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

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

Clean-up Conundrum

The fall clean-up is underway. It always feels a little bit too early because the garden still looks as though it is not fully done with the season. Like a popular party girl reluctant to call it a night – hair now sexily disheveled, clothes sorta fetchingly rumpled, looking a bit tired but still enthusiastic and frankly, should be heading for bed before she embarrasses herself and passes out. I hold back on the drastic chop-down for as long as the weather will permit.

As much as I think it is nice to leave a good portion alone for winter visual interest and food for birds, I’ve found it to be a bit impractical. For access to plant the hundreds of bulbs amidst all the perennials, there needs to be serious cut back and clean up. Experience has shown that whatever is let to remain invariably gets smothered with the first snowfall.

At the end of it all, I’m left to bring everything to order in a hurry as the garden must get ready for Open Day in spring. It’s invariably a short window for planting and gussying up. Compelled to wait for the snow to melt, means the ground is too mushy and there’s danger of trampling over emerging growth. Besides, so much else needs doing and time is at a premium.

I do leave some ornamental grasses untouched just to ease my mind. In reality, the shrubs and trees around the property provide the birds with adequate shelter and whatever they enjoy foraging. The woods in the back are certainly a winter resort for all critters. The bird feeder merely supplements their diet. That is to say, the birds are well provided.

Visual interest in winter is actually provided by other elements in the garden. In the front, the perennial beds might be bare but the espalier owns the focus. Its geometrical design looks good throughout and a dusting of snow highlights it beautifully. The shadows that hit the ground in the low winter light is so extra – ephemeral art.

In the back, the grid design of the potager/herb garden looks fine at all times but it really steps up its game in the snow – especially as it is viewed from the house at a height. Ditto the checkerboard garden.

And in the meadow – this is a hub of avian layovers and flight paths. At any given time, there is some sort of activity going on – one just needs to slow down and watch.

The sculpture ‘Wind Song’ is a major presence all through the year but once the meadow has been given its annual clean up, it literally shines. The reflections and scattering of the sunlight and the shadows it casts make it a quiet performance art. I should have a camera set up to capture it throughout the cold months. Hmmm, this year, maybe I will.

Despite popular advice to keep plants untouched, I’m really quite comfortable to do the big clean-up in fall. There’s enough left in the garden for both birds and gardener to pass the winter peacefully. And, when springs comes around, I have a bit of a head start.

Note: The Untermyer Symposium ‘Restoring Historic Gardens’ is this Saturday, October 19. Hope you are coming!

The walkway
Note the shadows!
Herb garden
Checkerboard garden
“Wind Song”

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar