Escape Roots

Less than two weeks into 2021 and it already feels old! If there wasn’t enough going on already, we now have even more happening to consume our attention and raise our worries. I don’t know about you but, I am focusing on mini-escapes. Books are a great way to get away from it all but I’m finding it hard to concentrate at present. It’s easy enough to divert my mind with a movie or television show but once its over, reality sets in and I’m invariably left with a feeling of having used my time inadequately. I’ve learned that screen time serves me best as a reward after I’ve been creative and productive.

While I cannot actually work in the winter garden, I take comfort in doing the things in preparation, planning and plotting that perfect garden. It’s activity filled with hope and positivity. Perusing seed and plant catalogs that arrive in the mail send me dreaming of all sorts gardens. Plantings for seaside homes, tropical terraces, alpine aeries keep me entertained for a good while at the end of which, I’m more informed about the possibilities in those climes.

Similarly, I find good information and inspiration in garden magazines. The periodicals from across the pond have me salivating. Particularly since their winters are milder and they’re already starting seeds, have early bulbs and hellebores blooming. I look outside and nothing is happening in my neck of the woods. But, for an hour or so, I’ve been to the UK and basked in the gardens depicted on the pages. That’s a lovely escape that gets my creative juices going.

Painting is always a lovely form of taking my mind from everything. And I do so as often as I can. The focus it requires pushes back the worries that tend to bubble up so easily these days. And I’m always happy to have something new and tangible after the effort. Each painting marks growth in the artist.

I’ve taken to adding a slow tour of my garden at the end of my daily neighborhood walks. It calms me with its familiarity. While I know it so well, new ideas or plants permit me to envision it differently. Sort of like trying to visualize your child at different stages in the future. Endless hopeful possibilities.

After such jaunts, I’m energized to come indoors and tackle what needs doing.

Stirred by all the seed catalogs and reportings from English gardens, I’ve decided to order some sweet peas. I absolutely adore the flowers – delicate, softly hued and sweetly fragrant, they entrance and beguile. The climate where I live is not ideal for this plant. All prior attempts have shown they are rather short lived and disappointing. Still, I’m going try again.

This time, I’m going to give them a head start by starting them indoors in mid-February. Sweet-peas have long root structures and do best when they are given the space to put out strong, long roots straight down. Standard seed starting trays are not appropriate. One needs to use either commercially sold root-trainers or the cardboard cylinders from toilet paper rolls – Ann Marie Powell in England (@myrealgarden) has convinced me that sweet peas do considerably better ( she says ‘fierce’) this way. I’ve elected to use the latter as collecting the rolls is easy and promotes sustainability. Stay tuned – I’ll report back in due time. For now, I’m happily fantasizing numerous posies scattered around the house in May/June.

Time in the greenhouse is hands down the most immediate getaway of all. In mere minutes of seeing and inhaling the greenery I’m calmer and breathing evenly. It’s always spring here. Puttering around snipping, primping the plants is hugely gratifying. I’m deeply grateful for my tiny, transparent sanctuary. I know what a privilege it is.

The bounty from the lemon trees has kept me busy – I’ve been focused on harnessing all the lemony goodness in as many ways as possible. Sour lemon pickle – tweaking an old family recipe, a jar sits on a sill where, over the course of a few weeks sunlight will work its magic to create something that’ll perk up any dish.

Limoncello, lemon marmalade, lemon curd are other products. And I’m also freezing some of the juice in ice cube trays for vinaigrette and cocktails. Every one of these will provide a chance to simply enjoy the flavors of captured sunshine. A respite from whatever else is going on.

Escapes can range from just a few minutes to several days. Its important that we do so – to maintain our equilibrium and reset as required.

Right now, join me for a quick recess. Sitting right where you are, close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breath. Inhale deeply. Exhale deeply. Do it again. Again. Once more. Notice how your body starts to relax. Keep breathing with intent. Open your eyes. There. Doesn’t that feel good?

Packages of sunshine!

Sour lemon pickle (as opposed to sweet pickle)

Most recent watercolor of seed heads

Vanilla bean infused Meyer lemon marmalade

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Leaning Into The Light

Despite the shorter days, I’ve been feeling upbeat. As someone who is quite affected by the reduced hours of sunlight, this is significant. I’ve found ways to keep me from going down the dark hole of gloom and apathy.

As soon as I wake up in the morning, I do 20 minutes of light therapy. Emulating sunlight, it informs my body that it is time to kick start my day. During this time, I meditate ( another proven health practice) for 10 minutes and use the remaining time to plan my day and get me in the right state of mind.

Following this ritual, I reach for coffee. And then I workout. Not because I’m gung-ho about exercise but because the endorphins after the exertion really keep me energized for the rest of the day. I’ve found this series of steps gets me through the early hours of the morning when it is still relatively dark. By the time I’m showered and at my easel or laptop, I’m feeling infinitely better. Overcast skies can now be managed. If the sun is shining, I’m truly ecstatic.

By lunch time I’ve typically got in a couple of good hours of work and I’m ready for a break. Outdoors. Unless it’s raining, I make it a point to get outside for a minimum of 30 minutes. A turn around the garden can last even longer – it just feels so good to be in it without having any chores! I notice so much more. Recently, I examined the climbing hydrangea and it was full of small, pale green buds. I’ve only ever checked this plant in early spring when I’m busy searching for signs of growth in every part of the garden. So I’m not sure if these buds are normal – similar to magnolias which sport their fuzzy buds all through winter. Or, should I be concerned. A little research is required. Either way, I’d have learned something.

A quick survey of whats doing in the greenhouse can be exciting. If a scented geranium is in bloom, I’ll cut the flowers for a tiny arrangement by my bedside. However, when a jasmine is adorned in buds, the whole pot comes indoors – when the flowers open, the perfume wafts all through the house transporting one to warmer, sun drenched climes.

At present, the greenhouse is cheerful in citrus – Calamondin oranges, Meyer lemons and regular lemons hang like orbs of bright sunshine. I’m always amazed that I’m growing my own lemons! And when I use them in the kitchen, its just so exciting. And precious.

Note: the Calamondin oranges are small, too sour and seedy to eat. So they are good for decorations or squeezed into cocktails in need of something tart.

Most days, I also take a walk in the neighborhood. I observe birds and trees. Often, a friend or two will join me. Its a lovely way to have a quick catch up. Regularly connecting to others is so comforting.

When I get back into the house, I’m revived and ready for several more hours of work. Nature therapy works wonders.

By sunset, I begin to feel the growing darkness impact my mood. It’s a good time to turn on all the lights in the room I’m in. For the next few weeks, my Christmas ‘bush’ ( as my daughter is allergic to conifers indoors, the largest bay standard I own is the stand-in) adds to the brightness in the home. Since strings of LED lights are used, I leave them on all the time. The twinkling sight is such a spot of cheer. Lit candles and a hot cup of tea round out this late afternoon ritual. The practice serves to reassure me that it’s all okay. I’ll be okay.

Paperwhites in bloom and amaryllis in bud are some of the things infusing hope and positivity all around the house. I’d saved some of the spent alliums from late spring and spray painted them gold over this past weekend– they now sit in a radiant arrangement in the living room. Alliums up-cycled! Alliums have served me very well this year. First, they made the garden look so beautiful in late spring. Then, if you recall, I painted a whole bunch of them red, white and blue to celebrate the Fourth. Here we are in December, still enjoying them. I think I’ll hold on to these gilded beauties well into the new year.

Doing the many things that keep one in good spirits takes me smoothly into the evening and I’m better prepared to enjoy it.

Contrary to how the shorter days feel, this is the season of Light. Starting with Diwali – the Indian festival of lights, Hanukkah – the Jewish festival of lights, the Winter Solstice which signals the gradual lengthening of days and finally Christmas – celebrating love and peace. I honor them all. I’m down for anything that commemorates life, love and light.

Note: For holiday gifts and sprucing up your home, do check out the Printed Garden Collection!

Bay tree in festive attire

Alliums in bloom in the spring

On patriotic duty

In the Holiday spirit

Amaryllis coming along

Paperwhites

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Riding Out December

It is finally December. After the year it has been, there appears to be a collective wish to be done with 2020 as if magically on January 1, 2021, things will have improved. It’s necessary to have that thread of hope to take us through the months. As we passed each holiday, every personal milestone, each public event, we’ve moved along with the aspiration that it will be so much better next year. With the imminent release of vaccines, the light at the end the 2020 tunnel just got brighter. Much brighter.

But, there’s still December (and potentially a few more months) to get past. I’m taking it one month at a time.

December for me is dark. Lack of light affects me. I also miss spending time outdoors in the garden. More than any other year, this December feels particularly heavy. I realize it is because typically, one had holiday parties and celebrations to offset the gloom. Social connections matter. If the cold weather took us indoors, at least we could engage in convivial gatherings. Not this year.

With the recent acquisition of an outdoor heater, I have ostensibly addressed two of my needs. I am able to bask in the sunshine and fresh air in the garden. Sitting cozily in the warmth of said heater, I’m able to watch the birds, survey the bones of the garden with a critical eye, dream or plan future projects, catch up on some reading, do some painting/writing, take care of timely tasks like sorting seed packets and even starting some for early planting. I know that simply being in the garden will cheer me up immensely.

I adored having visits from friends all through the warm months. They were such high points of my year. Socially distanced and safe, over food and drink, we celebrated, commiserated, and uplifted each other. Sharing my garden with others is gratifying. Sending a friend home with a rooted cutting, fresh herbs or fruit, a jar of homemade preserves or a small bunch of flowers is hugely happy-making. Now, I’m able to continue welcoming friends to hang out with me and get the benefits of sunlight and friendship.

Indoors, the paperwhites are coming along nicely and the amaryllis are emerging. The hibiscus I’d brought inside in October because they were so heavy with buds have proven to be wonderful house guests. Undemanding except for a bi-weekly splash of water, they have put forth multi-petaled flowers of a deep red hue continuously. The largest bay standard I possess was too large for the greenhouse so it is occupying a fairly prized spot by the kitchen window. While the tree blocks easy access to some things, it is quite lovely to pick leaves so conveniently for sauces, stews and such. A single bay leaf elevates a pot of rice – rich in fragrance and taste. Other herbs such as rosemary, curry, thyme, oregano, sage and Thai basil are just a short trip to the greenhouse. I’m comforted by and also deeply grateful for their availability. A sense of gardening continued goes a long way in keeping me cheerful.

A couple of days ago, I came across a commercial for new device called AeroGarden – it is a hydroponic kit to easily grow herbs and vegetables at home. I have no idea if it lives up to all that the manufacturer touts but, if it does, it’s a wonderful product. If any of you have had experience with this system, please share!

With seed packets ordered, tools sent out for sharpening and a couple of design projects incubating, I’m all set for getting through this month. A gardener always likes to have some element of related work in progress. We like the continuity of growing something with the giddy anticipation of a successful end in sight.

Reminder! It is Giving Tuesday today. When you purchase from the Printed Garden Collection, you are supporting a small business and giving to the American Civil Liberties Union. 50% of the profits are donated to the ACLU.

The products make lovely gifts for the home. Yours and someone else’s! ‘Tis the season!

In the greenhouse:

Lemons!

Painting seed heads

Paperwhites

Hibiscus

Sunday morning in the garden

Conversations around the heater

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Stories In Scent

“Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across a thousand miles and all the years we have lived.” – Helen Keller ‘The World I live In’



It has occurred to me that, the seasons are embodied in fragrances. Hyacinths in early spring awaken my senses and then, the soft notes of narcissus take over. Violas, lily-of-the-valley and wisteria span the season. The peonies, lavender and roses all rich in perfume lead us into summer when the heady scent of lilies step in. Not unique to spring but most obvious at this time is the much loved odor of petrichor – that smell after the rain. A collaborative effort of bacteria, soil, plants and rain, it is a smell that evokes such comfort in its familiarity.

Summer is a bouquet of smells. Sweet strawberries, honeysuckle, gardenia, heliotrope, ripening peaches are but a few. Warmed by the midday sun, the aromas of mint, basil, rosemary, thyme and other herbs rise: a reminder of meals past, present and future. The clove scented phlox and luminous brugamansia infuse the evenings with provocative perfumes. So many different aromatics and yet , we can distinguish each one clearly. Every single one of them represents a memory, Some more significant than the rest.

Moving into autumn, the soil receives the fallen leaves and we inhale the redolence of a season known for endings. Yet really, growth may have ceased but next years abundance is already in the works. Seeds and bulbs are ensconced in cozy, earthy spaces that will provide safety and sustenance till the time is right to grow again. Pumpkin is the essence of this season. It weaves its way into the foods, drinks and festivities of fall. Pumpkin spice is rather exclusive. I know of no other fruit or vegetable with its own personal blend of spices. Still, I’m partial to the quince. A single fruit can perfume the entire house. Sublime. It is mushroom season too. Earth offering up treasures wearing her own personal perfume.

As winter arrives, we move indoors where the air is infused with the smells of paperwhites and wood fires. Mulled apple cider and hot cocoa stirred with peppermint. Soon, the jasmine in the greenhouse will be studded in buds and it’ll be brought into the house so its distinctively tropical fragrance can penetrate my consciousness and remind me of my childhood in India.

Also in the greenhouse, the orange blossoms unfurl their white petals releasing their perfume carrying tales from the ages. It is pure heaven to sit a while, breathing deeply, dreaming of warmer, light filled days. Outside, the witch hazel puts out flowers that smell fresh and crisp. Like an old-fashioned bathhouse or laundry. Cleansing, reviving.

Smell is history. Powerful, emotional and instructive. All courtesy of Nature. Hallelujah.

Note: As the holidays and the season of giving approach, please consider gifts from the Printed Garden Collection. I am a small business and more importantly, 50% of the profits is donated to the ACLU ( American Civil Liberties Union). Thank you.

This has been a spectacular fall. As you will see, I have been inspired by the colors. Enjoy these images –

‘Autumn Reflections’ watercolor

‘Autumn – The Other Spring’. Watercolor

‘Autumn Gold’. Watercolor

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar



The Benevolence Of Bulbs

Bulbs give an unparalleled bang for the buck. It is a simple matter of plunking them into a deep enough hole in the ground, covering them up and letting them be. Come spring, they show up in good form and raise the ante in the garden. While the perennials are slowly stirring, bulbs burst forth boldly and bring instant cheer. For the effort of digging them a decent home in the fall, the payback is big at a time when we most need the beauty and inspiration.

This past weekend was all about bulb planting. About 2000 of them. At one time, this task was accomplished by me alone but the years have taken their toll so, I had called in reinforcement by way of husband, daughter and a nephew. And the job got done. The weather cooperated perfectly, moods remained cheerful and it had the energy of a barn raising. I’m deeply grateful to my’ team’ – without their support no vision of mine could be realized.

With the planting of bulbs in autumn, we are essentially saying we have hope for the future. That we will get through the cold, dark days of winter to greet a beautiful, promise-filled spring. This seemingly simple act of faith epitomizes the very optimism it takes to move life forward.

Note: At the request of many, here is the list of bulbs that I’ve planted for a beautiful 2021 –

TULIP ANTOINETTE
TULIP COOL CRYSTAL
TULIP DON QUICHOTTE
TULIP DREAMLAND
TULIP GREENLAND
TULIP GREEN WAVE
TULIP LOUVRE
TULIP ROSALIE
TULIP SPRING GREEN
TULIP WHITE PARROT

TULIP FLAMING BALTIC

ALLIUM AFLAT. PURPLE SENSATION
CAMASSIA QUAMASH
FRITILLARIA MELEAGRIS
FRITILLARIA MICHAILOVSKYI

Final burst of roses

All bulbs sorted out

Time for a respite

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

October, Oh My!

Last week was wild if anything. Full of the unexpected, shocks, surprises and pivots. We are all trying to process the events. It’s made me that much more aware of how fragile life is and how much we need to step back, regroup, reassess and reevaluate the hows, whys and whats of ourselves. It’s an ongoing effort to be and do better.

That’s pretty much the same in the garden. October is an excellent time to consider our gardens. How, why and what we do in them has far reaching effects. Now is the season to divide, remove, plant and reconfigure. Make the garden a haven for all – a place of refuge, relief and reflection. I firmly believe that a garden should mirror ones own personality and philosophy in life.

In my garden this week it’s about beating the retreat. All the tender perennials will start making their way back indoors to the greenhouse, basement or living quarters of the house. The greenhouse has been washed and cleaned. Before the plants get moved to their winter residence, they are clipped and trimmed, washed well to remove dust, debris and any bugs hanging around. It’s a real process and best done with attention and patience. Hygiene matters.

While it is easy to get caught up in the chores, I’m determined to take the time to appreciate the uniquely stunning beauty of October. The last of the summer flowers mingling with autumn blooms, the butterflies and bees making their rounds before long migratory journeys or months of hibernation, leaves turning colors that make the garden glow, strikingly beautiful seed heads and pods revealing future potential and possibilities, harvesting fruits and vegetables sweetened by the crisp chill. Nature offers up gifts all the time but none more varied and bountiful than at this time of year.

Taking the time to pause and absorb the natural beauty all around is unquestionably the best medicine during these particularly turbulent times.

Note: I hope you have registered to vote and have obtained the necessary information and/or materials to vote by mail/ early in person/ on election day.

Here are some images of what I’m enjoying in the garden:

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Are You Ready For Friluftsliv and Hygge?

Ah, fall! So fraught with contradictions. New beginnings like school and renewed resolutions – a second new year. And then, a winding down of activity as we prepare for winter and years end. We plant bulbs and make plans for the spring to come and we say goodbye to summer as we put the garden to bed. Beginnings and endings.

The weeks leading up to November will be busy. New plantings of shrubs will happen this week. I’ll slowly start cutting back and cleaning up. Mulching will be done to keep the beds cozy and warm. The greenhouse will be cleaned and readied to welcome back the tender plants. Hundreds of bulbs will be planted and several others put into cold storage for forcing. Outdoor furnishings put away or taken down. Repair or replace items and fixtures. Protect some plants like the roses and also the pots too large to store indoors. Firewood ordered and stacked.

I’m also getting ready to can, dry, freeze produce. Tomato sauce, grape jelly, pesto, store herbs, bake and freeze zucchini breads, This is all with hygge in mind. The Danish concept of ‘a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being’. As we move indoors, I want to make sure we have all that we need to feel good and safe through the dark days of winter. I’m stocking up on games, books, puzzles, lists of shows and movies to watch, podcasts and music to listen, new recipes and some creative projects. Warm throws and blankets will be available for comfort and coziness. This year, I’m bringing several of the smaller topiaries into the house to create a feeling of the garden. Eventually, amaryllis and other forced bulbs will grace every room until once again, we can step back into the garden next spring.

In my home, taking advantage of the weather, family members used various garden areas, terrace and even the tree-house as their ‘office’ through the spring and summer. As work from home continues, proper indoor work spaces need to be accommodated and made comfortable, have good lighting and adequate electric outlets and other essentials. I think it is imperative that we clearly distinguish between work and leisure and strike a good, healthy balance.

To me personally, this year feels a bit emotional. The garden has meant so very much more. In addition to sanctuary, teacher, muse and therapist, this year, it has been my lifeline. It has kept me healthy in mind, body and spirit in a really big way. So, within an overwhelming surge of gratitude, I’m feeling somewhat nervous and sad. As the days get shorter and winter settles in, there will be no garden to keep me grounded and occupied. I will miss safely distanced gatherings with dear friends. Not being able to hug them has been hard enough.

The cold notwithstanding, get outside I will. I must. Nature therapy is crucial. It’s free and inclusive – absolutely no excuse for not helping ourselves to fresh air, a dose of nature’s beautiful healing energy and some much needed exercise. It’s a way of life. That’s what Friluftsliv is all about. Loosely translated from Norwegian, it means open-air living’. Accepted as essential for mental wellness, the outdoors waits to serve.

I’m determined to get the better of my inclination to hibernate ( okay, I’m prone to laziness) and get quality time outside every day. In the hope of extending the time we can linger outdoors and continue to safely meet friends in the garden, I’m researching outdoor heating options. And when winter puts an end to that, going on walks will always be possible. Safe yet social. Nature and social engagement are quite possibly the best prescription combo for good overall health.

Note to self: corral winter walking shoes and other warm active-wear and keep ready.

We have all learned so much this year. And we’ve come so far. The world is still scary. As the pandemic rages, there are storms, fires and social unrest to contend. Lets do what we can to keep ourselves and each other safe and healthy.

Note: In the spirit of hygge, you might want to add some beautiful, useful elements to perk up your home with items from the Printed Garden collection. You will at the same time be supporting the ACLU and help it bring about civil/social justice.

Below are images of things that have brought me joy this past week:

Countryside vibrant with goldenrod.

Camouflaged!

The resident praying mantis

The vertical garden right now

Ready for a socially distanced evening

The tree-house ‘office’

A swathe of sunflowers

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Stock And Bond

Summer is winding down and frankly, I’m eager for cooler temperatures. Between the heat, humidity and biting critters, it’s made gardening less than pleasant. Simply being in the garden is uncomfortable. Given the current paucity of options for visiting, socializing and entertainment, not being able to spend enough time in my garden has been quite frustrating,

However, taking the lessons learned from the lockdown, I’m determined to be positive and make the best of the situation. Typically, I’m away for most of August only to return to a garden in desperate need of care. Forced to stay in place this year has been an opportunity to review and reset the garden. In addition, staying on top of the weeding, feeding and general maintenance is satisfying.

Right off, I finally got around to addressing the Sanguisorba alba conundrum. This plant, obtained at a ‘rare and unusual plant’ event, has the prettiest of leaves. Serrated edged ovals of bluish green foliage gave reason to covet. And I did. After a rain shower, the beads of water sit like diamonds on the leaves. Even more reason to love it.

However, the fuzzy, white flowers are less than stellar. They look like albino woolly worms which quickly turn a sad shade of brown in the heat of the sun.

I’d just cut off the blooms so as to allow the foliage to be the real draw. But, there was always something that made even that impossible. Something that obviously agreed with me on the plant’s beauty. Japanese beetles! Every year, a whole army of the loathsome creatures would devour the leaves rendering them skeletal and unsightly. Still, I was too enchanted with the plants and just a tad too stubborn to admit they were a mistake. Till this summer.

The Sanguisorba were unhesitatingly dug up and disposed off. In their place, were planted Echinacea. Native, attractive, butterfly and bee friendly and happily hardy. I think that both, garden and gardener breathed a big sigh of relief to be rid of the burden of trying to support an inappropriate, high maintenance member. Now, there is so much more harmony in the grouping of Echinacea, Eupotorium, Asters, Solidago and Rudbeckia (the paler yellow sweet coneflower variety) and phlox/stock. The pollinators have certainly endorsed my action.

This year, I have derived so much pleasure from watching the birds in the garden, that I’ve ordered another bluebird/wren house to install in the front garden. I look forward to observing more avian activity from the comfort of the porch preferably with a drink of choice in hand. I also expect to have the increased number of birds patrol this area for bugs and such. A mutual sense of kinship I hope.

Keeping in mind that we expect to spend more time in the garden from now on, I’ve had time to consider more carefully the places and times we hangout in the garden and plan on improving these sites. More comfortable cushions for the daybed in the tree house – it’s my husband’s ‘office’ on good weather days. Better, eco-friendly (solar powered, LED) string lights for the terrace to make it festive and pretty – we are, after all, spending so much time here.

Better systems for protecting the fruit trees from marauding squirrels are under consideration. Similarly, I’m going to re-do the way we are growing tomatoes and squash in the greenhouse but keeping it under wraps till a proper plan is ready before revealing it to my husband who sees this particular growing operation as his realm. Ha.

While the weather is too hot and humid to physically do much in the garden, my mind is working overtime to improve it. For ourselves and the environment.

Note: With so many events of injustice and unrest in the news these days, there is great need to do what we can to help the victims. Please join me in supporting the American Civil Liberties Union – 50% of the profits from the sale my Printed Garden collection of soft home furnishings will be donated to the ACLU. I’m very proud of these products and I believe you will enjoy having them in your home. Together, we can do our part to make things right. Your support means so much. Stronger together.

The wall right now

Japanese beetles on the Sanguisorba

After the attack

With the removal of the Sanguisorba, the bed is reset.

Phlox

Sweet Coneflower

Bees all over the Joe Pye

Echinacea

Hibiscus

(c) 2020 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

Blowing Hot

We’re in the midst of a heatwave here in the Northeast. And I’ve retreated indoors. This is the reason summer is my least favorite season. Spring and fall are no-brainers. What’s not to love about them? Winter can be brutal but it is still possible to get outside if properly bundled up. But summer – when there is much going on in the garden, the heat starts soaring, humidity hits a high and the mosquitoes takeover the airspace. It gets virtually impossible to spend a length of time outdoors without risking heat exhaustion and/or being eaten alive. Whatever is a gardener to do?

I’ve developed ways to cope with my least favorite season. First and foremost, embrace bug-spray. Without that, I simply cannot remain outdoors for any length of time. Yesterday, my bare limbs were under siege within seconds of stepping out in the garden until I remembered my ammunition in a can. The sticky feel of the repellent is not great but it is the only way to working without bites.

Do the work really early. Or as late as possible. Those are the only hours with remotely tolerable temperatures. I’m not a morning person but for years I’d reluctantly get started early in the garden. Admittedly, once I was up and busy, I felt great. The birdsong for company and the sense of accomplishing the chores early is undoubtedly wonderful. But, I didn’t like the pressure of having to get up early.

Now, I’ve made it easier by giving myself the option of working later in the evening. It is still light outside and the temperature is equally amenable. The bees and butterflies are still busy as are the birds. At this time of day, the hummingbirds always visit the feeder in the herb garden so I make it a point to loiter around for a bit just so I can watch them. The joy of observing these diminutive wonders never gets old.

And so the work gets done. After a day of doing more sedentary work indoors, it actually feels restorative to get outside and be more active. Most evenings, I end up lingering into the night watching fireflies and letting the perfumes of jasmine, phlox, gardenia and brugamansia gently ease me into calm and gratitude. Ending the day in a state of grace.

A word on mosquito repellent – The most effective ones contain DEET. I don’t like using it all the time. I’ve learned that the only effective plant based repellent is oil of lemon eucalyptus from its namesake tree and NOT to be confused with lemon-eucalyptus oil. Tested by the EPA and found to be effective up to 6 hours. Choose one with at least 30 percent of the ingredient. Other plant based repellents might work but for very little time.

Note: Create an indoor garden with my Printed Garden collection! Support the ACLU at the same time!

Can you spot the hummingbird?

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar