April Agenda

Ah April! I love this month. With the garden waking up, every day unveils more flowers. A month full of promise and possibilities. And an urgency to get to all the seasonal chores in the garden.

To that end, I’m putting the to-do list here.

 Things To Do In April

1. Time to restart the compost pile! Give it a good stir and add fresh compostables. If you don’t have a composter, please do make or buy one.

2. Clean up all winter debris.

3. Can you believe weed patrol begins now? Be regular about it and you will always be on top of this chore.

4. Seedlings started indoors can be planted out once the soil has warmed up and has been well prepared for planting. Stay vigilant for spells of late frost. Keep cloches and fleece covers at hand.

5. Attend to the lawn. De- thatch, aerate, reseed and finally, fertilize with a good layer of compost.

6. Similarly, feed trees, shrubs and all garden beds with compost.

7. Remove burlap and other protection from plants and pots.

8. Divide overgrown perennials.

9. Plant summer-flowering bulbs.

10. Remove any dead, damaged or diseased stems/branches from roses, other shrubs and trees.

11. Start using an organic control to put off slugs and snails.

12. Put out nesting material such as wool, moss, cotton string, shredded paper, small twigs, feathers and hay for the birds. Nothing synthetic please!

13. Uncover the outdoor furniture and give them a good cleaning. Now you’re prepared for the first truly warm day!

14. Plant or move evergreen shrubs and conifers.

15. Take the time to revel in the beauty of the bulbs and other plants in bloom. They and you deserve this moment.

Get to it!

Note: Have you registered to come to my Garden’s Open Day? Do please! Tickets must be purchased online only. Saturday May 14 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Lawn service! Removing thatch, aerating, reseeding,

Lawn reseeding

Starting seeds for summer

Planting spring window boxxes

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

March Moves

Can’t you just feel the approach of spring? The light feels brighter and days are distinctly longer. As the sap rises in the trees and the buds begin to swell, the pulse quickens and spirits soar. It’s time to get moving in the garden!

Things To Do This Month

  1. Cut some forsythia and pussy willow branches for indoor forcing. Place in water and keep in a cool place until the buds are swollen. Then move them to a location where they can be viewed as the blooms burst forth. A lovely prelude to spring.

  2. As snow melts, start clean up process. Twigs and other debris can be removed. Protect the still wet areas of grass and beds by first placing cardboard or wood planks and stepping on those instead. They help distribute the weight better.

  3. Later in the month, remove protective burlap and/or plastic wrappings and wind breaks.

  4. Get tools sharpened. This includes the mower blades.

  5. Commence indoor seed sowing. Begin with the early, cool weather crops. Read seed packet instructions and calculate dates for planting out.

  6. Order plants that will be required for the garden as soon as the ground has warmed up. Let your local nursery know your needs – they will inform you know when shipments arrive.

  7. As soon as possible, once snow is all gone and soil has thawed, spread compost on all the beds including the vegetable plot.

  8. Finish pruning fruit trees, grape vines and roses early in the month.

  9. Take an inventory and stock up on whatever is lacking. Soil, gloves, mulch, stakes, twine, tools, water retaining crystals, grass seed, pots, hoses etc.,

  10. Survey the garden and see what needs replacing, repairing or painting. Schedule and do the needful.

  11. Start bringing out or uncovering outdoor furniture. It’ll soon be time to linger outdoors!

  12. Get Open Days directory from Garden Conservancy – www.gardenconservancy.org. Mark your calendars to visit beautiful gardens in your area. Come to my Open Day on May 14 between 10 am and 4 pm. I’m looking forward to seeing you!

Let’s get on with it.

Current glimpses of what’s doing in my garden –

Swelling buds on climbing hydrangea

Snowdrops braving the snow

Hyacinths coming along indoors

My watercolor of a snowdrop

Forced bulbs from a past year

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

February Foward

I’m currently enjoying some mild temperatures in Mumbai. While this is not a vacation per se it still feels good to get a bit of warmth. For reading material, I’d brought my rather large stack of garden related periodicals with the sincere intent to get through them all. Progress has been slow. But the two I’ve read thus far have certainly jolted me out of my winter induced stupor. It’s time to jump into action – seeds to get started, pruning of fruit trees, list of plants to acquire, repairs and/or replacements to be made and various other odds and ends.

Closely following the big snowstorm that blasted the northeast over the past weekend, I confess to selfishly hoping my little garden would be spared any damage. About 7 inches of snow fell – enough to be an event but certainly nowhere near a calamity. I breathed a sigh of relief because worrying from a distance is always more stressful. The imagination can be cruel.

Meanwhile, my lovely English gardening magazines reminded me that the winter aconites and snowdrops are up and blooming in their part of the world. So, here I am in 80 degree weather, reading about spring awakening in the UK and snow blanketing my garden back home. All together a bit confusing. I’m itching to get started on preparations for spring but know it is really not yet time – the feeling of urgency is only because those pretty pictures of early bulbs and seed flats full of seedlings are making me think I must be behind schedule. The pleasant warmth I find myself in only augments the sense of being tardy.

I get back home in about ten days. At that time, the hyacinths cooling in the refrigerator will be brought out and forced. That’s the sort of early spring that will actually be happening. Towards the end of the month, if weather permits and barring mounds of snow preventing moving around the garden, the fruit trees, grapevines and roses will be pruned. As March rolls up, seeds will be started. I’m eagerly awaiting the rather charming cart ordered from @gardeners – a metal number in cheery yellow with a grow light system to coax seeds to unleash their potential in the lower shelf. The top shelf I have assigned for reviving the small topiaries that get weary of the greenhouse by this time. I plan to station the cart somewhere in the house where I can monitor it closely and gaze fondly at the seedlings as they emerge. And the sunny color will surely banish any and all grumpiness.

All good things to anticipate. February doesn’t look so bleak after all.

In the greenhouse right now. (I get updates on request!)

In bloom right now

Hyacinth forcing 2021

A few of the seed sources

How cute is this cart?!

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Start Me Up

Day 4 of 2022 and it is finally feeling like winter. On January 1, it was a balmy 60 degrees. Given all the ‘unprecedented’ and ‘record weather’ events, it tells me to expect more of the unexpected. And we must be prepared to pivot, remain flexible and possibly most importantly, adapt to circumstances.

Meanwhile, I’m getting on with the January garden chores. Here’s to 2022 – may we and our gardens thrive and spread goodness all around.

Things To Do In January

  1. Survey the garden after every storm or snowfall. If any damage such as broken branches or torn off protection has occurred, try to fix it as soon as possible. Likewise, large icicles hanging from roof edges pose a threat to plants below: shield the plants if the icicles cannot be removed.

  2. Take down holiday decorations. Before disposing off the Christmas tree, cut branches to spread as mulch on flower beds.

  3. Keep bird feeders full. Whenever possible, keep water available for the birds.

  4. Inspect stored tubers, corms and bulbs for signs of mold and rot. Get rid of any that don’t look healthy.

  5. This is a good time to examine the ‘bones’ of the garden. Make notes of what needs developing, changing or improving.

  6. Make icy paths safe by sprinkling sand or grit. Avoid toxic de-icing products.

  7. If ground is wet/soggy, take care to protect the sodden areas by not walking on it too much. Better yet, protect it by putting down a temporary path of wood planks.

  8. Take an inventory of garden tools. Get them repaired, replaced or sharpened.

  9. Gather up seed and plant catalogs. Start planning for the coming season.

  10. Begin forcing the bulbs kept cool since late fall. Time to start an indoor spring!

  11. Keep an eye on indoor plants ( in the house or greenhouse). Inspect carefully for signs of pests or disease. Act right away if either is detected. Organic practices only please.

  12. Still on indoor plants: water as needed, rotate for uniform light exposure, fertilize every two to four weeks. Remove dead or yellowing leaves.

  13. Enjoy the respite offered by this cold month.

Note: I have a painting in a global show online. Please do take look – it’s on Human Rights and there are some powerful works.The exhibition duration is from December 19 2021 till January 23, 2021.

If you like my work, do ‘like’ it and leave a comment. And spread the word to others! I’d love for a gallery to take note and give me the opportunity to exhibit the whole series. Your help in publicizing is much appreciated – Thank you!

Here’s what’s doing in and out of my garden –

Pumpkins saved from the fall for still life painting!

Watercolor

Amaryllis

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

On Retrospection

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks going through 18 years worth of photos of my garden. That’s thousands of images. I was doing this to select my images for the talk I’m giving tonight. At times, my eyes would glaze over and I’d have to take a break to look at things that were entirely unrelated to plants. But, overall, it was a very good experience.

Seeing the timeline of how my garden has evolved was revealing in many ways. For one, I recognized how I have grown as a gardener – beliefs and principles that I started out with were strengthened. I matured so I got bold and authentic to create something that is genuinely reflective of who I am.

The garden has transformed slowly to emerge as a place where lots goes on and yet offers ample opportunities for calm and respite.

In looking through the photos year by year and month by month, I could see clearly how weather and climate have a direct impact. The amount of exposure to light has changed as surrounding trees have grown or been lost. With experience, my own tastes have been refined. I’ve learned so much.

And with age, I’ve developed strong opinions for those who garden without regard to the environment and climate change. My garden has developed into one that is vibrant, playful, beautiful, a bit wild and conveys an eco-concious sensibility.

Along with all the highs that the photos showed me, I was also reminded of the mistakes, failures, calamities. Some were mine and some were Mother Nature’s. These are what taught me the most. I’m no longer concerned about something failing or about how that failure will be viewed by others. I’m willing to try things out, experiment and see how it goes. As long as one’s intentions are to support the environment with sensitivity and care, a gardener is free to express herself honestly. That means we shouldn’t be gardening to impress, suppress or transgress. Instead, garden to make progress.

Word play aside, gardeners have an obligation to do right.

Back to my retrospection.

At the end of each gardening season, like most gardeners, I review what worked and what didn’t that year. And I resolve to do better the following year.

Looking through almost two decades of gardening, I saw how developments in my own (personal and professional) life influenced matters. As I got busy with things outside the garden, I neglected due diligence on pest management. Since only organic measures are practiced here, this is more significant than it sounds. It’s not merely a casual oversight when timely services are skipped. This could allow pests to thrive or plants to struggle depending on what was not done. Case in point, the time and temperature sensitive treatments that are required by the fruit trees. Along with good weather and ideal pollinator populations, these trees need to be fed and protected correctly. A lapse on my part can make trouble for them. And on certain years it has.

Confronting and owning my dereliction of duty has been humbling. I see how easily I blamed the weather instead. I’m resolved to doing better – by slowing down the hectic pace, simplifying things so I’m functioning with purpose and clarity and reintroducing myself to what used to give me such joy in managing my garden.

I believe we are all overdue for a proper dose of retrospection. In all areas of life.

I’m sharing just two pairs of photographs to show  some of the transformation that has occurred in my garden:

1992

1992

2021

2021

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Timely Tasks

It’s been a hectic pace in the garden. I spent the weekend entirely attending to seasonal demands. The tiny greenhouse is now packed to to the gills with the tender members of the garden. Taking advantage of the extended warm weather, I took my time to carefully trim and clean all the plants (and pots) before moving them into this prime space.

With some of the clippings, I started root cuttings. A nice variety of various geraniums both fancy leaved and scented, bay, rosemary, boxwood, myrtle, plumbago (an experiment) and Dichondra. Little bundles of bouquet garni were made with more clippings of bay, rosemary and thyme – they will be used through the winter to flavor hearty stews, soups and sauces. I made several batches of nasturtium pesto to freeze and some bottles of rose-geranium lemonade.

All the snakeroot was pulled out – this native is simply too aggressive. It had spread itself all over and was choking any plant that got in its way. A true thug. With the removal, I could feel the garden give a sigh of relief.

In comparison, the ornamental raspberry seemed almost shy. Almost. That got ruthlessly edited but not eliminated. A small bit was left in the meadow and will be monitored closely so as not to let it get unruly again. In the newly opened up space, I’ll add asters and other well-behaved natives.

A weed patrol was also conducted. They too take advantage of unseasonable warmth but I’m determined to prevent any of them setting seed. I know weeds are wily things yet hope springs eternal.

As other pots are relieved of their annual contents, they are washed, dried and stored away. It’s a lot of effort but so important for plant hygiene. Come spring, I’m always thankful for the work I did in the fall. With pots clean and ready, it is so pleasurable to get them planted whilst waiting for the plants in the ground to catch up.

All the discarded potting soil,clippings and fallen leaves mean the compost pile in the woods is well fed in autumn. Each spring, it is such pleasure to get rich compost from there. If you haven’t got a composter set up, this is a good time to begin.

Finally, for fun, a pumpkin witch and her cat took up residence in the front garden. Just in time for Halloween. Already they’ve become quite popular and the subject of many photographers as they pass by. Halloween was such a sorry affair last year that I wanted to do my part in making this year much better.

Made up of pumpkins/gourds and other garden materials, they will retire in total to the compost heap after the holiday. Win-win for all.

Full disclosure – I’m also hoping to set an example by demonstrating that using natural, compostable materials is environmentally responsible and can still be fun and creative.

Note : One week to go before my PHS talk! Don’t forget to sign up!

Natural born witch and cat by day.

By night

Clipping, cleaning and washing in progress

Awaiting propagation

A load of leaves headed to the compost

Bouquet garni ready for use

Rose-geranium lemon cordial and nasturtium pesto

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Go Forth And Propagate!

I’m propagating this week. A bit behind schedule but then so is the season. Earlier in the year, whilst giving the boxwood and myrtle topiaries a trim, I started some cuttings which have taken root and seem to be doing well. So my focus now is on doing the same with scented geraniums, rosemary and bay. I’ve had good success with them over the years – great returns for minimal effort. A piece of stem bearing a couple of leaves and cut just above a leaf node inserted into moist potting soil is all that’s required. Monitor the pot and you know roots have been set when you see new growth. While it is not absolutely necessary, just to be on the safe side, I dip the cut end in rooting hormone powder before putting it in the soil.

This year, I fell in love with Dichondra Silver ponysfoot. It seems just as easy to propagate – Dig out some pieces of stem with roots attached and replant in potting soil. Keep moist and when it shows new growth, it can be relocated wherever desired. And I do desire greatly!

Other propagation to do is by division. Some of the heirloom irises are on top of the list. They were given to me by a friend when I first started on my present garden many moons ago. Gifts from other gardeners are always so precious. There are ferns, heuchera. Echinacea and asters that also need to be divided and replanted.

Meanwhile, the ornamental raspberry, native anemone and snakeroot need to be ruthlessly thinned out. They are aggressive so I’m not sure if I should give any away or simply toss the lot onto the compost heap. The pink turtleheads have self-seeded happily so some of those young plants will be pulled out and potted to give away.

The cardinal vines and plumbago were such a joy this year that I’m looking io generate more. Should I simply cut the plants back, dig up, split up and pot up? Can cuttings be rooted? Or is starting from seeds the best? Something to learn!

Friends have already stopped by and helped themselves to various seeds straight from the plants. What remains are for the birds. I’m not saving any seeds this year as I’m relying on self-seeded surprises.

Propagation. It’s a good thing.

Note: Click here for details on my upcoming talk to the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society.

Rooting cuttings

Dichondra looking lovely

Plumbago

A bed completely overrun by snakeroot

Fall in the meadow

The ornamental raspberry in the foreground tends to eclipse its neighbors

Vertical garden has that tapestry vibe

Nasturtium looking pretty

Snakeroot (Ageratina) throttling R. Boscobel

Asters gone wild!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Weather Perfect


Since last Friday, we have enjoyed some amazing weather here. Sparkling with sunshine, blue skies and just right temperatures for spending days comfortably outdoors and nights under cozy blankets but with windows wise open. It truly doesn’t get better than this. Delicious is the best word to describe how I feel.

The garden has perked up too. Despite the shift in light and temperature that hints at the change in season, the plants are not ready to give in. They continue to bloom like its still summer and even the leaves remain a vibrant green. For certain, we’re behind in the fall-color schedule. Given the unpredictable pattern of the seasons this year, I’m not complaining. Instead, I’m determined to revel in the current gift of sublime weather.

Slowly, okay reluctantly, the fall tasks are being approached. First in line is the greenhouse – it needs emptying and a thorough cleaning. Until this is done, the tender perennials in pots cannot be clipped,, cleaned and moved into it. The tomatoes in the greenhouse are still doing well so the pots have been shifted outside where they can continue to ripen. Bereft of contents, the greenhouse now awaits a thorough ablution. I actually enjoy this task. Working with water means getting wet and that prevents me from feeling hot from the exertion. There’s a certain childlike fun to be had here – splashing, spraying, scrubbing. It helps enormously to undertake this chore when the day is dry and sunny so the interior can dry completely and quickly. Working in the garden that is still looking wildly voluptuous is a beautiful bonus.

Whilst the greenhouse is drying, I start on the plants that will be residing in the greenhouse through the winter. After an elimination of all dead, weak and unsightly limbs or leaves and a general trim to restore shape, every plant and pot receives a good bath to remove dust, debris and any pesky interloper. Once dry, they are moved and arranged in their winter quarters.

This is what I’m focusing on this week. Apart from some rain today, the days are expected to meet the requirements for the task. And I’m very ready. Cleanser, water, action!

Note: The images below are some of the spaces I’ve visited in the past week:

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

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