When Less Is More

February is a perfect time to get ready for the growing season ahead. Schedule seed starting and gather appropriate supplies ready – seed packets, seed sowing trays, growing medium etc.,

Similarly, have tools cleaned, sharpened and readily visible and accessible.

Soil, mulch, compost made available – either homemade or purchased. Plants to be obtained listed for that trip to the nursery or ordered. Other supplies such as labels, pens, stakes, twine, gloves, sunscreen, bug spray, rubbing alcohol, first-aid kit, etc,.- have them all on hand. When Spring arrives, you will be racing out of the gate ready and raring to go.

But February is also the time to commit to doing less. You read correct – do less! The fact is, to garden using organic, sustainable, environment friendly and ecologically sound practices, one actually does less. Hear me out.

Lets begin with the ubiquitous lawn. Less lawn = less work. Less area to mow. Mowing less frequently. Apply compost to fertilize as well as mulch and you’re weeding less and have eliminated all other applications of fertilizers and weed killers. Finally, less watering. You see?

No dig gardening – it has been proven that not turning over the soil is healthier for the earth. One less task to do! Instead, simply amend the soil as needed.

By planting a minimum of 70% native plants in our gardens, by increasing the number of pollinators and other beneficial creatures we increase the health of the garden. And, because the native plants are more hardy and resilient, there’s less turnover of plants and less maintenance of fuss pot plants.

In the beds, as in the lawns, compost and/or additional tree bark/cardboard/newspaper mulch reduces the need to weed. Imagine, less weeding! There’s also less watering and no application of other chemicals to fertilize or feed. In case of pest infestation, there will be some organic products to apply – both to prevent as well as treat.

Trying to be less tidy might be a bit hard to accept but it’s time to do so. Allow self-seeders to find their sweet spots – they add sparkle and sass to a garden. I’m not suggesting we allow rampant proliferation but merely some easing up of control freak-like behavior. The shabby chic garden is in. I like it.

I hope I’ve persuaded you to do less. With the time freed up, what ever will you do?! I’m busy making plans.

We’re finally having a real snow day. It’s been a couple of years and I’m so thrilled! This feels like February as I know it. Here are some images :

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

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To Cut Or Not To Cut – That Is The Conundrum

Now that the big task of getting the many ( including some very large) plants trimmed, washed and moved into the greenhouse, I’m feeling rather relieved. It’s usually a race against time to get this job done before tender perennials and tropicals are subjected to an early frost. Not so this year – I’ve had the luxury of taking my time to give adequate attention to each plant. And I’m grateful for it. Even so, its a bit disconcerting that temperatures haven’t really dipped as expected. Wonder how fall and winter will pan out.

The task at hand is the clean up of garden beds and the meadow. There’s a great deal of direction to delay cutting back of plants till the spring. Leave them be for birds to forage and to provide winter interest. I have two problems with that. Firstly, my spring blooming bulbs are planted every fall within those areas. So, fully grown plants preclude proper bulb planting. One cannot get into the beds and plant around them – I tried it one year and it was ridiculously hard. I was left severely scratched up and had body parts complaining loudly of the torture of being subjected to contorting my way around.

Secondly, by late fall/early winter, any seed heads left on the plants are depleted of seeds. They’ve given it their all. Any foraging or sheltering to be done happens at ground level. And, after the first big snowfall, any upright plant is smothered down. No poetically charming winter interest to be had by way of swaying stalks or dramatic seed pods. Then, in spring, after the snow has melted, its all one slimy, unsightly mess. The task of clearing it up is gross and if not removed, the glorious emergence of the bulbs is spoiled.

However, since I’m a believer in providing for the critters and doing good things for the environment, I’ve hit a happy compromise. The beds of perennial plants stay up till the very day before bulb planting commences. This is usually during the second week of November. My cue to schedule Bulb Planting Days is when the shipment arrives – they send it at the appropriate time according to Hardiness Zones. All the cuttings are moved to the compost heap.
After bulb planting is completed, leaves fallen over the tiny lawn are removed and used as mulch over these beds.
Note: This week, I’ll be dividing certain perennials and replanting.

Similarly, in the meadow, the cut back happens just before the bulbs must go in. Here however, several plants are left to stand – they remain full in form and provide good hideaways for the fauna. The heavy leaf fall in the meadow is left in place as well. So there is really adequate food and shelter here as well as in the adjoining woods. Other shrubs on the property also provide for the wildlife.

The general cut back and clean up permits work that needs to get done now and also sets up the garden for a comfortable segue way to the spring season. Nothing is left too pristine or lifeless. Neat but not too neat though, to some human visitors, it is not neat enough!
Ultimately, I remain with the sense of satisfaction of doing what really works for my garden without neglecting the creatures that inhabit it. No principles need be compromised.


Such a balance is possible in every garden. It isn’t ever all or nothing. We don’t have to do everything the ‘experts’ say – just as in child rearing, a sincere gardener must take into account the data and current practices, then apply their own understanding, instinct and judgment to do what is best for their specific gardens and the environment at large. We are, after all, the privileged and benevolent custodians of our piece of land. As we are of our children. Neither truly belong to us.

A few images of goings on in the greenhouse, meadow and elsewhere in the garden:

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Call Of The Climate III

Having thought about how every gardener or anyone who manages a piece of property must commit to doing their part in safeguarding the land and all who inhabits it, we arrive at what we can do and how to do it.

Typically, a gardener is advised to start with the soil. “ Get it tested!” is a commonly heard imperative. So lets begin with the soil in ones plot. In general, it’s good to know the state of the soil. Poor/rich, acidic/alkaline, clay/sandy, microbial content, are all factors that will affect what we choose to grow in it. Amending the soil to get it to be more supportive and nurturing of our desired plant selections is certainly a step to take. I however, and perhaps it is partially because I have a small garden area that is well delineated into smaller spaces, have never tested my soil. In the early years, I had the good intention of testing but never did. Then, over time I decided not to do so. Let me explain.

I believe the character of the soil in an area is a result of the general conditions it is in as well as how it has been managed. Management of the soil implies how it has been treated by humans – over fertilizing, use of pesticides, not providing mulch or groundcover, allowing soil erosion and/or mineral depletion etc., Hence, the basic soil will be what it is and sound practices can preserve and/or restore it to its natural state. I have observed that the general type of soil if amended say with clay to make it less sandy and slow water drainage, eventually, over time, reverts to its original state. Same with pH levels. Constant amending is needed. I would much rather grow plants that inherently thrive in those actual conditions. Adding a first round of top soil and a good measure of compost before getting started on the planting is a happy compromise.

Once planted up, mulch by way of something natural such as my preferred bark chips is commonly spread to keep the soil from drying up, protect against temperature extremes, suppress weeds and eventually break down to add to the soils nutrient content. I have since found that adding groundcover by way of low growing plants, reduces the amount of bark mulch required whilst still keeping weeds at bay and preventing rapid evaporation from the soil. Ground cover looks pretty and organically connects all the plantings so it looks less contrived. Soil erosion is also minimized. As a result of this practice, I have little need to keep feeding the beds with compost or water. The selected plants flourish when they’re well matched with the growing conditions.

This leads us to plant selection. As mentioned, they must be appropriate to the location. Soil, light exposure and whether they fit into the gardeners personal design vision are the main factors. However, the most important point here is that in order for a garden to support the ecosystem, at least 70% of the plants must be native to the region. The remaining 30% should not be invasive and should be beneficial to the native pollinators – think peonies, lilacs, spring bulbs, certain clematis, day lily, hosta. They’re non-native plants that have done well in that they enhance the garden and also provide food and shelter to the good insects.

Native plants are hardy, resilient and unfussy. However, some can be over-enthusiastic and take over the space by pushing out the meeker natives. Select wisely!

I’m going to say it upfront – I have never understood the need for large properties if it was not going to be used fully. I see time and time again, home buyers seeking substantial acreage but never utilizing most of the space. It’s one thing to buy land to preserve woodlands, natural water features, specimen trees or extensive gardens that they intend to care for. But that’s hardly ever the case. Most of the property is swathes of lawn with possibly a few trees and any garden or plantings to speak of is kept small and close to the house. I look at the vast, bland lawns and think “what a waste!”.

Large, pristine lawns are passé. Get over those golf course inspired ambitions. They guzzle water, demand copious fertilizers, pesticides and energy. They’re resource and time consuming features. And expensive. Instead, cut the lawns out drastically and whatever is left, let it be a mix of pollinator friendly, environment supporting diminutive workhorses. Plant native trees. Create new beds, Consider growing a meadow instead of lawn. Meadows enrich both the environment as well as our lives. They’re so full of life and movement – never boring!

Despite everything we know today that lawns are unsustainable, there is a deep seated reluctance to shrink those spaces and turn them into lively, thriving eco-friendly spaces. Originally inspired by English gardening trends, lawns became an ‘American’ must-have. There’s really nothing indigenous about them. Even the types of grass we use is not native. So what are we trying to prove? We can do better. Be better.

In general, plant native and pollinator friendly perennials. Keep things simple by staying away from plant divas. Add nesting boxes, bug motels and shelters such as dead wood and bramble. Let fallen leaves remain wherever possible.

Water has been slated to be a major problem in the climate change crisis. Globally. We’re already witnessing it. Too much or too little – it is causing significant damage. A gardener must work to lower the demand for water. By choosing those undemanding native plants and applying mulch and groundcovers one then simply relies on rain to do the necessary watering. This will inform you of the truly hardy plants and the better choices for a sustainable, environment supporting garden.

For plants in pots, watering frequently is required – so collect rain water. Water used to boil eggs and vegetables, once cooled, can also be used.

On the subject of water, immediately reusing that boiling hot water on hard-to-get-at weeds that show up between bricks and stones is a very effective way to kill them off. I’ve been doing this for years – it’s immensely simple and satisfying!

What weeds that show up despite everything ( and they will) are best taken care of manually and regularly. While not particularly a task I enjoy, it keeps me much more aware of how the garden is doing. I notice things that I could easily miss otherwise. The Columbines that pop up wherever they choose and make the place that much more charming. I see where the garden snakes likes to sunbathe. I observe the birds looking for worms ind other protein rich bugs to feed their young, the hidden flowers like lily-of-the-valley waft their perfume and give me pause to enjoy. See? Weeding has its positive points.

Instead of gas powered tools, use electric or manually operated ones. Cuts down on gas and minimizes noise pollution. A little more physical effort on our part will only keep us in better shape.

You get the idea, there is much each of us can do. Must do. This call of the climate cannot be ignored. In the final analysis, we custodians of our unique, sacred spaces must be able to say – “I did my best”.

Note: In the following weeks, I’ll get into things like those plastic pots we accumulate when buying plants and other actionable items towards gardening smarter.

A few environmentally friendly features in my garden –

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Home For The Holidays

If we’ve learned anything these past two years, it’s just how singularly important our homes are. Under the definition of home, I include with the physical house, the family/friends/pets we live with, the garden/favorite park, the neighborhood. and the community in which one is privileged to live. What contributes to our well-being are a string of linked people, groups and spaces. It makes sense then, that we each must do our part for ourselves and each other to be healthy and well.

Taking the concept of home as my theme for the holidays, I decided that all the decorations would be things I already had and/or could find in the garden. The big bay standard was already the Christmas tree but what of garland or wreath? Other adornments?

Because of a family member’s allergy to evergreens, no traditional evergreen tree, garland or wreath. Not a problem. Bay standard holds itself very well in lights and all the ornaments collected/made over decades. As I’ve said in previous posts, foraging the garden was in order for the garland.

All the hydrangea flowers cut for autumn displays were sprayed in gold. I could’ve left them natural but the holidays deserve a bit of pizzazz. They look positively glamorous in gold – I’m so thrilled. On lengths of grapevine from the arbor, the gorgeous golden clusters were attached with wire. It looked good just that way. But why stop at good? I inserted beautiful leaves from the magnolia espalier – the top surface of glossy, dark green contrasts so strikingly with the suede brown underside. They add that bit of extra elegance to the garland for sure. But, I needed something for whimsy. Whatever remained of the beauty-berries after the birds had finished were salvaged and the stalks were inserted in the garland at random. I think it all comes together very nicely – pretty, festive, sophisticated yet with hints of carefree. For all that it is really just a simple, sweet creation from the garden. Every time I look at it, it reminds me of the generosity of the garden.

The amaryllis coming along in various pots and candle lights in the windows round out the holiday decor. That’s it. Exactly to our taste. Nothing extravagant or ostentatious.

The gifts we’re giving are all either homemade ( lemon marmalade, gingerbread cookies) or products that are meant for personal or household chores – they are not only gentle to humans and the environment but eliminate the need for plastic containers altogether. Think dish-washing soap and powder, cellulose cloths for cleaning and wiping, toothpaste and mouthwash tablets and biodegradable dental floss made from plant material. We made the switch to all these and other products over a year ago and have been pleased with them. I figure that gifts expressing our shared concern for the health of the environment and ourselves would encourage the recipients to make the change as well.

My remaining gifts fall into two more categories. Products whose purchase goes entirely to a good cause ( WWF, cures for certain diseases, UNICEF, social justice, etc.,) is one. The other is memberships to worthy organizations such as museums, botanical gardens, historical societies local to but not frequented by the recipient.

Gifts from the heart that reflect our homes, our values and our interconnectedness to everything and everybody in the ultimate home that is our beloved planet Earth.

Amaryllis ‘lemon drop’ has begun the festivities

Meyer lemon harvest

Lemon marmalade.

Hydrangea clad in gold

Beautyberries

Magnolia leaves

The finished product

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Keeping It Natural

It’s quite wonderful that the holiday season coincides so nicely with the garden being put to bed. It makes it easier to have to retreat indoors. The festive time requires decorations and what better way to lift our spirits and spread good cheer than letting Nature dictate the theme

Given everything that has affected us this year, I’m determined to go about the holidays with thought and mindfulness.

Lets not get upset about supply chain problems, Christmas tree shortages, less than fully stocked stores or other news that increases the level of anxiety. Instead of complaining, this is a call for creativity. I’m going to do my best to stay focused on what I can actually control. In many small ways, I intend to do my part in mitigating some of the problems we face and are concerned about.

To begin with decorations, I’ve always kept it simple. Strings of LED lights and family ornaments adorn the big bay tree standard that stands-in for the traditional Christmas tree. My daughter is allergic to evergreens but honestly, we are quite happy with the bay. Similarly, the mantel will be decorated with a garland of foraged materials from the garden and woods and more strings of lights. An electric candle light at each of the windows adds a great deal of charm. Several amaryllis started a few weeks ago should be blooming through the holidays into the New Year. A lit fireplace and real candles completes the whole scene. Over the years, we’ve made pomanders with oranges and the fragrance of citrus, cloves and cinnamon just says ‘HOLIDAYS!’. And lets not forget all the yummy aromas that come from the kitchen when baking is underway. Add a good playlist and we’re done. Seriously, does one really need anything more to set the stage for celebrations?

Similarly, for the gifts, I’m giving only things where either the proceeds serve a cause I support (cozy house slippers from the World Wildlife Foundation) or are products that will introduce the recipient to living in a more sustainable, environmentally healthy manner. That’s good stuff like household detergents, dental and body hygiene products made from natural, plant-based materials and packaged in what can be easily recycled or composted. No plastics whatsoever. I also support local businesses and artists/artisans. These are some of my humble efforts to put my money where my heart is and do right by Earth and all who call it home.

Keep it simple. Keep it natural. Nature’s beauty cannot be beat.

Note: In keeping with the natural theme, I’m sharing images from this years Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Gardens. I just love this event so much and every year I’m delighted and inspired by the creativity and beauty of the display of iconic buildings and plantings.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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