Exposing True Colors

My Digging Deeper event ‘Wilding Walls And Fruiting Fences’ took place last Sunday. The weather cooperated beautifully and I was more than ready to welcome the folk who’d signed up. That they were willing to spend their Sunday morning in my garden felt very special. I was in my happy place – a chance to be with gardeners/garden lovers exchanging garden ideas, information and experiences is my favorite pastime. I was not disappointed – this was a wonderful group of friendly, curious and intelligent individuals. Such a pleasure.

I’m used to sharing my garden with the public through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program – which is normally in May. Mid-Spring is when it looks most beautiful. And winter weary visitors are particularly complimentary on seeing plants fresh in their new growth, flaunting bright colors.

Late summer however, is not when my garden is at its best. Typically, there is a certain fatigue that sets in as summer is drawing to an end and fall isn’t quite ready to take over. Additionally, I’m most often away on vacation at this time so, the garden has that neglected appearance that makes any self-respecting gardener cringe. This year, while I am very much present, the weather was seriously disagreeable that things did not look much improved. As such, how the garden appeals is pretty much up to the beholder.

In front, the beds that look fetching in a parade of bulbs and early perennials through spring, become boisterous as summer perennials take over. Likewise, the meadow moves from a space of happy bulbs frolicking around to a space thick in all manner of native plants jockeying for space and attention. To those who are accustomed to a garden being well contained and tidy, this can come as bit of a shock. If one spends a little time in the garden however, they’d become aware of the life that this garden supports. Birds, butterflies, bees and all manner of other insects abound. This is exactly what I intended for my piece of paradise.

To please a traditionalist, short of giving my garden complete re-constructive surgery, there isn’t much I can do. Not that I really expect to please everyone at any time.

The garden had taken a beating this year because we’ve had really bad weather. First a spring that was mostly too cold and dry and then a very hot and wet summer. Extremely challenging. Plants struggled, many bloomed but the flowers could barely last. Things were early or late but not particularly on time. Some plants simply gave up trying.

A visitor was going to witness a rather wild looking, not so conventional garden. I know it is not everybody’s cup of tea. As I prepared for the big day doing the usual weeding and tidying up, I was acutely conscious of all that was not right. The flaws glared at me. In addition, certain matters that I kept meaning to address but did not because I am freshly returned from a trip and short on time, were now plainly obvious to me. Why hadn’t I taken care of trimming my side of the neighbors hedge? And what about those annuals I intended to plant to ignite the color palette in the beds and meadow? Why did I let the thuggish (but loved) members to spread unchecked? Honestly, all I could see was everything that was not right.

On behalf of my garden, I felt very vulnerable and exposed.

On the morning of my Digging Deeper, I had my fingers crossed for kind, understanding eyes to be cast on the garden. I needn’t have worried. The visitors were ever so generous in their observations. They noticed the flowers and many features and commented enthusiastically. On spying hummingbirds, there were such expressions of joy. And when it came to the focus of the event, I had a rapt audience eager to understand the art and science of espalier and vertical gardening.

Suddenly, I was seeing my garden through their eyes. They appreciated the variety of native flowers in bloom – not splashy but nevertheless pretty. A couple of people had seen my garden in spring on past Open Days. They too were taken by the summer display – something that I feared was less than best. I realized then, they were gardeners – they understood the vagaries of the weather, the vanity of the gardener and the wonder contained in all gardens.

By letting others tour my garden in all its authentic reality, without any pretension, I had freed myself to share my own experiences and knowledge in exactly the same way. In turn, I gained a new found appreciation of my humble garden and the people who choose to visit it.

Here are some images from my Digging Deeper morning –

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Homecoming

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The immediate survey on my return –

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

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Romancing The Garden

Gardeners are romantic. I have come to realize and accept this. In making anything beautiful, it pretty much goes without saying (but I’m saying) that one must also be romantic. You aren’t convinced? Hmmm. Let me tell you how I’ve come to realize my own idealistic, sentimental nature in action in the garden. You tell me if you’ve never been similarly inclined.

I’ll start with the very poster child of romance. The rose. I love them. I have included several in my garden – all in shades of pink, profuse and preferably perfumed. The very display of roses in bloom brings to the forefront matters of the heart. You absolutely cannot see a rose and not think of love and romance. Am I right?

When I chose to place two arches and plant roses to scramble up them, I envisioned something very traditional. The arch one must go through to reach the front door was to invite and disarm the visitor. It puts one in good cheer. The subtle fragrance sends an additional message of welcome. The three different clematis weaving through this rose takes the whole to a higher level. Pure romance.

The second arch which is a gateway to the gardens in the back, has a different rose. Brighter in its rosy hue and with a stronger perfume. It makes its presence felt long before you get near it. A temptation to coax the curious to come forth.

A shrub rose I planted on the side path in early spring was chosen for its prettiness, hardiness and its scent. The whole idea being that its fragrance will waft into the house through the studio windows just above and assault my senses in the nicest possible way as I paint. I’d like to think my work can only be made better under such influences.

In truth, one can smell the roses in all the rooms on that side of the house. It makes me pause, inhale deeply and appreciate the aroma. Life feels good. Similarly, I position the pots of citrus, jasmine and gardenia on the side terrace so the night air is redolent with their strong aromas – hopefully sweetening our dreams and slumber.

In the herb garden, I included plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. Lovage, rue, hyssop, comfrey, foxgloves and such. Apart from the lovage which pairs well with fish, the others merely look pretty and remind me of earlier times. Hyssop while purported to soothe sore throats, was popularly used as a spiritual bath. The hyssop bath is usually considered to be a personal ritual to remove sin and negativity in life. It has a Biblical significance. Rue means disdain or regret. Comfrey too had a role in early medicine as a poultice to treat joint pains. All so quaint and romantic right?

Even a feature like the ‘meadow’ has an element of idealism and romance. It is a place for congeniality between the native flora and fauna. Where butterflies, birds and bees pollinate and populate my corner of paradise. Life supporting life, all creatures living together in peace and all is well with the world. What a concept!

The espalier of 27 apple and 5 pear trees hark back to a time when all of this neighborhood was full of apple orchards. I like to think I’ve in some way restored something precious to this place.

The pergola in the back terrace was designed so the wisteria would grow over its top, generously providing shade under which we can gather to break bread and sip wine with friends and family as often as possible. And we do. Idyllic escapes in a world gone mad.

And so it goes. I see how in creating this garden, I have subconsciously let my inner romantic guide me. It is about beauty, history, literature, harmony, the sacred and most of all, love.

Now, how about you?

Note: Enjoy these romantic images!

View from the upstairs window boxes
Hyssop
Gardenia
Citrus

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Garden Things

I’m in the thick of garden fever. Open Day is less than three weeks away. When I’m not actually in the garden, I’m thinking about it, perusing garden literature or talking about it. So much to consider – chores, plants, tips, new-to-me information, weather, wildlife, one’s own limitations ( physical, budget, time…), successes and failures. It’s never ending and I realize how tedious this can be for a non-gardener. A friend asked recently why gardeners always talked about the amount of work, the perils, trials and tribulations and then insisted on continuing the activity of gardening. How could I possibly convince her that those things are all part of the joy of gardening?!

It’s always exciting to learn something new and I’m happy to share. Maybe everybody is aware already but I discovered only recently that fritillaria are closely related to lilies. That in itself doesn’t make one sit up but here’s the reason to pay attention – they are just as attractive to the pretty but vile red lily beetle. Ugh. I’d all but stopped growing lilies because those horrid insects would always show up to ruthlessly decimate them. Now I have to worry about the many fritillaria I’m so happy to grow in the garden. Oy vay.

The somewhat low height ( 5 feet) at which the bluebird house is set up leaves it vulnerable to predators that can easily scramble up the metal pole to access the eggs/babies. It is worrisome and yet, the bluebirds prefer that open, low location. A coating of automotive grease along the length of the pole and over the copper covered roof helps enormously in deterring snakes, cats and squirrels. An easy solution like this always pleases me – fingers crossed it works.

All the stakes and supports are put in place before the plants are fully grown and it gets complicated to support them discretely. I also see this as a way to show the plants that I believe in their ability to reach their highest potential. Sly horticultural psychology.

Over the years, the labels marking the assorted apple and pear trees of the espalier had faded. It’s so easy to get lax about keeping things such as labels in order. At the espalier, it is particularly relevant to see which tree is bearing fruit and which is not. It might simply be an academic sort of accounting but I believe good gardening should come with a sound knowledge of what’s going on everywhere in the garden. I’ve now relabeled the fruit trees and must admit to an undeserving amount of satisfaction.

In my bid to tweak things a bit, I’ve moved around an object or two, refreshed a couple of walls with a lick of paint and replaced a feature with another. In the process, my own spirit has been tweaked and I’m in a much better frame of mind. Go figure.

And so it goes. Seemingly small investments of time, energy and resources but with nice dividends.

Note – Open Day is May 18th!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar