Climate Control

What a weekend it was! Hurricane Henri had a good portion of the Northeast in a heightened state of alert. A fair bit inland, my corner was told to expect a tropical storm. High winds and heavy rains. So, we got down to getting necessary garden chores done. Tethering some pots, laying others down on their sides, harvesting ripened grapes so they couldn’t be tossed off in the wind, bringing in certain things that had no business sitting outside in a storm, hanging pots set on the ground, you get the idea.

Needless to say, the scheduled Digging Deeper event for Sunday was canceled. That was so disappointing as I’d been looking forward to having fellow gardeners to share, commiserate and exchange stories and lessons.

As it turned out, we got lucky. Henri was down graded to a tropical storm and our area missed the predicted winds. It did rain though – all of Sunday and well into Monday. But not quite as fierce as feared. I’m truly grateful. It is now time to shift focus on more usual matters in the garden.

I’ve been taking note of plants that did well this year and those that have not. The weather this year has been so erratic and uncharacteristic that it is not really a matter of selecting or rejecting any specific plants but more about simply observing. This is the sort of information that is useful as one plans ahead. The climate is changing and so must our gardens. Certain plants that rely on colder winters will not do well as my planting zone moves slowly into a warmer one. On the other hand, plants that I’ve coveted over the years but could not survive harsh winters might now take up residence in my garden. It is a very bittersweet reality.

Last week, I learned that our fall this year will be warmer and temperatures will not drop significantly till the end of November. Hmmm. Does this mean that planting spring bulbs should not happen on time? Typically, I plant bulbs at the very end of October into early November. Will the bulb houses know to ship them out accordingly? How much later will be ideal? Nearer Thanksgiving? A more definitive directive is required as I need to plan accordingly! Bulbs are a huge investment for me and I cannot afford to risk any loss. They are such a favorite that without them, I cannot imagine spring. Here’s hoping it all gets sorted out and the situation is not as dire as indicated. As a gardener, optimism is a mainstay.

A few weeks ago, I placed my bulb order. I was a bit later than usual. Just by a couple of weeks. And yet, a couple of choices were sold out. I urge all fellow bulb maniacs to get their orders done ASAP.

Keeping in mind the way the weather directed the time line of the bulb show this year, I tweaked my list with a few more late season bloomers. I also added more of the stalwarts like hyacinthoides, camassia and select alliums. For a little indulgence, I splurged ( just a bit) on the more expensive Frittilaria – imperialis and persica. They are really pricey so I ordered only a few. When I win the lottery, you can bet I will go crazy. Finally, to kick things up in early spring, I ordered a batch of a new-to-me crocus – C olivieri ‘Orange Monarch’ and yes, it is a golden orange with garnet-merlot striations. That should really punch up the usual purple, white and yellow mix. Most folk will not see this particular show. But I will and that’s what matters. Because in the end, I garden for me.

Note: Since it’s not bulb season and we’re only dreaming/planning for it, I’m sharing a few watercolor images of them.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Climactic Changes

Is there any place on earth not experiencing atypical weather? It’s as though an overdrive switch has been turned on by the weather gods. Too much rain, intense drought, extreme heat, super strong winds, widespread fires – anywhere one looks, there’s a weather problem.

We gardeners observe the changes in weather sooner than most. And perhaps, feel it more acutely as well. The rather unusual spring we had this year for example – we noted delayed flowering as well as early flowering. While it appeared that there were always plants in bloom, the timings were out of sync. It wasn’t just the flowers, emergence and leafing out were also not on cue. I worried what impact the discordance in the garden was having on the dependent wildlife. The best laid planting schemes set awry were the least of my concerns.

It’s been a very wet summer so far and the slugs are happier and more abundant than ever. It’s virtually impossible to patrol the garden and pick off all the slimy pests and drown them in soapy water. There are simply too many this year. Some plants that do well in more arid conditions are looking miserable and there’s nothing I can do to fix that.

The reality is that for the past few years, the seasons have not been ‘as usual’. But with no significant problems persisting and the garden still rising to the occasion, it has been easy to ignore the elephant in the garden. Climate change.

It’s time to reckon with it and adapt. While we may have been doing our part all along in our methods and practices of being eco-concious, organic, sustainable etc., we must now reexamine how and what we are growing. Certainly, on top of the list are hardy natives and other eco-beneficial plants. Those that put up with a wider range of conditions and are resilient to change. The choices depend on geographic location, micro-environments and suitability to ones personal aesthetics. It’s a matter of systematically selecting or abandoning plants according to their characteristics and requirements. It has become too expensive to nurture certain plants that clearly cannot compete in these changing times.

I’m only just beginning to confront my reality. No, I’m not ready to pull up all the plants that are finding it hard to cope just yet. But I will not be adding any that are not capable of adapting or are too cantankerous. Native designation notwithstanding.

In my region, it seems our summers of late are often fraught with very hot, dry days between wet, muggy spells. The winters have been milder than previous years but interspersed with sudden blizzards that easily dump a couple or more feet of snow or days that feel very Siberian in temperature. It’s one extreme or another. Perfect weather has became a very scarce commodity. As are perfect plants.

I’m seriously considering putting out an ad in the Classifieds (or should it be Personals?) or maybe there is an App – Looking for botanical companions. Must be American native, very good looking, healthy, highly flexible and adaptable, undemanding, very responsive to gardeners attention, independent, fearless, excellent team player, hardworking and productive. A perfect playmate in every way.

Who knows, it just might work.

Note: Here are a few images of plants I will be keeping fo r sure and a few of the kind of monsoon hitting Mumbai – where I am at present. 

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

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

 

 

Creature Comforts

There’s no doubt that I’ve been able to manage my concerns during this pandemic, economic crisis and national unrest because of the garden. Every single one of us has been impacted – some far more than others. How we cope has also been a matter of individual circumstances. To find myself with a garden to tend and enjoy has been nothing short of a blessing. A huge blessing.

Spending time in nature is now a scientifically established prescription for ones wellness and wellbeing. To nurture a garden has the added bonus of taking oneself out of ones own headspace to focus on doing, creating and making something beautiful and healthy. That therapy is priceless.

In having the luxury to spend more time than usual in the garden, I’ve reconnected with it in ways that I’d forgotten. In the early years, everything was new and exciting. I was creating a garden from scratch. The learning itself was exhilarating. As my vision was being realized, my other responsibilities and commitments increased. My leisure time in the garden dropped significantly. The chores got done but it became more about efficiency and completion rather than mindfulness and enjoying the process.

With the mandated ‘pause’, I have once again regained the joy and curiosity that gardening permits. Going forward, I’m determined to keep to a schedule that always provides for more hours in the garden than anywhere else. I’m so much better off that way.

One of the most rewarding benefits of hanging out in the garden is observing the other creatures also hanging out with me. The dance of yellow swallowtail butterflies floating gracefully over the meadow before they alight on their respectively chosen flowers. How quickly the butterfly moves away if a bee or wasp gets close.

There is a pair of ruby throated hummingbirds that frequent the feeder at the potager. If I sit in a particular spot under the pergola, I get a very good view of them sipping. The female makes more visits than the male. I find it even more gratifying when I notice them at the flowers in the garden. That’s why I planted them after all.

Something I haven’t yet been able to fathom is the remarkable attraction the agapanthus has for all the different pollinators. More than the lovely native plants in bloom, the pot with the agapanthus bearing large inflorescences of pretty blue flowers is, at any given time humming with bees, butterflies and hummingbird. I wonder if it is the color that has such a draw. At present, it is the only blue amidst a sea of white, pink, yellow, red and orange. Are cool colors preferred? Definitely needs further investigation.

There has been an overall paucity of butterflies this year. I hope this is due to a cyclical process and not a red flag being raised. Fingers crossed.

With this concern in mind, coming upon a mating pair of Monarch butterflies last week made me delirious with joy. I’m really eager to see their caterpillars maraud the milkweed planted just for them.

Thus far, I’ve come across two garden snakes. An urgent, telepathic request for them to have their fill of all the rodent types scurrying around and causing damage above and underground has been sent. Not sure what can be done with the surplus in chipmunks though. They have taken to behaving as if they rule the place. I simply cannot allow that and yet, I don’t know how to stop them. No nasty chemicals permitted of course. Occasionally, there is a neighbor’s cat that prowls through – I sincerely hope it is paying its passage by culling the mice.

The variety of birds that I spy on a daily basis marks my hours as well spent. This past spring, there have been three nests of robins successfully raised. I’ve also noticed fledglings of cardinals, wrens and blue jays. I know there are gold finches, downy and red bellied woodpeckers residing in the trees because I see them foraging freely in the meadow. A red tailed hawk lives somewhere in the area and paid us a visit earlier in the spring. That was an unusual yet remarkable sight.

To share the garden with them and other creatures is this gardener’s wish come true. Because, for all the effort and time I put into it, nothing would work out if not for their part in it. Though, I could do without their gifts of seeds from other parts – a certain porcelain berry trying to invade the meadow comes to mind. Birds will be birds notwithstanding.

Witnessing these natural interactions reminds me of how all living things are closely connected and responsible for maintaining the health of the environment. Their well-being is my well-being. Life is all about balance.

Black swallowtail

Mating Monarchs

Pollination in action

Hummingbird at the agapanthus

Hummingbird at feeder

Yellow swallowtail

Bee on the milkweed

Cardinal fledgling

Feeding time at the Wrens’

Robin eggs

Feeding time at the Robins’

Red Tail hawk visit

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Fringe Benefits

It’s the simple truth that plants don’t observe months and our passage of time and seasons; they sense the fluctuations in the environment and respond accordingly. Despite everything gardener do, they know in their hearts they are not in control of their horticultural realm. Nature is the ultimate commander-in-chief and the gardener adapts, adjusts and acquiesces.

This past weekend, while a large portion of the country got blasted by tornadoes, storms, ice and snow, here in my neck of the woods, we enjoyed spring-like temperatures of 65-68 degrees and glorious sunshine. By now, we typically have severe cold and snow accumulations on the ground so a normal January thaw is only a rise in temperature just enough to give some relief where a spike to just 50 degrees feels positively balmy.

Thus far this winter has been relatively harmless. So the 60+ temperatures is kinda alarming. Yet, what can we do about it? Enjoy it! So I did. Sitting outdoors and letting the sun hit my skin felt delicious. The landscape was stark but the atmosphere was joyous. The parks and trails were busy with hikers and bikers. Nary a glum face was to be seen. Admittedly, every now and then I felt a twinge of apprehension as though waiting for the other show to drop. Though in general, I made the most of this unexpected reprieve. Taking time to examine the leaves and grasses made iridescent in the sunshine. How they glowed in tints of ocher and russet! Basking in the warm caress of sunlight did this body and soul a lot of good.

Similarly, the ice-storm we experienced early last December was unseasonal. Too cold too early. We worried about damage to trees and other plants. Yet, in the light of day, the ice coated limbs sparkled in brilliant celebration. It was beautiful. I was filled with wonder and marveled at the icicles hanging from branches and eaves, the sculptural shapes of shrubs encased in ice, the general radiance and refraction of the sunlight on ice. Instagram abounded with Insta-worthy images of beauty bound in ice. Clearly, we were all struck by this alluring danger. For a brief period we were able to stop worrying and be present to the artistry of nature.

Last summer, we went through a hot, dry period. Desperately needed rain was not happening. The lawn started browning and the leaves of many plants began drooping. In fact, my apple trees shed much of their leaves in panic. I was torn between copiously watering in the immediacy of the situation and restraining that instinct by looking at the bigger picture of climate-change and the global shortage of water. In that pathetic scene of a raggedy looking plants, the native plants stepped up and bloomed and filled my heart. Their stoic hardiness was admirable. I had a perfect opportunity to not just take note of the flowers but to actually stop and observe their bold beauty and designs. It left me with a resolve to not only add even more natives to the gardens but to give them their due in gratitude.

While we wrestle with the climate-change happening at present and do our duty in slowing/halting its progress, it helps to find the moments that uplift and understand that nature is asking us to be attentive and appreciative no matter what. Even in adversity there is grace to be gleaned. Then perhaps, we will be in a position to rise with that phoenix as it emerges from the ashes of the global climate crisis.

From the ice-storm last December:

I didn’t take any photographs over last weekend’s Spring in January. Instead I did two quick watercolor sketches. Imagine, I got to paint outdoors in January!

From last summer’s heat wave(s):

The browning’ lawn’

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Greenish New Deal

I’m in a green state of mind. Garden dreams with eco-friendly schemes. Eat more leafy greens and fiber rich beans. Lower the thermostat, increase native habitats. Decrease plastic, opt for fabric. And so it goes.

In the course of enjoying the holiday season, I couldn’t help feeling somewhat appalled at the amount of waste and extravaganza our ‘traditional’ celebrations provide. For all the talk of the environment, climate change and mindfulness, when the holidays come along it’s as though we, as a community, give ourselves a free pass about all of that. No more – I’m planning from now for a much greener December 2020. Are you in with me? 20/20 vision indeed.

It requires some research to track down sources and products, more elbow grease, creativity and a curiosity to learn. What’s to argue about that right?!

So, here’s my list of green amendments thus far:

1. Holiday cards. For this last season, in a bid to cut back on paper waste, I chose to send custom e-cards. They were personalized by using an image of one of my watercolors. I did print up (in-house) a few of these cards to add special notes to certain friends and family. Admittedly, it felt weird to send e-cards – they don’t exude the same warmth. I did however feel better about saving paper, lowering carbon footprint etc.,

For this year, I’m going to source good, compostable paper to print my cards. Better still would be compostable paper with seeds embedded in them though I’m not sure that kind of textured paper can be used in a printer. Will just have to see!

Some of the pretty images of the cards received make lovely gift cards on presents. Simply cut out the images, punch a hole, thread a length of twine or cotton ribbon through it, write your message on the reverse side. Voila!

Note: Any paper with glitter cannot be recycled.

2. Wrapping paper. Again, use compostable or recyclable paper. However, I love the alternative of using fabric – leftover/remnant squares, scarves, tea-towels etc., In which case, the wrapping itself is a gift. Plain brown paper decorated with natural materials like leaves, pine-cones, acorns and berries make for stunning presentations. I save the pretty ribbons that come with gifts for future use.

Note: To determine if paper is recyclable use the quick ‘scrunch’ test. Scrunch up the paper into a ball. If it unfurls, then it is not recyclable. Again, no glitter allowed.

( That said, I must test my own line of wrapping paper on spoonflower.com Must make amends if found unsuitable)

3. Trees. Buy locally grown trees. Use those trees after the holidays by chipping them down to make mulch. Several towns including my own provide this service. Please do not bag the trees in plastic when moving them outside for disposal. Yes, it’s easier and less messy but you will feel so virtuous after you’ve done the extra work of vacuuming and done without the plastic.

Even better – buy living trees to plant out in spring. I’ve also been hearing about ‘rent a tree’ operations and that certainly sounds promising.

Due to my daughter’s allergy to the conifers, I’m happily free of this dilemma.

4. Decorations. Thankfully, most ornaments are either family heirlooms/keepsakes or a treasured collection. That makes them sustainable. When buying new decorations, choose ones made from foraged materials or of wood, glass or metal. Preferably created by artisans.

Keep wreaths and garlands natural as well. Any ribbons and baubles on them should be salvageable for reuse.

5. Food and drink. If you don’t have enough of your own plates, cutlery and glasses, you can rent from party rentals or purchase compostable options such as bamboo. No plastics!

Do your best and stick with local, organic, less packaged foods.

6. Gifts. I already go plastic free. In general, I try to think of gifts that are either experiences (think concerts, plays, museum memberships, movie passes), books, food or things that are truly needed/wanted by the recipient. I will continue to source local, artisanal products – this means planning well ahead and going to craft/art shows through the course of the year. That’s a fun and thoughtful activity to indulge in don’t you think?

I’d love to hear more ‘green holiday’ suggestions from you. Together we can do and be better. There is no planet B.

Note: I’m enjoying the Amaryllis and paperwhites I potted up. The anticipation of their blooms gives me shivers of delight. Fresh flowers from the market are a weekly indulgence. They keep me in a state of gratitude and well-being and spark up those gloomy days of winter.

(c) 2020 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

Wistful Thinking

Winter is making her presence felt. Strongly. As my friend Julie likes to say – It is cold enough to freeze a witch’s tits!. But thus far, we haven’t had much snow in my neck of the woods. That worries me. For the most part, the garden lies exposed and dry. The mulch I spread in the fall seems hardly adequate. How are the bulbs and perennial roots doing? With no insulation from the snow, life must be hard for plants and hibernating critters alike.

Even this cold is erratic and intermittent. The temperature is predicted to rise up to 50 degrees by Thursday. Freezing and thawing off and on can be so damaging.

In recent years, there has been no familiar passage of the seasons – the old weather patterns have disappeared and the climate is in flux. Hard to predict what the conditions will be and hence hard to plan for the garden. It’s a bit disconcerting. I want the old days back!

Should I select more drought resistant plants or increase the rain loving ones? Heat tolerant or cool weather? My choices will determine the type of garden that evolves and my personal taste and style must adapt.

In the next couple of weeks, I plan to finalize the list of plants to introduce in the meadow. With the removal of the red maple last summer, I’m at liberty to select more plants that require sun. That’s exciting but I must choose wisely. I’ve already invested a great deal in this area. Certainly some native, ornamental grasses will do well but the flowering perennials pose a bit of a quandary. If only I could see into the future! Temperature and rainfall are important considerations. I could play it safe and settle for “middle of the road” but what fun would that be?

It is the challenge of realizing a certain vision that gets a gardener’s juices going. As we create, we maintain a belief that the universe will cooperate. That somehow, our special connection with nature will grant us all our wishes. If only. Time and again, my pocketbook reminds me of my quixotic dreams even as my most recent horticultural experiment falls short of expectations.

Climate uncertainties, financial limits and time constraints will be factored when I make my final plant list. But, in the end, the heart must beat faster, the spirit must soar and the hands flutter in impatience to get started. Then, and only then will I know I’m on the right track.

[ As requested by several of you, I will post my plant selections when finalized]

I HAVE POSTED ON MY RECENT VISIT TO MUKTA JIVAN ORPHANAGE. YOU CAN CLICK HERE TO READ.

NOTE: I’m excited about participating in this –

I know it is cold but this is indoors, free and, you will enjoy the art. So, get yourself there!

Some images of the meadow:
My watercolor

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar