When Old Is New Again

The hummingbirds are back! The feeders were optimistically put up two week ago when it was still cold. It has remained pretty much below normal temperatures since but the sugar solution was duly refreshed. Yesterday morning, just as more seasonable weather arrived, the tiny birds showed up as well. I’m taking that as a good sign for the season.

Humans have always relied on signals and sightings in nature as guides for when to do things and what to expect. A glut of acorns in the the fall means a consequent increase in mice, squirrel and deer populations as well as an emergence of new oak trees. And vice versa.

A cold spring means reduced pollination and lower production of fruit and future plants.

The timing of when the leaves fall in autumn is recognized as a good predictor – too early means mild fall and winter, too late indicates a colder winter and if leave shrivel up on the branches before dropping, then expect a very severe winter. I’m going to pay attention more to this autumn!

Similarly, it’s said that the wider the woolly bear caterpillar’s brown band is, the milder the winter will be. When birds migrate or returns are foretellings. Dandelions, tulips, chickweed and such fold their petals prior to rain.

While there is some evidence that some of these signals are accurate, for the most part, they are anecdotal. On my part, I’m happy to know them and tend to believe only if they predict something I desire. Selective is what I am. Ha.

However, there are old gardening practices that are very sound and good for all of nature. When I began creating this garden about 25 years ago, I resolved to do my best to do no harm. That right away meant organic methods. This was in part driven by my own childhood where I watched gardeners do their work sans chemicals. As a scientist, I learned the harm chemicals can do – long lasting harm. So organic it was. What was good through time is good for the present and future. ( A word of caution – even organic pest control should be applied judiciously. They might knock off pests but they also kill the good bugs. They are not specific to pests.)

Compost was known to be beneficial but, it was not a general practice at the time I got started on this garden.I knew enough soil microbiology to understand how effective this natural product was. While one could buy bags of compost, people did not make their own compost. At least not in the cities and suburbs. I was hard pressed to find a company that sold composters suitable to suburban homes – something that offered protection from curious critters (think raccoon) unlike open compost bins often seen in large estates and rural properties. I did eventually find one that is ideal for kitchen waste. The woods that back my property take care of all garden waste.

Next came my quest to collect rain water. No water butts or barrels to be found. Why? Because most people were not thinking about water shortages at that time. Even though the evidence was already pointing to water becoming a global crisis in the not too distant future. Now, collecting rain water is a very old practice. Not just because of shortage concerns but also because it saved drawing it from the well water or fetching from the river. It simply made sense. We converted an old wine barrel to do the job.

Native plants encouraged native fauna and the ecosystem was kept in balance. Companion planting, crop rotation, diligent observation to thwart disease are all time tested methods for a healthy garden and gardener. Our ancestors learned the hard way and have passed on that wisdom. We strayed but now, we’re returning to those lessons. And that’s a very good thing. Admittedly, not everything our forebearers did was good but we know enough now to know the difference.

To think, my approach to gardening was called ‘quaint’ at the time. Now, 25 plus years on, I’m trendy. I’m having my moment!!

Note: Last call to pre-register for my Open Day!

The greening of the wall

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Flowers

It’s finally looking and feeling like spring. After last week’s cool, windy days, the weekend arrived bright, sunny and warm. A gift! It’s now a mad dash to get the garden in ship-shape for its May 14 Open Day. Lots got done over the weekend – aching muscles bear testimony. Still more remains. Because of the unprecedentedly cold weather, we’re running behind schedule. But, that’s life in the garden. Nature is always in charge. However hard we gardeners work, we are not in control. Ever. That is a good lesson to take to heart – do your best, stay humble, be resilient and work with Nature not against.

Our relationship with Nature, whilst seemingly collaborative, is an unequal one. It is best to accept that. Leave the ego outside the garden or else it’ll be shredded ruthlessly in no time. And in the end, when the garden looks gorgeous, graciously accept your part in it but know in your heart who really had the last word.

So, I’m keeping my head down and focusing on getting the work done. I’m also beseeching the powers that be to be kind and generous to send good weather, get the plants blooming and bring in many happy visitors.

Here’s the general To-Do list for May –

Things To Do In May

  1. Weed regularly if you want to keep the thugs in check.

  2. Put stakes in place so as plants grow it’ll be easy to secure them.

  3. Deadhead spent blooms for a neat look. Some plants will reward you with a second wave of blooms. Of course, if you want to collect seeds, do not deadhead.

  4. Water as necessary. Add a splash of compost tea to fertilize – about every 2-3 weeks.

  5. Plant in summer vegetables, summer bulbs and tubers and, annuals.

  6. Keep bird baths filled with clean water. Use mosquito ‘dunks’ to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. The same goes for fountains.

  7. Start mowing lawns but do the right thing by keeping the mower blade high at about four inches. Leave clippings in place to replenish the soil.

  8. Make sure all beds, shrubs and trees are mulched to retain moisture and keep weeds from proliferating.

  9. To take care of weeds in areas that are paved or bricked, pour boiling hot water over them. The weeds will be killed and no chemicals were used!

  10. Stay vigilant for pests or disease. The earlier you catch a problem, the easier it is to treat them. Always employ organic methods.

  11. Stir the compost heap regularly. Keep adding in kitchen and garden waste.

  12. Take time every day to simply enjoy the garden.

  13. Visit other gardens through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. You will be vastly instructed and inspired. Www.gardenconservancy.org/opendays

Note: I’ll be at Teatown Lake Reservation’s eagerly awaited and hugely popular PlantFest May 6 &7. Look for my Seeds Of Design booth – items from my Printed Garden Collection will be available. Beautiful gifts for Mother’s Day, teachers, hostess, brides , birthdays and yourself. All profits donated.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Disarray Brings May Open Day

For the past 14 years, this time of year is somewhat frenetic in my garden. With Open Day in mid-May, everything needs to get done in double time pace. None of the deliberate, systematic course of action. Instead, I must approach the various tasks all at once.

The upside is that it’s pretty much all the necessary work that gets completed – tasks that need to get done anyway. However, it can be physically punishing doing so much in a short time. And then, there is the weather. Some years, it’s too wet and prevents working in the garden. Other years, it gets warm too soon which means the best of plans can be thwarted when expected flowerings are over and done by the time Open Day rolls up. It’s not like I can simply rush out and buy replacements to stick into the beds. That would lose the whole point of Open Day – folks are coming to see my garden as it is meant to be. Authentic and bearing my personal stamp. In a way, my garden is my soul laid bare.

But I’m always reminded of the I Love Lucy show when Lucy enters the garden club contest and accidentally mows down her tulips. With mere hours left for the judges to arrive, she replaces the tulips with wax ones. Which of course proceed to melt in the sun.

This year, it has been much cooler than usual so the unfolding of flowers is behind schedule. I’ll take it. While it means some annuals are still unavailable at the nurseries and several plants cannot be brought out of the greenhouse, it’s so much easier to get the heavy work done.

As a result, much of the chores are being done in timely fashion. Am I aching and creaking? Yes! But it is enormously gratifying to be on track. With the birds singing as they go about their business of house hunting and building and spring bulbs in bloom, it’s a very congenial atmosphere to do my work. With husband and daughter willingly doing their share, I really cannot complain.

There are bags of soil, water hoses, assortment of tools and pots and plants all over. It looks somewhat messy but truly, it’s coming together! As this year’s experiment with dahlias is on tap, I’ve got the bed for them ready – it meant digging up a mature witch-hazel and relocating it, moving a few other plants, weeding and loosening the compacted soil. This week, I’ll add a good topping of compost and next week, the tubers will be planted. A layer of mulch will follow and then we wait. I’ve already got some tubers started in pots – they’re staying warm in the greenhouse and should be up and running well ahead of their cousins in the ground.

Pruning, placing supports and other mechanical elements have been completed. The hummingbird feeders are up. The veg bed is planted up with cool weather candidates and the herb wall is up. The vertical garden is greening up as the moss comes back to life and the ferns and heuchera are peering out cautiously. Lots of other tasks were done this past weekend. The tulips have just started blooming so perhaps the weather will permit a showing on Open Day.

Slowly, more order than disorder is becoming apparent. There is still plenty to do till the very last minute but in all honesty, I love getting the garden ready to welcome old friends and new. I hope you’re all registered and we can see each other on May 14.

Note: I’ll be at Teatown Lake Reservation’s eagerly awaited and hugely popular PlantFest May 6 &7. Look for my Seeds Of Design booth – items from my Printed Garden Collection will be available. Beautiful gifts for Mother’s Day, teachers, hostess, brides , birthdays and yourself. All profits donated.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Antics

April

Starts as a joke

Teases with the weather

Dresses in shades of green

Giggles in daffodils

-Shobha Vanchiswar

I wrote that verse early in the month. At this point, April has carried its joke all the way through. From an 80 degree day last week, snow showers on Easter Sunday and a Nor’easter last night, it’s been a riot. Not. However, there is greening up happening and the daffodils along with other flowers are giggling. Or they just shivering?!!

I’m getting on with the tasks – I have less than 4 weeks to get ready for Open Day! Lots to do but hopefully, the garden will be ready for its close up come May 14.

Hope you’re coming! Remember – registration is required.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

April Agenda

Ah April! I love this month. With the garden waking up, every day unveils more flowers. A month full of promise and possibilities. And an urgency to get to all the seasonal chores in the garden.

To that end, I’m putting the to-do list here.

 Things To Do In April

1. Time to restart the compost pile! Give it a good stir and add fresh compostables. If you don’t have a composter, please do make or buy one.

2. Clean up all winter debris.

3. Can you believe weed patrol begins now? Be regular about it and you will always be on top of this chore.

4. Seedlings started indoors can be planted out once the soil has warmed up and has been well prepared for planting. Stay vigilant for spells of late frost. Keep cloches and fleece covers at hand.

5. Attend to the lawn. De- thatch, aerate, reseed and finally, fertilize with a good layer of compost.

6. Similarly, feed trees, shrubs and all garden beds with compost.

7. Remove burlap and other protection from plants and pots.

8. Divide overgrown perennials.

9. Plant summer-flowering bulbs.

10. Remove any dead, damaged or diseased stems/branches from roses, other shrubs and trees.

11. Start using an organic control to put off slugs and snails.

12. Put out nesting material such as wool, moss, cotton string, shredded paper, small twigs, feathers and hay for the birds. Nothing synthetic please!

13. Uncover the outdoor furniture and give them a good cleaning. Now you’re prepared for the first truly warm day!

14. Plant or move evergreen shrubs and conifers.

15. Take the time to revel in the beauty of the bulbs and other plants in bloom. They and you deserve this moment.

Get to it!

Note: Have you registered to come to my Garden’s Open Day? Do please! Tickets must be purchased online only. Saturday May 14 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Lawn service! Removing thatch, aerating, reseeding,

Lawn reseeding

Starting seeds for summer

Planting spring window boxxes

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Trial And Error

On one hand, the garden is a vast artist’s canvas to express oneself, make a unique statement, create beauty and bounty. On the other, it’s a big laboratory to try out ideas, experiment and observe, learn from failures and successes. In the end, we understand the world and ourselves better. I revel in it all.

In combining the science and art of gardening, I’m in my element. As scientist and artist, the garden provides the perfect nexus to bring it all together.

As I’d written in earlier posts, I will be making seed bombs and testing them out this season. Previous failures in growing poppies by sprinkling them around in late March have failed. Hence the decision to trial seed bombs. Easy enough to do and, if it works, I’d have come up with a good solution. In my mind’s artistic eye, I see a melange of poppies dancing in the meadow like ballerinas. We shall see how things turn out.

Earlier this year, I made an impulse purchase of a bag of Liatris bulbs. Immediately, I envisioned the garden in mid-summer lit up in mauvish-pink candles. I’ve yet to get most of the bulbs in the ground but this past weekend, as I potted up pansies, I buried some of the liatris in the same pots My thinking is that the liatris will come up in time and, once the pansies are done, they will be replaced with something more complementary to the poker shaped flowers of the liatris.

I’m anticipating the arrival of dahlia tubers. Having never grown them before, I’m eager to get started. Some will go in the bed across from the vertical garden and others into pots. The idea of pots is two-fold. I ordered more tubers than the aforementioned bed can handle and also, the pots can be moved around anywhere a splash of color is needed.

The pears-in-a-bottle experiment from 2020 was a success so I’m planning to repeat that this year. Maybe with apples too.

Experiments excite me so I’m very impatient to get going. Naturally, I want everything to succeed but no matter the outcome, I’d have learned from each one. Along with the garden, the gardener grows too.

Note: I subscribe to a Poppy CSA from @bearCreekFresh. The first weekly delivery of about a dozen stems arrived last Thursday. Poppies are ethereal. Their organic transformation from bud to flower is a performance art I cannot get enough of. Every stage of the plant, from bud to seedpod is beautiful to behold. #buylocal

Pear In A Bottle 2020

My watercolor of Liatris

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Has Sprung

Oh happy days – the garden is waking up! With the lengthening days and emergence of the early bulbs, my spirits are high. This is my most favorite time of year. Expectations are limitless and the anticipation is almost too exciting to bear. At this moment, all dreams and plans are entirely possible. There is every reason to believe that this year, the perfect garden is going to be realized. And I am going to be the perfect gardener. Yes indeed. ing palette of colors.

This fresh start is a gift to savor. Slowly and deliberately. No mindless dive into a list of chores and frenzied activity. Rather, it’s a time to immerse oneself in the garden with all our senses. Feel the sunlight and fresh air caress the skin. Soak in the atmosphere – we’ve waited all winter long for this.

Smell the petrichor as the damp, newly thawed earth stirs itself into activity and the delicate perfume of early bulbs and emerging grass rise gently with the sun. Breathe deep.

Spend some time looking around at the landscape. What at first seems mostly brown and bare starts morphs into a canvas of a myriad colors. Young, bright green shoots, periwinkle blue flowers of Vinca minor, smokey blue grape hyacinths, sulfur yellow forsythia, royal purple crocus, pristine white snowdrops, dusty rose hellebores – nature teases out her ever-expand palette of colors.

Sitting quietly, one becomes aware of the myriad sounds in play. All sorts of birds are busy finding mates, building nests, foraging for food and guarding their territories. Not to be outdone, the bees shake off their winter stupor and step up their pace. They buzz and hum in chorus. Butterflies flit and descend so gracefully that it takes my breath away. They’re quiet but attention grabbing.

Nature serves up delicious treats from the get go. Tender young leaves of dandelion, a few of the early pansies can transform a green salad from simple to sublime.

This is a very special time of the year in the garden. Yes, there is plenty to do but never at the expense of communing with nature. This is what an abundant life looks like.

Note: My painting ‘Labor Pains” is in an International art show online. The show titled Femina 2022 honors women – this is Womens History month. Please do take a look at the show. Like and leave comments. Online shows need the feedback to keep doing such impactful shows. My sincere thanks in advance.

Some glimpses of the garden as of last weekend:

Looks blah and brown

Wait! There’s green too!

And slowly more growth and colors are discerned

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Other People’s Gardens

Gardeners are an innately inquisitive lot. That’s what drives us to keep gardening year after year. How to grow anything, do it better, battle the growing conditions, … even how to save the world. But, here’s our guilty pleasure – we are most keen on investigating other people’s gardens. How and why someone else is gardening is a much indulged passion. Contrary to popular assumption, it is not about competition but rather, it is about checking on the doings of the garden community and what we can learn from it. Admittedly, there’s a bit of envy or ‘what am I missing’ every now and then. However, in equal measure comes moments of self-satisfaction and validation that one is doing well.

Garden books are a great source of information but truly, actually visiting a garden(s) teaches much more. The instruction from such visits cannot be overstated. One learns new methods and designs, novel solutions to universal problems, unusual/striking plants and combinations and best of all, the gardener is generally available to answer questions and share knowledge freely. Sometimes, I’ve come away with generous gifts of seeds, seedlings and/or cuttings.

No matter what kind of garden one visits, there is always some nugget of information to come away with. I liken it to a visit to a new art exhibit. Whether the art resonates or not, the viewer is transformed even just a wee bit. We know what we like and what we do not. Or we now know a new way to see or depict something. Our minds expand regardless. Gardens do the same.

Over the years, I have personally gained infinite knowledge from visiting gardens. I am the better gardener for it. Acquiring like-minded gardener friends has been the icing on the botanical cake.

So, coming to the point, I urge everyone to make a commitment this very minute to regularly visit gardens this year. Both public and private. The Open Days Program of the Garden Conservancy is perhaps the singularly most convenient and organized way to see gardens all across America. A diverse and most interesting range of gardens and gardeners await!

Note: The Open Days Directory for 2022 is now available. Get it! Better yet, join the Garden Conservancy – you will be privy to all sorts of garden visits, event, talks and tours. At the same time, you will be supporting the Conservancy’s mission to preserve important gardens in America.

Furthermore, my garden is open May 14 – make your reservation online! I’ll be taking attendance.

In 2021, I visited –

The gardens of Christopher Spitzmiller and Anthony Bellamo in Upstate New York –

Notice the plant supports

 

Hollister House in Connecticut –

Such a lovely color palette

Formal and informal blended seamlessly

Hay Honey Farm in New Jersey –

How I covet this bench!

This meadow validated mine own!

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Garden Therapy

It’s hard to imagine anyone going about their daily lives and not feeling the weight of the war in Ukraine. I personally find myself unable to stop thinking about what the Ukrainians are experiencing. While, like so many others, my family and I are trying to help them and their cause as much as we can, it still feels inadequate and heart-aching. It’s difficult to get away from the sadness and horror.

In times like this, the privilege of having a garden, however small, is very comforting. One does not often think about it but, being able to oversee a plot of earth is truly an honor and a blessing. A garden must never be taken for granted.

For one, at its best, the chance to care for a piece of earth is an opportunity to nurture and protect our global environment. One garden at a time. Imagine if every gardener applied her/himself with sincerity how big an impact we could make. As Doug Tallamy puts it, we’d have created the biggest national park in this country. Now, consider that on a worldwide level. Powerful right?

A garden helps us feed ourselves. If not complete self-sufficiency, at least partially supporting ourselves is not only gratifying but it is empowering. Recall the concept of Victory Gardens. Particularly in times of war when rations are imposed as food becomes scarce, being able to supplement ourselves from the garden can make all the difference. Going a step further, we can share the bounty with neighbors and beyond. After all, we are in this together so together we will overcome.

Working in the garden is healthy and healing. The magical combination of fresh air, sunlight, sights and smells of plants, sounds of birds and bees, the feel of the breeze on our faces and soil in our hands and, the physical work of gardening, results in a mental, physical and spiritual transformation. I cannot think of any other activity that equals the power of gardening. Can you?

In making and growing a garden, we create beauty that changes not just the local landscape but also changes anyone who works in it or visits it. Bad moods are improved, sad hearts are comforted, low spirits are uplifted and, joyous emotions are celebrated.

So, as we do what we can to help mitigate the current crisis, let us use our gardens to help ourselves and the world at large. For those without gardens, volunteer at your local public gardens or ask to assist a friend in their garden. If possible, create a garden – a simple collection of plants in pots counts. I promise, you will never regret gardening.

To garden is to keep hope alive. Gardens are places filled with optimism and faith tin the future.

Note: I’m sharing images to put a smile on your face and a spring in your step:

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

March Moves

Can’t you just feel the approach of spring? The light feels brighter and days are distinctly longer. As the sap rises in the trees and the buds begin to swell, the pulse quickens and spirits soar. It’s time to get moving in the garden!

Things To Do This Month

  1. Cut some forsythia and pussy willow branches for indoor forcing. Place in water and keep in a cool place until the buds are swollen. Then move them to a location where they can be viewed as the blooms burst forth. A lovely prelude to spring.

  2. As snow melts, start clean up process. Twigs and other debris can be removed. Protect the still wet areas of grass and beds by first placing cardboard or wood planks and stepping on those instead. They help distribute the weight better.

  3. Later in the month, remove protective burlap and/or plastic wrappings and wind breaks.

  4. Get tools sharpened. This includes the mower blades.

  5. Commence indoor seed sowing. Begin with the early, cool weather crops. Read seed packet instructions and calculate dates for planting out.

  6. Order plants that will be required for the garden as soon as the ground has warmed up. Let your local nursery know your needs – they will inform you know when shipments arrive.

  7. As soon as possible, once snow is all gone and soil has thawed, spread compost on all the beds including the vegetable plot.

  8. Finish pruning fruit trees, grape vines and roses early in the month.

  9. Take an inventory and stock up on whatever is lacking. Soil, gloves, mulch, stakes, twine, tools, water retaining crystals, grass seed, pots, hoses etc.,

  10. Survey the garden and see what needs replacing, repairing or painting. Schedule and do the needful.

  11. Start bringing out or uncovering outdoor furniture. It’ll soon be time to linger outdoors!

  12. Get Open Days directory from Garden Conservancy – www.gardenconservancy.org. Mark your calendars to visit beautiful gardens in your area. Come to my Open Day on May 14 between 10 am and 4 pm. I’m looking forward to seeing you!

Let’s get on with it.

Current glimpses of what’s doing in my garden –

Swelling buds on climbing hydrangea

Snowdrops braving the snow

Hyacinths coming along indoors

My watercolor of a snowdrop

Forced bulbs from a past year

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar