No Challenge, No Change

The final days of a year give pause to reflect and reassess on how we did, what we’ve experienced and learned. The new year is full of expectations and anticipation. We hope it will be the best year yet.

2020 has been a most challenging year. I doubt if there is even a single person who was not had to face some kind of test in the past ten months. At best, it’s been a struggle for most of us. Devastating for many. 2020 has not been easy.

We have had to adjust, change and rethink so much. How we work, live, shop, communicate, entertain and connect to others and the environment. But, we’ve done it – we humans are resilient. We grow from our problems. We adapt.

I’m giving plenty of thought to how I’ve handled 2020. Undoubtedly, my garden got me through. Like everyone else, I’ve dealt with fears, anxiety, confusion, loss, disappointments and setbacks. Through it all, the garden kept me engaged and busy. I was consoled by it’s beauty, comforted by its bounty, kept productive by the many tasks. Somehow, even easy, uncomplicated tasks like watering the plants, managed to calm the mind and lift the spirit.

So much joy was experienced in the garden. Birthdays, graduation, new jobs, small gatherings were celebrated in the midst of flora and fauna. I found time to do the varied chores with attention and appreciation. Equally, there were plenty of opportunities to sit back and enjoy the artistry of the plants. Beguiled by the antics of the numerous birds and butterflies, my resolve to ensure their continued residency in my garden was reaffirmed over and over.

What I’ve learned is that I need to slow down so I can immerse myself in what truly fulfills me. Short changing the garden by giving the tasks limited time or a rushed effort results in shortchanging my own joy and well-being. Devoting a good amount of time taking care of chores, listening to the birds chatter as they go about their own business, inhaling the perfumes of flowers and aromatics, reveling in the beauty of the plants, watching the bees and butterflies making their rounds has kept me in a state of equilibrium at a time when the world seemed to be torn asunder.

As if to reward my attention, the garden was brilliant all through the seasons. It filled cup repeatedly. And I couldn’t get enough. My only regret is that I was unable to share it with everyone. After all, gardens should be shared and lived in.

Reviewing the year, I understand that the garden recognized where I was coming from and comforted me accordingly. It gently revealed to me that I’d been stretching myself too thin, got involved with too many things and how far I’d moved away from my true north. Not any more.

While a good amount of the global challenges from 2020 will carry over into 2021, I feel better about the coping skills I’ve acquired from under the tutelage of the garden. I now have a clearer , cleaner vision for myself. Simplify, streamline and then full steam ahead. In the garden and in life.

From the bottom of my heart I send each of you the warmest of wishes – health, hope and happiness for the New Year. May 2021 bring peace, joy, love and laughter to all.

Note: Looking backwards –

December

November

October

October

September

August

August

August

July

June

May

May

May

April

March

February

January

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

A Wander To Wonder

But for the odd pot or furniture to put away, the garden has been put to bed. As I gaze out the window slowly sipping my coffee and contemplating the day, it looks very subdued and quiet out there. I’m planning on going into the garden a bit later in the day. Spend some time getting the benefit of the outdoors. Sunshine notwithstanding, it looks cold. I’m tempted to make excuses and stay in. I know that once I’ve made it outside, I’ll be totally fine. It is getting past the inertia that is the hardest.

After a morning of work, I’m ready for a break. I require some diversion to get my mind ready for the next tasks that must be completed. I pull on warm layers kept on the ready, grab my winter gear and step out. The sharp edge of the cold hits me as I squint in the bright sunlight. Right away I feel more awake and my body adjusts to the temperature. It’s not so bad at all.

Instinctively my eyes start surveying the perennial beds on either side of where I stand. I look down at the hellebores left uncut so the emerging buds are protected. Gently lifting a couple of the leaves, I note the tiny buds nestled at the base. In my minds eye, I see the flowers in bloom. Hellebores are so dependable. I cannot have enough of them. The rest of the beds look tidy and flat with the plants cut back. They and the bulbs are nicely tucked away for the winter under a thick layer of mulch. Staring a bit longer, I detect the slightest growth – slender tips spearing through. Crocus or snowdrops awakening way too early? There had been a few days of mild temperatures a couple of weeks ago. Could that have triggered some bulbs? I fervently hope not. There’s not much I can do about it so I tell myself to let it be.

Leaving the front garden, I walk past the vertical garden – a length that looks so devoid of any growth, that one would be hard-pressed to imagine the lush greenery that is a hallmark of this space in the growing season. My heart feels a twinge – I miss the wall garden. It surprises me to realize just how much I love this feature. I wonder if the mosses looking barely present in their dormancy miss their fern companions now ensconced safely in the emptied vegetable bed in the potager.

Standing at the top of the steps that lead down to meadow, I marvel at the filigree of tree branches above. Denuded of leaves, like a loosely knit scarf the patterns trace through the air against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. Below, I become aware of birds hopping around as they forage for food. It’s only in being still that I am able to detect the many sounds in the garden. What at first felt quiet is in reality humming with activity.

The rustle of small creatures in bushes, the scratching of the birds as they avail themselves of worms and scattered seeds, distinct birdsong punctuates the air and I begin to watch the various singers at different locations of the garden. Each time a gust of wind come through, I hear the creak of branches swaying. Airlifted leaves perform balletic dances before settling down again on the ground. The sunlight glancing off the metal sculpture brings into focus the moire pattern on its surface. Reminds me of eddies of water in a stream. I watch a hawk high on a tree of a neighbor’s property – it is feasting on something newly caught. I don’t want to know what its eating. Nearby, I watch a spider hard at work – a web is such a marvel. I wonder if the spider does it instinctively or has some forethought directed the strategy. As an artist, I know both factors come into play when I create.

Before I know it, an hour has passed. My body feels so alive and filled with inspiration. Wandering around the garden, has quieted my mind and prepared it for the work that lies ahead. I return indoors refreshed, relaxed and motivated.

Tomorrow, I will get to do it all over again. The daily gift of Nature.

Note: I’m very pleased to have my series of 6 paintings on “The Women Of India” at the International Art Show Of Raleigh on the Arts Of India. Do please take a look!

Hellebore leaves shielding new growth

Buds peeking through

All bedded down

Up close and personal with dormant mosses

The winter wall garden

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Occupying October

October. Time to get busy in the garden. Even though temperatures are higher than usual and it feels so glorious, I know that failing to get cracking on the chores will only have me full of regrets should a sudden frost arrive or worse, snow. Best not to take any chances.

The Things To Do page provides a monthly list of garden tasks and I hope it is useful. However, being human, one forgets to check in a timely fashion. So, I thought I’d start giving a reminder at the start of each month. For this month, I’m providing the whole list below just so you can see that October demands a lot.

Things To Do In October

1. Yes, weeding continues!

2. Time to plant perennials and trees. Give a good dose of compost to each. Water regularly. Perennials already in place can be divided and planted as well.

3. Cut back all spent plants except what is needed for seasonal interest.

4. Collect seeds. Store in labeled envelopes in a cool, dry space.

5. Last call to root cuttings of geraniums, coleus, rosemary etc.,

6. Get all pots of tender perennials into clean greenhouse or other winter shelters. Wash plants and pots thoroughly first – minimizes pest infestation.

7. Plant bulbs as weather gets consistently cooler. Bulbs can be planted once soil temperature gets down to 55 degrees right up to the time the soil freezes solid.

8. Rake leaves. Add to compost pile or deposit in woods.

9. Give compost heap a good stir.

10 Clean out vegetable garden except for cool weather plants that are still producing. Apply several inches of compost on cleared beds. Plant green manure to enrich the soil – optional.

11. Clean and put away (or cover) outdoor furniture.

12. Check what needs repairing, repainting, replacing and get to it!

13. Lift tender bulbs, corms and tubers. Store in dry, frost-free place.

14. Drain and close all outdoor water faucets. Empty rain barrel and hoses. Store.

15 Clean all equipment and tools. Store neatly.

16. As temperatures plummet, protect tender shrubs and immovable  frost sensitive pots and statuary. I cover the former with burlap and for the latter, I first cover with sturdy plastic and then use burlap so it looks halfway decent.

17. Remove suckers from ornamental and fruit trees. Prune roses and wisteria. Remove dead and decaying limbs from all plants.

18. Fill up bird feeders. Keep them filled through the winter. Put up nest boxes for the spring.

19. Get into the autumnal spirit – fill window boxes and urns with seasonal plants and produce.

Sincere gardeners never stop learning. On the 19th of this month, the Untermyer symposium is sure to instruct us all. Do sign up for it. While the topic is on restoring historic gardens, there will surely be plenty of ideas and advice to be picked up for ones own garden.

Join us for a symposium on different approaches to historic garden restoration. Suzanne Clary, President of the Jay Heritage Center, Howard Zar, Executive Director of Lyndhurst, and Timothy Tilghman, Head Gardener of Untermyer Gardens, will share their experiences in restoring great New York gardens and landscapes. A pictorial introduction to each garden will be followed by a discussion moderated by well-known garden blogger Shobha Vanchiswar and a tour of Untermyer Gardens by Timothy Tilghman.”

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Community Ties

I live in a town with a strong community spirit. We care about our children and our schools, we’re avid readers and our amazing library bears testimony to it, how charming the town looks is a result of an active garden club and a Beautification Advisory board. We recycle judiciously, have a no-plastic bags policy, compost and mulch is available for the taking at our busy recycling center, much of our electricity comes from wind energy, and our water is top notch safe. Our Historical Society is well supported, the town offers senior citizens an array of activities and services and we have a deep commitment to arts and culture. We are a very inclusive, supportive, forward thinking lot – all are welcome and embraced. I realize this is beginning to sound too good to be true and you’re right. We do have our differences and disputes but given the general parameters of what makes a town good, I sincerely believe we have right here much to appreciate and cherish.

But, that is no reason to be complacent. There is always room for improvement. We can, should and must do better.

The downtown area is currently undergoing a massive face-lift. Infrastructural issues are being addressed as well matters of making the commercial/public areas more attractive and user-friendly. While we grumble about the inconveniences it is expected that the new look will be worth it. Fingers crossed.

So here is my beef. As a commuting community where a high percentage of us take the train to work, the land running along the length of the train tracks could use a makeover. Our station itself is a historical building and has been lovingly restored. A very nice restaurant operates in it. The parking lots and the station grounds are clean and groomed. But the sorry looking, scrubby mess that one views whilst waiting for the train is a real eyesore.

It’s not just about aesthetics which by itself would be a worthy thing but, I believe it could have a positive effect on the commuters. Just as any time spent in a garden/ park or a walk (however brief) in the woods is known to improve ones physical, mental and emotional well being, viewing a stretch of interesting and attractive plants in the time spent waiting for the train would certainly do much to improve a person’s mood. Subtly, sub-consciously nature works wonders on us. Why not do what we can to help ourselves be well?

A month ago, I was in the Chicago area. I used to go to grad school there so I’m quite familiar with the area. As a result, I easily notice changes in the surrounding towns and much has changed indeed! One of the things that has captivated me is the embankment area running along the train tracks in the town of Wilmette which is a suburb rather similar to my town here in New York.

At one time, this stretch of land was full of wild vegetation that received minimum care and certainly no approving viewers. No longer. Today, there is a stunning prairie garden running parallel to the tracks. I’m completely enamored by this development. As the tracks leave Wilmette the land next to the tracks reverts to the usual ho-hum of rubbish plants. The contrast is stark. But, it shows what an astounding difference it makes to go to the trouble of deliberately creating such a landscape.

In making such an appropriately prairie style garden, no doubt native fauna populations have also been revived. The benefits to the area at large is immeasurable. Upkeep demands are much lower in such spaces. The initial investments to transform this area are surely more than worthwhile. Good for the environment, good for the commuters and good for the town overall.

Certainly the wildly popular High-Line park in Manhattan also serves as a big inspiration. The very concept is genius and how it all came together is brilliant. The power of the people is formidable.

I’d like to think that the enlightened residents of my town will see the advantages of doing something similar. Thus, I’m toying with ways to put this idea to the powers that be. It’s easy to discuss the merits of such an endeavor but the costs are always what makes them balk at new proposals. I’m thinking a local version of a Go Fund Me to get the project started and then maybe an Adopt A Length Of Track plan to cover maintenance costs. Similar to the successful Adopt A Highway program in NYC.

Imagine miles and miles of splendid, native plantings soothing our souls, coloring the seasons, enriching the environment and connecting us all …

I’m open to other ideas and welcome input from anybody interested in this idea so it can be put to the Town Board in a well constructed manner. Start thinking!

Note : I present to you photos of the plantings in Wilmette and High-Line.

Wilmette along the tracks- taken at different sections –

High-Line in October and December –

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar