September Self-Care

September

September slips in

quiet, unnoticed

Whispers softly

I’m here to take Summer down!”

Bit by bit the garden succumbs.

Shobha Vanchiswar

September II

September curls cool tendrils

soothing sun bright flowers

weary and worn

from a wild summer.

Shobha Vanchiswar

I’m taking it slow this month. Just the essential chores. Nothing else. After a summer that was less than stellar, I’ve decided to give myself September to be in the garden simply to enjoy everything. I want to listen to the birds and distinguish their songs, let the hum of the bees lull me into a pleasant nap, follow the butterflies as they flit from flower to flower. I’m going to use this time to examine the flowers closely as though I’ve never done it before. Observe the daily changes in the ripening seedpods and be present when they burst open to release the next generation primed for continuity. As the light grows soft and low, I will soak in as much the sunshine as the hours allow. During the day, I will paint and read and stare in the garden and, when darkness descends, I’ll remain to dance with the last of the fireflies. This is my idea of self-care. Self-Care September.

Note : Click here for garden chores in September.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Complaint Box

It feels as though I haven’t as yet got into a summer state of living. Admittedly, my trip to Mumbai swallowed up a few weeks of the season but, that shouldn’t get in the way of feeling it. I put the blame squarely on the weather. It has been way too hot and oppressive to enjoy the days as we’d like. I measure my level of participation by the amount of time I spend in the garden – eagerly and with pleasure.

Typically for me, summer days in the garden are best savored in the early hours of the morning and late afternoon into the evening. High temperatures and humidity do me in so, I avoid those mid-day hours. This year, it’s been unprecedentedly hot and muggy even in those ‘bookend’ hours. I have found it really difficult to work in the garden. As for lingering and simply reveling in the garden goings on, it’s been unbearable. In addition, the biting bugs are in abundance and attack immediately. Using repellents when the skin is already sweaty and hot is not at all pleasant. As a result, time in the garden has been reduced to the bare minimum – just enough to get routine chores done. I deeply miss being able to live in the garden. From dawn to dusk.

Returning home after time away has presented an abundance of work. The garden had run amok. And it has been really challenging to bring back some order. As I’d mentioned last week, I have a deadline. The Digging Deeper event is this coming Sunday and like every self-respecting gardener, I want my garden to look its seasonal best. Last week’s heat put paid to any garden work. Working in temperatures in the high 90s but felt like the 100s would’ve been downright dangerous. So I took care of myriad indoor tasks. The weekend ended up being a marathon of chores. The family rallied like champions. Much got done. Pruning, trimming, weeding, editing, clearing, thinning – it felt endless. Yet, much remains and the clock is ticking as once again, the weather is going to get unpleasant.

In the end, after our best efforts, matters will be what they’ll be. And all who attend on Sunday will surely understand because they are all gardeners. I fully expect all to empathize and eagerly anticipate some commiseration on how this summer has been less than ideal. Misery loves company after all.

Note; With a view to Digging Deeper, I’m sharing images of the espalier fence and the vertical garden. Sign up if you want to learn how to add these features to your own gardens!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Givings

Last week was mostly cool and wet. As much as I was grateful for the rain, by the end of the week I was so done with it. The cool temperatures I can take as it prolongs the blooms and consequently the season I love so much. But the rain essentially precluded any satisfying time spent in the garden. Without a daily ‘fix’ of garden time, I tend to be a bit of a grump.

Mercifully, this week will not be as wet.

The apple blossoms that were looking so promising a week ago, have been put paid to by both the rain and the lower than normal temperatures. I doubt any bees braved the cold and bothered visiting the few flowers in bloom. The remaining buds didn’t have a chance. I’m so disappointed. I’d intended to stand in for the bees by hand pollinating with a paint brush but the rain made that impossible. Once again, there will be barely any apples this year. Hopefully the pears have fared better.

It’s funny how despite setbacks in the garden, a gardener always finds something to keep positive. Without optimism and faith in a better tomorrow, gardening of any kind would not be possible.

The tulips are looking stunning at present. The cool weather is in their favor so I’m hoping for them to linger on much longer. After all the hard work of planting them in the fall, it’s only right that we get the pleasure of the flowers for as long as possible. The alliums are getting ready to take over from the tulips and I’m already full of the excitement that comes with the anticipation for that glorious parade.

In the checkerboard garden, the Phlox subulata are beginning their annual show. It starts with a smattering of flowers and then builds to a full force that takes the breath away. Again, that build up of the excitement is pure joy. Short bloom time notwithstanding, it never fails to make me happy.

The hummingbirds are back and I’ve resumed my habit of loitering around in the vicinity of the feeder because I cannot get enough of watching them. One would think I’d take my cue from how hard these birds work and get on with my own but instead, I find every reason I can to position myself such that I can spy on them at length. A hugely satisfying, not-so-guilty pleasure while garden chores remain undone.

Weeding has commenced in earnest. The rain is a double edged sword – it enthusiastically promotes the weed growth and it also makes removing the weeds more easy. To stay on top of them, an alternate day regime is de rigueur.

There are a couple of shrubs to plant this week – purchases from TeaTown Lake Reservation’s annual PlantFest that happened this past weekend. I ordered them knowing exactly where they needed to be installed in the garden.

However, on a separate foray, also this past weekend, I made an impulse purchase. I fell in lust with an espaliered magnolia tree. It’s about a couple of years old and trained in a fan shape – I can imagine it looking spectacular all year round against a wall. Some years ago, I’d seen a pair of impressive, espaliered magnolias growing against a building at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Clearly, the image has stayed on my mind. Where exactly I’m going to plant this new acquisition is not at all apparent. My greed for plants has clearly got the better of me. I’m fervently asking the Universe to show me the ideal ( and available) site as soon as possible before the spouse tells me that I should’ve heeded his words discouraging me from making the purchase.

If my past record is anything to go by, I shall prevail. I hope.

Ha. There’s that gardener’s inimitable optimism again.

Note: I’m speaking at the reception for the ‘Color Blind’ art show this Friday, May 14 at 5:30 EST. I hope you will join on May 14th on Zoom for Color Blind –  a presentation of a selection of fine art and creative voices from CT, NY, and NJ and a brief conversation on the topic of “symbols of liberation, resistance, and empowerment”.  Registration is required.

Arts Westchester Show’ Together ApArt.’ May 7 – August 3. Free but appointment required. In-person viewing starts May 7. It can also be viewed online. Though, there’s nothing quite like viewing art in person right?!
 
New York Affordable Arts Fair ( New York Art Students League booth) 20-23 May. Buy tickets online. Tickets are going fast!
 
Katonah Museum Artist Association presents ‘Ricochet’. Online show. May 15 – June 13.
 
Do not forget! My garden’s Open Day is June 5. Digging Deeper on August 22. Preregistration required for both.
 
Back to garden images –

The new magnolia

Alliums getting ready in the meadow

Checkerboard garden with phlox

Hummingbird returns!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswaro_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

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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Quick March!

Last week was as though Winter had dug in her heels and wasn’t going to budge and then the weekend arrived with Spring at full throttle. It was glorious. Galvanized me into action.

During that wintry spell, I spent my time in the garden doing clean up work. Area by area, each day I helped the garden shed itself of winter debris – twigs and broken branches scattered around, bits of paper and plastic blown in. Half the garden looks so much neater now. Still have the other half to go. I’ve told myself to remember the lessons from Lockdown 2020 – take the time to work mindfully. It was such a pleasure to do the chores last year without time pressure. Both, the garden and I, benefited enormously.

I’ve been hardening off the sweetpea seedlings and this week I shall plant them out. Bulbs planted in pots and wintered over in a sheltered spot have been moved to where they can be viewed – they are coming along nicely. I feel the quickening of my pulse knowing I’ll be seeing the pots in bloom well before their counterparts in the ground.

The stratified columbines sown in seed pots are yet to show any sign of awakening but I’m hopeful. Patience not being a virtue of mine makes me check on them way too often. Later this week, I’ll get the nasturtium and micro-greens going.

Over the weekend, I pruned the roses and secured the limbs of the climbers. While the oak-leaf hydrangea do not get pruned in spring since the flowers are borne on old wood, they’d suffered significant snow damage. Several limbs had been broken and a trimming, tidying up was performed. The H. paniculata however, was given a severe pruning. Until now I’d been giving it a little trim but felt emboldened this year to do a good chop. Lets hope the plant rewards the torture with a splendid showing of blooms.

On cleaning out the birdhouse in this area, it was so interesting to see how the nest was built and what materials were chosen. I wonder if the sparrows that moved in after the wrens made any changes as we humans tend to do when we move into new quarters.

I want to emphasize that one must wear a good mask when doing this task as it is possible to breathe in particulates and microbes that can cause serious lung disease.

In cleaning up in the meadow, we noticed the ivy from the neighbors property had made great progress in here. That was dealt with but clearly this will be an ongoing job.

Along the side pathway, the peony rings were put in place since the grapevine prunings were awaiting re-purposing in being wound around the rings as I cannot permit the mechanics to show and distract from the flowers. I use the grapevine prunings to conceal the ugliness of a pipe railing that is set into a retaining wall as well.

Routine repair work on the front fence was begun – it’ll be in tip-top shape by the coming weekend. There are of course other things needing fixing in the wings but I’m just glad to be doing the jobs systematically. Slowly but surely.

A mason bee house was put up near the fruit espalier and I cannot express how fervently I’m praying for it to be duly occupied. Having the bees around when the apple and pear blossoms open is so critical.

The new bird house for the front garden goes up this week. It’s all about getting ready for the birds and the bees!

To be working in the garden once again, is not only life affirming but there is a profound sense of gratitude. After the year gone by, being present to witness this spring fills me with unparalleled joy and humility. I’m sure you agree.

Note: Due to Covid restrictions, the Garden Conservancy has moved my garden’s Open Day to June 5. Mark your calendars!

Mother’s Day is coming up. Do shop from the beautiful selections in the Printed Garden Collection. 50% of the profits go to the ACLU – an organization working very hard to right so many wrongs across the country. They really need all the support they can get.

Old nest in the birdhouse

Bulbs potted up in November 2020

Bee house on the ready

Grapevine after the pruning

Awaiting the sweetpeas. This reminds me of a natural looking harp!

Grid showing where I planted sedge last fall

Tidied up front beds

Snowdrops coming up everywhere

(c) 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

In The Beginning …

The first week of a brand new year. Much hope and expectations rests on it. Everything will be better, bigger, brighter. Gardeners have a bit of an edge here. We are after all, an optimistic lot. Practical too. Never mind the countless plants that died on our watch, the misdemeanors of the weather that put paid to plans and designs or, the times pests took control away from us. We not only carry on but our determination to succeed gets stronger. It’s not because we simply repeat our efforts but that we are good learners.

Gardeners are students of life. We observe, experiment, record, research all the time. We share information freely, heed advice from the experienced. We are constantly collecting and collating information (not on paper but mostly in our heads ). And then, we boldly go and garden our hearts out.

At the start of a new year, in the icy grip of winter, I’m grateful for the time to look back at the past year, review what was successful and what was not. Importantly, I note why. If something I specifically did to make it go either way, I learn what I must change. If however a cool spell kept pollinators away and the apple blossoms went unpollinated and so couldn’t bear fruit, I just accept that it was not in my control.

However, I also dream big at this time. This year, I tell myself , my garden will be brilliant. I will be brilliant. Seeds will be ordered and started on time. Planting, weeding, digging, pruning, deadheading, dividing, watering – every task will be done properly and regularly. And I’m going to do them all perfectly. I can see this amazing garden so clearly! Thriving through the seasons, blooming exuberantly and on time, providing fruit and vegetables in abundance, free of pests, weeds and bad weather.

I know at the same time that I’m merely dreaming of the impossible, reaching for the unreachable. Life is never that straightforward. I’ll get in my own way, the weather will not cooperate and the unpredictable will necessarily disrupt plans. The beauty of this is that, no matter what, the garden will still grow and do its best. And as a good learner, so must I.

In that spirit, I’m beginning the year by getting my gardening calendar organized. For years I had a new year’s day ritual of filling out a physical calendar – obviously started in a time before electronic devices. I realized last year, that I missed my old calendar where I could readily see what chores were scheduled every day. I’m unable to say exactly why I feel the need to revert but I am. I’m now armed with all my garden chores and plans listed and scheduled both on the calendar sent by the Nature Conservancy as well as the ones on my laptop and phone.

Some seed packets have arrived and I await a few more. Seed starting pots, trays and medium are ready and waiting. I’d written about acquiring self-watering pots for tomatoes and other veggies – it’s been done! Three of them arrived last week. Later in the week, I’ll home in on other plants to purchase and source and order them from my favorite local or specialist nursery in time for spring planting. Tools will be sharpened, stakes, ties and twine stocked, leaky watering hoses and cans replaced. To be prepared is half the victory.

Indeed, in the beginning, hope and resolve reign.

Note: While we continue in anxiety filled circumstances, let’s remember that we’re all in this together. As we work in the garden, we will dig ourselves out of these times and emerge stronger. But first, lets be there for each other.

I share with you a few of my recent watercolors of seed heads and pods. They are full of promise for a future full of potential, possibilities and prosperity.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Bedding Down

As I did my chores in the garden this past week, it felt as though there’s much more to do in the fall than in the spring. In a way, this is probably true as a good deal of the work is about getting the garden ready for the spring. Clearing, cleaning up and cutting back right now makes spring so very enjoyable.

But what makes it feel pressured is that having prolonged our pleasure in the garden and delayed the tasks for as long as possible, we now have to get everything done before it gets too cold. Get the tender plants clipped, cleaned and moved indoors before the first frost. Finish harvesting the last of the vegetables and herbs for the same reason. Pull up spent annuals, empty, wash and clean pots. Once dry, put away the pots. Protect other plants and immovable features like statuary. Clean and store outdoor furniture.

Add new plants to the garden. Divide and replant others. Mulch everything. There’s removal, repair and replacement work, It feels endless!

And then there is the bulb planting. It’s a big deal in my garden and it gets harder every year. With almost 2000 bulbs to plant this coming weekend, I’ve called for reinforcements. Daughter and nephew will be joining the effort. I cannot tell you how relieved I am to have their assistance.

Finally, whatever was harvested must be dealt with. Drying, cooking, freezing, canning big time. It’s the last push before one can sit back and catch a breath. But so worth it. The flavors and fragrances of summer will infuse the winter comfortingly.

In my garden, all of this happens over about three weeks. We take on the chores in a divide and conquer kind of way. But one thing is clear – I am the project manager. I have a list, a strategy and a have very clear idea of how the jobs are to be done. Being well organized is super-important. Over the years some minor mutinies have been crushed and slipshod efforts called out.

This year, it has been so much calmer. It’s been possible to be systematic and give proper time and attention to every task. Doing something well is hugely satisfying. It’s because this year, no member of the very small team of three had a pressing social/cultural calendar! And I rediscovered why I love gardening so much – this must be what renewing ones wedding vows must feel like.

I’ve made a note to self – when the world opens up again, do not schedule anything else for the weeks of fall gardening.

The value of being present for each job cannot be overstated. It’s energizing to be so engaged. The intimacy of tending the plants is therapeutic. It’s funny how in doing what we think of as taking care of the health of the plants and the garden as a whole ends up being good for our own well-being.

Note: My painting ‘This Land Is Made OF You And Me’ is in the art show “Sunrise And Solidarity” – Art inspired by BIPOC in Westchester at the Art Closet Gallery, Chappaqua, NY in conjunction with the Town of New Castle’s Council For Race Equity. Art for social justice. The show will in part benefit Showing Up For Racial Justice Westchester Chapter. You can visit in person or on-line. Either way, please take a look!

Herb harvest for winter feasts.

Vertical garden still looking lush and lovely

Greenhouse is fully occupied

One more ‘party’ while the weather is still good.

Autumn Beauty

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

October, Oh My!

Last week was wild if anything. Full of the unexpected, shocks, surprises and pivots. We are all trying to process the events. It’s made me that much more aware of how fragile life is and how much we need to step back, regroup, reassess and reevaluate the hows, whys and whats of ourselves. It’s an ongoing effort to be and do better.

That’s pretty much the same in the garden. October is an excellent time to consider our gardens. How, why and what we do in them has far reaching effects. Now is the season to divide, remove, plant and reconfigure. Make the garden a haven for all – a place of refuge, relief and reflection. I firmly believe that a garden should mirror ones own personality and philosophy in life.

In my garden this week it’s about beating the retreat. All the tender perennials will start making their way back indoors to the greenhouse, basement or living quarters of the house. The greenhouse has been washed and cleaned. Before the plants get moved to their winter residence, they are clipped and trimmed, washed well to remove dust, debris and any bugs hanging around. It’s a real process and best done with attention and patience. Hygiene matters.

While it is easy to get caught up in the chores, I’m determined to take the time to appreciate the uniquely stunning beauty of October. The last of the summer flowers mingling with autumn blooms, the butterflies and bees making their rounds before long migratory journeys or months of hibernation, leaves turning colors that make the garden glow, strikingly beautiful seed heads and pods revealing future potential and possibilities, harvesting fruits and vegetables sweetened by the crisp chill. Nature offers up gifts all the time but none more varied and bountiful than at this time of year.

Taking the time to pause and absorb the natural beauty all around is unquestionably the best medicine during these particularly turbulent times.

Note: I hope you have registered to vote and have obtained the necessary information and/or materials to vote by mail/ early in person/ on election day.

Here are some images of what I’m enjoying in the garden:

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Projects Positive

In a year rife with crises and challenges, it’s been a struggle to be positive. As I’ve said all along, the garden has singularly kept me hopeful and sane. It is impossible to tend a garden without the trust that tomorrow will be better.

With unexpected time on hand, I’ve been able to contemplate parts of the garden that are being underutilized and need work. These are not necessarily new observations but ones that have been ignored or put off due to lack of time or motivation. This year, the excuses stopped working.

Two areas needed to be addressed and I’ve called them Projects Positive – they move the garden in the right direction and align even more with my values about the environment and sustainability.

The first area needing attention was the very back of the lower garden where the ‘meadow’ dominates. This roughly 7×40 foot space along the property line buffers the meadow from the woods. Over the years, I’d added some native shrubs and an Amalanchier tree but it remained inconsequential. It had no real role to play. To make it worse, the groundcover was pachysandra that had been there for decades and was therefore very thickly established. The very thought of getting it all out had been the reason I let it remain. Until this year.

With Open Day canceled, I was at liberty to tackle spring work that typically would’ve interfered with getting the garden ‘visitor ready’. So, out went the pachysandra. That was really hard work – the growth was tight and thick and the roots ran deep. I had to get the able help of Ephraim our occasional garden assistant.

Following the pachysandra purge, layers of paper and cardboard ( recycling hack) were put down to smother any pachysandra still lurking around. The paper will eventually breakdown and supplement the soil. Over the paper, we laid down landscape fabric to act as a further deterrent.

Pachysandra can be persistent. I’m certain bit and pieces of root remain and will put out growth so vigilance is called for – pull out as soon as they poke out.

Native Chrysogonum virginianum was planted to replace the pachysandra. It seemed like the correct choice of groundcover for this shady area. The yellow flowers should brighten the area next growing season. I’ve also added to the oakleaf hydrangea, Solomon’s seal, bleeding hearts, ferns and dogwood shrubs with several Fothergilla and Ceonothum. In time, the shrubs will grow, fill out the bed to seamlessly join the meadow and provide what I imagine will be a lovely visual tapestry of shapes, hues and texture. Not only will all the plantings attract the native pollinators, Fothergilla flowers have a fragrance which I believe will invite a person (mostly me) to pause a bit at the conveniently provided stone bench and enjoy the garden from this perspective. I want every bit of the garden to matter.

Having completed the plantings, pine bark mulch was spread all over the ground to conceal the black fabric and to keep moisture in. This latter point is important as the ground can get very dry very quickly.

The second project is also in the lower garden. On either side of the path to the greenhouse, there are good sized patches that I’d left without any deliberate plantings. Over the years, they would put on a brilliant spring show of forget-me-nots, dandelions and violas. A beautiful mix of blue, yellow and white. However once that show was over, they become areas of shabbiness. Not wild and engaging. Just messy and unattractive.

I’ve taken my time trying to figure out what to do – something that was different and yet segue ways smoothly into the meadow. This past weekend, after clearing the two areas, 350 plugs of Carex appalachia have been were planted in one and later this week, 450 more will go into the other. The native sedges will be low enough so as to never block the meadow plantings beyond. They will look natural and provide movement. In addition, several types of native butterflies will welcome the presence of their favored food.

A large number of Fritillaria meleagris has been ordered to augment these areas. In my minds eye, I can see the plum colored, checkered flowers bobbing happily over the sedges in the spring. And when the vernal sun casts its gaze, the whole ‘field’ will look ethereal. A fantasy.

Now you see why gardening is full of optimism? It gives us permission to dream.

May all our projects in life be positive.

Note: If, like me, you too have been deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved Notorious RBG, then you must want to continue her work in uplifting people and making matters equal for all. When I elected to support the ACLU by donating 50% of the profits from the Printed Garden products, it was because  of RBG’s work with that organization. I make a fervent appeal to each of you to please join me in carrying on her legacy. Because,’We the people’ should include every single individual.

Project 1:

Project 2: Observe how it all looks pretty in the spring but by early summer (photo 3), the area in the right foreground looks blah.

Flats of sedge

One side all planted up

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar