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

Masked And Muzzled?

The garden looks and feels different these days. Mostly because I’m spending more time in it than I ever have. It’s a privilege to be privy to all the routine goings on in the garden. It feels more intimate.

My garden has always been an extension of our home. Apart from the actual time spent gardening, it is where we enjoy gathering for meals with or without friends, spend time reading in a shady corner or take a snooze. When my daughter was little, she’d play in the garden endlessly and nap in a hammock while I went about my weeding and planting chores.

But, these months, the garden has taken on a greater importance. It’s the go to place. For everything. Starting in the spring when lockdown was mandated, the only way to get some sense of normalcy was in the garden. Sunlight, fresh air, new growth – all life affirming and reassuring. To me, it was as though the world was telling me that it was going to be all right. When the news was scary and we were all getting anxious about the unfamiliar, formidable virus, stepping out in the garden and communing with nature was the sanity-keeping elixir.

Very quickly we each found ourselves in the garden for all sorts of things. My daughter finished up college from home. She attended her Zoom classes in the garden. My husband made the tree house his office. Phone calls were taken as he walked around the garden. I too brought my work out to the terrace – writing, planning, designing, painting. We Zoomed, FaceTimed and Skyped with family in far flung places and friends living much closer. We shared our garden with many. Virtually.

All along, we enthusiastically did all the necessary seasonal tasks required and savored the opportunity to watch it gradually grow and transform itself into a beautiful sanctuary. Our shelter from the stormy world.

Right now, as one looks around my garden, you get the feeling the garden itself is in compliance of the New York State mask mandate. The grapes, apples and most of the pears have been covered in bags. To protect them from pests and critters.

This year, I decided to try something I’d been wanting to do for years – growing pears in bottles. Of the original four bottles, two are doing well. I’m hoping the current heatwave does not harm them. The two other pears broke off from their stalk very early. It’s a simple project but it’s a thrill watching the fruit grow in their glass ‘muzzles’. I can totally envision the bottles in October –sitting pretty with a full pear. Ready to be filled up with pear brandy. For those cold winter nights up ahead.

These days, the garden is where we can meet our friends – safely and comfortably. We share meals and drinks at a distance. Play games. Easter, birthdays and a graduation were duly celebrated in the garden. Very small parties but party nevertheless. Quality over quantity.

We meet our visitors masked and distanced. But we meet – that means everything to us.

And speaking of celebrations, absolutely every good thing, big or small, is honored. The first sighting of a Monarch butterfly, the first fig or tomato of the season, a clean bill of health for a friend who has emerged safely from chemotherapy, the success of growing topiaries from root cuttings, a positive review of a poem or a sale of a painting, spying hummingbirds feasting at the cardinal flowers in the meadow, a handwritten note from a long ago friend, fresh flowers from the garden.The list is endless!

We’ve all come to know how fragile the world we’d come to take for granted truly is. Never again. The pandemic unmasked our hubris. Now, humbled and openly vulnerable, we relearn how to care. For ourselves, each other and our planet. In time, the physical masks we must now wear will come off but until then, they’re a small price to pay for our well-being.

Note: Sprucing up your home? Need gifts for brides/ newlyweds, housewarmings, hosts, birthdays? Do check out The Printed Garden collections. You will be supporting the ACLU at the same time!

Bagged grapes

Bagged pear

Coming along!

Photo shoot of the Collection 2 of The Printed Garden

Haircut in the garden

Graduation parade

Cheers!

Nephew helps with allium project

Setting up for a music video

Keeping masks on the ready!

Masked and distanced audience

Concert in the garden

Painting in the garden

Zoom class in progress

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Thought For Food

A significant upside to the lock-down is that more people are gardening. This makes me so happy. Of all the things one could resort to during this uncertain, scary time, gardening is perhaps one of the best activities to do. You and I both know all the benefits so I shall not reiterate them but for myself, working in my garden has been my salvation.

Vegetable gardening is what most have taken up. There is something fundamental and inherent about that. Historically, how and what we eat dictates how well we survive. In good times and bad. An unprecedented crisis such as this pandemic had us naturally look to our basic need. Subconsciously, food is always ( okay, maybe mostly) on our minds. This threat, being a challenge to our health got us to think about keeping us in good, robust condition. Growing and preparing owns own food is the obvious solution. It gives one a sense of taking charge and doing something positive. All good I say. It reminds me of the Victory gardens that proliferated during WW II.

While seed companies were suddenly faced with a run on their stock, people were (re-)discovering the joys of gardening. Friends living in tiny city apartments were growing herbs, radish and tomatoes on their window-sills and balconies. Some have been training peas and beans around their windows. A quick search on the Internet reveals a plethora of innovations for apartment gardening. I’m quite blown away by what cool stuff is available.

Others who already had a yard, have gotten busy making all manner of vegetable gardens. Raised beds, French potagers, English kitchen gardens, vegetables ‘plots’ solely comprised of pots – it’s been exciting to learn of all the activity. Even better, swathes of lawn have been turned over to rows of vegetable plants, pollinators have been encouraged with the addition of native flowering plants, organic practices have been adopted, composting has become routine – my goodness! We are already doing better.

I myself upped my veggie game this year. For the first time, I started growing peas and micro-greens, increased the number of tomato and zucchini plants and added more herbs. In the fruit department, a long desired persimmon tree joined the apple, pear and fig trees already in residence. FYI – While we get a nice amount of produce, the garden in no way covers all our vegetable needs as we follow a mostly plant based diet.

More significantly for me, I widened the usage of the plants and have been trying new recipes. The repertoire of family meals has grown substantially and we’re thoroughly enjoying the experience. I suspect that we have each become even more particular about where and what we select when we eventually dine out. The bar has been raised.

The CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture) Co-Op I belong to started up their 2020 weekly deliveries a couple of weeks ago. It’s a joy to get the produce from a local farm instead of the supermarket. And we’re continuing to try new recipes.

I’ve received several recipe requests so I thought I’d share a couple of old, tried and true family recipes as well as a couple of new ones that I’ve tried recently..

Cilantro Chutney – Most people think of chutneys as a sweet-salty-spicy mix but in Indian cooking, chutneys are not always sweet. This one is not sweet but is great on sandwiches, brushed on roasted vegetables, meats, fish and anything needing a little oomph.

This recipe is from my mother-in-law who was a highly gifted cook.

Jaya Mani’s Cilantro Chutney

1.

2 T oil

2 T urad dal (white lentil)

1 T fenugreek seeds  — optional

1 pinch hing (asofoetida powder)  — optional

1 large dry red chilli

 (2)

1 t black mustard

 (3)

1 medium bunch cilantro washed and drained (including stems)

Salt to taste

Fry (1) together until lentils are toasted – light brown. Strain but save the oil. Add strained mixture (1) to blender. Add (3), some water and grind to a paste. Remove chutney paste from blender. Add (2) to drained oil and fry until mustard starts to pop. Add (2) to chutney  and mix well. Use within 2-3 days or freeze.

 Suggested servings:

  • Sandwiches with thinly sliced white bread, butter, chutney, thinly sliced coriander

  • Chutney with cooked  rice

  • Chapati/paratha roll with scrambled egg and chutney

  • Crackers, chutney and cheese

Rose geranium syrup over roasted figs – This combines two things from my garden. It’s a very simple but elegant dish. Add a few rose-geranium leaves when making a sugar syrup. Once the syrup has cooked down to desired thickness, remove the leaves. Let cool.

Roast figs – Cut fresh figs in half and arrange cut side up on a baking sheet. Drizzle some extra-virgin oil over them. Roast in oven at 425 degrees for 10 minutes or until they bubble.

Serve figs with syrup dribbled over them. Add a dollop of plain Greek yogurt on the side. You feel healthy that way. To up the ante, decorate the plate with a few rose-geranium flowers.

Strawberry-Basil Ice Cream – When I came across this recipe, I was intrigued. Basil in a dessert! It is delicious and so refreshing.

Ribs with rhubarb glaze and radish-rhubarb salad – I wanted to use rhubarb in more than the usual crisp or compote. This recipe from Bon Appetit turned out well.

Strawberry-basil ice cream

Khao Soi by @miravanchiswar Recipe from dear friend @sonal.nair. Cilantro from the garden

Basil pesto

Dolma using leaves from my Concord grapevine by @muralimani

Sandwiches using the cilantro chutney

Rhubarb cake

Chive quiche @miravanchiswar

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Flowering

The pear blossoms on the espalier have never looked better. I have spent an inordinate amount of time admiring the mass of luminous white flowers. Bees have been spotted making their rounds so keeping fingers crossed for a good crop of pears in September. Remember I’d mentioned I had a couple of projects planned for this year? Well, one of them is to try growing pears in bottles – to make a liqueur for those cold days in winter. The bottles ( just a few) stand clean and ready.

I’m quite excited to try this experiment as I remember when I first came across a bottle of vodka with a golden pear in it. The drink it provided had a subtle flavor of pear but I was more interested to know how the pear got in the bottle. That was revealed to me soon enough but it has taken me years to actually have the time to recall that interest and consider trying my hand at it.

After a wet, cold week, the weekend arrived like a gorgeous cake. The kind that makes you just want to gaze at it because consuming it would make it disappear. The temperatures rose, the sun shone bright and the flowers sparkled exquisitely. My heart felt it would burst with so much beauty.

In the front garden, the perennial beds are filling out with the growing plants and the tulips have started blooming. Picture perfect. With no major flowers to compete with, the tulips are enjoying their solo moment. Heck, I’m enjoying their performance. I particularly like ‘Cool Crystal’ – they look like Moulin Rouge dancers saucily kicking up their bright pink, flouncy, fringed skirts.

Currently, this front area along with the house looks somewhat chocolate-box scene-ish. Over the weekend, I was struck by how relevant a role it plays in the big picture. My daughter, a French horn player, decided she would give a concert for the neighborhood on Saturday. With everyone craving connectivity and no live entertainment to attend, it seemed like just the tonic needed. We informed a few neighbors and also invited friends and family from afar via Zoom. So on Saturday afternoon, Mira performed for a half hour. Neighbors with advance notice showed up on time, passers by and their dogs stopped to listen, a couple of friends drove from a town nearby and sat in their car like VIPs, many more watched on-line.

The concert was lovely (my completely biased opinion of course), Even more special was having friends and neighbors gathered together albeit, socially distanced.

And after the concert, I heard from several that they deliberately plan their daily walks to pass by my house for the pleasure of seeing what’s blooming in the garden. That’s exactly what a gardener loves to know. Especially now.

Like a babbling brook, white violas and blue forget-me-nots are tumbling through the ‘meadow’. The dandelions ( yes, I adore them) mingle in like splotches of sunlight. It is absolutely spectacular. Soon the camassia and alliums will pop up and it’ll be a whole other show.

The vegetable garden is all planted up with cool weather greens, We also emptied out the greenhouse and placed the plants in their spring/summer locations around the garden. After cleaning the greenhouse, we potted up tomatoes. Last year, they did very well there. Soon, zucchini plants will also take up residence in the greenhouse – we grow them only for their blossoms. Stuffed with goat cheese, then dipped in a light tempura batter and quickly fried – just yum.

At the end of a very busy weekend of gardening, tired and satisfied we sat down to relax with a pre-dinner glass of wine. At precisely that moment, we were graced with our first hummingbird sighting of the year. Flashing its iridescent green body it sipped from the feeder and flew away. I felt as though we’d just been blest.

Happy, healthy May one and all.

P.S. Do check Things To Do for a list of garden chores this month

Note: Given the current Coronavirus crisis, the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days have been cancelled through May. Sad but expected. So I’ll try to post as many photos as I can so I can still share my garden with everyone. Stay safe everybody.

Pear blossoms

Tulipa ‘Cool Crystal’

Meadow

Tomatoes in the greenhouse

Rooting cuttings

Vegetable bed

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Back To Basics

Time spent in the garden has never felt more correct than right now. It is where I feel alive, useful and comforted. It is where I instinctively want to be. I’m relishing the gift of time to work in it unfettered by busy agendas and outside commitments. More than anything, I’m deeply grateful for having a garden in the first place.

As a big city girl, it was a dream come true to have a place to garden – that was 28 years ago. All too quickly, the garden became such an integral part of my life that I just took it for granted. These days, I’m acutely aware of what a privilege it is to have a piece of land to call ones own. With everyone doing their part in staying home, the inherent human need to connect to nature is not always possible for many. With several parks and public gardens closed due to the current crisis, those that are still open are getting unprecedented numbers of visitors. I worry that they too might have to be shut down if folks don’t observe distancing rules.

I’m enjoying walks whenever possible. Good weather and fewer crowds determine those opportunities. But, I always have the garden to provide immediate and consistent relief. That is a blessing I don’t think I’ll take for granted ever again.

It is not surprising that people have instinctively sought the outdoors – we are part of the natural world after all. The healing, soothing, uplifting effect of time spent in nature is both anecdotal and empirical. Even more interesting at present, is how we are rediscovering fundamental practices that we had somewhat forgotten or moved away from.

One of the first items to fly off grocery store shelves was flour and active dry yeast. All of a sudden, America is baking bread at home. Even now, more than a month after we all began staying home, flour is not easy to come by. Apparently, we Americans are actually enjoying baking our bread. Interesting no? Something that demands time and effort was one of the first items we sought to make. We see bread as a staple, a basic food. The same with pasta – more people are making their own but not quite at the same level as bread. I personally find it amusing that cooking rice is daunting to many. Something so ridiculously easy is viewed with trepidation. Yet, here we are. Mind you, I think it is terrific that homemade bread is on the rise; I’m just puzzled that it is one of the first things to be undertaken. There is no actual bread shortage in the country.

Simultaneously, everyone is into vegetable gardening, Apartment dwellers are growing tomatoes, herbs and such in pots and under gro-lights/ on balconies. Those with some property are making vegetable plots or potting up a range of vegetable plants. People are starting from scratch – seed sales have risen so dramatically that some seed companies have had to start directing their seeds to only commercial growers.

From what I’ve heard, for the most part, seeds are being sown not in fancy seed starter kits but in old tin cans, the cardboard cylinders from paper rolls, newspaper molded into pots etc., Sustainability! These are very good developments. Healthy for humans and the planet.

I have a feeling we are each growing the vegetables that hark back to our ethnic roots or childhood cuisine. We are seeking comfort in the familiar. Trying to relive fond memories of (perhaps) less complicated times.

I myself, have seeds sprouting in my tiny greenhouse and no matter how many years one has sowed seeds, the thrill of seeing new growth never gets old. I’m also getting ready to take cuttings to root them on to get more plants. Geraniums, rosemary, heuchera, bay, myrtle to mention a few. I might even give boxwood a try.

Yes, it is back to basics these days. Sowing seeds, growing ones own food, rooting cuttings, making fertilizer such as comfrey tea ( I hear rhubarb leaves work just as well) and composting are seeing an epic revival all across the country, In advance of harvest time, I’ve already corralled all the necessities for canning – jams, sauces, pickles, chutneys and pestos to stock the larder. Secateurs and the blade of the manual, push reel mower have been sharpened. Stakes, twine and trowel sit ready.

Homesteading is back in style.

Note: My garden is still primarily a flower garden so, while I’m going about dealing with the veggies and herbs for the year, I’m thoroughly enjoying the early bulbs bursting forth on a daily basis. Seeing the new growth of perennials is always exciting and reassuring. I also have a couple of fun projects I’m working on – more on those when I develop them further along. Stay tuned!

In the garden this week:

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Nesting Instinct

It is officially Fall. Despite my attempts to be in summer mode, I’ve begun the retreat – preparing the nest for cold, short days and long nights ahead. As though in response to a primeval instinct, it happens naturally.

It began with a huge harvest of arugula. Adding the leaves in salads alone wouldn’t be the best use so I decided to make pesto. Lacking in pine nuts, I used cashews and it turned out that they tempered the bitterness of the arugula just perfectly. Goes well with pasta, sandwiches, soups and anything that needs a little oomph. I made enough to freeze a couple of jars for the winter.

This week, I’m harvesting all the basil. So there will be plenty of basil pesto to freeze as well.

Unable to resist the peaches from a farm stand, I bought a whole bushel. Several disappeared on the drive home. A couple of pies got made and consumed with impressive alacrity. At present, a few jars of freshly made preserves sit twinkling like jewels. Flavored with Pinot Noir and cinnamon, they are a notch above the usual jam I make. Sounds rather posh and grown-up right? I’m already looking forward to Sunday breakfasts of toast slathered with butter and this preserve with strong hot coffee while I gaze at the winter landscape outside.

In a couple of weeks, I’m anticipating making and canning sauce with the last of the tomatoes. This comes in handy for so many meals. Knowing the fruit and herbs come from the garden always gets me planning for the next growing season.

I stopped at my favorite local nursery last Saturday because I’d got word that the shipment of fall pumpkins and gourds had just arrived. What a display greeted the customers! I had such fun making my selections.

I also picked up a whole bunch of hyacinth bulbs for cooling – they will be ready for forcing just ahead of the new year. In another couple of weeks, I intend to get some more to keep the show of indoor hyacinths going through the bleak days of February. That month always needs serious brightening and I want to be ready.

A box of paperwhites sat looking pretty right by the cashier so, I picked up some of those as well. They will soon be in bloom to herald the retreat to the indoors. The chill in the morning says those days are not too far off.

Over the weekend, I brought in a huge amount of hydrangea flowers from the garden. Just turning a rosy blush, they sit resplendent in an urn where I can enjoy them as they dry.

And then, last Sunday, in the shadow of the sculpture ‘Wavehenge’ that marks the solstices and equinoxes, I participated in an event to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox at Riverside Park in New York City. I was one of three poets invited to read poems associated with the season. A definitive acknowledgement of summer’s end.

Yes, fall has arrived and I am embracing it. But, just like the bees and butterflies still working in the garden, I’m not totally done with summer. I’m just content knowing my nest awaits in readiness.

Note: I hope you’ve bought your tickets to the Untermyer Symposium’ Restoring Gardens’. I’d love to see you there.

The ‘Walk In Our Shoes’ art show is on till September 30. Do stop by and see!

“Wavehenge” at Riverside Park North at 145th, NYC
Reading my poem
Pumpkins and gourds galore at Rosedale Nurseries in Thornwood, NY
My selection
My haul of hyacinths for forcing
Paperwhites in place
Monarch butterfly gracing the asters
Hydrangea heaven
Peach preserves

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Homecoming

Traveling makes one modest: one sees what a tiny place one occupies in the world.”

The Letters of Gustave Flaubert, 1830-1857

It feels good to be back home. Refreshed from my travels, I’m eager to get back in the garden. Returning after an absence always makes me approach it with some trepidation. What if something has gone terribly wrong? is a thought that hits me every single time. Thankfully, all is well. Sure the weeds have made merry, the beds are a bit messy with some plants calling it it quits for the season and, the tiny lawn is in need of a trim but in general, it’s all par for the course. The garden is transitioning into autumn.

I’d been concerned that the hummingbird feeder would run empty and thereby the birds would be denied their regular supply but it’s perplexing that after a whole two weeks, the feeder is still a third full. Have the hummingbirds moved on already? I sincerely hope nothing untoward has happened to them. I must look into understanding this before I’m consumed with worry.

The figs tree was heavy with ripe fruit that were enjoyed right away. In fact, the enthusiasm over the splendid harvest made me forget to take a photograph before they disappeared. You just have to take my word for it. The tomatoes are still going strong and I’m getting ready to make sauce for canning.

The asters are just starting to bloom and I think they’re a bit late. Usually, they’re in full swing by now. I’d actually thought I might be late to the show. The vertical garden is having its moment – looking lush and full just as so much else is waning.

The turtleheads in the meadow are growing strong. I love how dependable they are. I’ve come to the realization that the flowers of the oak-leaved hydrangea (H. quercifolia) do not last as long into fall as the my other hydrangea(H. paniculata). The former already look crisp and brown while the latter have moved from white to that soft blush that I so adore. However, the leaves of the oak-leaved have the added bonus of changing color so, I’m looking forward to that display.

All the Concord grapes have either dropped too early or the robins that nest amidst the vine have got to the fruits first. No jelly this year. So be it. Postscript -just last night I discovered that the gardeners at Hortus Arboretum and Botanical Gardens use ordinary paper lunch bags to protect their grapes. Somehow, these humble bags even survive the rain! I’ll be trying that next year.

No apples or pears either. Just as the fruit trees were in beautiful bloom in the spring, a very cold spell hit and the pollinators stayed home. The flowers spent themselves out soon after. First hand lessons in the garden. The leaves of the apples dropped off by early August and I saw that the trees at Stonecrop gardens had a similar problem but those still bore some ripening apples so, I’m a bit envious. I can only assume that the very hot months of summer took a toll and the leaves fell early.

Even in his most artificial creations, nature is the material upon which man has to work.”

— Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

It’s been a really weird summer season this year – much too hot with spells of either too much rain or complete lack thereof. Perhaps this will be the new normal and we will have to adjust what and how we garden. I’m trying to keep pace. This is after all, our future. That has to concern everyone.

In a month, I’ll be cutting and tidying in preparation for the winter. Hundreds of bulbs ordered earlier in summer will also arrive at that time for fall planting.

As the sun sets earlier and earlier, I’m determined to enjoy every available hour of daylight before I get caught up in all the busy-ness. All too soon, it’ll be winter and I want to be warmed by that sense of smugness that I had a good time while I could.

Note: I invite you to come to the “Restoring Historic Gardens” Symposium at Untermyer Gardens on Saturday October 19, 2019. I’m excited to be moderating the panel discussion that will follow after the three speakers share experiences with their respective historic gardens.

The “Walk In Our Shoes” exhibit is on till September 30. Hope you will visit this wonderful art show.

Turtleheads in the meadow
Hydrangea paniculata
Crispy flowers of the oak-leaved hydrangea
The leaves of the oak-leaved slowly changing color
Cardinal flowers still doing well
The wall
Tomatoes in the greenhouse
Figs ripening
Hot!
Pretty

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Garden Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note – Open Day is May 18th!

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

French Salad

I’m spending ten days in Provence – France’s salad bowl. The land stretches in all directions yielding all manner of produce. The weekly markets serve up fruits and vegetables so fresh and so local that you couldn’t bring farm and table any closer. Prices are affordable too. For years I’ve longed to buy fruit in quantity for canning. Finally, this past week, I bought 2 lbs of figs and made half into jam and the other half into chutney. A dream come true. Some aspire to sky-dive while I yearn to find my inner French chef.

The conversations with the market vendors/farmers are themselves instructive. Faced with a variety of eggplants, I asked the farmer which ones would be best for eggplant parmigiana. Without hesitation he pointed to the deep aubergine colored ones. The paler, slender varieties were for baba ganoush. Another variety was best for grilling of stuffing. And so it went. If I’d probed further, he’d have recommended the correct wine pairings too.

Similarly, the cheese maker, mushroom forager and flamboyant charcuterie guy can help select, share recipes and serving ideas along with some strong opinions on our American politics. Shopping in these markets is an immersive experience. I’ve learned to set aside an entire morning to the weekly market. You come for the produce but you stay to strengthen your relationships with those who grow the produce.

Inevitably, I return from market laden with flowers, fruits, vegetables, cheeses, eggs, mushrooms, olives and tapenades, pickled garlic ( my new favorite snack) and a sense of urgency to get the zucchini blossoms stuffed with the fresh goat cheese and fried up right away. Those blossoms will curl up tight and go limp if one waits too long.

Despite all the availability, most homes with a bit of land will maintain a potager of some sort. Some are simple with pots of geraniums, tomatoes and herbs, others attempt a myriad of vegetables and flowers in slightly larger plots and then there are those truly impressive gardens that make me stop and marvel. Each garden says the same thing – a gardener resides here. All are my kind of people.

It’s easy to eat well with such affordable abundance all around. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if the $ got a bit stronger against the EU.

Santé et bon appétit!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar