Homestretch

So, Thanksgiving has come and gone. The Holiday Season has begun. What that means is up for grabs. My guess is that for most of us it is a combination of decorating, shopping, cooking, year end/Holiday events, It can feel frenzied. With family expected by the middle of December, I too am grappling with my to-do list. I’d like to get plenty done before their arrival so we’re able to make the very most of our time together. It’s been three and a half years since we last got together – so this feels particularly emotional and exciting.

But first, there’s much to do. Getting the house ready for our first house guests since the end of 2019 and Work From Home having changed the general configuration of how we now function means some creative thinking is in order. It seems as though every room must be reconsidered for purpose and aesthetics. I’m feeling excited and yet daunted by the challenge.

There’s shopping, baking, cooking and decorating too. I really want to get most things done before the guests arrive. And everything will indeed get done IF I stay on course with my agenda. At first, that aforementioned agenda started out looking really packed. But after some good deep breaths and common sense prevailing, I’ve simplified it. That’s the key – keep it simple. And authentic.

Simple, yet hearty meals cooked and frozen. Stews, soups, baked eggplant Parmigiana, lasagnas are ideal. Add a fresh, green salad, good bread, fine wine and dinner is served. I also love cheese boards, fresh fruits, crudites with a variety of creative and healthy dips ( homemade and/or store bought), an assortments of nuts, finger foods ( again homemade or store bought) in lieu of traditional meals. It’s about enjoying the company not about trying to impress anyone.

I find cleaning and organizing very cathartic. And typically, I do a big sort out in every room twice a year. Early spring and early winter. Hence, at this time, it’s all about getting cozy and comfortable. After a thorough cleaning, extra throws and blankets are brought out, the fireplace is made ready for use all winter, reading material and good lighting easily accessed, ditto for board games and puzzles, all the makings for enjoying the season. Candles and the paperwhites and amaryllis bulbs I’ve got going keep the home looking and smelling festive. Dried hydrangea spray painted gold adorn the mantel. In other places the hydrangea are left in their natural state of faded beauty. Pine cones, acorns and seed pods, leaves still clinging to branches, sprigs of evergreens and other treasures found around the garden adorn the house. I find it enormously comforting to bring the natural world in – they remind me of our divine connection to Nature and the part we play in the grand scheme. It humbling too.

As we enter the final month of the year, I think about the seasons gone by – the highlights and low-lights. More specifically, I assess the role I have played. What am I proud of, where did I fall short, what could I have done better or different? What am I trying to achieve and how can I do it? My covenant with Nature is lifelong and constant. As a result, what I do and how I live matters. My choices in products I buy and use matters. I think about what more I can do to better align myself to my mission of doing right by the environment. These thoughts are most often examined when I’m on my daily walks. They inform me on how I address my daily chores and leisure. Which comes down to how I deal with the demands of the holiday season – Do no harm, keep it simple, natural and most importantly, honest.

Being home for the holidays is the ultimate luxury.

Note: Images from previous years –

Home

Dried alliums painted gold – sparklers!

Golden garland of dried hydrangea

Homegrown lemons brightening everything

Amaryllis tree

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Saying Grace

Thanksgiving week has arrived and all the chatter is about where one will celebrates, what will be served and how much will be consumed. At some point, what we’re thankful for might be shared. Despite this being such a favorite holiday, the reason for it gets somewhat lost. I’ve learned that any lengthy discussion on gratitude is viewed as too sappy. I get it. What one person is grateful for is not that interesting to everyone else. But, surely, is it too much to ask of ourselves to give due consideration for our blessings? This is not about religion, commerce or God forbid, politics. It’s simply about life. In a world gone mad, pausing to appreciate what we have is an act of pure grace. That gives perspective to where we are and what we’re living through. This is a shared, sacred experience.

I’ve got my own private ritual at Thanksgiving. I take a walk during which I think about the year (almost) gone by. In doing so, the difficult or particularly challenging events come up right away. These are the things that seem to overshadow everything else and are not so pleasant to relive. However, I’ve noticed that as soon as I confront those memories, the people or circumstances that help(ed) in solving or coping with each challenge also show up. That’s not to say that things were not bad or to minimize the pain, Rather, it is acknowledging the truth, accepting the reality but also seeing the good that was exposed in helping us deal with the struggle. The helpers, the intangible shifts for the better, the solutions that came in unexpected guises are the blessings for which I’m grateful. The growth as a result of each such experience, the hindsight that instructs on the hows or whys, the strength and understanding that comes from it all cannot and should not be undervalued.

There are of course the clearly joyous moments and happenings that makes me feel very grateful. People and possessions, music and miracles, art and amity, the many celebrations and successes – the list is long because there are always things that are good. And cannot, must not be taken for grated.

In the midst of all the noise and chaos, there is one thing that has unfailingly kept me anchored and given me guidance, purpose, sanctuary, perspective and solace. My garden. The science of the positive impact of time spent in the great outdoors is in – it confirms what humans have always known – that Nature is the best counselor there is. And it is free for all and sundry. We just need to pay attention.

So, in essence, among all the many blessings I’ve been given, my own piece of Nature is a mainstay. My wellness of mind, body and spirit depends on it. I’m constantly learning and growing as a person because of it. The garden embodies all that is true and sacred. A space of Grace.

I wish each and everyone a very blessed Thanksgiving. I hope that you too will find your place of peace in a garden, park, lakeside or seaside, mountain top or woods somewhere.

Garden images spanning the year thus far –

January snow

January beauty indoors

February snow

February growth

March indoors

March

April flowers

Forsythia brought inside

May in the meadow

May flowers

June roses

June

July at the feeder

July promise

August exuberance

August aflutter

September exotica

October dahlia

October Diwali celebration

November in gold

November indoors

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Finding The Light

Like thousands of others, I am markedly affected by the short days and lack of light. What I do and when I do them is linked to how much light there is. For sure, my mood and temperament are directly proportional to the amount of light I’m exposed to. I realize it’s hard for those not affected by this seasonal disorder to fully understand. But, the problem is very real. And not fun at all.

I consider myself fortunate because while I’m affected, there are countless others who are debilitated by the short days and long nights. Hence what I say below is my personal strategy and by no means meant to imply a simple solution to what is a complex condition.

Mornings take on greater importance – I try to get as much done as I can by front-loading my day. It includes taking a daily walk for 20 to 30 minutes so I specifically get my required dose of sunlight and of course, it gets juices flowing. I enjoy looking at whats doing in the landscape, greeting neighbors and preparing my mind for the things I hope to accomplish that day.

As we head into winter, the work in the garden more or less comes to an end. It naturally becomes imperative for me to get outside more frequently each day. And yes, I also do light therapy by way of a light box – it is particularly useful when the weather is inclement.

While getting enough light is most critical for those prone to SAD, there are other things that also help in coping and improving ones mood. Social interactions play a critical role. I’ve found it immensely cheering to have ‘play dates’ with friends. To meet for walks ( more sunlight!), coffee/lunch/dinner, a visit to a museum can be so energizing. Even online chats and phone calls are good. It’s all about being connected and feeling relevant. I call it friend-therapy.

There’s something else I do because I must. I start bulbs indoors and outdoors in pots so there’s always something growing and blooming throughout the dark, cold months. Why not simply buy a weekly bunch of flowers instead? Actually, I do that as well but, there’s a consistent, undefinable thrill about watching the daily, progressive growth of the bulbs and awaiting the flowers. It keeps me in a state of hope and optimism which is key to managing my winter mood.

First, by mid-October, I start cooling bulbs. Prime real estate in the refrigerator is given over to bags of hyacinths, muscari and crocus. Once that is done, I begin setting up paperwhites in containers all around the house. Simply observing the green shoots emerge and grow is mood lifting. The delight of anticipation cannot be overstated. The first sight of those buds in thin, translucent coats is reason to celebrate. I love watching the buds plump up and eventually break through those casings. And voila! Flowers so beautiful and fragrant to brighten any day. From very white to creamy tones, paperwhites are dear to me. They’re just so very easy to grow.

Note:There are some like my husband who do not like the characteristic scent of paperwhites. I try to get those that have a more acceptable perfume and I also keep them in locations he doesn’t frequent. The good man puts up with my many such transgressions.

While paperwhites get me into the spirit of the season, amaryllis definitively mark the festivities of the holidays. So, by early or mid-November, I get a few of those started as well. In another couple of weeks, a few more will join their ranks and that’ll take me nicely through January. By that time, the cooling bulbs will be brought out of the refrigerator and coaxed ( so much nicer than ‘forced’) into awaking.

In March, I begin checking on the bulbs that I’d potted up at around the same time bulbs were being planted in the garden. These pots are kept outside in a sheltered area. As if on cue, around the time of the Vernal Equinox, the pointy tips of the bulbs can be seen breaking through the soil. A splash of water and a move to a sunnier but still sheltered locale will get them growing fast. I like having these pots where I can see them from the house. These bulbs are generally a few weeks ahead of their in-ground relatives and do a mighty fine job heralding the season of rebirth.

And that’s how I keep myself happy and hopeful at a time when the season makes me struggle. A combination of light, social and plant therapy. A sacred triumvirate.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Dallying With Dahlias

I’ve always seen the garden as a natural laboratory and the gardener as the chief scientist or principal investigator. In the making of a garden, we are but creating something of our own ideas and vision. Under certain given parameters of geography, climate and such, the gardener attempts to come up with something that fulfills a human need. These are contrived spaces where nature is manipulated. And when the hypothesis is realized, the work is deemed a success.

In truth, sowing a seed is nothing but an experiment.

A gardener will tweak, adjust, change and alter things all the time. Improving and trialing plants, colors, designs, shapes and always pushing boundaries both literal and metaphoric. No two gardens are ever alike because conditions are never identical even on plots sitting side by side. It’s always about experimenting.

Trying a rose in a seemingly unsuitable location in front of the air-conditioning compressor only to find success because nobody else accounted for the ideal combination of light, rich soil and the healthy air circulation resulting from the compressor hard at work cooling the house.

Or planting apple trees in the perfect location but ignoring the big cedar tree on the adjoining neighbor’s plot. Apples abound but all affected by cedar rust. The fruits taste fine but don’t look great. An experiment with mixed results. I have personal experience here and I’ve learned to live with blemished fruit. Keeps me humble but well fed.

We experiment with watering, light/shade requirements, new plants, new combinations of colors and/or plants, locations, styles – every effort is a mix of knowledge, hope, risk and curiosity. That last factor is the very essence of the mind of a scientist. Curiosity – the more we have it, the better the gardening experience. It’s not really about the successes at all. Success feels good but like a drug, one just keeps wanting more of it. Failures teach much more. There’s real growth from learning from mistakes. But curiosity is what drives the whole experiment, Every single time.

Curiosity makes us ask questions – What if? How about? Will this work? Why?

This year, my biggest experiment was all about growing dahlias. I tried them in pots and in ground. The pots got a head start because they went into the greenhouse as soon as it was vacated by all the over-wintering plants. The ground however had to wait till it was warm enough.

The spot I’d thought would be good for planting dahlias turned out to be smaller and not as sunny. Still, the plants grew and bloomed. It became crowded though. The asters nearby became thuggish and encroached on the newcomers. Clearly, my first mistake was in ordering too many dahlia tubers. That was sheer greed. And beginners optimism.

I ran out of big pots and crammed all the remaining tubers into a space that was inadequate. The lilac tree on one side cast more shade than I’d realized. So it is quite surprising that I got a fair number of beautiful flowers. The site however was not attractive at all. Despite the staking, it looked rather messy. Okay, ugly.

The pots did well. They started early, got moved outside and grew handsomely. A couple of them got attacked by some bug but appeared to overcome the problem on their own. I was too busy traveling so failed to be diligent. Pots were also watered regularly by a drip system set up for all pots in our absence while the dahlias in the ground were left to Nature’s mercy. In both cases, they came through well. I understand from dahlia veterans that this was a difficult year. Intense heat and lack of rain affected when the plants started blooming. Commercial growers were uncertain about the harvest. Last Christmas, I’d been given a dahlia subscription for this year and the weekly bouquets came with a fair amount of filler blooms which I’m pretty sure was not part of the deal. There simply weren’t as many dahlia flowers this year. I personally did not mind. The farmer is not responsible for the weather and did their best to please the subscribers.

Overall, I learned a lot and was quite happy with the whole experiment. Furthering the experiment, to store the bulbs through the winter, I’m following the traditional rules to pull up the tubers from the ground, clean and air dry, then store in cool, dry and dark location. Checking periodically to make sure they hadn’t gone moldy or desiccated. The tubers in pots however are going as is inside the unheated basement. The plants have been cut down of course. But I want to see how those tubers do compared to their naked cousins. I’m also experimenting similarly with the Canna, dwarf banana and Elephant ears. Other than all the big pots really crowding up the multi-purpose basement, the investment is very minimal. But the pay off could be good! Shall report on how it all goes.

Additionally, I’ve all together abandoned the idea of replanting dahlia tubers in the ground. I simply do not have a really suitable spot. Instead, I’m going to put them all in pots and keep them in the greenhouse throughout their growing season. It’ll be the dahlia cutting garden under glass (doors open of course). They’ll get enough light, regular watering, good air circulation. We shall see if this pampered set up yields an abundance of flowers.

Hot house beauties of a sort!

Note: I’m very pleased to be participating in the KMAA ‘Members Best’ Art Show at the Katonah Library all through November. Please visit this exhibit – creativity abounds!

My painting in the KMAA show’. Moon Shine’_watercolor

 

Dahlia in a pot

Dahlia plot looking unkempt

Dahlia in pot – ready for winter sojourn

Canna before being pulled up and prepared for storage.

Tropicals before being cut and moved into basement

Dahlia and Canna. Awaiting cleaning, drying and storage.

The meadow ready for bulb planting

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

November Norms

‘November Norms’

November is a minimalist

Simply clad in earthy dress

Giving thanks with quiet grace

Nothing more, nothing less.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Things To Do In November

1. First and foremost, put away all Halloween decorations. Set up Thanksgiving display – gourds, pumpkins, corn husks, ornamental kale and cabbages, chrysanthemums and asters.

2. Having cut back plants and cleared debris, mulch all plant beds with those recently raked leaves.

3. Hurry up and finish all pending tasks from last month!

4. Finish planting spring flowering bulbs.

5. Protect pots to be left outdoors, vulnerable plants such as boxwood, certain roses, and garden statuary.

6. Fill bird feeders. Regularly!

7. Be prepared for snow and ice. Keep snow shovels, grit or sand, firewood stocked and handy.

8. In case of power outage, have candles, flashlights, matches and batteries on the ready. A hand-cranked radio too – this has been a real asset when we’ve lost power and Wi-Fi for a length of time.

9. Finish raking leaves only where necessary. Let the leaves remain wherever possible. I clear walkways and paths and my tiny ‘lawn’ which receives too many leaves that if left in place, completely smother and snuff out all the growth beneath.

10. Clean and store tools. Get appropriate ones sharpened.

11. Start setting aside seed and plant catalogs. Soon you will be planning for next year!

12. While the weather is pleasant enough, keep on weed watch!

13. In the greenhouse, be sure the heater is doing its job. Ventilation is also important to keep plants healthy.

14. Start a routine for regular watering of plants indoors. Keep vigil for early signs of pests or disease.

15. Start growing amaryllis and paperwhites for seasonal cheer. Similarly, put bulbs such as hyacinths, muscari , crocus and tulips in for cooling. (I use my refrigerator). In about fourteen to eighteen weeks, you can start forcing them and pretend it is spring!

16. Enjoy a beautiful Thanksgiving.

Note: I’m truly enjoying the earthy colors in the garden. Don’t miss the nasturtiums still blooming and a revival in a pot of primroses –

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Fall Feelings

Last week, it really felt like Fall was happening. The leaves turned color in what seemed an overnight change. Not as brilliant but beautiful nevertheless. Temperatures came down significantly and concern grew that the show would soon be over with the trees simply dropping the remaining leaves. There was widespread worry about imminent frost. Happily this week, temperatures are back in the 60’s and I feel reassured that we will have more autumnal joys to experience. Now that’s more like it.

I really love a prolonged Fall. Mild days and cool nights, brisk walks in bright sunshine and cozy fireside chats, blushing apples and bold orange pumpkins, leaves in hues of ocher cascading down to meet earth ready with freshly sprung mushrooms, putting garden to bed and planning for spring, Halloween treats and Thanksgiving feasts, a season of gratitude.

In the garden, with the tender plants safe in the greenhouse, I’m delaying the general clean up and bulb planting. With the weather returning to milder temperatures, there is no great panic to rush. Instead, I’m going to use this week to be present for the simple pleasures – those aforementioned walks, appreciating the foliar colors and shapes, gathering with friends for conversation and hot cider (spiked and not) around fire-pits and heaters, fully enjoying every possible minute to be had in the pleasures of the season.

This past Saturday, we hosted a Diwali* party in the garden. The weather was just perfect and everyone was cognizant that this day was a precious gift – very soon, winter will be here and it’ll be much too cold to be enjoying a leisurely meal on the terrace. It’ll have to wait till Spring before we can do it again. Surrounded by the loveliness of the fall garden in senescence, we ate, drank and made merry. The evening ended with lighting the lamps and having some fun with (harmless) fireworks. Nothing like the joy of sparklers to bring out the child within us all. Truly, a befitting way to close out the outdoor partying season. To me, it felt particularly precious because we now live in a time when indoor gatherings are no longer easy. The holidays will certainly be celebrated but we will be in smaller groups, cautiously optimistic for brighter, merrier times to come.

On a more prosaic topic, I’m considering over-wintering my cannas and similar tropicals. In the past, they’ve been tossed on the compost heap as part of the clean up. It’s always felt wasteful So, this year, I’m going to cut back the elephant ears and cannas that are in pots and then move the pots into the garage/basement. An occasional splash of water to keep the tubers from drying out and making sure they are not exposed to extremely low temperatures is all I can offer – lets see if this works. Those plants in the garden will be dug up and the tubers stored much like the dahlias. Fingers crossed!

Yes, I’m definitely feeling the season. Are you?

*For those who may not know, Diwali is the biggest Indian holiday – it celebrates the victory of good over evil, light banishing dark, love triumphing over hate. This Festival Of Lights is a huge, joyous celebration of fellowship, food ( mostly delicious sweets) and fireworks. Lamps are lit and the whole world is set aglow. Magical!

Fall glory –

Party ready

Fireworks fun

Lit lamps

The tropicals I plan to save

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Performance Report

Going about the business of autumnal chores and putting the garden to bed, gives me time to review the growing season gone by. Even as we’re closing out the year, gardeners are planning and preparing for the next year. It’s a time of ending and beginning, the cycle of life in continuum.

I think about what plants did really well and what did not. Most importantly, I ask why. Often, the weather had a big part to play. A cold/warm spring, early arrival of summer, a lack of or too much rain, long spells of high heat – the garden responds to every shift and change. The consequent reduction in pollinators and/or increase in pests. Plants that thrived before may now be struggling as surroundings have changed – growing trees, new construction, trees coming down create a whole new environments. From sunny to shady or vice versa, the change demands a rethinking of the plantings.

And then, there is ones own part in the success or failure of the gardening season. This, for me, is the most humbling experience. Owning up to my mistakes and recognizing that the high points had less to do with me and more to do with the grace of Mother Nature or sometimes, pure dumb luck puts my role into perspective. I see this as a positive thing. Arrogance has no place in good gardening. The more I garden, I realize how little I know. Nature has been at the job since the beginning of time after all. She teaches well but does not tolerate big egos.

This year in the garden began well but then a cold snap affected the apple blossoms that were getting ready to bloom. No apple harvest. On the up side, the tulips lasted longer. Very hot, humid days with scarcely any rain marked the summer. The flowers of oakleaf hydrangea got roasted. Leafy green veggies bolted fast. Some plants like the native wisteria bloomed later. Others bloomed early and for a shorter period. The Concord grapes had been coming along really well but then they succumbed to the heat and drought and simply surrendered and dropped to the ground. Things were discernibly out of sync though in general, native plants not only fared better, they saved the summer garden.

Climate change underway.

I noticed fewer butterflies which was hugely upsetting. The diversity of bees observed lifted my spirits somewhat.

Then, by going away for half the summer, I left the garden to manage on its own. While we’d set up a watering system for the plants in pots, the rest of the garden had to deal with the temperamental weather and gross negligence. The garden actually coped rather well. But not the vegetables. Lack of due diligence put paid to them. I’m reconsidering the whole summer vegetable garden – what;s the point if I’m not going to be around. And I do like to get away for a good part of the summer – I realized just how much when travel was not possible the previous two summers.

Some plants did not do so well because yours truly had not divide them last year. Often, older plants do not bloom in abundance because they’ve grown too large. By dividing, there are not only more plants but they do better overall. Time constraints and laziness are my pathetic ‘excuses’.

The big success were the dahlias. To be fair, this being the first time I’ve grown them, there is no reference point to determine the degree of success. From all reports, the dahlia season was delayed due to the weather. Since my return from vacation in mid-September, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a daily crop of new and assorted blooms to display around the house. I’m desperately hoping they will keep blooming for a few more weeks. Weather Gods! I beseech you to prolong the season!

Fingers crossed I do right by the tubers so they’re in good shape for next year.

So, what is the final performance verdict?

Garden – an all-round good worker. Highly self-motivated, resilient and independent performer.

Gardener – Average worker with potential to do much better. Needs to improve time management skills. More focus and less distraction recommended.

Please indulge me as I proudly share some images of my dahlias –

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Catching Up To October

It serves me right. I was away for a good part of the summer, neglecting routine garden chores. So now, I’m busy playing catch up. The fall chores are slowly getting done but my goodness, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. A great deal on the To-Do list remains. The need to press on is primarily because we’re racing with the clock – before it gets too cold.

The big focus this past week was to get the tender plants that are in pots into the greenhouse. First the greenhouse is given a thorough cleaning inside and out. The panes must be squeaky clean to let in the sunlight. Before the plants are taken indoors, they must be trimmed and cleaned, their pots washed to remove debris and stowaways. Hygiene is important so the greenhouse doesn’t become a breeding ground for disease and pests. I like taking the necessary time and effort to do this task properly. It can be quite meditative.

Typically, I begin this work in mid-September. This year, it waited till October. A couple of weeks makes all the difference. The greenhouse was washed and prepared last weekend. During the week, we began corralling the pots so I had a work station to trim and clean. Through the week and weekend, this chore went on. The greenhouse is small – just 8’x4’. It gets filled to the gills easily. Moving the large pots is a physically demanding job. Thankfully, but for the largest of bay trees, all the plants are now safely ensconced inside. Said bay will go in very soon. There will then be no more room in the horticultural inn.

Apart from making the plants more compact which is better for small space accommodations, a nice result of the trimming work are the cuttings of rosemary, bay and other herbs that I enjoy giving away to friends who love to cook. We ourselves use them to ways that will perk up winter dishes. Mint leaves are turned into an Indian chutney which is delicious in sandwiches as is or combined with cheese or chicken. Sage leaves are fried flat and stored in the fridge – laid over soups or salads, they look pretty and taste quite sublime. Curry leaves are sauteed with black mustard seeds and turmeric – they are essential for certain South Indian dishes. Kept in the refrigerator, they last a long while. We create little bundles of bouquet garnis with rosemary, bay, marjoram, oregano and lavender – perfect to flavor hearty winter stews and roasts.

Before tossing off annual plants on the compost heap, we save those that can be used in arrangements to decorate or transformed into delicious food. Nasturtium leaves are turned into pesto as are the last of the basil. Note: I use cashews instead of pine nuts to make the nasturtium pesto. I also skip the Parmesan.

Time permitting, I’m going to freeze fennel and nasturtium flowers in ice cubes – should be pretty in holiday cocktails.

A lot of other chores must be dealt with before the Big Bulb Planting marathon. Almost a 1000 bulbs will be arriving soon! Talk about overwhelming. But, I’m pausing, taking deep breaths , admiring the dahlias and all the fall flowers still going strong and, plugging away at my tasks. It will all get done. All hands on deck.That’s what family is for right?

Greenhouse filling up …

Topiaries to baby under lights in the house.

Ball of bay

Still life

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

October On Tap

Ah October! This month offers so much. Fall in full swing. Crisp, brisk weather, gorgeous burnished colors, the smell of wood smoke and pumpkin spice, bonfire gatherings, fireside reads, rain softened soil for new plantings. putting garden to bed days, pumpkin picking, apple tasting, soup simmering, Halloween decorating, long walks, reuniting with sweaters and fleece – yes, this month is full of blessings.

While there’s much to do in the garden, the weather makes it pleasant doesn’t it? Bug free, dry, cool air goes a long way in getting the chores done.

What To Do This Month –

1. Yes, weeding continues! Last call so be thorough.

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 re-planted as well.

3. Cut back all spent plants except what is needed for seasonal interest and to support animal life.

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 before relocating – minimizes pest infestation.

7. Plant bulbs as weather gets consistently cooler. Bulbs can be planted until soil freezes solid.

8. Rake leaves. Add to compost pile, existing beds or deposit in woods. This has become a controversial subject but, I believe there is a compromise.

I do not let the leaves remain over my tiny lawn because I’m surrounded by trees so, the leaf fall is heavy and tends to smother all the grass, clover and friendly ‘weeds’ that support insects in early spring. I let leaves remain in the various beds and all over the meadow. As a result, there is plenty of leaf litter for butterflies, squirrels, birds and other critters who depend on it for shelter and food.

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/cover-crop 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.

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 sheets of plastic and then use burlap so it looks halfway decent. They end up looking like big, brown packages ordered by the wildlife.

17. Remove suckers from ornamental and fruit trees. Prune roses and wisteria so as to protect from damage due to strong winds and ice/snow. Remove dead and decaying limbs from all plants.

18. Fill up bird feeders. Keep them filled through the winter.

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

20. Take time to enjoy the beauty of the season.

Let’s make it a great week!

A few seasonal glimpses from the garden and elsewhere:

Somewhere in Brooklyn

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Simply Summer

A lot rides on summer. A season so full of plans and expectations that it feels as plump and juicy as the fruit it bears. It’s time to switch to a lighter schedule so we can make the best of the long light filled hours. Reading lists, picnics, outdoor concerts, beach fun, pool time, ice cream tastings, hammock naps, freshly picked produce, crayon box colored flowers – we demand so much of summer. In our bid for simple, easy living, we expect to do a lot!

And then, there’s summer vacation. Where to go? For how long? With whom? To do what – chill out, sight see, find adventure, reunite with friends/family? It’s as exciting as it is stressful to plan that ideal getaway.

I’ve learned to pare down my own expectations and get very organized ahead. Mostly, I free up my schedule and create more space in my days for spontaneous activities. The to-do list is shortened to the bare minimum. Even in the garden. Weeding, watering, deadheading and lots of lounging to count butterflies and watch birds. Pure heaven. It’s the much awaited period when pleasure is prioritized over purpose. I believe I’ve earned it.

However, it’s what needs doing before going away on vacation that is invariably the challenge. How to best ensure the well-being of the garden when I’m away.

An intensive weeding is done right before. As is the mowing and tidying. I try to leave the garden looking as groomed as possible so on my return, it doesn’t look overly disheveled. Nothing like an unkempt garden to wash off the vacation glow.

Ensuring that the plants are well hydrated is a whole other matter. As I’ve mentioned before, plants in the ground are expected to hold their own – unless it’s been unduly hot, they are not watered routinely. It’s only the plants in pots that get regular quenching. And I have many pots.

In the past, I typically arranged for someone to come periodically to water the pots in various parts of the garden. It was a bit of a hit or miss as it depended wholly on the diligence of the person doing the watering.

This year, we’ve corralled all the pots in one place and set up an automatic system that turns on at a specific time of day for a specific length of time. There’s a moisture sensor attached so it does not turn on the water if it is raining or has done so recently. I just returned from being away for two weeks and the potted plants look lush and fine.

My nephew stopped by regularly to ensure everything was generally okay but most importantly, he cleaned and refilled the hummingbird feeders. I had made a quantity of the sugar solution and stored it in the refrigerator. A word of caution – the feeders must be refreshed more frequently during particularly hot spells because the water can start fermenting and this is unhealthy for the birds.

Overall, this new system, whilst requiring some effort to set up and move pots together, seems to be a better way to serve the plants. At the same time, it requires less of my nephew so he doesn’t feel too put upon by his garden obsessed aunt.

I’m going away again soon and it’s comforting to know that the care of the garden is in hand. So now, back to savoring the joys of the summer. Whats left of it.

Pots gathered together for watering:

The garden at present. I notice some hints of fall! –

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar