Designing Seeds

I’ve been seed obsessed for a while. Each seed is a whole world unto itself. The future, yours and mine and every other life form depends on the survival and viability of seeds. Seen as symbols of hope and prosperity, the importance of seeds cannot be overstated. We know that much for sure.

And so, we harvest and collect seeds. We preserve and store. We sow and grow. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, medicinals – everything we need is sought and coveted. National and international repositories keep all known seeds for future needs and by doing so they strive to secure our future.

At this time of year, gardeners in the northern hemisphere are gearing up to sow seeds for their gardens. As am I. However, due to time and schedule constraints, I’m not planning to start too many. Instead, I’m going to make seed bombs to disperse. It’s an experiment so I’ll just have to see how it all turns out. The scientist in me is excited about the experiment. The gardener in me is skeptical – the whole thing seems a bit iffy.

My reasoning is, instead of directly sprinkling seeds such as poppies wherever one wants them to grow, seed bombs could increase the chance of success as they will hold the seeds down, perhaps safeguard them from birds, and, when weather conditions are right, supply the seeds with an immediate boost of nutrition. Sort of give the seeds a leg up. Similarly, instead of struggling to squeeze in seedlings amidst established plantings, seed bombs might serve better.

Like I’ve already said, it’s an experiment. For very little investment in time, energy and money. If it succeeds, the returns could be big. Fingers crossed. Click here for the link to the website and recipe I’ll be using to make the seed bombs.

But it is not just seeds to grow that have my attention. I’ve become deeply enamored with seedpods, heads and capsules. In examining them to paint, the diversity and ingenuity of these vessels just blows my mind. Each design is not simply functional but also very beautiful. To my eyes, they are as striking as flowers.

I’m awed by how the plants have evolved so their seed dispersing structures are exquisite in form and function.

Some plants like hellebores , drop their seeds around themselves and keep their babies close. Columbines are more about independence and spread their seeds away from themselves, giving their progeny greater freedom to thrive but still in the same neighborhood of the parent. And then there are the likes of milkweed and dandelion that let the wind carry the seeds much further away. It occurs to me that we, human parents, can identify with these methods. Am I right?!

Seeds – where would we be without them? Would we even be?

Here’s a small sampling of seedpods I’ve painted:

Swamp mallow

Baptisia, false indigo

Tree peony

Magnolia grandiflora

Milkweed

Columbine

Wisteria

Poppy

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Home For The Holidays

If we’ve learned anything these past two years, it’s just how singularly important our homes are. Under the definition of home, I include with the physical house, the family/friends/pets we live with, the garden/favorite park, the neighborhood. and the community in which one is privileged to live. What contributes to our well-being are a string of linked people, groups and spaces. It makes sense then, that we each must do our part for ourselves and each other to be healthy and well.

Taking the concept of home as my theme for the holidays, I decided that all the decorations would be things I already had and/or could find in the garden. The big bay standard was already the Christmas tree but what of garland or wreath? Other adornments?

Because of a family member’s allergy to evergreens, no traditional evergreen tree, garland or wreath. Not a problem. Bay standard holds itself very well in lights and all the ornaments collected/made over decades. As I’ve said in previous posts, foraging the garden was in order for the garland.

All the hydrangea flowers cut for autumn displays were sprayed in gold. I could’ve left them natural but the holidays deserve a bit of pizzazz. They look positively glamorous in gold – I’m so thrilled. On lengths of grapevine from the arbor, the gorgeous golden clusters were attached with wire. It looked good just that way. But why stop at good? I inserted beautiful leaves from the magnolia espalier – the top surface of glossy, dark green contrasts so strikingly with the suede brown underside. They add that bit of extra elegance to the garland for sure. But, I needed something for whimsy. Whatever remained of the beauty-berries after the birds had finished were salvaged and the stalks were inserted in the garland at random. I think it all comes together very nicely – pretty, festive, sophisticated yet with hints of carefree. For all that it is really just a simple, sweet creation from the garden. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of the generosity of the garden.

The amaryllis coming along in various pots and candle lights in the windows round out the holiday decor. That’s it. Exactly to our taste. Nothing extravagant or ostentatious.

The gifts we’re giving are all either homemade ( lemon marmalade, gingerbread cookies) or products that are meant for personal or household chores – they are not only gentle to humans and the environment but eliminate the need for plastic containers altogether. Think dish-washing soap and powder, cellulose cloths for cleaning and wiping, toothpaste and mouthwash tablets and biodegradable dental floss made from plant material. We made the switch to all these and other products over a year ago and have been pleased with them. I figure that gifts expressing our shared concern for the health of the environment and ourselves would encourage the recipients to make the change as well.

My remaining gifts fall into two more categories. Products whose purchase goes entirely to a good cause ( WWF, cures for certain diseases, UNICEF, social justice, etc.,) is one. The other is memberships to worthy organizations such as museums, botanical gardens, historical societies local to but not frequented by the recipient.

Gifts from the heart that reflect our homes, our values and our interconnectedness to everything and everybody in the ultimate home that is our beloved planet Earth.

Amaryllis ‘lemon drop’ has begun the festivities

Meyer lemon harvest

Lemon marmalade.

Hydrangea clad in gold

Beautyberries

Magnolia leaves

The finished product

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Keeping It Natural

It’s quite wonderful that the holiday season coincides so nicely with the garden being put to bed. It makes it easier to have to retreat indoors. The festive time requires decorations and what better way to lift our spirits and spread good cheer than letting Nature dictate the theme

Given everything that has affected us this year, I’m determined to go about the holidays with thought and mindfulness.

Lets not get upset about supply chain problems, Christmas tree shortages, less than fully stocked stores or other news that increases the level of anxiety. Instead of complaining, this is a call for creativity. I’m going to do my best to stay focused on what I can actually control. In many small ways, I intend to do my part in mitigating some of the problems we face and are concerned about.

To begin with decorations, I’ve always kept it simple. Strings of LED lights and family ornaments adorn the big bay tree standard that stands-in for the traditional Christmas tree. My daughter is allergic to evergreens but honestly, we are quite happy with the bay. Similarly, the mantel will be decorated with a garland of foraged materials from the garden and woods and more strings of lights. An electric candle light at each of the windows adds a great deal of charm. Several amaryllis started a few weeks ago should be blooming through the holidays into the New Year. A lit fireplace and real candles completes the whole scene. Over the years, we’ve made pomanders with oranges and the fragrance of citrus, cloves and cinnamon just says ‘HOLIDAYS!’. And lets not forget all the yummy aromas that come from the kitchen when baking is underway. Add a good playlist and we’re done. Seriously, does one really need anything more to set the stage for celebrations?

Similarly, for the gifts, I’m giving only things where either the proceeds serve a cause I support (cozy house slippers from the World Wildlife Foundation) or are products that will introduce the recipient to living in a more sustainable, environmentally healthy manner. That’s good stuff like household detergents, dental and body hygiene products made from natural, plant-based materials and packaged in what can be easily recycled or composted. No plastics whatsoever. I also support local businesses and artists/artisans. These are some of my humble efforts to put my money where my heart is and do right by Earth and all who call it home.

Keep it simple. Keep it natural. Nature’s beauty cannot be beat.

Note: In keeping with the natural theme, I’m sharing images from this years Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens. I just love this event so much and every year I’m delighted and inspired by the creativity and beauty of the display of iconic buildings and plantings.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Timely Tasks

It’s been a hectic pace in the garden. I spent the weekend entirely attending to seasonal demands. The tiny greenhouse is now packed to to the gills with the tender members of the garden. Taking advantage of the extended warm weather, I took my time to carefully trim and clean all the plants (and pots) before moving them into this prime space.

With some of the clippings, I started root cuttings. A nice variety of various geraniums both fancy leaved and scented, bay, rosemary, boxwood, myrtle, plumbago (an experiment) and Dichondra. Little bundles of bouquet garni were made with more clippings of bay, rosemary and thyme – they will be used through the winter to flavor hearty stews, soups and sauces. I made several batches of nasturtium pesto to freeze and some bottles of rose-geranium lemonade.

All the snakeroot was pulled out – this native is simply too aggressive. It had spread itself all over and was choking any plant that got in its way. A true thug. With the removal, I could feel the garden give a sigh of relief.

In comparison, the ornamental raspberry seemed almost shy. Almost. That got ruthlessly edited but not eliminated. A small bit was left in the meadow and will be monitored closely so as not to let it get unruly again. In the newly opened up space, I’ll add asters and other well-behaved natives.

A weed patrol was also conducted. They too take advantage of unseasonable warmth but I’m determined to prevent any of them setting seed. I know weeds are wily things yet hope springs eternal.

As other pots are relieved of their annual contents, they are washed, dried and stored away. It’s a lot of effort but so important for plant hygiene. Come spring, I’m always thankful for the work I did in the fall. With pots clean and ready, it is so pleasurable to get them planted whilst waiting for the plants in the ground to catch up.

All the discarded potting soil,clippings and fallen leaves mean the compost pile in the woods is well fed in autumn. Each spring, it is such pleasure to get rich compost from there. If you haven’t got a composter set up, this is a good time to begin.

Finally, for fun, a pumpkin witch and her cat took up residence in the front garden. Just in time for Halloween. Already they’ve become quite popular and the subject of many photographers as they pass by. Halloween was such a sorry affair last year that I wanted to do my part in making this year much better.

Made up of pumpkins/gourds and other garden materials, they will retire in total to the compost heap after the holiday. Win-win for all.

Full disclosure – I’m also hoping to set an example by demonstrating that using natural, compostable materials is environmentally responsible and can still be fun and creative.

Note : One week to go before my PHS talk! Don’t forget to sign up!

Natural born witch and cat by day.

By night

Clipping, cleaning and washing in progress

Awaiting propagation

A load of leaves headed to the compost

Bouquet garni ready for use

Rose-geranium lemon cordial and nasturtium pesto

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

October Overdrive


In these parts, the gardener shifts into overdrive in October. Lots to be done and it is often a race against time.

We rush to safeguard tender plants before the first frost. Harvest the remaining warm weather vegetables and fruits. Gather seeds to save for next year. Cut back, clear, clean, cover. Provide protection, put away, plant anew. Divide and redistribute. Finally, dig in all the bulbs that arrive just in time. And all along, squeeze in some time to enjoy the season because all too soon, we will be spending more hours cocooned indoors.

This year, due to changing weather patterns, it feels as though the fall hasn’t quite started. Trees are still quite green and few are showing any other color. Most likely there will be no real autumn color display. The leaves are simply going to turn crisp and brown and drop to the ground. Sad, I know but, all the more reason to take climate change seriously and do our part to mitigate it as much as possible. Instead of complaining lets all collectively respond with positive, proactive efforts.

I invariably feel a bit overwhelmed at this time. There is a long list of chores. I’ve found by prioritizing and breaking down the tasks helps greatly. Starting with getting the greenhouse cleaned and ready and moving in the pots of tender plants, I move on to dividing to replant and severely thinning out overzealous residents. Then I collect seeds, cut back and clear the spent plants. While some are left to serve the birds and give some winter interest, for the most part, I cut down the perennials. This is to facilitate the bulb planting that must happen between all the perennials and, also to give the garden a head-start in the spring as the garden’s Open Day happens early to mid-May when once again the list of tasks is long and time is short.

So, off to the garden I go. No time to waste!

Here is the list of October to-Dos:

1. Yes, weeding continues!
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 planted as well.
3. Cut back all spent plants except what is needed for seasonal interest.
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 first – 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 or deposit in woods.
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 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. Store.
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 plastic and then use burlap so it looks halfway decent.
17. Remove suckers from ornamental and fruit trees. Prune roses and wisteria and secure them well. Remove dead and decaying limbs from all plants.
18. Fill up bird feeders. Keep them filled through the winter. Put up nest boxes for the spring.
19. Get into the autumnal spirit – fill window boxes and urns with seasonal plants and produce.

Note: On October 26, I’ll be talking to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society about how to think out of the box in a small garden with focus on espalier and vertical gardening. This is a virtual talk so everyone can attend!

Some scenes of my garden as it looks right now – wild and winsome!

Photo by @dorothydunn

Photo by @dorothydunn

Photo by @dorothydunn

Photo by @dorothydunn

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Press Reset

While I’ve given myself a garden hall pass this month, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about all matters of gardening. It’s been really nice to do the bare minimum in the garden as the weather has improved – gives one the freedom to bask in the sunshine without guilt. That’s a really rare thing as gardeners are perpetually filled with guilt because there is always and forever several things wanting attention. Having decisively given myself permission to take it easy has been liberating. It’s so much more fun to be amidst the plants and observe the goings on sans reservation.

However, the mind is always working. In a good way. By letting the garden sort of do its own thing, I see how it’s quite apparent that we gardeners, need to reset our artistic expectations of our gardens. Rather than wielding a strict hand on the aesthetics, we must loosen up to work more with nature and changing climate. Our gardens should reflect an awareness of environmental and sustainable requirements, be sympathetic to the needs and habits of native flora and fauna.

I’ve often referred to my meadow as an area of controlled chaos. This is primarily because the native plants have a tendency to look wild as they are let to self-seed and edited only when a plant is trying to overpopulate itself in a thuggish manner. With the knowledge that the fittest, the ones most suited to the conditions offered here do best, I learn from the plants. As much as I might desire a more varied array of natives, and I’m willing to trial them all, I have learned to acquiesce to the workings of nature. What thrives supports a happy number of pollinators and is an ecologically beneficial environment. That is after all the whole point of what I have attempted.

On the other hand, I had originally designed the beds in the front garden to be more traditional – tidier and charming like a cottage garden. More in keeping with what might be universally appreciated by viewers from the street. This is pretty much still true through spring when the bulbs are the principal players. However, over the years, I have replaced the more demanding/cantankerous yet popular summer perennials with natives. I did so for two reasons – one was that the native plants are hardy, reliable and low maintenance. The other was to give a visitor a preview of what is to come as they gradually make their way to the meadow in the far back. Design-wise, it provided continuity instead of giving the garden a split personality. Consequently, the beds take on a wild look in summer and fall. But how they hum, buzz and flutter with pollinators! There is so much more life and movement than ever before.

Both, the front beds as well as the meadow don’t require watering except in times of severe dry spells. A dose of compost and cedar mulch keeps the front beds relatively weed free and helps the soil retain moisture longer. The meadow requires no such applications whatsoever. All in all, so much better for the environment as well as the gardener.

It’s true that many perennials peter out early. This point occurred to me every year until more recently I accepted that I must use annuals to fill in those gaps of color in certain places like the terrace and around the side porch. This is no different from the window-boxes and pots that are filled with annuals to pep up the aesthetics.

Keep in mind, those perennials that have finished blooming, continue to serve. The seed heads ripen and feed the birds and other creatures as they prepare for the cold season ahead. In addition, their intricate designs and shapes have inspired me to paint them. I have a wonderful series going!

Ultimately, the looser, wilder native plantings, respond best to the dire calls for longevity, sustainability and sound ecology while still looking beautiful. It really is time to reconsider our gardens and adapt our design sensibilities accordingly. A shift in mindset makes us winners all around.

Fall is a good time for planting native perennials – get cracking!

Note: Last Saturday, I visited the gardens at Hay Honey Farm in New Jersey. I was thrilled to see that they too have a meadow similar to mine and even the other borders have the same natural sensibilities as mine. Except, theirs are far more extensive and better maintained!

My wild show: One gardener’s paradise and anothers hell?!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Plant Perspective

Last Sunday was most wonderful. The day sparkled in September sunlight with comfortable temperatures and a promise of fun to come. I was scheduled to attend the plant sale at Hollister House in Washington. CT. Following a gap of almost two years, the anticipatory thrill felt new and yet, oh, so familiar!

This was no ordinary plant sale. You were not going to find the most trendy or popular plants. Small growers in the Northeast who specialize in the less common, the special, some rare and others just less known. Many native plants. Most importantly to me, for the most part, they’re grown in the open so they are proven to be hardy in this region. I had missed these plant sales and chatting with the growers themselves. Nothing like firsthand knowledge. For those who’re familiar with these purchasing opportunities know exactly how wonderful they are. So friendly, helpful and modest about their valuable work.

I went with no list or plan about buying anything. Honestly, I simply needed to be in the midst of such an event once again. However, knowing myself and certain that I’d come upon irresistible plants, I went armed with cash, checkbook and credit card. Sensible shoes too. I was not disappointed.

Note: not all vendors accept credit cards.

The sheer joy of being in a spectacular garden, seeing familiar faces and confronting the myriad plant possibilities made me giddy. Having a glass of wine in hand elevated the experience to sublime.

Chat and purchase I did. I bought some must-haves and some cannot-live-withouts. Heaven!

To get really serious for a moment, it is of the highest importance to champion our regional growers. Locally grown plants do better. Supporting these nurseries also means supporting the economy of where we live. Often, they grow plants that could be at risk of being lost or forgotten but are valuable to the preservation of native fauna and flora. I purchased two yellow Slipper orchids – they are hard to source so I was very pleased to find them here.

Many growers also offer interesting, special non-native treasures. Bear in mind, as long as about 70% of the plants in your garden are native/eco-beneficial, it is perfectly fine to have some non-native, non-invasive treasures. Case in point, I bought a new-to-me peony – P. obovata Japanese Pink. Take a look at their bright seedpods in the image below.

Simply put, these folk are vital to how and why we create gardens. Support them – they’re heroes. Look for similar plant sales or visit them directly. You will not regret it.

A word about Hollister House. It is a most wonderful garden that appeals to all the senses. The painterly color combinations, textures, fragrance, shapes, sounds of water and pollinators and, designs of the many rooms cannot fail to delight and instruct. My daughter who grew up being taken ( dragged she says) to many, many famous, fabulous, unique and also not so well-known gardens, declares Hollister House as the best garden she’s ever visited. Do check out their website and plan a visit.

Now, I must get into the garden to install my cache of new plants.

Some nurseries to check out:

McCueGardens – 47, Hartford Avenue, Weathersfield, CT 06109

Broken Arrow Nursery – www.brokenarrownursery.com

Cricket Hill Garden – www.crickethillgarden.com

Falls Village Flower Farm – www.fallsvillageflowerfarm.com

Note: Some images of the gardens at Hollister House and plant growers –

Seedpod of P odovata

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Exposing True Colors

My Digging Deeper event ‘Wilding Walls And Fruiting Fences’ took place last Sunday. The weather cooperated beautifully and I was more than ready to welcome the folk who’d signed up. That they were willing to spend their Sunday morning in my garden felt very special. I was in my happy place – a chance to be with gardeners/garden lovers exchanging garden ideas, information and experiences is my favorite pastime. I was not disappointed – this was a wonderful group of friendly, curious and intelligent individuals. Such a pleasure.

I’m used to sharing my garden with the public through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program – which is normally in May. Mid-Spring is when it looks most beautiful. And winter weary visitors are particularly complimentary on seeing plants fresh in their new growth, flaunting bright colors.

Late summer however, is not when my garden is at its best. Typically, there is a certain fatigue that sets in as summer is drawing to an end and fall isn’t quite ready to take over. Additionally, I’m most often away on vacation at this time so, the garden has that neglected appearance that makes any self-respecting gardener cringe. This year, while I am very much present, the weather was seriously disagreeable that things did not look much improved. As such, how the garden appeals is pretty much up to the beholder.

In front, the beds that look fetching in a parade of bulbs and early perennials through spring, become boisterous as summer perennials take over. Likewise, the meadow moves from a space of happy bulbs frolicking around to a space thick in all manner of native plants jockeying for space and attention. To those who are accustomed to a garden being well contained and tidy, this can come as bit of a shock. If one spends a little time in the garden however, they’d become aware of the life that this garden supports. Birds, butterflies, bees and all manner of other insects abound. This is exactly what I intended for my piece of paradise.

To please a traditionalist, short of giving my garden complete re-constructive surgery, there isn’t much I can do. Not that I really expect to please everyone at any time.

The garden had taken a beating this year because we’ve had really bad weather. First a spring that was mostly too cold and dry and then a very hot and wet summer. Extremely challenging. Plants struggled, many bloomed but the flowers could barely last. Things were early or late but not particularly on time. Some plants simply gave up trying.

A visitor was going to witness a rather wild looking, not so conventional garden. I know it is not everybody’s cup of tea. As I prepared for the big day doing the usual weeding and tidying up, I was acutely conscious of all that was not right. The flaws glared at me. In addition, certain matters that I kept meaning to address but did not because I am freshly returned from a trip and short on time, were now plainly obvious to me. Why hadn’t I taken care of trimming my side of the neighbors hedge? And what about those annuals I intended to plant to ignite the color palette in the beds and meadow? Why did I let the thuggish (but loved) members to spread unchecked? Honestly, all I could see was everything that was not right.

On behalf of my garden, I felt very vulnerable and exposed.

On the morning of my Digging Deeper, I had my fingers crossed for kind, understanding eyes to be cast on the garden. I needn’t have worried. The visitors were ever so generous in their observations. They noticed the flowers and many features and commented enthusiastically. On spying hummingbirds, there were such expressions of joy. And when it came to the focus of the event, I had a rapt audience eager to understand the art and science of espalier and vertical gardening.

Suddenly, I was seeing my garden through their eyes. They appreciated the variety of native flowers in bloom – not splashy but nevertheless pretty. A couple of people had seen my garden in spring on past Open Days. They too were taken by the summer display – something that I feared was less than best. I realized then, they were gardeners – they understood the vagaries of the weather, the vanity of the gardener and the wonder contained in all gardens.

By letting others tour my garden in all its authentic reality, without any pretension, I had freed myself to share my own experiences and knowledge in exactly the same way. In turn, I gained a new found appreciation of my humble garden and the people who choose to visit it.

Here are some images from my Digging Deeper morning –

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Climate Control

What a weekend it was! Hurricane Henri had a good portion of the Northeast in a heightened state of alert. A fair bit inland, my corner was told to expect a tropical storm. High winds and heavy rains. So, we got down to getting necessary garden chores done. Tethering some pots, laying others down on their sides, harvesting ripened grapes so they couldn’t be tossed off in the wind, bringing in certain things that had no business sitting outside in a storm, hanging pots set on the ground, you get the idea.

Needless to say, the scheduled Digging Deeper event for Sunday was canceled. That was so disappointing as I’d been looking forward to having fellow gardeners to share, commiserate and exchange stories and lessons.

As it turned out, we got lucky. Henri was down graded to a tropical storm and our area missed the predicted winds. It did rain though – all of Sunday and well into Monday. But not quite as fierce as feared. I’m truly grateful. It is now time to shift focus on more usual matters in the garden.

I’ve been taking note of plants that did well this year and those that have not. The weather this year has been so erratic and uncharacteristic that it is not really a matter of selecting or rejecting any specific plants but more about simply observing. This is the sort of information that is useful as one plans ahead. The climate is changing and so must our gardens. Certain plants that rely on colder winters will not do well as my planting zone moves slowly into a warmer one. On the other hand, plants that I’ve coveted over the years but could not survive harsh winters might now take up residence in my garden. It is a very bittersweet reality.

Last week, I learned that our fall this year will be warmer and temperatures will not drop significantly till the end of November. Hmmm. Does this mean that planting spring bulbs should not happen on time? Typically, I plant bulbs at the very end of October into early November. Will the bulb houses know to ship them out accordingly? How much later will be ideal? Nearer Thanksgiving? A more definitive directive is required as I need to plan accordingly! Bulbs are a huge investment for me and I cannot afford to risk any loss. They are such a favorite that without them, I cannot imagine spring. Here’s hoping it all gets sorted out and the situation is not as dire as indicated. As a gardener, optimism is a mainstay.

A few weeks ago, I placed my bulb order. I was a bit later than usual. Just by a couple of weeks. And yet, a couple of choices were sold out. I urge all fellow bulb maniacs to get their orders done ASAP.

Keeping in mind the way the weather directed the time line of the bulb show this year, I tweaked my list with a few more late season bloomers. I also added more of the stalwarts like hyacinthoides, camassia and select alliums. For a little indulgence, I splurged ( just a bit) on the more expensive Frittilaria – imperialis and persica. They are really pricey so I ordered only a few. When I win the lottery, you can bet I will go crazy. Finally, to kick things up in early spring, I ordered a batch of a new-to-me crocus – C olivieri ‘Orange Monarch’ and yes, it is a golden orange with garnet-merlot striations. That should really punch up the usual purple, white and yellow mix. Most folk will not see this particular show. But I will and that’s what matters. Because in the end, I garden for me.

Note: Since it’s not bulb season and we’re only dreaming/planning for it, I’m sharing a few watercolor images of them.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

August Aura

August Aurum

Rays so radiant, burnished bright

Sunflower faces beaming high

Solidago spreading yellow light

Peaches ripening as branches sigh

Flickering flames of Monarch flights

     Mantled in gold is August.

– Shobha Vanchiswar

Joy and gratitude in reuniting with my father notwithstanding, I miss my garden. The flowers that showed up and left, the butterflies that visited, imbibed and moved on, the nests that were built and occupied. Being cooped up in a city apartment has revealed most clearly just how much my garden contributes to my well-being. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no remorse in coming to Mumbai at such a difficult, scary time. My heart could simply not bear the forced separation from my father any longer. He and I needed this visit equally. It’s been fraught with emotion and that’s exactly why I miss my garden. The monsoons rains prevent me from seeking a temporary sanctuary in a park or public garden. In fact, the sun has graced us on just two brief occasions over the course of almost 3 weeks!

Being in my little botanical paradise gives me perspective and balance. A daily dose of time in the garden admiring the flowers, being entertained by the wildlife, tending to chores provides the much needed time to muse over whats happening in my life and work out solutions, make immediate and long-term plans and often, take stock of all the many blessings I’m given – in essence, one gains perspective and clarity. It is the therapy so priceless and valuable that I miss it no matter where I am for any length of time.

As I wrestle with future actions to keep my father safe, happy, engaged and comfortable in these uncertain times, I wish I had access to my garden. It would help me make good, wise decisions. As always.

The images below are from last July/August –

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar