave. No rain but plenty of heat and humidity. Ugh. I shudder to think of all the unhealthy conditions for the flora and fauna. All life.

While the unprecedented heat followed by the fierce monsoons in Asia have wrought some devastation there, the lack of rain and soaring temperatures are doing much damage in other parts of the globe. It’s getting hotter everywhere. That, combined with severe lack of water, is going to see the biggest human migration to date. And this could begin in our lifetime.

I don’t know about you but I worry a great deal about this. In this country alone we are experiencing the horrific effects of climate change. Wild fires, large bodies of water drying up, power cuts, water rationing, loss of homes, crops and related livelihoods – the writing on the wall is clear. The science is evident. What are we going to do about it?

For a start, it would help enormously if our representatives in government could accept that we’re in a climate crisis and accordingly make and institute policies to help mitigate the threat. Concurrently, we citizens must do our part. Conserve, reduce, reuse, recycle water, energy and other resources.

In the garden –

Re-examine how and what we grow. Native plants are less demanding and more resilient.

Eliminate or drastically reduce water and energy guzzling lawns.

Collect rain water, gray water for the garden. I recently learned that in some parts of the country, it is illegal to have rain barrels – WHAT??? If they’re worried about a rise in mosquito populations, there are simple, safe ‘dunks’ available to stop them from breeding.

Water from boiling eggs, pasta and such can either be poured right away to kill weeds emerging between pavers on pathways or cooled and used to water plants.

And please, can we agree that timed watering systems MUST have a moisture/rain detection monitor attached so no automatic watering happens when its raining or the ground/pots are wet? Reduce the frequency of watering too. With the right plants, there will less demand for water.

If plants struggle and require too much care, get rid of them. I feel your pain but it is what we must do to keep our place on earth.

Finally, vote out the politicians who do not support the environment or believe in climate change and replace them with green-thinking, progressive minded candidates.

These asks are not as difficult as they seem. Lets begin right away. There is literally no time to lose.

Note: To counter the stress of worrying about the world, I’m sharing photos from my visit to Hollister House last. Sunday. A gem of a garden. Do visit!

Call Maintenance!

July is all about maintenance. No major planting or project occurs at this time. It’s time to enjoy the fruits of ones labor. And I’m here for it. There’s nothing as satisfying as strolling around, preferably with a cool drink in hand, admiring what’s in bloom and what’s going well. Finally, a bit of time to simply take in the beauty and wonder of what one has created.

Of course, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. That would be wishful thinking. Weeding, watering, propping up, trimming back and general faffing is in order, But these can set a happy rhythm to the days. Leaving plenty of time to sit and soak up sunshine and revel in the delightful horticultural offerings. Hours spent watching the numerous insects and birds never get old. Quite the contrary – like sunrises and sunsets, rainbows, full moons and meteor showers, we never tire of what’s in bloom, butterflies flitting and floating gracefully, hummingbirds darting from feeder to flowers, bees laden with pollen whirring home, dragonflies pausing at the water filled trough, their iridescent wings refracting sunlight into flat rainbows …. the list goes on. Before one knows it, afternoon has become nightfall and the fireflies are twinkling in time with the stars.

All too often, I’ve allowed myself to be caught up in the spirit of the season and neglected to do enough in the maintenance department. It’s so easy to let that happen. I think I’m doing enough only to discover that the garden is no longer just expressing summer exuberance. Rather, it is shockingly messy and overgrown. Not this year. My resolution made early in the spring has held up well thus far and I’m seeing the impact due diligence makes.

Regular weeding and watering as required have always been kept up but, timely deadheading, staking and cutting back overgrowth makes all the difference to the health and appearance of the garden. This past weekend, blessed with good weather, that’s exactly what was accomplished. Snipping off spent flowers, cutting overgrowth of certain highly rambunctious plants, staking and supporting those in need, re-potting plants started from cuttings, trimming topiaries, chopping some plants like asters by 1/3 to prevent legginess and encourage fuller growth, feeding all the roses and every plant in a pot with organic fertilizer – it all got done. And the garden breathed a big sigh of relief. Everything looks so much better.

My husband and I split the numerous tasks but we made sure we took breaks for coffee, lunch and many glasses of water on the terrace, at which time we watched the hummingbirds, counted butterflies and shared observations made when we were tending different parts of the garden. A happy balance of work and pleasure. Pre-dinner drinks and dinner felt very well deserved as we sat back and appreciated this piece of earth of which we are blessed to have custody.

My final task before calling it a day was to water all the plants in pots – something that is done almost daily. I had to resort to the tap as the rain barrel was very low in water indicating how dry its been. I then noticed some plants in the beds looking mighty thirsty and watered them too. Fingers crossed it’ll rain later today, slake the earth and fill up the barrel.

In doing the maintenance chores regularly, it’s easier to notice what’s new. Which flowers are blooming, is there a scarcity or abundance of pollinators, where the nests are, what pests have made an ugly appearance and addressing the problems right away before it gets too late. The tasks remind me that I am a caretaker. And care I shall take.

Scenes from the garden –

Hummingbird at the feeder

Blue Jay taking a a break

Before and after a light trim

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

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