My Real Garden – Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here AMP talks more about the My Real Garden Book .

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

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

Ann-Marie Powell

Checkerboard garden

Printed Garden Pillows

The Vertical Garden

Pear In A Bottle in progress

Overview of the potager

Alliums in red, white and blue

Garden concert for the neighborhood. Memorial Day 2020

Meadow

Front Garden

The MRG book!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Seeking Signs And Symbols

Instagram can play with this gardener’s heart. It’s bad enough that I’m confronted with lush summer gardens from down under and sure signs of spring from across the pond but, now there are images of early bulbs from my region. Spurred on by reports of snowdrop sightings and hellebore hunts, I decided to scan my own garden.

It’s funny how excited one can be at the thought of seeing those first signals hat the season is going to change. Yet, I was not that eager to actually find any blooms. It is way too early! We are still in January and frankly, any bulb in flower right now is not a good sign. Already, this winter is ringing alarm bells. With several days of above average temperatures and barely any snow, it’s hard to imagine what is to become of the seasons as we know them. Consequently, what, if at all, will flower and fruit is anybody’s guess. It’s all very unsettling.

A week ago, I’d come across a woolly worm. Folklore says that if the rusty brown band is wide, then it will be a mild winter. The more black there is, the more severe the winter. This one had a broad brown band. So there you have it.

Still, I ventured on my search. Nothing was blooming I’m kinda glad to report. No snowdrops or Iris reticulata. I peered around the hellebores still protected by leaf mulch and last years leaves. The buds are tightly closed but they’re emerging. That’s exactly how they should be!

Here’s a useful thing I recently learned about hellebore harvesting. You know how sometimes when you incorporate cut hellebore flowers in a floral arrangement, they go limp almost right away and yet at other times they stay bright and upright for as long as you like them? Turns out it is all in the timing of when you cut them. Erin Benzakein, the It girl of the flower world and owner of Florets, says to wait till the stamens have dropped and the seed pods are starting to set. Cut them at that moment and you’ve got yourself some nice, long lasting hellebores. I’m quite pleased to learn this nugget of wisdom.

The American wisteria and climbing hydrangea are showing the tiniest buds. So much promise in such minuscule packages.

These glimpses of what is yet to come was enough to make me optimistic. Thus far, there is no need to be worried about any premature activity. Fingers crossed, we will see a more familiar February.

The heart shaped stones I collect reminded me that hearts will be aflutter in February. Always a sweet tradition to express love to all who mean so much. And this brought me to Entada gigas. Otherwise known as Sea hearts/ sea bean/monkey ladder. I’d picked up a couple of seed packets on one of my trips. What attracted me to them were the large heart-shaped seeds that spread throughout the entire world via the sea currents and originate from the Amazon. One of the most special seed varieties in the world. The undisputed record for the longest bean pod is the sea heart.

I thought simply having the large, shapely seeds as decorative objects would be nice. But curious to see how they grow, I’ve given them to a gardener friend to get them started. Drew is experimenting with lots of unusual plants for annual arrangements in large pots and is willing to try out my contributions. So good to have him as my partner in horticultural high jinks. Love of all things plants is a sure sign of a friendship worth nurturing.

Woolly worm with broad, brown band

No sign of anything

Hardy sempervivum

Hellebores

Emerging hellebore buds

Climbing hydrangea buds. Still very tiny and tight.

Heart stones

Wall-in-waiting

Wall ferns being over-wintered in the potager

Sea hearts

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

10 Cold, Hard Truths About Gardening

I’ve been gardening one way or other for most of my life. So it stands to reason that I’ve learned a lot, done a lot and, failed more than I care to remember. Here is what I wish someone had told me before some of those mistakes were made:

1. Set your expectations low. When you do that, everything appears as a success.

2. Max out your pots, window-boxes and urns with seasonal annuals. They will scream so much for attention that nobody will notice the perennial beds overrun with weeds and bereft of whatever was supposed to be blooming that day.

3. Beware other gardeners bearing gifts. We are notorious for sharing – mostly those plants that tend to run hog wild.

4. You are not supreme commander of your garden. The squirrels own that title. They will dig up, munch on, toss up and vandalize right before your visitors are set to arrive.

5. Never tell anybody that your magnolias/tulips/roses/peonies/lilies/irises/any other plant are about to burst into flower. As soon as you do that, an animal, child or act of nature will destroy the entire batch of buds.

6. Pets like dogs should be banned from gardens. Do not listen to anybody who says otherwise. Dogs will dig up beds, kill the lawn with their urine, chase away good creatures like birds, openly use the garden as self-appointed canine fertilizers, somehow make friends with your enemies the squirrels and deer and select your prize patch of jack-in-the-pulpits as their nap station. Please do not write saying otherwise – I will not be dissuaded. I absolutely adore dogs but refuse allow them in my garden. Period.

7. Always buy two of every tool. Keep one set hidden – that set is solely for your own use. Don’t tell anyone about it. The other set of tools are kept out for the use all ( aka those who lose and/or abuse the tools). You will look like a good sharer and will keep your sanity at the same time.

8. Invest in a good manicure and blow-out the day before you have visitors to your garden. You will look and feel good and your guests will marvel at how you create such an amazing paradise whilst looking so flawless. Smile and graciously accept all the compliments.

9. Get children to help. No, really. Their small hands can pull out emerging weeds more easily than your own large paws. Similarly, they can deadhead pretty thoroughly too. The child with the largest harvest of weeds and/or dead flowers gets an extra scoop of ice-cream. Caveat – be sure you have taught them to identify the weed or else they will remove all your nascent self-seeders like columbines, cleomes, forget-me-nots and such.

10. Gardening is bloody hard work.

Note: Do visit this show!

December 11 − December 22
Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.;
Saturday and Sunday: 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Art Students League: The Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery
 
Enjoy some of my December-thus-far photos:

First snow of this winter

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar