Climate Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

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

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Farewell February

The final week of February means we are in the home stretch to Spring. Puts me in a good mood all together. It’s felt somewhat tedious being snowbound and socially distanced. Nothing to complain about but wearisome nevertheless. Transitioning into March feels positively cheery.

With so much snow, there’s nothing stirring in the garden horticulturally speaking. I wonder if the birds are getting impatient as am I. Eager to rustle about looking for early signs of spring, I’ve taken to vicariously enjoying gardens across the pond. The English spring has begun – snowdrops and other early bulbs are up and glinting like gems scattered on the unfurled green carpet.

The bulbs I’d potted up to get a jump start on spring are now under snow and impossible to retrieve till the big thaw. I should’ve moved them to more sheltered locations. I kept meaning to but dropped that ball. Note to self – next year, place potted bulbs in cool and easy to access sites. Also, pot up many more bulbs.

I’m supposed to winter prune the roses this week but for obvious reasons, that task needs to be rescheduled. Perhaps towards the latter part of March when the snow has melted sufficiently and they can be reached more easily. We gardeners must always defer to the climate and weather and stay flexible.

In the meantime, I’ve got all the cooling hyacinths out of the refrigerator and into forcing vases. Watching them grow and gradually bloom sending shots of color and perfume around the house should satisfy my need for sights of spring till the garden decides to join the party.

The limoncello started in early January is ready. As is the lemon pickle put up around the same time. They feel extra special because the lemons came from my garden. I’m looking forward to sharing both with friends as soon as enough snow has melted to make room on the terrace for friends to gather (around the heater) and we toast to a new spring in the garden. Hope abounds.

Present day

Looking forward …!

Hyacinths in vases. Present day.

Last year.

And this one from last year as well.

The roses in my garden

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

The Benevolence Of Bulbs

Bulbs give an unparalleled bang for the buck. It is a simple matter of plunking them into a deep enough hole in the ground, covering them up and letting them be. Come spring, they show up in good form and raise the ante in the garden. While the perennials are slowly stirring, bulbs burst forth boldly and bring instant cheer. For the effort of digging them a decent home in the fall, the payback is big at a time when we most need the beauty and inspiration.

This past weekend was all about bulb planting. About 2000 of them. At one time, this task was accomplished by me alone but the years have taken their toll so, I had called in reinforcement by way of husband, daughter and a nephew. And the job got done. The weather cooperated perfectly, moods remained cheerful and it had the energy of a barn raising. I’m deeply grateful to my’ team’ – without their support no vision of mine could be realized.

With the planting of bulbs in autumn, we are essentially saying we have hope for the future. That we will get through the cold, dark days of winter to greet a beautiful, promise-filled spring. This seemingly simple act of faith epitomizes the very optimism it takes to move life forward.

Note: At the request of many, here is the list of bulbs that I’ve planted for a beautiful 2021 –

TULIP ANTOINETTE
TULIP COOL CRYSTAL
TULIP DON QUICHOTTE
TULIP DREAMLAND
TULIP GREENLAND
TULIP GREEN WAVE
TULIP LOUVRE
TULIP ROSALIE
TULIP SPRING GREEN
TULIP WHITE PARROT

TULIP FLAMING BALTIC

ALLIUM AFLAT. PURPLE SENSATION
CAMASSIA QUAMASH
FRITILLARIA MELEAGRIS
FRITILLARIA MICHAILOVSKYI

Final burst of roses

All bulbs sorted out

Time for a respite

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Marking Time In March

March has arrived like a lamb. With the temperatures in the fifties, it sure feels like spring – that’s ten to fifteen degrees higher than normal. Make what one will of this new normal but it is hard not to appreciate the weather and assume spring is here already.

The snowdrops are still going strong. With continued mild weather, I’m beginning to think that its very possible that my forced hyacinths indoors will be mirrored by the ones in the garden. The perfume of the hyacinths is my trigger to get into full spring mode. I know some folk are not much enamored with their smell but not moi, I can’t get enough.

I’m eager to get new plants right away. However, a walk around the garden reveals that I’m getting way ahead of myself. Apart from the snowdrops, nothing else seems even close to blooming. The hyacinths have just about started nosing their way through the earth. Ditto for the crocuses and daffodils. The hellebores all have buds that are getting nice and plump.

Elsewhere, I see that the wisteria and Abeliophyllum (white forsythia) are covered in tiny buds. The latter will suddenly ramp up and be in bloom ahead of most other plants. Along the side path, I can just about discern the ruby red of early peony growth. A few more weeks before I need to put in the stakes.

A stop at my favorite nursery will no doubt tell me to have a little more patience. Don’t they know me by now? I’d like to at least get the window-boxes and urns planted up. Those set the scene for spring instantly.

Yet, I know I cannot hurry up the process. Instead, I must get started on the various chores for this month. Cut back the old hellebore leaves, pick up winter debris, prune down the colorful limbs of dogwood shrubs and a myriad other things. But first, I’m going to get me some branches of pussy willow and forsythia to force.

Spring is going to be well underway indoors.

Note: Mark your calendar! My garden’s Open Day is May 16.

I’m thrilled to be participating in the art show at the Phyllis Harriman Gallery of the New York Art Students League this week. The reception is tomorrow March 4, 6-8 pm. Do stop by. It’s an amazing show!

The following images show the current state of my garden –

Rose ‘Srawberry Hill’ waking up

Daffodils

White forsythia getting ready. Any time now!

Snowdrops

Hellebore

Can you see the emerging red of peony?

The espalier walk

More snowdrops coming through

Iris

More hellebore

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Light The Lights!

Whatever one believes in, celebrations are in order. Winter arrived with the solstice. Hanukkah is underway, today is Christmas Eve and Kwanzaa starts in two days. The New Year is just a week away. Best of all, we are past the shortest day of the year and slowly but surely the days are getting longer. Hallelujah!

At this time, we remember years passed and look ahead to the future. Friends and family are precious – this is a perfect time to reaffirm those bonds.

Trimming The Tree

Love hangs memories

on awaiting arms

twinkling happy thoughts

as new stories get written.

While the past is shed

the present unfolds itself

into the future.

– Shobha Vanchiswar

Before one gets caught up in the festivities, water the plants! Be they house plants or those being overwintered, they need to be kept hydrated. It’s easy to forget about them when you’re busy with so much else. Ditto for those bulbs such as paperwhites. Amaryllis bulbs do not need potting up and watering until after they finish flowering – for now, they can sit pretty anywhere you choose.

Take a turn in the garden and check if anything needs attention – broken tree limbs, plants wanting some protection, debris to clear, bird-feeders to fill and such. It’ll give you peace of mind. And the fresh air and sunshine will improve your disposition greatly.

Wishing you all a beautiful holiday.

Note: Some holiday trees through the years. Due to my daughter’s allergy, we switched from conifers to more unconventional ‘trees’.

Another alternative.This year I’m using my bay standard as the tree.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Planting Peace, Growing Gratitude

Two days to Thanksgiving. I love this holiday so much that I wait all year for it. A holiday spent with friends, family and food. A day to come together in gratitude and love – what could be more simple and pure?

Apparently not so simple for many. Holidays are fraught with anxiety for many. Confrontations, resentments and old wounds seem to surface at these times. We are advised to stay away from discussing politics, religion, relationships and gossip. Really, what else is left to talk about?!

Then, we complain about eating too much, drinking to excess, moving too little and feeling awful about it. Why do we repeat this pattern consistently? Surely we can do and be better.

Science has shown that activity and getting out in nature improves the disposition. A walk is a great solution but not everyone is able to get too physical. Besides, people break up into smaller groups and walk at different paces. It can become yet another opportunity to avoid certain nosy relatives altogether instead of connecting to everybody. Similarly, a good game of touch football is not for everyone. No worries, lets get the entire Thanksgiving party into the garden. We’re going to plant bulbs.

This weekend is the unofficial last call for bulb planting. Unless you reside way up north, the ground can still be dug up. While it’s too late for planting shrubs and trees, it is just fine for bulbs. So, get to the local nursery in a hurry and buy up all the bulbs you can afford. By now there might not be much choice left but they are often at very reduced prices. (You will plan ahead next year).

Select the part(s) of the garden where you would like the bulbs planted. Have gloves, dibblers, hand trowels, spades etc., ready and waiting. When your Thanksgiving crowd is gathered, let them know that you are starting a new tradition – a gratitude garden of bulbs. Divvy up the bulbs between all the participants. This is an activity for all ages. Not too strenuous and comes with the gentle instruction of keeping faith and hope. Making a garden is after all, about optimism and belief in a better tomorrow.

Adults will instruct kids, young can assist the old. Whether a trench is to be dug up for a multitude of bulbs or they must go into the ground individually amongst existing perennials, explain the simple rules of bulb planting – holes are three times deeper that the size of the bulb and they are planted pointy tip up. Small bulbs are easier for very small hands.

Suggest to each person that for each bulb they plant, they must privately count a blessing and/or bury a grievance. Encourage laughter and camaraderie. Typically, folk will get into the spirit quite naturally. Prior gardening experiences will be recounted, favorite bulbs declared and undoubtedly lead to further discussions on a myriad topics. One hopes.

In case of inclement weather – have everybody pot the bulbs up. The pots are to be kept outdoors in a sheltered area and towards the end of winter you will start noticing some tiny tips emerging. At this time you can either bring the pots indoors to hurry up the flowering or, leave them outside to bloom in due time. Either way, they will look gorgeous. You might also consider sending each guest home with a pot of bulbs of their own.

This project gets everyone interacting, builds healthy appetites and couldn’t be easier. PLUS, you get to anticipate a beautiful spring. At which time, you will take photographs to share with all your bulb planters. If you’re up for it, invite them all for a viewing!

Happy Thanksgiving from the bottom of my heart. Studies have proven that both incivility and kindness are contagious. So, lets make the choice to put aside our differences, hold hands and strengthen our bonds. Yes we can.

Note: I hope these images will inspire you to undertake the Thanksgiving bulb planting project!

Hyacinths
Daffodil
Tulips
Allium
Frittilaria
Iris

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Calming Down

Boy, am I glad the bulbs were planted the previous weekend. It got pretty frosty by last Friday. A good portion of the country is being hit with record cold this week. Too early I say! However, looking at the crazy seasons we’ve been experiencing, this is not too surprising. I believe we’re in a flux of sorts. There is something unsettling going on as climate change is underway. The new normal is not here as yet.

With most of the fall chores frenetically completed in the garden, I take November as a time to reflect on life, the world at large and my place in it. The garden offers a quiet place to restore equilibrium in these uncertain times. The basic act of tending a garden is grounding in that it makes us aware of how interconnected we all are – to nature and to each other. Making and caring for a garden is an optimistic sign as it implies we are invested in the future. There is a contentment to be discovered in garden work that few other projects can provide.

I look back on the successes and failures, the challenges and surprises through the year. It was a great year for the bulbs and many of the perennials. The clematis particularly shone. The vegetables did well too. With a sudden freeze in early spring, the fruit trees struggled. As did the wisteria. The meadow was a large part of my focus but I dropped the ball a few times in staying on top of the weeding and watering so the new, young additions could thrive. Life happens. I will do better next year.

Through the year, as I wrestled with matters unfolding on the national and global stages, the garden has provided purpose and practice. When events seemed intolerable, incendiary, confusing or conflicted, the garden presented me with opportunity to take immediate action and make something better in my little world. It reminds me to stay positive. That the sun will always emerge through the dark. The seed will become a flower.

While I alone cannot bring the world to calm down, I am in a position to create something beautiful and nurturing to give respite to myself and all others who come my way. Every garden has this transformative capability. It stands to reason that now more than ever, we need our gardens and parks.

For me personally, gardening has kept me sane, balanced. Be it a single pot, a window-box, a collection of African violets in a stand indoors or, a garden of any size, the very act of tending to plants will make you feel better. I promise.

Note: The ‘Colors Of Fall ‘ art show is on for two more weeks! Do please visit.

This week, I give you just two images to focus on. One is a photograph and the other a watercolor I did. Immerse yourself in them.Take deep breaths, allow the mind and body to relax. Let nature calm and comfort you.

‘Breathing Space’

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Yet Another Aha! Moment

Gardening is just what I do. What and how I do it feels like second nature. While I’ve undoubtedly learned much from my garden, I’m not always conscious of it. It’s only when I pause to think or appreciate the garden that I become aware of how much it teaches and guides me. As one goes about the day to day chores and demands of life, it’s easy to be caught up in the immediate without being mindful. Over the years, I’ve come to understand and depend upon the garden to open my mind and heart, to take instruction, seek counsel, solace and refuge, feel grateful, compassionate and a general sense of wellbeing. The garden continues to impart wisdom and I keep receiving. Yet, I’m guilty of taking it for granted. Till something occurs to nudge me out of my complacency.

I was talking to a group recently, when the topic of bulb planting came up. I tend to assume that everyone knows what I know. Especially if they belong to a garden club or similar organization. So, there I was saying that 700+ bulbs await planting in my garden, when I was asked about the details of this task. When they get put into the ground, how deep, where etc., It dawned on me that without the basic information, any task can be intimidating.

We spoke then of getting the bulbs, making selections, quantities, the process of planting and such. When it came to the necessity of a cooling period, I had my own Aha! moment. Over the course of this year, I’ve been working on a business project with a philanthropic purpose. Not being naturally business minded, the process is slow and the learning is tedious and frustrating. I’m impatient and want things to be straightforward. But business has many moving parts, it is not simple. There are deadlines and delays. I can deal with the former but the latter drives me crazy because it’s mostly out of my control. I have to depend on different parties to do the needful and they each have their own agendas and processes. Needless to say, it is slow going. Very slow.

I’m not complaining because I do appreciate the learning, other people’s skills and expertise blow my mind and the pleasure I get with each step forward. I just have a ways to go and I’d recently hit a roadblock. A detour is required and I must find it. Realistically, I’m looking at coming up with a different path altogether. It is all the usual ups and downs but for someone not schooled in business and marketing, it is annoying, upsetting and disheartening. Doing something for good should not be this hard!

In this state of mind, I was ripe for a lesson from nature. In speaking about bulb planting, I received my own lesson. Firstly, I was reminded that there is a correct season for everything. Then, given all the right conditions, taking care to do all the steps correctly, all I can do is step back and wait for matters to take their course and hopefully, produce the results one hopes for. Just as the bulbs, so full of promise, must be healthy, planted at the right time, to the right depth, in the right places and then given their optimum cooling or rest period to get properly ready for growing and blooming in the spring. I am not in control of everything. I must simply do my best and wait it out. Everything in its time. Preparation, perseverance, patience, perspective.

Note: The ‘Colors Of Fall’ art show is open! Do go take a look.

Enjoy the watercolor images of bulbs to look forward to next spring. Some of these watercolors are available in notecards and soft furnishings for the home. They make lovely gifts. All profits go to educate HIV girls at Mukta Jivan orphanage.

(c) 2019 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