Press Reset

While I’ve given myself a garden hall pass this month, it doesn’t mean I’ve stopped thinking about all matters of gardening. It’s been really nice to do the bare minimum in the garden as the weather has improved – gives one the freedom to bask in the sunshine without guilt. That’s a really rare thing as gardeners are perpetually filled with guilt because there is always and forever several things wanting attention. Having decisively given myself permission to take it easy has been liberating. It’s so much more fun to be amidst the plants and observe the goings on sans reservation.

However, the mind is always working. In a good way. By letting the garden sort of do its own thing, I see how it’s quite apparent that we gardeners, need to reset our artistic expectations of our gardens. Rather than wielding a strict hand on the aesthetics, we must loosen up to work more with nature and changing climate. Our gardens should reflect an awareness of environmental and sustainable requirements, be sympathetic to the needs and habits of native flora and fauna.

I’ve often referred to my meadow as an area of controlled chaos. This is primarily because the native plants have a tendency to look wild as they are let to self-seed and edited only when a plant is trying to overpopulate itself in a thuggish manner. With the knowledge that the fittest, the ones most suited to the conditions offered here do best, I learn from the plants. As much as I might desire a more varied array of natives, and I’m willing to trial them all, I have learned to acquiesce to the workings of nature. What thrives supports a happy number of pollinators and is an ecologically beneficial environment. That is after all the whole point of what I have attempted.

On the other hand, I had originally designed the beds in the front garden to be more traditional – tidier and charming like a cottage garden. More in keeping with what might be universally appreciated by viewers from the street. This is pretty much still true through spring when the bulbs are the principal players. However, over the years, I have replaced the more demanding/cantankerous yet popular summer perennials with natives. I did so for two reasons – one was that the native plants are hardy, reliable and low maintenance. The other was to give a visitor a preview of what is to come as they gradually make their way to the meadow in the far back. Design-wise, it provided continuity instead of giving the garden a split personality. Consequently, the beds take on a wild look in summer and fall. But how they hum, buzz and flutter with pollinators! There is so much more life and movement than ever before.

Both, the front beds as well as the meadow don’t require watering except in times of severe dry spells. A dose of compost and cedar mulch keeps the front beds relatively weed free and helps the soil retain moisture longer. The meadow requires no such applications whatsoever. All in all, so much better for the environment as well as the gardener.

It’s true that many perennials peter out early. This point occurred to me every year until more recently I accepted that I must use annuals to fill in those gaps of color in certain places like the terrace and around the side porch. This is no different from the window-boxes and pots that are filled with annuals to pep up the aesthetics.

Keep in mind, those perennials that have finished blooming, continue to serve. The seed heads ripen and feed the birds and other creatures as they prepare for the cold season ahead. In addition, their intricate designs and shapes have inspired me to paint them. I have a wonderful series going!

Ultimately, the looser, wilder native plantings, respond best to the dire calls for longevity, sustainability and sound ecology while still looking beautiful. It really is time to reconsider our gardens and adapt our design sensibilities accordingly. A shift in mindset makes us winners all around.

Fall is a good time for planting native perennials – get cracking!

Note: Last Saturday, I visited the gardens at Hay Honey Farm in New Jersey. I was thrilled to see that they too have a meadow similar to mine and even the other borders have the same natural sensibilities as mine. Except, theirs are far more extensive and better maintained!

My wild show: One gardener’s paradise and anothers hell?!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Plant Perspective

Last Sunday was most wonderful. The day sparkled in September sunlight with comfortable temperatures and a promise of fun to come. I was scheduled to attend the plant sale at Hollister House in Washington. CT. Following a gap of almost two years, the anticipatory thrill felt new and yet, oh, so familiar!

This was no ordinary plant sale. You were not going to find the most trendy or popular plants. Small growers in the Northeast who specialize in the less common, the special, some rare and others just less known. Many native plants. Most importantly to me, for the most part, they’re grown in the open so they are proven to be hardy in this region. I had missed these plant sales and chatting with the growers themselves. Nothing like firsthand knowledge. For those who’re familiar with these purchasing opportunities know exactly how wonderful they are. So friendly, helpful and modest about their valuable work.

I went with no list or plan about buying anything. Honestly, I simply needed to be in the midst of such an event once again. However, knowing myself and certain that I’d come upon irresistible plants, I went armed with cash, checkbook and credit card. Sensible shoes too. I was not disappointed.

Note: not all vendors accept credit cards.

The sheer joy of being in a spectacular garden, seeing familiar faces and confronting the myriad plant possibilities made me giddy. Having a glass of wine in hand elevated the experience to sublime.

Chat and purchase I did. I bought some must-haves and some cannot-live-withouts. Heaven!

To get really serious for a moment, it is of the highest importance to champion our regional growers. Locally grown plants do better. Supporting these nurseries also means supporting the economy of where we live. Often, they grow plants that could be at risk of being lost or forgotten but are valuable to the preservation of native fauna and flora. I purchased two yellow Slipper orchids – they are hard to source so I was very pleased to find them here.

Many growers also offer interesting, special non-native treasures. Bear in mind, as long as about 70% of the plants in your garden are native/eco-beneficial, it is perfectly fine to have some non-native, non-invasive treasures. Case in point, I bought a new-to-me peony – P. obovata Japanese Pink. Take a look at their bright seedpods in the image below.

Simply put, these folk are vital to how and why we create gardens. Support them – they’re heroes. Look for similar plant sales or visit them directly. You will not regret it.

A word about Hollister House. It is a most wonderful garden that appeals to all the senses. The painterly color combinations, textures, fragrance, shapes, sounds of water and pollinators and, designs of the many rooms cannot fail to delight and instruct. My daughter who grew up being taken ( dragged she says) to many, many famous, fabulous, unique and also not so well-known gardens, declares Hollister House as the best garden she’s ever visited. Do check out their website and plan a visit.

Now, I must get into the garden to install my cache of new plants.

Some nurseries to check out:

McCueGardens – 47, Hartford Avenue, Weathersfield, CT 06109

Broken Arrow Nursery – www.brokenarrownursery.com

Cricket Hill Garden – www.crickethillgarden.com

Falls Village Flower Farm – www.fallsvillageflowerfarm.com

Note: Some images of the gardens at Hollister House and plant growers –

Seedpod of P odovata

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Homecoming

One of the first things I do on my return home from a trip, be it a few days or some weeks, is to get out into the garden and poke around. What’s in bloom, what’s not, assess the status of how things have withstood my absence and lack of care. I do this with a mixture of trepidation and excitement.

This past Friday was no different. As luck would have it, an early morning flight arrival meant there was plenty of time to unpack, put away, get settled and go survey the garden at leisure. With jet lag being the default gift of a long journey, it really helps to spend time outdoors getting some light and nature therapy.

The sight of the flowers in bloom is uplifting for sure. It gives the immediate reassurance that things are fine. But very quickly, the rampant growth of the plants has me alarmed – the garden has slowly morphed into a jungle! There’s a wildness to it that can only happen when there has been a great deal of rain, high temperature and lack of due diligence.

As I begin my methodical tour of inspection, I note the messiness of the unchecked growth. The aggressive members are stifling the more timid ones. It’ looks like a banner year for slugs – they’re ALL over the place. Ugh.

The persistently high humidity has encouraged mildew and black spot to move in with gusto. I observe a level of tiredness in some plants – as though they’ve been fighting less than ideal conditions for too long. Having myself just endured three weeks of unrelenting monsoon rains and high temperatures, I can totally empathize.

There’s much damage control to be done. Quite frankly, it’s a bit overwhelming. First order of business over the weekend, was to get the weeding done. It just feels good to know something positive has been initiated.

I’m now going to break up the long list of chores into smaller segments and then go about it systematically. There’s much to cut back, thin out, dig up, clean up and tidy. And, I have a deadline.

On August 22, I’m doing a Digger Deeper event for the Garden Conservancy. This is a masterclass of sorts. Informing and instructing, demystifying and sharing certain elements of gardening. In this case, espaliering and vertical gardening will be the two things that will be covered ( or is that uncovered?!).

As we all know, weather wise, it’s been a strange, unpredictable year. Things in the garden have not proceeded according to expectations. That’s something I cannot change. However, I can do everything else to make the attendees have a good experience in the most pleasing, agreeable surroundings.

So without further ado, I’m off to get started. Wish me luck please!

Note: If interested, you can still sign up for this Digging Deeper event. I understand there are a couple of tickets left.

The immediate survey on my return –

Cardinal vine has made it to the top of the pergola and mingling with the wisteria. Hope the hummingbirds are happy!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

August Aura

August Aurum

Rays so radiant, burnished bright

Sunflower faces beaming high

Solidago spreading yellow light

Peaches ripening as branches sigh

Flickering flames of Monarch flights

     Mantled in gold is August.

– Shobha Vanchiswar

Joy and gratitude in reuniting with my father notwithstanding, I miss my garden. The flowers that showed up and left, the butterflies that visited, imbibed and moved on, the nests that were built and occupied. Being cooped up in a city apartment has revealed most clearly just how much my garden contributes to my well-being. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no remorse in coming to Mumbai at such a difficult, scary time. My heart could simply not bear the forced separation from my father any longer. He and I needed this visit equally. It’s been fraught with emotion and that’s exactly why I miss my garden. The monsoons rains prevent me from seeking a temporary sanctuary in a park or public garden. In fact, the sun has graced us on just two brief occasions over the course of almost 3 weeks!

Being in my little botanical paradise gives me perspective and balance. A daily dose of time in the garden admiring the flowers, being entertained by the wildlife, tending to chores provides the much needed time to muse over whats happening in my life and work out solutions, make immediate and long-term plans and often, take stock of all the many blessings I’m given – in essence, one gains perspective and clarity. It is the therapy so priceless and valuable that I miss it no matter where I am for any length of time.

As I wrestle with future actions to keep my father safe, happy, engaged and comfortable in these uncertain times, I wish I had access to my garden. It would help me make good, wise decisions. As always.

The images below are from last July/August –

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Overture To Spring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hellebore

Fence all fixed up

New birdhouse ready and waiting

Plants awaiting planting

Slytherin the snake

Window box potted up

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

First crocus. More have quickly followed.

First daffodils

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

My Real Garden – Part II

Grab a drink and settle in – This is the long-ish story of how a special group came to be, how they collectively dealt with the last 12 months and how much good resulted from this association.

This time last year, we had just started sheltering at home in New York State. In the beginning, it seemed strange – we understood so little about the virus that the threat felt surreal. As we learned more and New York rapidly succumbed, the gravity of the situation was unmistakably severe. I realized that the lockdown was a powerful step to mitigate the spread of the disease. Our fear of the unknown, invisible and formidable enemy was very real. It became instinctive to want to stay home and be safe.

I was fully aware of how fortunate I was to have a home that gave me all the comfort I needed. And not confined indoors either – I was blessed with my own bit of the outdoors. My garden which has always been essential to my well-being, took on greater significance. With no other items on my agenda to go anywhere, the benefit of unlimited time amidst my plants was unquestionably a gift beyond measure.

For the first time in more than a decade, I could devote my total attention on the garden. Time was ample, spring had just sprung and the myriad tasks offered the ideal solution to be productive, creative and content. It was so therapeutic to immerse myself in this space and not fret about the raging virus.

But, I missed the company of others. Particularly like-minded folk who were out in their gardens coping, healing and learning in the process of planting, weeding and nurturing. And I struck gold.

I came across @myrealgarden on Instagarm. Of all the innumerable accounts on Instagram, something about Ann-Marie Powell’s (AMP from now on) posts connected with my core. Here was someone who could be my friend in real life – it seemed as though we shared very similar sensibilities.

Boy! Was I right! AMP, with her inimitable exuberance and sense of humor drew me into her garden so to speak. Every day for a half hour we hung out talking about all things garden via IGTV. Seasonal chores, how to do them, mistakes, successes and just about everything in between were covered. No pretensions or gloss overs. This was real gardening.

Of course I Googled AMP. Turns out she’s a somebody! A highly acclaimed garden designer in the UK, Chelsea Show medalist, very well regarded by her peers in the industry, smart, shrewd and total fun person. She knows all her garden stuff and while she has created some truly impressive gardens both private and public, her own garden reflects her true self. And she is unhesitant about showing you every bit of it – warts and all. Something every single gardener can appreciate and relate to wholeheartedly. AMP is the genuine article – a gardener’s gardener. No airs and graces, not high and mighty. She’ll cringe that I’m saying good things about her!

When I started following @myrealgarden, I assumed that most of the followers were from the UK. But before long, I identified many from other parts of the globe. The group just snowballed in size and formed a most delightful MRG community. We began following each other – commenting, passing on advice and tips, complimenting, comforting and cheering everyone on.

For myself, following AMP going about her tasks, was a lovely thing – the UK is a few weeks ahead of us in the garden calendar. I knew to stay on track with my chores but observing what was to come in AMP’s garden spurred me on in an exciting way. It was so critical to be positive and motivated. Ann-Marie made it that much easier. FYI – I was brave enough to ruthlessly execute the Chelsea Chop because of her!

We were all in the same boat and each doing the best one could. Connecting to @myrealgarden was a daily highlight – her half-hour live always put me in a good mood. This was so important because in addition to the pandemic, the economy was a mess, people were going hungry, racial injustices were being rightfully protested, the political climate was appalling. I’m certain I was not the only one in a prolonged state of being on edge. Gardening was the one thing that took me away from all the problems and gave me hope. Tending to it was productive and uplifting. With all the attention, I do believe my garden hasn’t looked better.

At the same time, I was looking to find ways to help with the various needs arising. Donating to ACLU through the sales of my Printed Garden Collection was a no-brainer. But there were also other organizations and individuals in need of urgent assistance. I could certainly do my part in supporting small businesses, local restaurants, food pantries, worthy political candidates and. checking in on friends and neighbors living alone. There was just so much need at every level that I sometimes felt I didn’t have enough time, money or energy to give to them all. It was overwhelming. It still is.

Then, in late summer, AMP came up with a brilliant idea that infused the MRG community with new purpose. A book! Full of images, tips and tales from our own gardens. That in itself was a welcome project to participate in – everyone was enthusiastic. But it got better – the proceeds from the book sales would go to Green Fingers Charity  – an organization in the UK that creates gardens for children’s hospices. That we gardeners could help in any way was perfect.

AMP teamed up with her friend and fellow member of MRG Tamsin Westhorpe (she of Stockton Bury Gardens) to put together all the submissions. The task was quite big and I can only imagine the many hours that went into it. The book is now a reality! Crowd funded by the MRG community and its many friends, it is a beautiful manifestation of what can be achieved in the name of friendship and gardening. Globally and during a pandemic.

I am so proud to belong to the MRG group and be a part of the book. And immensely grateful to AMP for starting it all and consistently, generously providing motivation, inspiration, joy, humor, relevant information and support to her entire tribe. All along, she was dealing with her own lockdown demons. Thank you dear friend – I look forward to meeting you in person in the not too distant future!

Note: You can read AMP’s own version of the @myrealgarden story . it’ll show you what I meant by our like-mindedness!!

Here AMP talks more about the My Real Garden Book .

How To get yourself a copy of the My Real Garden Book – at present and until April 1, the book can be pre-ordered through British Garden Centres . After April 1, there will a choice from where to purchase. I’ll let you know as soon as that information becomes available. Stay tuned!

Sharing photos from my garden that you might see in the MRG book –

Ann-Marie Powell

Checkerboard garden

Printed Garden Pillows

The Vertical Garden

Pear In A Bottle in progress

Overview of the potager

Alliums in red, white and blue

Garden concert for the neighborhood. Memorial Day 2020

Meadow

Front Garden

The MRG book!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

My Real Garden – Part I

Last March, when we went into lockdown, I, like everyone else, felt confused, unsettled and more than a little scared. With all plans and projects canceled for the foreseeable future, the work shrunk down to almost nothing. Kept apart from anyone not living with me felt isolating in a way I could not fully adjust to. I have close family across three continents and the physical distance between us suddenly seemed as good as living on different planets. It was not good.

I believe four things kept me from going crazy. First, I was ‘stuck’ at home with the two people most dear to me. Second, with Skype, FaceTime and Zoom, one could ‘visit’ with family and friends – we were able to stay in touch consistently. Third, the entire world was grappling with the same situation – we were all in this together and many were struggling with extremely difficult conditions. Lastly, I had a garden that was my salvation – it is where I always go for solace, comfort, life lessons and inspiration. A blessing but still, quite a luxury.

In the grand scheme of things, I had nothing to complain about. And I didn’t. But privately, worries, fears and demons did surface up and I had to find a way to keep myself positive, motivated and engaged.

A big advantage I had was that for the last so many years, I’ve worked from home. Unlike most others, I did not need any adjustment to that. Instead, I naturally gave expression to my emotions in painting, poetry, other writing and design work. I spent blissful hours in the garden. Even the smallest of garden tasks felt good to do. Being creative and productive is key to my sense of wellbeing.

While I was figuring ways to keep the creative juices flowing, I became more active on Instagram. I began posting daily – marking each day with a single activity/observation with the tag-line “Social Distancing Day __”. Today is Day #360. That’s right. – it’s almost a full year since New York went into lockdown/sheltering at home.

On my @seedsofdesignllc Instagram account, I follow mostly gardens, gardeners and garden designers. I believe gardeners form communities easily – we relate and connect to each other almost instinctively. The problem I began having was that a good many of the garden ’influencers’ were posting images of what they were up to whilst sheltering at home that had what I call the Marie Antoinette Syndrome. They were showing images that appeared as though their lives were untouched by the global crisis – fabulous (read big and expensive) garden projects, lavish meals of certain items that were either unavailable at the supermarkets or beyond most budgets. As though they had risen above the fray in the most naturally obvious manner. I thought they were tone deaf and could not relate to most of these people at all. It’s one thing to be upbeat and positive and quite something else to flaunt a ’ Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous – Garden Version’ sort of message. With a pandemic, socio-economic inequities and racial injustices raging, it was frustrating and often enraging to see such posts. I’m not suggesting people don’t live they way they want to. I am however making clear that there is much need for us all to be aware, sensitive and empathetic.

It’s entirely possible that I was following some wrong folk on Instagram but, I started looking for other gardeners who were as affected as I was and found connection through the mundane yet life affirming acts of regular garden tasks. One from across the big pond, became a genuine source of support and encouragement. And it led to a wonderful global project that I’m deliriously excited to share with you. Next week!

Note: It’s not too early to start thinking of spring home sprucing and/or Mother’s Day! The Printed Garden collection offers a choice of beautiful products AND 50% of profits goes to support the valuable work of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU is fighting to correct all those aforementioned inequities and injustices.

I’m re-sharing some random photos from the last 12 months –

Last day of my group art show in NYC and first day of lockdown. March

Peony gone to seed. Watercolor

April – hid eggs around house and garden and created a virtual egg hunt for great nieces in the Netherlands and Singapore

Robin babies

Checkerboard garden in bloom

Memorial Day concert for neighborhood friends

Newly minted graduate after a virtual ceremony. June

Allium fireworks for the Fourth

Printed Garden photo shoot

‘A Peek Into The Potager’. Watercolor

Hummingbird friend

August birthday – all 3 birthdays in my family are in August

Vertical garden in August

‘Gilded’ Watercolor

October in gold

Paperwhites for the home. November

Beautyberry jelly

Lemons ripening in the greenhouse. December

Gilding alliums for the holidays

December dusting

Meyer lemon marmalade

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Escape Roots

Less than two weeks into 2021 and it already feels old! If there wasn’t enough going on already, we now have even more happening to consume our attention and raise our worries. I don’t know about you but, I am focusing on mini-escapes. Books are a great way to get away from it all but I’m finding it hard to concentrate at present. It’s easy enough to divert my mind with a movie or television show but once its over, reality sets in and I’m invariably left with a feeling of having used my time inadequately. I’ve learned that screen time serves me best as a reward after I’ve been creative and productive.

While I cannot actually work in the winter garden, I take comfort in doing the things in preparation, planning and plotting that perfect garden. It’s activity filled with hope and positivity. Perusing seed and plant catalogs that arrive in the mail send me dreaming of all sorts gardens. Plantings for seaside homes, tropical terraces, alpine aeries keep me entertained for a good while at the end of which, I’m more informed about the possibilities in those climes.

Similarly, I find good information and inspiration in garden magazines. The periodicals from across the pond have me salivating. Particularly since their winters are milder and they’re already starting seeds, have early bulbs and hellebores blooming. I look outside and nothing is happening in my neck of the woods. But, for an hour or so, I’ve been to the UK and basked in the gardens depicted on the pages. That’s a lovely escape that gets my creative juices going.

Painting is always a lovely form of taking my mind from everything. And I do so as often as I can. The focus it requires pushes back the worries that tend to bubble up so easily these days. And I’m always happy to have something new and tangible after the effort. Each painting marks growth in the artist.

I’ve taken to adding a slow tour of my garden at the end of my daily neighborhood walks. It calms me with its familiarity. While I know it so well, new ideas or plants permit me to envision it differently. Sort of like trying to visualize your child at different stages in the future. Endless hopeful possibilities.

After such jaunts, I’m energized to come indoors and tackle what needs doing.

Stirred by all the seed catalogs and reportings from English gardens, I’ve decided to order some sweet peas. I absolutely adore the flowers – delicate, softly hued and sweetly fragrant, they entrance and beguile. The climate where I live is not ideal for this plant. All prior attempts have shown they are rather short lived and disappointing. Still, I’m going try again.

This time, I’m going to give them a head start by starting them indoors in mid-February. Sweet-peas have long root structures and do best when they are given the space to put out strong, long roots straight down. Standard seed starting trays are not appropriate. One needs to use either commercially sold root-trainers or the cardboard cylinders from toilet paper rolls – Ann Marie Powell in England (@myrealgarden) has convinced me that sweet peas do considerably better ( she says ‘fierce’) this way. I’ve elected to use the latter as collecting the rolls is easy and promotes sustainability. Stay tuned – I’ll report back in due time. For now, I’m happily fantasizing numerous posies scattered around the house in May/June.

Time in the greenhouse is hands down the most immediate getaway of all. In mere minutes of seeing and inhaling the greenery I’m calmer and breathing evenly. It’s always spring here. Puttering around snipping, primping the plants is hugely gratifying. I’m deeply grateful for my tiny, transparent sanctuary. I know what a privilege it is.

The bounty from the lemon trees has kept me busy – I’ve been focused on harnessing all the lemony goodness in as many ways as possible. Sour lemon pickle – tweaking an old family recipe, a jar sits on a sill where, over the course of a few weeks sunlight will work its magic to create something that’ll perk up any dish.

Limoncello, lemon marmalade, lemon curd are other products. And I’m also freezing some of the juice in ice cube trays for vinaigrette and cocktails. Every one of these will provide a chance to simply enjoy the flavors of captured sunshine. A respite from whatever else is going on.

Escapes can range from just a few minutes to several days. Its important that we do so – to maintain our equilibrium and reset as required.

Right now, join me for a quick recess. Sitting right where you are, close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breath. Inhale deeply. Exhale deeply. Do it again. Again. Once more. Notice how your body starts to relax. Keep breathing with intent. Open your eyes. There. Doesn’t that feel good?

Packages of sunshine!

Sour lemon pickle (as opposed to sweet pickle)

Most recent watercolor of seed heads

Vanilla bean infused Meyer lemon marmalade

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Giving Thanks

For a year replete with so much dissidence and despair, I find myself overcome with gratitude as never before. With Thanksgiving two days away, it is not the meal that is uppermost on my mind but the simple fact that I’m present and accounted for. Everything that has brought me through the months up to this point has my deep, sincere thanks. Every single thing.

Ups and downs, good and bad, sad and happy, birth and death have all been experienced. What a year! As I look back, it’s painful to recall some events but, there have been celebrations as well. If anything, 2020 has exposed the raw reality of life. Nothing glossed over. All the trimmings of how we live have been stripped away to reveal exactly who we are. And that I see is the gift.

The’ pause’ button was pressed and a ‘reset’ was initiated. A new way of living was begun.

To arrive at this realization, I give full credit to the garden. I rediscovered my joy of gardening and paying attention to the lessons it teaches. With so many other plans and projects canceled or postponed, I had no need to rush to be elsewhere. I approached each garden task with the unfettered willingness to do it properly. I even had the luxury of time to take satisfaction in completing each achievement and fully appreciate every chore the garden provided. What I did in all other aspects of my life paralleled what I did in the garden.

As I pruned and cut back wayward branches, I reduced the personal to-do list to only what was essential. Nurturing the plants with a layer of rich, homemade compost directed me to make delicious yet healthy new meals for the family. I took the time to pay mind to the process of creating them. Vegetables, flowers and fruits from the garden were no longer assumed as given; they were admired and prized. I started appreciating my own near and dear ones anew instead of taking them for granted.

Finishing a big task in the garden invariably caused my body to express itself by way of aches and soreness. Rather than complain about the demands of the garden, I noticed how much more energy I had, how my strength had improved and how my mood was uplifted. I took to valuing my physical self instead of grumbling about its decline with each passing year.

In spending more time in the garden, I became acutely aware of the wildlife that enjoyed it with me. Stopping to watch a pair of wrens checking the bird house or a robin foraging for worms to feed its babies, had me breathing deeply and relaxing my muscles. I chuckled at the butterflies and bees vying for a drink from the same flowers. Noting a toad hopping around and then staying completely still once it felt my presence made me stand still as well. A few minutes observing its markings and cuteness instantly put me in a good frame of mind.

I spent many hours watching the birds – right here in my own garden, there are so many different kinds. Over the years, I’d forgotten how pleasurable it is to be in their company. Chipmunks flourished this year – while I was not elated about their presence, I couldn’t help being amused by their antics. A live and let live policy seemed to be good for us all.

All sorts of problems and conundrums got resolved when I weeded and watered. Lines for new poems came to me, I found the correct approach to responding to difficult emails, ideas for gifts or celebrations, resolutions to conflicts, working through worries were some of the personal benefits from these chores. I mourned, adjusted to new circumstances, celebrated, commiserated, vented and worked out dilemmas in the garden. A lot of joy, fears, sorrow, tears, laughter and anger have found expression in this beautiful space.

To garden is to live in hope. That tomorrow will come and it will be bountiful. This, I believe with all my heart.

The more time I had, the more I spent it in simply appreciating the garden. After all the years of being too overwhelmed, I was finally ready to paint my garden. Not simply individual flowers but actual parts of the garden. It was as though I had been liberated. Nay, I had liberated myself. The garden had, very quietly and gently, coaxed me to shed my doubts and uncertainties. I was free to create as I pleased and exactly how I saw it.

I’ve so enjoyed the day by day changes in the garden. I’ve learned as much about myself this year as I have about my garden. It’s an intimate relationship. Together we have grown to be more authentic, articulate and expressive. For which, my gratitude knows no bounds.

I sincerely wish each of you a safe, healthy, meaningful Thanksgiving. It might look and feel different this year but celebrate it we must. Gratitude begets happiness.

Note: Here is a collection of my garden paintings since the pandemic started. I will share the ones done in the autumn (and potentially this winter) another time.

Daffodils

The Light By The Woods

The Embrace

F meleagris

Tree peony

Remembering Spring

The phlox garden

Vertical Garden 1

Vertical Garden 2

A Peek Into The Potager

The Side Path

Nasturtium

Beauty In Passing. Hydrangea

Summer Collapsing Into fall

Amaryllis Social Distancing

(c) 2020 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