Call Maintenance!

July is all about maintenance. No major planting or project occurs at this time. It’s time to enjoy the fruits of ones labor. And I’m here for it. There’s nothing as satisfying as strolling around, preferably with a cool drink in hand, admiring what’s in bloom and what’s going well. Finally, a bit of time to simply take in the beauty and wonder of what one has created.

Of course, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. That would be wishful thinking. Weeding, watering, propping up, trimming back and general faffing is in order, But these can set a happy rhythm to the days. Leaving plenty of time to sit and soak up sunshine and revel in the delightful horticultural offerings. Hours spent watching the numerous insects and birds never get old. Quite the contrary – like sunrises and sunsets, rainbows, full moons and meteor showers, we never tire of what’s in bloom, butterflies flitting and floating gracefully, hummingbirds darting from feeder to flowers, bees laden with pollen whirring home, dragonflies pausing at the water filled trough, their iridescent wings refracting sunlight into flat rainbows …. the list goes on. Before one knows it, afternoon has become nightfall and the fireflies are twinkling in time with the stars.

All too often, I’ve allowed myself to be caught up in the spirit of the season and neglected to do enough in the maintenance department. It’s so easy to let that happen. I think I’m doing enough only to discover that the garden is no longer just expressing summer exuberance. Rather, it is shockingly messy and overgrown. Not this year. My resolution made early in the spring has held up well thus far and I’m seeing the impact due diligence makes.

Regular weeding and watering as required have always been kept up but, timely deadheading, staking and cutting back overgrowth makes all the difference to the health and appearance of the garden. This past weekend, blessed with good weather, that’s exactly what was accomplished. Snipping off spent flowers, cutting overgrowth of certain highly rambunctious plants, staking and supporting those in need, re-potting plants started from cuttings, trimming topiaries, chopping some plants like asters by 1/3 to prevent legginess and encourage fuller growth, feeding all the roses and every plant in a pot with organic fertilizer – it all got done. And the garden breathed a big sigh of relief. Everything looks so much better.

My husband and I split the numerous tasks but we made sure we took breaks for coffee, lunch and many glasses of water on the terrace, at which time we watched the hummingbirds, counted butterflies and shared observations made when we were tending different parts of the garden. A happy balance of work and pleasure. Pre-dinner drinks and dinner felt very well deserved as we sat back and appreciated this piece of earth of which we are blessed to have custody.

My final task before calling it a day was to water all the plants in pots – something that is done almost daily. I had to resort to the tap as the rain barrel was very low in water indicating how dry its been. I then noticed some plants in the beds looking mighty thirsty and watered them too. Fingers crossed it’ll rain later today, slake the earth and fill up the barrel.

In doing the maintenance chores regularly, it’s easier to notice what’s new. Which flowers are blooming, is there a scarcity or abundance of pollinators, where the nests are, what pests have made an ugly appearance and addressing the problems right away before it gets too late. The tasks remind me that I am a caretaker. And care I shall take.

Scenes from the garden –

Hummingbird at the feeder

Blue Jay taking a a break

Before and after a light trim

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

FOMO In The Garden

FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out

I really appreciate that our very human anxiety about feeling left out or missing out on something has been recognized and owned. As social animals, we need to be included and informed on all the goings on. Every one of us can recognize that FOMO feeling – we’ve not only been there but we continue to go there. It simply cannot be helped. Which is why we say ‘yes’ so often. And why we bring upon ourselves a state of business that more often than not, provides no satisfaction.

I’m currently going through a different sort of FOMO. It’s a deep seated resentment of missing out on the happenings in the garden. Due to the days of intense heat alternating with long bouts of rain, I’ve had very little opportunity to hang out in the garden. The humidity in particular really does me in. Snatching windows of tolerable conditions to get basic chores done is about all I’ve managed. There has been no real chance to enjoy what’s in bloom (or not), observe wild life and just linger in the life affirming atmosphere of the garden.

These conditions invariably makes me a grump. The sense of not being there to note the myriad events in my garden is unsettling to say the least. What’s the point of planning, planting and working in the garden if I’m not there to savor the fruits (no pun intended) of my labor?

Instead, on my rushed forays, I spy poppy petals scattered around but not a single flower in sight. Missed those blooms. I dutifully refill the hummingbird feeders but do not get to watch any of the thirsty drinkers. I know the cicadas have emerged, mated, laid eggs, eggs have hatched and nymphs have molted only because I spot the exuviae, their transparent exoskeletons still clinging on to tree trunks. How I’d have loved to monitor those stages! Soggy roses browning on the limbs tell me I missed their beauty and fragrance. And so it goes …. on and on.

A similar FOMO is experienced when I must go away for any reason. I might be super-excited to travel to beloved places and yet, I’m loathe to leave my garden. I know what I’m going to be missing and that makes me sad. In the big picture, none of this is a huge deal. I know that. But I’m here owning my own FOMO. It’s real and not to be ignored. There, I’ve said it. Anyone else coming forward?

Note: I’m sharing some of my recent black and white paintings. They were after all inspired by the garden

Gardenia

Tree Peony

Clematis

Columbine

Magnolia Grandifolia

Parrot tulip

Iris

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Living In The Sun

A big takeaway from the past year was that everyone rediscovered the power of nature. The visceral need we have for the open spaces rich in vegetation and fresh air was unarguably recognized. Those of us blessed with any size of land found sheltering at home less stifling than apartment dwellers. Parks and preserves saw a remarkable up-tick in visitors. Following more than a year of restrictions, how we live has become a focus.

Inside the home, we have quickly realized that our spaces are not designed for our current needs. For that matter, many homes were never set up for us to spend a great deal of time in it. With the flexibility of working at home full-time or part, office space is a necessary requirement. The family dining table can no longer do double duty. In order for any member of a household to get some time and space alone, bedrooms are now not merely for rest/sleep. Open living plans, hugely popular pre-pandemic are now regarded as unsustainable for multiple people living and working from home. Interior designers have noted the new needs and are responding with ingenuity and creativity.

Similarly, the gardens of many demand re-imagining. First and foremost, let me get a pet peeve out of the way – can we please stop calling our outdoor piece of property a ‘yard’? A yard is simply the grounds surrounding a building or a unit of measure. A yard does not evoke a beautiful space. Think about it. There are dockyards, shipyards, farmyard, junkyard, barnyard … you get the idea. Without the prefixes court- or vine-, yard by itself does not conjure up greenery. However, ‘garden’ immediately makes one see plants, grass, flowers and fruits. Somewhere pleasant. Words matter.

Gardens are not just for show. They should be designed for people to spend time in them – cultivating, meditating, socializing, playing, eating, reading, napping. That pretty much means outdoor living. Be it a balcony, a narrow strip or a bigger space, we must think about how they can serve multiple purposes aesthetically and effectively. I would add that all designs must be sustainable, eco-friendly, organic and environment conscious. In my book these requirements are non-negotiable.

A simple bench set in the garden provides a place to sit, read, converse and observe. Add a table and now you have a spot for eating, working, painting, writing, playing cards or board games. A swing under a tree or a hammock slung between two trees offers a different attractive choice. You see?

Of course, the right plants are critical. Color, texture, shapes, heights, widths, fragrance, tactility and functionality are all key attributes to consider. Native/eco-beneficial too. Good design makes a garden beautiful and functional.

Pulling together all the required elements to create a garden that suits the way one lives is perhaps most challenging. And exciting.

In my own garden, there are various places for escape, rest and activity. In the front, the two Adirondack chairs were installed to provide a place from which one could enjoy this area of the garden. It’s close enough to the street that spontaneous conversations with neighbors out for walks happen. From mid-afternoon on, the sun has moved on and one can sit in shade and read, work on the laptop, take a tea break, watch the birds, butterflies and bees.

The terrace on the side, is a lovely spot for breakfast before it is bathed in full sun till early evening. In summer, it’s too hot by noon. In cool months the sunny location is a gift. A table with chairs and an umbrella that can be tilted for requisite shade makes spending time here amidst the sweet smelling citrus and gardenia (in pots)is a rather sublime experience. Members of the household routinely hold Zoom meetings from this location. The hummingbird feeder nearby is visited often and always brings joyful distraction.

Similarly, the tree house has also stretched itself from just a cool spot to hangout (or camp out) with friends to a cool spot to work. Wi-Fi extends to this perch so what at one time was also a place to do homework, now permits all manner of work be conducted. As well as the occasional nap.

From late fall to early spring, the greenhouse, set up with a small table and single chair takes on the role of sheltering a myriad assortment of plants as well as an escape for any family member who needs a little nature therapy. Or simply needs to get away from the rest of us. This past winter, it became my husband’s corner office! He found it more enjoyable than sharing the house with the rest of us.

The table under the pergola on the terrace in the back is used in countless ways. We eat, entertain, work, read, paint, play, bird-watch and generally hangout. All day long. Adding an outdoor heater last fall has made it possible to use this area almost all year round. String lights and a chandelier keep us going well into the night. Poker nights, hysterical rounds of charades and long, lively conversations happen here frequently. Life.

There is a bench towards the back of the ‘meadow’ that serves as an escape from the madding crowd and also a restful spot from which to enjoy the flowers in bloom and observe more closely the activities of all sorts of pollinators. Seeing the meadow from a different perspective can be eye-opening.

A similar bench under the grapes on the far side of the terrace is another good location for bird-watching and catching some sun and quiet time.

The garden should be a true extension of the home. It’s meant to be lived in. Not merely viewed. It’s good for health.

Note: We’re in the midst of a heat wave. Hope these images give you some respite:

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Nurturing Nature?

This past weekend, we finally took a mini-vacation. A long weekend at the beach – a much craved change of scene. After staying home for so long, it felt strange to be packing and yet, so familiar. Our eagerness to be in the sun, sand and water brought back memories of other beaches around the world when it all felt so accessible. Yet, here we were going to a beach house within the state and it felt surreal to be going anywhere at all. Clearly, returning to ‘normal’ is a process.

The one response that came back without hesitation was my worry about the garden. For as long as I can remember I’m loathe to leave my garden for any length of time. What if it got too hot/ too windy/too cold/too wet? What if pests take over? Will the weeds take over? Without deadheading, plants that should bloom longer will set seed! How to make sure the mowing ( of a very tiny ‘lawn’) gets done? An endless list of potential problems plague me.

Despite all the trips made over the decades and the garden surviving each time, I fret about the garden and miss it even before I’ve left. Crazy. I know.

It felt even harder to get away this time. After all, the garden has been the mainstay through all the months we’ve had to be sheltering at home. Without it I’d have found life during the pandemic so much more difficult. Caring for the garden was my salvation. And now I was being called to let it go. Albeit very temporarily. I still found it challenging.

This got me thinking about all the things we do for our gardens that might well be viewed as unnecessary. Even a bit too much. I cannot help myself. It’s who I am. Please tell me I’m not alone as I recount some of the stuff I’ve done to safeguard my piece of paradise.

Years ago, the morning of the day of my departure to a destination overseas, two little baby robins fell from a nest high up in a tree. Obviously, I could not get them back to the nest. I could not stand sentry over them myself as I was going away. The thought of predators coming for these birds made me very anxious. I put the little ones in a shoe box lined with leaves and grass and set it where I hoped the robin parents would find and feed them. And instead of packing and doing the numerous things that needed doing for the trip, I spent the better part of the day calling all sorts of agencies to see if they could advice or help in any way. No luck. They mostly thought I was unduly concerned. But I did find out that should a domestic cat kill a bird on my property, I could sue the owner of the murderous cat. Really? Punishment for a cat doing what is in its very nature? Even I, in my heightened state of worry could see the absurdity of this law.

I finally conceded that I’d done my best and frantically moved to finish packing and dash to the airport.

The following year, because the eggs in the nest that sat nestled amidst the branches of the climbing rose that scrambled over the arbor leading to the front door had hatched and we were once again headed out on vacation, I slung a child size hammock beneath so if the babies fell, they would land safely in it and the parents could still tend to them. This arrangement effectively precluded access to the front door but who cared!

On my return, the hammock looked unused and the nest was empty and intact. Presumably all had gone well. Whew. Having to explain to neighbors this strange arrangement without coming across as batty was however a different matter.

Last week, we netted the espaliered fruit trees to protect the pears from marauding squirrels. The evening before going away for aforesaid weekend to the beach, it occurred to me that one of the hummingbird feeders sat too close to the netting and I was concerned the diminutive drinkers could get entangled n the net if they didn’t pay attention. I had to most certainly move the feeder to a safer spot nearby. My husband kidded me about imagining ‘drunken’ hummingbirds leaving the bar and getting entangled but I was not to be dissuaded. Feeder was not only moved but I waited till I saw that the initially confused hummingbirds discovered the new location and resumed their drinking activity.

Just having/hiring someone come by to check on the garden to water and weed is not enough. I need someone who is very familiar with my garden and also loves it. Okay, at least really likes it. Person must be kind and caring in general. I’m happy to report that I’ve found just such a person. A nephew who lives 20 minutes away and is willing to indulge his eccentric aunt. Dedicated garden–sitters are true godsends and I have no doubt there’s a special place in heaven for such people.

But please, please tell me I’m not the only gardener obsessing about how to keep the garden cared for whilst one is away. After all the ribbing about babying the garden that comes my way, I need some serious validation. Help.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the weekend away was lovely. Weather cooperated and the beach was just wonderful. I watched a gull pick clams from the water, fly up high and drop the clams so they opened on impact and the bird could easily access the contents.

I got yelled at for coming too close to the roost by a nesting osprey. It was at least 20 feet above ground and had nothing to worry about. But then, who am I to talk about worrying.

I was entranced by a flotilla of ducks guiding their babies ashore to settle down for the night and great egrets parading around nonchalantly like they were too cool for school.

Dog roses were in full bloom along the beaches. And in the gardens I passed by were other roses, hydrangea, yellow baptisia, magnolia and Montauk daisies looking quite spectacular. I also noted deer and rabbits in good numbers. I wonder what sort of compromise they’ve reached with the gardeners.

Note: Enjoy the images of nature that made my weekend so rewarding:

Swan

Going ashore for the night

Duck flotilla

Osprey

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Whatever May Come

The only thing consistent about May has been its inconsistency. It has run the gamut of all four seasons in three short weeks and now, in its final stretch, we finally get to enjoy the month as it ought.

The intense heat last week put paid to the tulips and I’m still feeling cheated. It was a very short time with them. Meanwhile, the alliums are ablaze and I can only hope they will last longer. Much longer.

The two clematis at the arch in front are in full flower – typically, the buds open in sequence allowing one to enjoy them in a prolonged manner. Not this year.

It feels as though spring has been cruelly compressed. I worry this might well be the pattern to come. Globally, we are experiencing unusual weather. From heavy rains in some parts to high heat to others and widespread strong winds whipping up frequently. Nothing is typical or predictable. Like it or not, climate change is underway.

In my little corner, I see that I need to be flexible and think deeply about future plans and plants with climate changes in mind. For instance, I’m still going to order bulbs because I cannot imagine a spring without them but my expectations will be more in accordance with the reality.

These developments also underline strongly the need for us all to look to native and/or ecologically beneficial plants that are proven to be hardy and adaptable.

The rain barrel serves well during the dry spells – best to seriously start looking to conserve water. Pots are watered as needed. We turn on the hose to water the plants in the ground only when and if it has been unbearably dry and there is a threat of plant loss.

I’ve taken to checking the bird bath assiduously. Between the heat and wind, it seems to dry out very quickly. The same diligence with the hummingbird feeders. With heat, the sugar water begins to ferment and can harm the wee birds. There is a helpful guide that I follow about when to replace the water. Note: always clean the feeder before each refill.

It’s easy to feel the lack of control in the garden when the weather is so uncertain. However, I’ve found solace in doing my part in tending to the chores that are in my control. That covers my choice of plants, organic, sustainable practices, encouraging pollinators of all kinds, conserving water and most importantly, accepting change. That last one is truly hard and my progress has been slow. Very

Yet, I must persist. My planet is counting on me. And you.

Note: Reminder! My Open Garden Day is June 5. Get tickets online.

Alliums coming up strong. Camassia too.

First iris

Clematis

Calycanthus

Alliums taking over from the tulips

Last of the tulips

Itoh/intersectional peony

Primula in a friend’s garden

Buttercups with primula.

(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

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

Overture To Spring

Contrary to the saying, March is going out like a lion. Rain and high winds are escorting its exit. It seems as though we’re getting days of such strong winds more frequently. And it would not be remiss to plan for this pattern going forward. This of course means the soil will dry out more quickly which then could imply more watering. I’m also giving serious consideration to securing various climbers and planters more firmly. Ditto for furniture and other movable structures. In the right circumstances, even a small object can become a powerful projectile. I’m not trying to cause panic – just being more aware and proactive.

A couple of warm days last week coaxed the garden fully awake. Each day, the canvas of earth is rendered with more and more colorful splashes. The early bulbs have a very short window to shine before they’re overshadowed by their bigger, flamboyant cousins. I relish this time with them – so diminutive and so exquisite. Even more gratifying is to spy hungry insects quenching themselves on these tiny flowers. The give and take in nature is perhaps one of the most beautiful, life-affirming exchanges one can witness.

A much longed for trip to the nursery had me happily potting up the window-boxes and other pots/urns over the weekend. They set the stage for the season’s drama yet to unfold. The fence post in front was replaced and the whole fence got new roping – it all looks quite smart and ready for duty. I got a few plants to add to the front beds and with any luck, they will be planted imminently. Once the tiny lawn is raked over and reseeded, the entire front garden will be properly spruced up for the season.

In the meadow, the ivy invading from the neighbor’s yard has become my daughter’s number one target. When I asked her to cut it back, I had no idea she’d find the job so satisfying – I’m pleasantly surprised the way things have worked out. She even discovered the pathetic state of the Dutchman’s Pipe I’d planted a couple of years ago to replace the ivy. I’d written it off when I couldn’t see it on a cursory examination last summer. The poor plant was being strangled by that invasive thug. Once relieved of its oppressor, a good feeding was given and I’m determined to keep an eye on it so it can do the job its been assigned to do. I have a feeling the under-gardener is even more determined but I’m not going to say anything lest I jinx her gradual evolution into a first rate gardener ( it’s happening despite all her early protests as a child).

The birds are very busy house hunting and the morning chorus can be deafening. But oh so welcome! I’m keeping my eye on a pair of cardinals near the grapevine. Out front, the robins are involved in what seems to me a bidding war for the rose arbor. Fingers crossed the new birdhouse will be claimed by bluebirds. Wrens usually commandeer the one in the meadow.

Last Saturday’s warm weather brought everyone including the garden snakes outside to enjoy some sun and fresh air. One was unabashedly sunbathing on a flagstone by the greenhouse. I fully expect it (and the rest of its family) to do their job of keeping all the rodent forms under control. They’ve been negligent some years and I don’t take kindly to such laziness.

And so the season is in full swing. Let there be beauty, growth and grace.

Hellebore

Fence all fixed up

New birdhouse ready and waiting

Plants awaiting planting

Slytherin the snake

Window box potted up

They don’t look like much at present but soon they will be shouting SPRING! – anticipation is half the fun.

First crocus. More have quickly followed.

First daffodils

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Marching Orders

So typical of March to arrive with in the guise of winter, abruptly show us what spring could feel like and then, just as quickly go back to winter again. Last week’s mild weather had me realize that my sabbatical from the garden was over. It’s funny how from December on, I’m in a state of anticipating and planning for spring. And then, with the first days of mild weather, I feel unprepared and already behind schedule.

I promptly got my master list ready – this is a detailed inventory of every task to be done to get the garden in good growing shape. The checklist is divided by each sector of the garden. It allows me to easily see what is immediate and what can wait a bit. I’ve found that it prevents me from feeling overwhelmed. While a good many chores are pretty much standard, additional ones get added after a walk around the garden to take note of how things look. What has taken a beating through the winter and needs repair or replacement invariably shows up. A broken fencepost, displaced stepping stones, a worrisome hole in the middle of a flower bed – there’s much to contend with.

Over the weekend, I got started. The columbine seeds I’d stratified got sown indoors. I’ve never done this before but finding myself in need of many native columbines, it seemed time to grow my own. I’m so curious to see how it’ll work out. Fingers crossed!

I started the hardening off of the sweetpeas sown in mid-Feb. A daily dose of some hours outdoors helps acclimatize them. The trellis to support them was also restored so all is ready for when the seedlings will be planted in another week or so.

Last Friday, I sprinkled Shirley poppy seeds over the snow in a certain part of the meadow. Today, no snow remains so I’m fervently hoping the seeds have ensconced themselves in the earth and stirring about to begin the gradual process of sprouting. It’s supposed to rain hard this Thursday so lets hope the seeds don’t get washed away.

This week, I’ll prune the roses – cut away dead or wayward limbs. A light shaping too. Climbers will be re-secured as the winter somehow manages to loosen them out of the ties. A dose of compost and Epsom salts will be welcomed by the roots as they begin their work in earnest.

Likewise, a pruning and a compost feed for the grapes and fruit espalier is in order. Now is the time to spray dormant oil to smother any pest eggs.

The grapevine cuttings will be put to use in concealing the peony supports and other unsightly mechanics.

The new bee and bird houses will be put up by the weekend. Old bird house cleaned and made ready. I often make ‘nesting’ wreaths and hang them nearby to give the birds a little assistance as they make their nests. Simple wreaths of grapevine decorated with natural materials like moss, tiny pine cones, bits of straw, lichen, jute and cotton string. The wreaths look festive and seasonal and have been repeatedly endorsed by discerning homemakers. I get a special thrill when I come upon a nest decorated with my offerings.

If I do a bit of clean up every day, the garden will look greatly improved by the weekend. As much as the chore doesn’t sound fun, it actually gives me an opportunity to observe whats coming up and get excited about each returning old friend and some unexpected new ones.

Materials for repair have been noted and shall be purchased during the week so no time is wasted over the coming weekend. Lots to do!

Something I did last week when the warm weather lured us out, was to take note of the progression of the snow melt. This is the ideal time to see which parts of the garden get more (or less) sunlight. It can be quite surprising. Areas you think should be similar are often not. Things can change as trees grow or get taken down, new construction happens along next door etc., Knowing about the assorted micro-climates serves to make better decisions about what to plant and when to expect their bloom. Or even what to change.

There you have it – I’ve received my marching orders – get off the couch by the fireplace and into the garden. And hop to it. Yes ma’am.

Note that disc of snow on top of the pot!

I love seeing the meadow emerge as the snow melts.

Poppies sprinkled last week

First snowdrops – happens where the snow melts first!

Forced hyacinths – Spring has sprung indoor

Day 1 of last week’s warm weather

Day 3 of warm weather

Grapevine awaiting pruning

Snow melt pattern in potager

Lower end of side path. The middle melts first, then the bottom and finally the top end. Which is surprising because the top looks most exposed but the neighbor’s tree actually casts a shadow just long enough in the day so the snow remains longer.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

January Jottings

January In The Garden

Feels lazy

Days spent

in waiting

wanting

wishing

Nothing done.

                                                                           – Shobha Vanchiswar

The final week of January. Things feel lighter and brighter. The sun is setting past 5:00pm – this singular fact is mood improving is it not? It might still be very cold with little to get excited about in the garden but the anticipation of the sap rising imminently buoys me up.

I’m currently reading and tremendously enjoying Page Dickey’s book ‘Uprooted’. It reads like a beautiful prose poem on starting anew. I’ve been noting down several plant varieties she mentions and I’m beginning to think I’m going to need more acreage to accommodate them all!

Some years ago, Page gave me a ‘Leda’ rose and an Abeliophyllum ( white forsythia). The latter blooms very early in spring and the rose pinks up the summer. These reminders of a valued mentor keep me in state of gratitude, contentment and humility. Despite how it appears, one doesn’t truly garden alone. There are always the teachers, the helpers, the cheerleaders keeping us company.

I encourage you to pick up a copy of Uprooted. It’ll inspire, instruct and inform in a most gentle, supportive manner.

On my sojourns outdoors, there’s great fun in listening to the birds as they go about their business seemingly unbothered by the cold. This coming weekend, I hope to put up the new bluebird house somewhere in the front garden that suits the potential residents as well as the landlord – I’d like to watch their antics and be entertained whenever I’m in this part of the property. The birdhouse in the meadow in the back has proven its purpose rather successfully. The house is being set up early so as to be ready and available as soon as avian house hunting season commences.

Similarly, the hummingbird feeder in the herb garden is a huge source of joy. Over the holidays, I received by mail a hand-blown glass feeder. It is a beautiful work of art. Oddly, there was no note with this package and I’m still trying to find out who the thoughtful sender might be. I’m appreciating the happy dilemma of finding the most appropriate site for it.

And so January is coming to a close. We’re half way to Spring!

January things:

Enjoying the sunset from indoors as its too cold outside!

Amaryllis

First snow of the new year

Get this book!

January recollections:

Goldfinch on coneflower

Hummingbird hovering just above the agapanthus on left

At the feeder

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar