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

Real, Fake Or Alternative Facts

I’m referring to Christmas trees of course. Did something else come to mind? Ha.

The other day, I was asked for my advice about real vs fake. That led to some serious thinking.

For those amongst us who celebrate the holiday season with a tree, choosing a tree depends on a variety of matters but mostly, it is personal. And so, to change ones mind about it requires a lot of persuasion.

But I’m not out to dissuade anyone to choose one type for another. I simply think one ought to make informed decisions. Lets not be even a wee bit judgmental. Good will to all remember?

So, lets consider the real tree. It’s a long tradition for many to get a real tree. Some make it an event by going to a tree farm, selecting a tree, cutting it themselves and then bringing it home atop the family car. Others are just as happy going to the neighborhood tree lot and finding their tree of choice. A third kind likes to get a living tree to enjoy through the season and then plant it out on the property when spring comes along.

Real trees undoubtedly add a certain je ne sais quoi to any space. By virtue of being real, they are not quite perfect and that adds to their appeal. The fragrance of a pine tree in the house is pure joy. But lets face it, setting a tree up takes some effort. Get it on a stand so it stays straight and upright, water it regularly, contend with falling needles … there are some given inconveniences. In general however, I’m very partial to keeping it festive with a real tree.

It takes about ten years to grow a modest sized tree. Certainly there is the requirement of water and care but while these trees are growing, they do their part in helping the environment. Removing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, supporting wildlife, preventing soil erosion etc., The biggest carbon footprint in this choice of tree is that made by the car that transports it. Of course, if trees are shipped in from Canada and northern USA, then that footprint just grew exponentially. So staying with local farms is preferable.

How such a tree is disposed of is another big consideration. If trees are chipped and turned into mulch then it is all good. But, if they are taken to landfills then, not only is that transport increasing the carbon footprint but a decaying tree in that site will add to the greenhouse gases by putting out methane. And that’s not good at all.

A living tree is of course the best choice of all.

Moving on to fake trees. These days, the synthetic ones can be almost lifelike. The high end models are barely distinguishable from the real stuff. They can do serious damage to the pocketbook. Cheaper fakes are often also cheap looking. In either case, the cost of manufacturing and distribution comes with a high environmental impact. While they can be reused ‘indefinitely’, when they are finally discarded they do not break down for ages and ages. Maybe never.

Fake trees are indeed very convenient to use and I’ve seen some vintage models that evoke a lovely, nostalgic time when things were seemingly ‘simpler’.

We finally come to alternative trees. Any number of things can stand in for a Christmas tree. As graduate students, my husband and I did not have funds to spare and were more than happy to decorate our three-tiered hanging planter with lights and homemade ornaments. I’ve seen ‘trees’ made of stacked books, ladders, peel and stick decals on a wall, metal ‘branches’ from whose bare limbs ornaments are easily hung and, even what seemed to me an inspired yet minimalist tree that was simply strips of brown paper placed in ascending order at equal intervals on a wall to indicate a tree. Stuck on the strips were acorns, small pine cones and bits of holly. This last version really captivated my imagination and I’m so sorry I did not take. any photos. One day, I shall aim to recreate it.

For years, we always got ourselves a real tree. Natural is after all our style. We’d cut up the tree after it had served its purpose and compost it in the woods. Our town also picks up the trees and converts them to mulch. But last year we finally stopped that practice. My daughter, who adores real Christmas trees is severely allergic to them. After years of making excuses that it was only for a few weeks, taking way too many anti-histamines and making tissue companies very wealthy, I’d had enough. It was just crazy to be so tortured for the entire duration of the holidays. It took almost two years to convince the girl that she had to give up on having a real tree.

Thus, we came to the decision that if we could not have a real tree then we’d do an alternative. I even discovered that I’d had it all along! It is a white metal pot fitted with a conical shaped tower made of chicken wire. It is intended to house a vining plant that can weave itself on the chicken wire support. What I did was to fill up the interior with strings of lights that are easily plugged in because of said chicken wire openings. Those openings are perfect for hanging ornaments on the outside.

While the ornaments get put away after the New Year is underway, the ‘light filled tree’ occupies a corner in the house and is commissioned at every celebration deserving of some flash and dash..

Frankly, I have not missed the real stuff at all and it does my heart good to see my daughter sans tissue-box, anti-histamines, distressed nose, hacking cough and boggy head.

Fa la la la.

Note:
The Art Students League

Holiday Art Sale

Opens Today! Get there before you miss out on some great art!

 

Tree in the past

Our last real tree.

The allergic one

The alternative tree in daylight

Amaryllis tree

At night

NYC

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Giving

Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday, holiday gift giving – ‘tis the season. It seems to be a flurry of assorted giving. Yet, I’m always struck by the limited, ephemeral nature of it all. Come January, we all resume focusing on ourselves and those resolutions. Somewhere in the frenzy of the holidays we lose sight of the true spirit of the season – kindness and goodwill to all that lives on earth. And that spirit should persist throughout the year no?

This past Thanksgiving, while considering my many blessings, I spent a while thinking about how each of those deserved awareness and appreciation every day. The people we value, the home, food, work, pets, health etc., influence our happiness at any given time. Surely then, I must express my gratitude consistently and not simply on that fourth Thursday of November? In addition, must I not reciprocate in action wherever possible?

So, that’s what I’ve resolved – to purposefully practice giving and gratitude all through the year. Starting immediately; not waiting for January 1.

On a daily basis, connect to all I encounter. Greet, appreciate, compliment, listen. Giving voice to every positive thought is the corollary to ‘if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all’. Too often we tell others about someone’s talent, good work or looks but we fail to tell the individual herself. No more. Everybody deserves to hear kind words about themselves. Even a smile makes a difference.

Ditto for pets.

Horticulturally -In the garden, I will consciously appreciate its quotidian offerings and beauty and not merely focus on what’s wrong or needs doing.

Once a week, I will reach out to someone who lives far away. In this day of electronic communications, there is simply no excuse to let relationships lapse. I hope my life is never deemed too busy that I cannot convey a simple hello, thinking of you or how are you to a friend, family member or even a shut-in neighbor. Baking an extra batch of cookies to drop-off or mail to someone is worth the effort. Share the bounty from the garden with a city-slicker or one who can no longer garden. If I’m going to do the work anyway, it’s really easy to do a bit extra.

Horticulturally – Joining a Community Supported Agriculture program is my way of appreciating local farmers – and am I thanked in return! The beautiful, organically grown vegetables are a weekly gift to my health and happiness.

I’ve long had it set up that a monthly donation goes to my favorite charities. This not only ensures that the recipients do not get overlooked but it actually means I give more than I would if it all happened once a year. Of course, certain other causes like disaster relief arise spontaneously and will be responded to duly.

For every service I rely upon, there is a person(s) who serves. So, each month one such individual will be the beneficiary in some small but meaningful way. Hand warmers left in the mail box for the postal carrier to enjoy on a cold day. A gift card for a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop for the dry cleaner. A tray of homemade cookies for my local nursery on a very busy plant buying day ( that’s usually the Saturday before Mother’s Day!). A gift card for a manicure for my cleaning lady. Actually, so many people come to mind that I might have to commit to two individuals a month! This in no way precludes holiday bonuses/gifts.

Horticulturally – visit a public garden. While they receive my membership/support, I reap the benefits of viewing, learning and relaxing. Similarly, visit private gardens through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. I’m a long standing member of the Garden Conservancy and several public gardens but I don’t visit as often as I ought. That frequency must be improved.

Annual memberships to institutions like public gardens, museums, public television and radio are ways to sustain not only oneself but entire communities with a healthy quality of life.

Less on-line shopping and more local, small business shopping.

In keeping with protecting and nurturing the earth, something new that I’m adding to my efforts is that for every garden or home tool/gadget I buy or replace, I will plant a native tree either in the woods behind my property or other appropriate location.

I’m determined to walk the walk rather than just talk the talk at Thanksgiving. In the end, for all that I give, I’ll be so much more wealthy in what I receive. Merci, merci, merci.

Note: Speaking of gifts – please see the ‘Printed Garden’ and ‘ Botanical Note Cards’ merchandise. 100% of the profits goes to support the children with HIV/AIDS at the Mukta Jivan orphanage in India. I’m very proud of the ‘Printed Garden’ products and totally in awe of those children.

A few things for which I’m grateful:

Amaryllis. This was my ‘Amaryllis tree’

The children at Mukta Jivan orphanage. They inspire me.

Magnolias in bloom

Painting with artist friends in my garden

The gift of another birthday

Fall in New York

Walks with family

Thanksgiving and all other celebrations with family and friends

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

November Nuances

It finally feels like November. Fall is on the way out and winter is moving in. Blustery cold days with a definitive crispness in the air, enough trees in now muted colors rendering the days with an understated, autumnal elegance all highlighted by that clear sunshine so particular to this time of year. The transition to winter is happening. Things are slowing down. November, a month of progression, people power and prayerful thanks.

Most of the fall garden chores are done. But for another round or two of leaf raking and covering the large pots with their winter protection of plastic tarp and burlap, little else is called for. After the ground is well and truly frozen, a layer of mulch will be applied to all the beds. Doing it too early invites rodents to make homes beneath the mulch. Besides, until the ground is frozen hard, there is the threat of freezing and thawing which can displace the mulch.

Before Thanksgiving, I’ll make another inspection to confirm that the limbs of climbers and vines are secured properly and all movable furniture put away. The greenhouse heater is giving trouble so we’re keeping an eye on it. Should it fail to kick-in, the plants will suffer or worse. Hoping it doesn’t need replacing – good heaters don’t come cheap.

In this period of down time, I’ve been making it a point to enjoy the foliage which has been spectacular this year. We were fortunate to have days bright with sunshine this past long weekend. So while temperatures dipped and the wind whipped up the fallen leaves, brisk, energetic walks were in order. Got the blood flowing and spirits raised for sure. The fall colors are fading but there’s still plenty to observe and enjoy. Yellow ocher is having its moment. I’m taking my wardrobe cues from nature’s current palette. I too would like to look understated and elegant.

The joyous displays of chrysanthemums and pumpkins in front of so many homes remind me that Thanksgiving is fast approaching. I wish I’d brought in more hydrangea to make big arrangements for the mantel. But my timing was off and now the blooms on the plants are all brown and shriveled. Still, outdoors, they continue to make a visual impact. I’m loving the earthy hues. There is so much beauty in senescence.

That is true of humans as well.

Note: Points Of View” is still on. Do check it out!

Also: I have a painting here –

 

Some images I’ve enjoyed this month:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Foliage, Flowers, Freedom

Fall has finally peaked. It’s late but oh my, it’s been worth the wait. It is firelicious. Don’t look up the word – I made it up. The colors are so brilliant and gaudy it feels like I’m in a mad artist’s palette. So this past Sunday, we drove around simply to take in the fall foliage. With no plans or destination in mind, we took side roads and parkways pausing frequently to observe and admire. The weather was perfect – mild temperatures, a backdrop of clear blue skies, sunlight glancing off the colors creating ephemeral moments of sparkle and glow, I couldn’t get enough of the gorgeous hues. Can’t believe how blessed I am to live here.

Autumn

The sun lives on earth these days

I tread on glowing embers

Walking amidst flames of leaves

My world’s ablaze in hothouse colors.

– Shobha

The bulbs are all planted. Fingers crossed that we do not revert suddenly to summer temperatures anytime before spring. I’m already envisioning the bold splashes of color that will rejuvenate our spirits and gardens so tired of winter’s tedium. Flowers work such powerful magic.

The icing on the cake was that during the entire afternoon spent admiring the foliage, I never once got distracted by thoughts of all the turmoil and tension in the country. The anger, fear and uncertainty is palpable everywhere. Well today, we get to make things better. We vote. That’s how we preserve our freedoms and this democracy. Whatever else you might have on your to-do list today, make sure you cast your vote. That right was hard-earned and hard-fought. Don’t let yourself or your nation down.

Note: Thank you everyone who came to the reception of ‘Point Of View’! Your support and presence meant the world to me. For those who couldn’t make it, the exhibit is on through the month of November. Don’t forget to sign the guest book!

@walonlewis

Started the foliage viewing from my own backyard

A glimpse of ‘Points Of View’

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Hope Is Alive And Well

The shipment of bulbs finally arrived last Friday. The bulb houses ship the orders in time for planting at their final destinations. Given how erratic our weather has been this year, the bulbs are unsurprisingly later than usual. With no certainty on my part, I’ve decided to take the bulb companies to heart – maybe they know something I don’t. Hence, I began the planting on Sunday. Getting 1000 bulbs planted will take a while.

What can be more optimistic than planting bulbs? These rotund packages large and small, hold within their brown, plain bodies the promise of a beautiful spring as reward for enduring the dark, cold days of winter. Given recent happenings in our country, the days already feel dark, forbidding and scary. So planting the bulbs serves as both a distraction and an act of faith. Tomorrow will be brighter and better. Without that inherent belief, gardeners would cease to exist.

In performing this ritual of investing in the future, I’m encouraged that beauty on earth will persist. When the flowers emerge next spring, they will bring joy to all who see them. At that time, I will particularly remember those we lost at the time of planting. They didn’t go in vain.

I believe that we cannot give up or give in to the threats that loom – good will always triumph over evil, light will eliminate the dark, love will conquer hate. Otherwise, there’d be no point to anything.

Note: ‘Points Of View” opens this week. Do stop for a look!

This year’s bulb order.

Fall in miniature

Glimpses of last spring –

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar