Whatever May Come

The only thing consistent about May has been its inconsistency. It has run the gamut of all four seasons in three short weeks and now, in its final stretch, we finally get to enjoy the month as it ought.

The intense heat last week put paid to the tulips and I’m still feeling cheated. It was a very short time with them. Meanwhile, the alliums are ablaze and I can only hope they will last longer. Much longer.

The two clematis at the arch in front are in full flower – typically, the buds open in sequence allowing one to enjoy them in a prolonged manner. Not this year.

It feels as though spring has been cruelly compressed. I worry this might well be the pattern to come. Globally, we are experiencing unusual weather. From heavy rains in some parts to high heat to others and widespread strong winds whipping up frequently. Nothing is typical or predictable. Like it or not, climate change is underway.

In my little corner, I see that I need to be flexible and think deeply about future plans and plants with climate changes in mind. For instance, I’m still going to order bulbs because I cannot imagine a spring without them but my expectations will be more in accordance with the reality.

These developments also underline strongly the need for us all to look to native and/or ecologically beneficial plants that are proven to be hardy and adaptable.

The rain barrel serves well during the dry spells – best to seriously start looking to conserve water. Pots are watered as needed. We turn on the hose to water the plants in the ground only when and if it has been unbearably dry and there is a threat of plant loss.

I’ve taken to checking the bird bath assiduously. Between the heat and wind, it seems to dry out very quickly. The same diligence with the hummingbird feeders. With heat, the sugar water begins to ferment and can harm the wee birds. There is a helpful guide that I follow about when to replace the water. Note: always clean the feeder before each refill.

It’s easy to feel the lack of control in the garden when the weather is so uncertain. However, I’ve found solace in doing my part in tending to the chores that are in my control. That covers my choice of plants, organic, sustainable practices, encouraging pollinators of all kinds, conserving water and most importantly, accepting change. That last one is truly hard and my progress has been slow. Very

Yet, I must persist. My planet is counting on me. And you.

Note: Reminder! My Open Garden Day is June 5. Get tickets online.

Alliums coming up strong. Camassia too.

First iris

Clematis

Calycanthus

Alliums taking over from the tulips

Last of the tulips

Itoh/intersectional peony

Primula in a friend’s garden

Buttercups with primula.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Earthly Days

I’ve been sticking rather low to the ground lately. Literally. Remember when I planted hundreds of native sedge Carex appalachia plugs in a part of the garden and then added in hundreds of F. meleagris last fall? Well, this ‘field’ is looking absolutely delightful right now. The sedge is greening up nicely and the frittilaria are up and waving their checkered bells very sweetly. I’m smitten. Imagining is one thing but having it become a reality is excitement overload.

All weekend I kept taking frequent breaks from other garden chores to gaze at my little ‘field’. Joy. Joy. Joy.

This sedge is the larval food for the Appalachian brown butterfly. I’ve given my family direct orders to take pictures of any brown butterflies they might see flitting around the garden lest I miss such an important sighting.

Life in the garden is one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Connecting with nature is fundamental to our very existence. The past year demonstrated this imperative loud and clear. With Earth Day two days away, I reckon it’s a good reminder to renew this bond to make it stronger, better, healthier.

As gardeners, we are acutely aware of what’s happening in the environment. The situation is dire and its all hands on deck to mitigate climate change. I recently watched a morning news segment of a major network wherein each host voiced the one thing they have adopted to be more ’green’. They mentioned things like returning dry cleaning hangers, carrying their own bottle of water and such. All good practices but I had to think – surely all of these measures ought to have been adopted a long time ago no?.

At this point, we should be doing so much more. And please lets not get complacent about how we’re conscientious in our recycling. Simply tossing all recyclables into the appropriate bins and putting them out for pick up is not a big effort. Reducing the amount in those bins is.

In the garden, organic practices, collecting rain water, composting, using electric tools instead of gas powered ones, growing a majority of native plants, encouraging pollinators of all sorts, mulching etc., has always been my modus operandi. What I struggle with are the plastic pots the plants come in. Even the ‘biodegradable’ ones aren’t so great as they take a really long time to degrade. I truly wish all nurseries would take back the empty pots to be returned to the growers for reuse. I understand this is not so easy to manage but there must be a viable solution.

On a bright note, growers that ship out plants directly to gardeners are coming up with many ‘green’ ways to safely transport plants. Perhaps something similar can be invented for nurseries and garden centers. Personally, I’d be more than willing to take my own containers to fill with plant purchases – much the same as taking bags to the farmer’s market or supermarket.

Similarly, in the house, we use non-toxic/organic/homemade cleaning products, consume organic, locally sourced foods, carry our own drinking water, cloth napkins, use beeswax cloth, silicone freezer/sandwich bags, reusable bowl covers to reduce the usage of plastic, aluminum or other paper wraps. Paper towels and toilet paper are from Who Gives A Crap that uses 100% recycled paper and donates 50% of its profits to build toilets in needy areas all over the world.

Recently, we switched to toothpaste tablets from By Humankind. This totally eliminates toothpaste tubes – something that is not even recyclable. The same company also sells floss that dissolves or can be composted. The entire packaging it arrives in is compostable. The containers to keep the tablets and floss are made of glass with silicone tops. They’re really clean and minimalist looking. By subscribing, one receives refills to serve several months at a time. This helps with the carbon footprint. Ditto for the aforementioned paper products.

While we have been using woolen dryer balls instead of dryer sheets to fluff and ‘soften’ clothes for some years, we were a bit hesitant about ‘green’ detergents that could clean the clothes properly. We tried a few options but were not too satisfied. Just recently, we’ve made the switch to laundry soap sheets from Tru Earthno more dealing with plastic jugs or cardboard boxes.. One sheet per wash – hot or cold and usable in any type of machine. The soap itself is free of all harsh-to-the-environment ingredients. The jury is still out on the efficacy of the sheets but I’m very optimistic.

I go into those details because we can each do better in every aspect of our lives. There are  always more efforts to be made of course but for now, I know I’m trying my very best to do as much as I can. In the end, that’s what matters – committing wholeheartedly to doing our part in caring for this beautiful, wondrous planet we call home.

FYI – The companies I’ve mentioned were discovered in my research to find good eco-products. I am NOT sponsored by any company.

Note: Reminder! Mother’s Day is fast approaching! Do shop from the Printed Garden Collection mom will love the products!

Daffodils

Amelanchier in bloom

Tree peony pushing up.

The ‘field’ of sedge and frittilaria.

Watercolor

 

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

In The True Spirit Of The Season

I’m finally feeling the holiday season. Towns are decked out for it and one is greeted with holiday music any shop one steps into. Not to sound too Grinch-like but I’m a little tired of this non-stop ‘seasonal’ music as though I’d forget what season I’m in if they played something else.

I do adore the strings of white lights tracing the bare limbs of trees, the lamp posts and railings. Just as winter has officially started, the lights infuse a much needed element of cheer. At the same time, I worry about the impact the illuminations have on birds and other animals that dwell in trees and bushes. It is well documented that our street lights, neon signs and such affect the avian bio-rhythms . It stands to reason that our holiday lights must interfere as well. Imagine how you’d sleep with bright lights being turned on in your bedroom. And then how you’d feel from the poor rest night after night.

The artificial lights mimic daylight and hence cause confusion in the birds. It not only causes sleep deprivation but affects their breeding. The timing of egg laying goes out of whack and the number of eggs laid are diminished. You can understand the problem. So, it behooves us to curb our decorating enthusiasm, use the cooler (as in temperature) LED bulbs, and shorten the time the lights are on. Yes, I’m aware that LED does not have the same warm ambiance as the fluorescent bulbs but, it’s the responsible, ethical and ecological thing to do.

To decorate outdoors, preferably select bare limbed trees over the evergreens. Non-migratory birds and squirrels take shelter in those leafy trees and shrubs. Keep in mind that more is not better. We are going for tasteful not airport runway style.

Similarly, as far as possible, stick to natural materials. Particularly for outdoor decorations. Critters have the habit of eating or using the materials for their nests. Plastic, Styrofoam and other synthetic decorations look enticing and appealing. But they are dangerous if not deadly to all creatures who unfortunately, do not know this. We do. It is incumbent on us to do right by them.

In the true spirit of the season, lets spread good will to all. Human and otherwise.

Note: The popular Annual Holiday Art Show at the New York Art Student’s League is on! Art makes wonderful gifts.

The art show Fragile Waterways at TeaTown runs through this month. Support a great cause!

Some random images of the season:

Illumination at Untermyer Gardens
For allergy sufferers – an alternative ‘tree’
Another alternative.This year I’m using my bay standard as the tree.
Bouche de Noel
Paperwhites
Amaryllis ‘tree’
NYBG Holiday Train Show 2019

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Balancing Act

For the past ten days, I’ve been enjoying down time on the barrier islands of Chincoteague and Assateague off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia. It has been part of the quest for balance in life. When we plan a getaway or vacation, it is that need to counteract the everyday demands of work and other responsibilities. An opportunity to press the reset button so we maintain an even keel and thus keep perspective of what truly matters. Nothing quite as effective as a healthy dose of nature to do the job.

It is heart-achingly beautiful here. Known primarily for the wild ponies that inhabit them, these islands are the last remaining undeveloped outer banks. And remain they shall, thanks to the designation of being a National Seashore/Wildlife Refuge under the National Park Services. Like all our other National Parks, they are priceless national treasures.

It’s a fragile, ever-changing ecosystem here. Between the waves and winds of the mighty and temperamental Atlantic Ocean, the terrain,flora and fauna are in constant flux. New ‘islands’ are built, old ones shrink or grow, shorelines shift, the resilient wildlife adapt and somehow, an equilibrium is maintained. Retreating dunes mark the island’s westward move and as the water in the bays rise in response to rising ocean water, the coastlines are redrawn. New habitats are created and old ones re-adapted. Plants and animals adjust to these changes. Rich in aquatic life, the bays provide a vital ecosystem. The salt marshes, defined by the ebb and flow of the tides are yet another complex, vital ecosystem in themselves. The plants that thrive in salt marshes may be few but they shelter a diverse number of wildlife. The dunes and upper beaches are in constant motion and support a different variety of plants and animals.

Even as eel grass is tossed up by storm surges, it is turned into a substrate that enriches the soil in the marshes. Ribbed mussels have a relationship with the long water roots of salt grasses found along the edges of the marshy islands. Egrets ride on the horses to see what choice morsels they might reveal as they plod around and disturb the wet land. In turn, they help the horses by dealing with the biting insects so prevalent here. The horses feed on the salty grasses and also the poison ivy – I found that latter item quite interesting.

In an ideal situation, these parts would manage fine and life would play out naturally. It’s a real gift that we humans get to visit and observe. But yet, we manage to upset the balance. Despite all the cautions and advice from the park rangers, people often try to get too close to the horses ( selfies!) or try feeding them. The horses, as a result can get too familiar with our presence and come to expect treats to supplement their diet. These are wild animals with strong teeth and legs – their bites and kicks are fearsome. Getting too close or goading them has unfortunate consequences for man and horse. Why oh why can we not stay away from our own worst habits?!

We got very lucky with Hurricane Dorian last week. A harmless tropical storm was all we experienced. Two windy days of which one was rainy. Some localized flooding but nothing problematic. I imagine this was however, a more serious threat for the wildlife as they were deprived of their regular feeding forays and had to seek shelter to wait out the weather. For me, it was enough to be made acutely aware of how fragile life is and how much we take it for granted.

When I return home shortly, I plan to carry this awareness in my heart and strive harder to stay centered, as always, taking my cues from nature in maintaining a balance.

P.S- I also plan to increase my annual contribution to the National Parks. In recent times they have seen major budget cuts. This is nothing short of a crisis of tremendous proportion with far-reaching consequences. I beseech every single one of you to do your part in preserving our national treasure – this beautiful, majestic land of mountains and plains, lakes, rivers and coasts that we call home.

See the images below for a glimpse of Assateague/Chicoteague beauty.

Note: I’m participating in this show. I hope you will see it.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

All I Want For Christmas, Hanukkah And The New Year

Until now, I have never made a wish-list for Christmas or written a letter to Santa. Truthfully, the very notion of focusing on wanting stuff has felt too self-centered and materialistic. Not anymore. I’ve flipped the switch and taken a different approach. For purposes of this garden related article, I’ll stick to point but it’s apparent how the same thinking can be extrapolated to other scenarios.

Here goes:

1. I wish my town would follow the initiative taken by Dobbs Ferry ( a village twenty minutes south) to remove overgrowth in various areas. To clear waterfront views, Dobbs Ferry has been loaned three goats from a farm to feast away on shrubs and even poison ivy – this not only addresses a big problem in an ecologically sound manner but saves the town mega municipal money.

I’d written about this eco-goats topic a few years ago. I think it’s time to see how to get it going in my neck of the woods.

2. I would like to see every homeowner with a plot of land, commit to planting mostly native plants. And when using non-native plants, select only non-invasive ones. Native plants attract native creatures that pollinate and protect. Nature in balance.

In a similar vein, let our parks, preserves and public gardens be shining models of native flora and fauna. We must restore and create more resilient, sustainable landscapes to support diversity and maintain a healthy ecology.

3. I wish every community would set aside one week day and one day of the weekend as ‘quiet’ days. This means no motorized garden tools allowed. At present, all through the growing seasons, on any given day one is subjected to the auditory assault of mowers, trimmers, blowers and such. Can’t you just envision the calm and peace on ‘quiet’ days when you are totally aware of the sounds of nature like birdsong, running water features, rustling of leaves, dropping of acorns, calls of tree frogs and bull frogs, cicadas … And imagine listening to music, having conversations and simply thinking in our heads without being uninterrupted by the noisy tools and appliances.

4. I wish for universal adoption of organic practices. As a nation, let’s move towards chemical-free gardens. Even in the application of organic products, let’s be judicious and prudent.

5. I wish for composting to become a routine practice in every household. It is easy, inexpensive (free) and perhaps the most useful product you can provide to your garden.

That’s it. That’s my wish list.

Small, simple shifts in habits, big positive impact on environment.

Note: The Holiday Art Show at the New York Art Students League begins December 11! I have a painting there. Do visit. This is a wonderful opportunity to see great art. Very affordable too!

Enjoy the photos of the Holiday Train Show at the NYBG. It should get you in the spirit of the season!

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar