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

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

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!

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

Specially Small

First, let me apologize for not posting last week. I was forced to lie low as I succumbed to some bug. Not Covid or the ’flu but something that knocked me out nevertheless. Took a few days but I’ve recovered well and feeling immensely grateful. Thanks so much for all the concerned inquiries – honestly, it felt good that my silence was noted!

Although I started feeling well within four days, I decided to go quiet for another week. My mind and body needed that break. The 10 days of going off the grid felt like a cleansing of sorts. No doom scrolling the news or checking Instagram. It was easier than I thought it’d be. I didn’t miss any of it. Now, I’m ready to get back to putting up my one daily Instagram post and checking the accounts I follow but with a determination to only do so for a half hour a day. That’s it.

I can use my time more productively.

As soon as I felt sufficiently better, I went down to the PHS Flower Show. It had been some years since I’d visited Philly so the trip took on the feel of a real getaway.

The Flower Show was held outdoors and the day I went was blessed with lovely weather. It had all the elements of a fair – live music, lots of people, smells of food, vendors of all kinds of wares and of course the horticultural exhibits themselves. I enjoyed Wambui Ippolito’s Aer and AMP’s Nature Amplified very much. Sadly, neither of the dynamic women were present that day. In fact, AMP had already returned to the UK. Still, I’m so glad I got to see their work.

Beyond the obvious reasons to go to a flower show like this, it was particularly joyous to just have this show take place. We’ve all been through so much that events like this are life affirming and filled with hope and optimism. Nature heals.

What I appreciated the most at the show were the plant vendors. My inherent greed for plants aside, it was special to see small nurseries being represented. These nurseries, almost always family operated, are invaluable to the horticultural world. They do what they do for the love of it. Neither lucrative nor glamorous, running a nursery is very hard work. Small nurseries are the ones that grow the unusual, the special, the rare. They preserve important plants while big box stores push the popular/trendy. If you’re looking for plants no longer found easily or fallen out of fashion, go to a small nursery. I, for one, shop exclusively in such places. Shop local, think global.

Years ago, there were several family run nurseries in my county. Each a source of great plants, knowledgeable and helpful people and each had its own unique specialty or expertise. As big box stores popped up everywhere, many of the nurseries could not compete. Customers were lured by low prices and settled for the plantes du jour. Specialty nurseries got hit hard. Today, the remaining nurseries in my area can be counted in one hand and even some of those only do wholesale. The discerning home gardener has to search hard to locate the required less popular but horticulturally valuable plants.

Back to the flower show – although I had no list or pressing need for purchasing, the sight of healthy plants was enough to break all my resolve. One nursery in particular caught my eye. At Triple Oaks Nursery, I picked up several Indian Pink plants (Spigelia marilandica) to add to my meadow. It is an uncommon native wildflower. A small fig was also obtained. Joe Kiefer the nurseryman was most helpful and full of good information. He operates in Franklinville, NJ and I cannot wait to visit him there.

If I had one suggestion to make to the organizers of the PHS Flower Show, it’d be to have even more nurseries at the show. We need to support them fully or run the risk of losing them entirely. That would be doing a huge disservice to ourselves, our gardens and to the horticultural world at large.

Small is priceless and most beautiful.

Pictures taken at the PHS Show –

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

When Old Is New Again

The hummingbirds are back! The feeders were optimistically put up two week ago when it was still cold. It has remained pretty much below normal temperatures since but the sugar solution was duly refreshed. Yesterday morning, just as more seasonable weather arrived, the tiny birds showed up as well. I’m taking that as a good sign for the season.

Humans have always relied on signals and sightings in nature as guides for when to do things and what to expect. A glut of acorns in the the fall means a consequent increase in mice, squirrel and deer populations as well as an emergence of new oak trees. And vice versa.

A cold spring means reduced pollination and lower production of fruit and future plants.

The timing of when the leaves fall in autumn is recognized as a good predictor – too early means mild fall and winter, too late indicates a colder winter and if leave shrivel up on the branches before dropping, then expect a very severe winter. I’m going to pay attention more to this autumn!

Similarly, it’s said that the wider the woolly bear caterpillar’s brown band is, the milder the winter will be. When birds migrate or returns are foretellings. Dandelions, tulips, chickweed and such fold their petals prior to rain.

While there is some evidence that some of these signals are accurate, for the most part, they are anecdotal. On my part, I’m happy to know them and tend to believe only if they predict something I desire. Selective is what I am. Ha.

However, there are old gardening practices that are very sound and good for all of nature. When I began creating this garden about 25 years ago, I resolved to do my best to do no harm. That right away meant organic methods. This was in part driven by my own childhood where I watched gardeners do their work sans chemicals. As a scientist, I learned the harm chemicals can do – long lasting harm. So organic it was. What was good through time is good for the present and future. ( A word of caution – even organic pest control should be applied judiciously. They might knock off pests but they also kill the good bugs. They are not specific to pests.)

Compost was known to be beneficial but, it was not a general practice at the time I got started on this garden.I knew enough soil microbiology to understand how effective this natural product was. While one could buy bags of compost, people did not make their own compost. At least not in the cities and suburbs. I was hard pressed to find a company that sold composters suitable to suburban homes – something that offered protection from curious critters (think raccoon) unlike open compost bins often seen in large estates and rural properties. I did eventually find one that is ideal for kitchen waste. The woods that back my property take care of all garden waste.

Next came my quest to collect rain water. No water butts or barrels to be found. Why? Because most people were not thinking about water shortages at that time. Even though the evidence was already pointing to water becoming a global crisis in the not too distant future. Now, collecting rain water is a very old practice. Not just because of shortage concerns but also because it saved drawing it from the well water or fetching from the river. It simply made sense. We converted an old wine barrel to do the job.

Native plants encouraged native fauna and the ecosystem was kept in balance. Companion planting, crop rotation, diligent observation to thwart disease are all time tested methods for a healthy garden and gardener. Our ancestors learned the hard way and have passed on that wisdom. We strayed but now, we’re returning to those lessons. And that’s a very good thing. Admittedly, not everything our forebearers did was good but we know enough now to know the difference.

To think, my approach to gardening was called ‘quaint’ at the time. Now, 25 plus years on, I’m trendy. I’m having my moment!!

Note: Last call to pre-register for my Open Day!

The greening of the wall

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Other People’s Gardens

Gardeners are an innately inquisitive lot. That’s what drives us to keep gardening year after year. How to grow anything, do it better, battle the growing conditions, … even how to save the world. But, here’s our guilty pleasure – we are most keen on investigating other people’s gardens. How and why someone else is gardening is a much indulged passion. Contrary to popular assumption, it is not about competition but rather, it is about checking on the doings of the garden community and what we can learn from it. Admittedly, there’s a bit of envy or ‘what am I missing’ every now and then. However, in equal measure comes moments of self-satisfaction and validation that one is doing well.

Garden books are a great source of information but truly, actually visiting a garden(s) teaches much more. The instruction from such visits cannot be overstated. One learns new methods and designs, novel solutions to universal problems, unusual/striking plants and combinations and best of all, the gardener is generally available to answer questions and share knowledge freely. Sometimes, I’ve come away with generous gifts of seeds, seedlings and/or cuttings.

No matter what kind of garden one visits, there is always some nugget of information to come away with. I liken it to a visit to a new art exhibit. Whether the art resonates or not, the viewer is transformed even just a wee bit. We know what we like and what we do not. Or we now know a new way to see or depict something. Our minds expand regardless. Gardens do the same.

Over the years, I have personally gained infinite knowledge from visiting gardens. I am the better gardener for it. Acquiring like-minded gardener friends has been the icing on the botanical cake.

So, coming to the point, I urge everyone to make a commitment this very minute to regularly visit gardens this year. Both public and private. The Open Days Program of the Garden Conservancy is perhaps the singularly most convenient and organized way to see gardens all across America. A diverse and most interesting range of gardens and gardeners await!

Note: The Open Days Directory for 2022 is now available. Get it! Better yet, join the Garden Conservancy – you will be privy to all sorts of garden visits, event, talks and tours. At the same time, you will be supporting the Conservancy’s mission to preserve important gardens in America.

Furthermore, my garden is open May 14 – make your reservation online! I’ll be taking attendance.

In 2021, I visited –

The gardens of Christopher Spitzmiller and Anthony Bellamo in Upstate New York –

Notice the plant supports

 

Hollister House in Connecticut –

Such a lovely color palette

Formal and informal blended seamlessly

Hay Honey Farm in New Jersey –

How I covet this bench!

This meadow validated mine own!

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Garden Therapy

It’s hard to imagine anyone going about their daily lives and not feeling the weight of the war in Ukraine. I personally find myself unable to stop thinking about what the Ukrainians are experiencing. While, like so many others, my family and I are trying to help them and their cause as much as we can, it still feels inadequate and heart-aching. It’s difficult to get away from the sadness and horror.

In times like this, the privilege of having a garden, however small, is very comforting. One does not often think about it but, being able to oversee a plot of earth is truly an honor and a blessing. A garden must never be taken for granted.

For one, at its best, the chance to care for a piece of earth is an opportunity to nurture and protect our global environment. One garden at a time. Imagine if every gardener applied her/himself with sincerity how big an impact we could make. As Doug Tallamy puts it, we’d have created the biggest national park in this country. Now, consider that on a worldwide level. Powerful right?

A garden helps us feed ourselves. If not complete self-sufficiency, at least partially supporting ourselves is not only gratifying but it is empowering. Recall the concept of Victory Gardens. Particularly in times of war when rations are imposed as food becomes scarce, being able to supplement ourselves from the garden can make all the difference. Going a step further, we can share the bounty with neighbors and beyond. After all, we are in this together so together we will overcome.

Working in the garden is healthy and healing. The magical combination of fresh air, sunlight, sights and smells of plants, sounds of birds and bees, the feel of the breeze on our faces and soil in our hands and, the physical work of gardening, results in a mental, physical and spiritual transformation. I cannot think of any other activity that equals the power of gardening. Can you?

In making and growing a garden, we create beauty that changes not just the local landscape but also changes anyone who works in it or visits it. Bad moods are improved, sad hearts are comforted, low spirits are uplifted and, joyous emotions are celebrated.

So, as we do what we can to help mitigate the current crisis, let us use our gardens to help ourselves and the world at large. For those without gardens, volunteer at your local public gardens or ask to assist a friend in their garden. If possible, create a garden – a simple collection of plants in pots counts. I promise, you will never regret gardening.

To garden is to keep hope alive. Gardens are places filled with optimism and faith tin the future.

Note: I’m sharing images to put a smile on your face and a spring in your step:

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar