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

Open Season

After all the weather related trials and tribulations, the garden opened for visitors this past Saturday. After a year of forced ‘hiatus’, the Open Days Program was up and running! And it felt so good. Opening my garden to visitors is a sly way to meet lots of like-minded folk and have fun, interesting conversations all day long. While the visitors invariably appreciate the sharing of my garden, little do they know how much I enjoy meeting fellow gardeners and garden lovers.

Open Day 2021 was no exception. Following a few days of torrential rain, Saturday was sun filled and bright. The humidity and temperature was high but, nobody cared. It felt wonderful to be outdoors. I was so ready to see people that the fact that the garden was a bit toned down on the flowers in bloom section, did not bother me. Abnormal heat from the previous week had put paid to several flowers that would typically have been at peak beauty. But, there was enough color provided by the baptisia, roses, geraniums, native wisteria, hibiscus, nasturtiums, peonies, irises and others.

As gardener and designer, I know my garden all too well. Warts and all. So it is hard to be objective. The critical mind always takes over. Stuff will bother me that absolutely nobody will notice. Still, until I improve or change it, the ‘problem’ will nag me. And by its very existence, a garden is never done. There is always more to do, undo and redo. And then, like a knight in shining armor, Open Day arrives to rescue me from myself.

After doing the usual last minute fussing and primping, the garden is what it is as the clock strikes the start of Open Day. Visitors arrive and perhaps it was my imagination but this year, they seemed more eager to tour and observe. Like me, they too must’ve missed Open Days. How else can we see all the beautiful private gardens that we yearn to see and covet?

On my part, I’m always impressed by the depth of knowledge and degree of curiosity that visitors bring . I’m gratified when they take note of elements and plants that I’ve designed and/or selected. Seeing my garden through their eyes and preferred interests is enlightening and fun. We commiserate about trends and fads, discuss cultivars and species, joke about chores, share ideas and information and linking it all together is our deep and abiding love for gardening.

I don’t know or care to know their political leanings, religion, socioeconomic status, level of education or other credentials. All that matters is the universal connection we have to nature and consequently to each other. Surely, if we can come together on all aspects of gardening, that in itself becomes, literally and figuratively, the common ground upon which we, as a people can build better relationships and understandings.

At the end of the day, I was, as always, euphoric about the new alliances made, plant suggestions, garden recommendations, good feedback on my own garden, humorous anecdotes shared and hopelessly optimistic about achieving all my horticultural dreams.

After the last guests had left and all paraphernalia had been put away, it was with such satisfaction that I ‘closed’ the garden. Days like that are truly special. At many levels.

My sincere thanks to all who came from near and far – I loved meeting each of you. Deepest gratitude to all who purchased from the Printed Garden collection. Your generosity supports good causes like the ACLU and orphan children with HIV.

Note: Do sign up to visit private gardens through the season and all across America at the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. They will inspire, motivate, teach and entertain. I promise!

All but the first image below were taken by ceramist and photographer August Brosnahan:

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Be, May Be Not

From unseasonable days of April-cool. we’re now in a week that promises to feel more like June. As a result, I have lost track of what exactly to expect for my Open Day on June 5. ( Have you made your reservation to visit yet?). It will be what will be.

This past week, the tulips have shone brilliantly. I’m not at all happy to have this rise in temperatures as it means a hasty end to my tulip season. Another cool week would be so nice. But, as if to assure me that the fun will continue, the alliums are bursting open everywhere and one cannot help being cheered up. In the checkerboard garden, the creeping phlox is rippling in bloom. I wait all year for this brief but effervescent presentation. Its habit of growing with merry abandonment makes this plant a personal favorite. But, just to make note – the alliums are a bit early and the phlox a bit late. Thats how May rolls this year. Unpredictable.

The peonies and roses show buds ripening but nothing to see as yet. Fingers crossed, they will perform in time for visitors on Open Day.

With the sudden realization that I have less than three weeks to get the garden visitor-ready, I’m armed with a very long list of things that must absolutely get done by then. In trying to delegate some of those chores to my in-house labor force, I’m being met with some reluctance to hop to it. Worse, both, spouse and daughter have the audacity to tell me that there are certain other tasks I’ve overlooked. So, I have issued an all-hands-on-deck order and I have become the uber task mistress. My facial expression and general body language has been set to Don’t Mess With Me.

With the warming days, there’s been the reassuring sight of bees busy in the garden. And the birds are going about madly building nests and singing loudly as they do so. Butterflies sightings are increasing too. Stuff like this never gets boring.

Now that the possibility of frost is no longer a threat, it’s time to get some tropicals installed in pots to add a bit of drama. I’m looking forward to a trip to my nursery – the anticipation alone is thrilling. For me, nothing beats horticultural retail therapy.

With all the iffy-ness of this May weather, I find myself frequently wondering about things like, will the climbing hydrangea bloom in a week or so? The roses? The peonies? Will the alliums and camassia last long enough?

The pressure is on! There’s no telling what will be shining in the garden on June 5. Please do come and find out! .

Note: Just to reiterate – Open Days tickets must be purchased on-line. The link is not live as yet but please check here to get up to date information.

Now that we are slowly getting back to gathering with family and friends, its fun to plan and decorate for the occasion. Select from the Printed Garden collection for pretty and practical (machine washable) decorative pillows, tea towels, napkins and such.They make good gifts too!

Here’s some of what is blooming in the garden at present –

Amsonia twinkling brightly

Any day now!

First clematis of the season

Alliums in the meadow

Phlox in the checkerboard garden.

Tulip heaven

Quince in flower

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Flowering

As if on cue, May kicks things up by several notches in the garden. Almost overnight it appears that the plants are growing exponentially. Color is popping up all over the place and I can’t get enough. Spring green is my favorite shade of green. Against this backdrop, the flowers are at their finest. There are none better than May flowers in my opinion. March/April flowers cheer the winter weary mind and June onwards, the blooms must compete with the many, heavier greens. But in May, it is all in beautiful harmony.

With a couple of warm days, the tulips have shot up. The front beds are having a wild party. Tulips have such a way of looking elegant and wanton all at the same time. Makes all the hard work of bulb planting in the fall a worthy effort. Bulbs are a necessary part of my spring garden. I cannot dream of doing without. The joie de vivre they bring is simply incomparable. Whilst bulbs can be expensive, I’m happy to forgo all other bijoux just to have the budget for a big order of bulbs. More is more is the edict of bulb planting. So no skimping on the numbers. My advice is to do as I do – put aside as much funds as you can, learn to do without things that don’t bring you any joy – like eating out with anyone you don’t truly adore or buying expensive lipstick that nobody is going to see behind your mask. You will never regret your bulb obsession.

The apple blossoms are in their pink and white finery. I’m considering doing the deed with a paint brush as I’m not certain the bees are as busy as they ought. I want to be sure there will be an apple harvest this September. A cool spring last year kept the bees away and we had no homegrown apples at all.

In the meadow – as the daffodils and snakeshead frittilaria are waning, the leucojum, forget-me-nots, violas and dandelions are performing as sweet fillers before the alliums and camassia get going. The many native plants have put forth strong growth. They will take over once the bulb show is over.

The creeping phlox in the checkerboard garden are beginning to flower. This is always a very precious interlude and I’m very glad I designed it so many years ago.

Over the past weekend, cool weather greens were planted in the vegetable bed. With the greenhouse emptied and cleaned, the new self-watering pots were installed and planted up with tomato plants. They are now sitting pretty in the confines of their glass house. Such luxury.

Everywhere in the garden, buds are plumping up. The pulse quickens at the sight of old flower friends returning for their annual stay. I feel very privileged.

The garden is open for business. The business of outdoor living.

Note: I’m in the following art shows. Please do visit them all. In person viewing is back – so exciting!

Arts Westchester Show’ Together ApArt.’ May 7 – August 3. Free but appointment required. In-person viewing starts May 7. It can also be viewed online but I don’t have a link as yet. I have art and poetry in this show.
 
New York Affordable Arts Fair ( New York Art Students League booth) 20-23 May. Buy tickets online. Tickets are going fast!
 
Katonah Museum Artist Association presents ‘Ricochet’. Online show. May 15 – June 13.
 
Do not forget! My garden’s Open Day is June 5. Digging Deeper on August 22. Preregistration required.
 
Come, let’s tip-toe through the tulips-
(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar
 

April Flowers

Is it just me or is 2021 rushing by? After waiting impatiently for spring, I’m surprised that it’s already the end of April. There’s a fullness in the garden that makes me stop and wonder ‘how did all this happen so fast?’ I still have so many seasonal chores to do that it feels like a race to catch-up.

The fruit trees and roses were given a good feed over the weekend to get them prepared for the hard work ahead. The pear blossoms are fully out and look ravishing. I spotted a bee flitting around them yesterday so fingers crossed that there will be a good harvest in the fall. The apple blossoms are just emerging and the fat buds stained a pretty pink are a joyous sight I’ve come to wait upon rather anxiously. All too often in past years, a sudden cold spell has kept the bees away and put paid to potential fruit.

When temperatures were predicted to dip below freezing this past Friday night, we rushed out to protect the pear trees burgeoning with bloom. Happy to report the flowers came through unscathed.

My new ‘field’ with the sedge, white violas and snakeshead fritillaria continues to delight. Forsythia and Amelanchier, in yellow and white respectively, echo the colors of the daffodils which are still going strong in the meadow. The myriad other plants are emerging strong and getting ready to succeed them with their own flowers. Spring never fails to thrill.

Out front in the perennial beds, the tulips have begun blooming and each day brings more color and excitement.

Everywhere one looks, there is new growth to see. The succession of flowers carries one through the seasons and I’m always wanting to slow the pace just so I can luxuriate a while longer with each plant at its best. Spring picks up momentum as it proceeds and it can overwhelm the senses – what a happy state to be!

As May is nipping at April’s heel, I’m trying to get the greenhouse emptied out. The pots of citrus, jasmine, gardenia and Datura have been enjoying their extended stay in warmth and comfort. But, its getting time to get the greenhouse cleaned and prepared for its summer job of nurturing tomatoes and other summer veggies. I’m very eager to commission the self-watering pots I purchased in December. They are big and should accommodate the plants very handsomely.

The new-ish oak barrel I received from a brewer friend needs to be set up for its new role as rain barrel. The old barrel served very well for many years but is now falling apart. I might still be able to salvage the bottom half and use it to house new plants that are not quite ready for permanent homes in the garden.

The new birdhouse that was set up in the front appears to have its first occupants. I spied a wren going in and out over the weekend. While I’d hoped for bluebirds, I’m content with the wrens. I just don’t want the English sparrow to become a fixture in my garden.

The vertical garden is filling up with heuchera and ferns once more. In a month, this wall will start looking lush and textured once more.

Oh! How I love Spring!

Note: Do not miss out on these opportunities!

  • My garden’s Open Day is June 5.  The Garden Conservancy has worked very hard to make Open Days happen with Covid compliant policies in place so do be sure to get all the information. I cannot wait to welcome everyone into my garden.
  • Do not forget your Mother’s Day shopping! Order now!
  • I’m super excited to be participating in Together ApArt at the ArtsWestchester’s Gallery– I have art and poems in this show. It’s a return to in-person gallery shows and that in itself is really significant. We can, once again, experience art as it ought. Your attendance will be greatly appreciated. Here too, visits require appointments – a sign of the times we live in. For those of you who live farther away, the show is also on-line so do take a look!

Some of the goings on in my garden right now –

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

[do_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”

 

April Awakening

April

Starts as a joke

Teases with the weather

Dresses in shades of green

Giggles in daffodils.

– Shobha Vanchiswar

April’s joke this year was to give us a winter blast. It was not funny at all. I was concerned for the emerging buds on the trees and shrubs. The star magnolias in the neighborhood were looking beautiful and then, overnight, they succumbed to the cold and all the petals turned limp and brown. Don’t you just hate when that happens? A real shame. A reminder that life is ephemeral, make the most of the moments.

The weekend however was gorgeous. The early bulbs bloomed confidently in the warmth of the brilliant sunshine. Spreading out across the ground so casually as though they know exactly how cool they are. I adore the days when the scillas, crocuses and hyacinthoides are having their moment. Before the rambunctious daffodils commandeer my attention. The minor bulbs are like an exquisite, sweetly simple overture to an epic symphony full of drama and crescendos.

While it was too cold to do much last week, the weekend permitted a fair amount of organizing and clean up. I potted up urns and such with pansies and daffodils and immediately they made the garden look smart and ready. Cosmetic elements for sure but so transformative.

The first proper garden celebration in over a year also took place on Sunday. What a joy to be with beloved friends once again. Fully vaccinated feels very good!

The early morning choir of birds have begun chiding me for lingering in bed too long. They are incredibly loud and I might have to start rising with them. The guilt is overwhelming. As much as I am loathe to get out of bed early, I know that I’ll feel wonderful once I’m up. And so much gets done that it leaves more time at the other end to sit back in contentment.

It’s tempting to bring out the plants from the greenhouse but the weather can be capricious. Perhaps in a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, there is other work to do – seeds to start, new plants to get and install, the tiny lawn to de-thatch, aerate and reseed. The list is long as always. But, I’m going to enjoy the garden as it ought – make time to watch the birds and other critters, closely observe the plants, feel the garden soothe my soul. Otherwise, what exactly would’ve been the point of it all?

What I’m enjoying in the garden at present –

 

Set to celebrate.
For Table linens

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

February Feels

The month looks pretty much all about snow. With over two feet of it already on the ground, there’s not much to do garden-wise. I’m going to use this down time to paint, write and catch up on reading and paperwork. The garden is never far from my thoughts however.

In the spirit of the season, I’m sharing some of my poems and art. I hope it’ll give you reason to pause, breathe and live in the moment, in the season.

February

The shortest month grows the longest

list of plants yet to be planted

The perfect garden patiently awaits.

Snowfall

Angel feather snow floats softly

Settles on earth deep in slumber

Squirrel decides to sleep in.

Under The Pile Of Snow

Under the pile of quilted snow
the snowdrops are stirring
Restless green ready
to meet the golden light
of a newly hatched world.

February Fervor

Golden sunsets

part leaden skies

Frost and fire

earth shifts and sighs..

Wild, untamed

landscapes wait

Restless slumber

at Spring’s gate.

Crystal snow

melts in drips

Plumping roots

greening tips.

Flowing sap

send hearts aflutter

Weather and emotions

soar and splutter.

Note: The Great Backyard Bird Count is this weekend! Don’t miss out! Get participation  details.

The checkerboard garden and potager from above

By the front door

‘Wind Sons’ in the meadow

Top of the side path.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Laborless Days

So much of gardening is seen as a series of plans, lists and chores. Endless chores. And that’s mostly true. But there are ample rewards – life lessons, inspiration, nature therapy, health benefits, food, beauty, sanctuary and a general sense of well-being.

This week, I’m going to do the bare minimum in the garden – watering as needed mostly. The rest of the time, I’m simply going to enjoy being in the garden. No list in hand. I want to hold on to as many memories of enjoying the garden. Once we are sequestered indoors in the winter, those memories will assure me that I took every opportunity to revel in the garden when I could. No regrets.

For now, the myriad chores can wait.

When Does Fall …

When does fall

feel like fall?

When does one stop

dancing at summer’s ball?

Swirling confetti

Brilliant fireworks

Who pauses to see

the season’s perks?

Rushing to clean up

erasing the summer

Readying for winter

planning next year

What would happen

if we could stay

amidst the leaf piles

in endless play?

– Shobha Vanchiswar

The meadow right now –

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

 

 

Back To Basics

Time spent in the garden has never felt more correct than right now. It is where I feel alive, useful and comforted. It is where I instinctively want to be. I’m relishing the gift of time to work in it unfettered by busy agendas and outside commitments. More than anything, I’m deeply grateful for having a garden in the first place.

As a big city girl, it was a dream come true to have a place to garden – that was 28 years ago. All too quickly, the garden became such an integral part of my life that I just took it for granted. These days, I’m acutely aware of what a privilege it is to have a piece of land to call ones own. With everyone doing their part in staying home, the inherent human need to connect to nature is not always possible for many. With several parks and public gardens closed due to the current crisis, those that are still open are getting unprecedented numbers of visitors. I worry that they too might have to be shut down if folks don’t observe distancing rules.

I’m enjoying walks whenever possible. Good weather and fewer crowds determine those opportunities. But, I always have the garden to provide immediate and consistent relief. That is a blessing I don’t think I’ll take for granted ever again.

It is not surprising that people have instinctively sought the outdoors – we are part of the natural world after all. The healing, soothing, uplifting effect of time spent in nature is both anecdotal and empirical. Even more interesting at present, is how we are rediscovering fundamental practices that we had somewhat forgotten or moved away from.

One of the first items to fly off grocery store shelves was flour and active dry yeast. All of a sudden, America is baking bread at home. Even now, more than a month after we all began staying home, flour is not easy to come by. Apparently, we Americans are actually enjoying baking our bread. Interesting no? Something that demands time and effort was one of the first items we sought to make. We see bread as a staple, a basic food. The same with pasta – more people are making their own but not quite at the same level as bread. I personally find it amusing that cooking rice is daunting to many. Something so ridiculously easy is viewed with trepidation. Yet, here we are. Mind you, I think it is terrific that homemade bread is on the rise; I’m just puzzled that it is one of the first things to be undertaken. There is no actual bread shortage in the country.

Simultaneously, everyone is into vegetable gardening, Apartment dwellers are growing tomatoes, herbs and such in pots and under gro-lights/ on balconies. Those with some property are making vegetable plots or potting up a range of vegetable plants. People are starting from scratch – seed sales have risen so dramatically that some seed companies have had to start directing their seeds to only commercial growers.

From what I’ve heard, for the most part, seeds are being sown not in fancy seed starter kits but in old tin cans, the cardboard cylinders from paper rolls, newspaper molded into pots etc., Sustainability! These are very good developments. Healthy for humans and the planet.

I have a feeling we are each growing the vegetables that hark back to our ethnic roots or childhood cuisine. We are seeking comfort in the familiar. Trying to relive fond memories of (perhaps) less complicated times.

I myself, have seeds sprouting in my tiny greenhouse and no matter how many years one has sowed seeds, the thrill of seeing new growth never gets old. I’m also getting ready to take cuttings to root them on to get more plants. Geraniums, rosemary, heuchera, bay, myrtle to mention a few. I might even give boxwood a try.

Yes, it is back to basics these days. Sowing seeds, growing ones own food, rooting cuttings, making fertilizer such as comfrey tea ( I hear rhubarb leaves work just as well) and composting are seeing an epic revival all across the country, In advance of harvest time, I’ve already corralled all the necessities for canning – jams, sauces, pickles, chutneys and pestos to stock the larder. Secateurs and the blade of the manual, push reel mower have been sharpened. Stakes, twine and trowel sit ready.

Homesteading is back in style.

Note: My garden is still primarily a flower garden so, while I’m going about dealing with the veggies and herbs for the year, I’m thoroughly enjoying the early bulbs bursting forth on a daily basis. Seeing the new growth of perennials is always exciting and reassuring. I also have a couple of fun projects I’m working on – more on those when I develop them further along. Stay tuned!

In the garden this week:

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Endings And Beginnings

Fall in the garden is such a time of contradiction. It is as much about endings as it is about beginnings. Hope and despair. Plants are in senescence or going into dormancy – but they do so with panache. The colors of autumn are unparalleled.

The gardening season is coming to a close – the frenzied activity is winding down. Outdoor furnishings are getting put away and the retreat to the indoors has become final.

Yet, this is the time to look ahead, plan for the future. New trees are planted. Perennials are divided and replanted for fuller or new beds and borders next year. Hundreds of bulbs are planted with the intent to make a brighter, more beautiful spring. Fallen leaves are gathered to make new mulch to enrich the soil in times ahead. The spent plants pulled up and tossed return as compost to feed the garden a few seasons later.

It’s a time of farewells so we can we say hello again.

Last weekend, the big cut back and clearing commenced in my garden. I always feel a bit sad at this time as I recall the the joy of the spring and summer just passed. The high expectations with which I greeted the new growth. The celebrations held amidst the beauty of the garden. The bounty that graced the table. Sweet memories were made. It feels bittersweet.

But very quickly, with a sense of deep gratitude, I’m planning madly for the next year. In the myriad bulbs I plant and the new plants I select to add to the perennial beds. The fresh resolve to be more dutiful in my care and stewardship, stay on top of chores and make even more time to simply enjoy the garden. Already, I’m giddy with anticipation.

That’s the very heart and soul of the garden – it unfailingly provides us with so many life lessons. To stay optimistic, take chances, own failures, be responsible, work is its own reward, forgiveness is important and so much more. But right at this moment, the big take home is this – we get yet another chance to do better next year. Everybody deserves that.

Note: I have two paintings in the ‘Colors Of Fall’ art show at the Blue Door Gallery. You are invited!

Cycle of life:

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar