The feeling of anticipation is powerful. Be it for an exam, job interview, party, vacation, message or anything even seemingly important, it is one of a mix of excitement, uncertainty, hope and yearning. We want so badly for the outcome to be as best as it can be that one can hardly stand it.

(Note: I’m not talking about matters like waiting for medical test results or other difficult situations. Those are entirely different as they come with a sense of dread.)

I, and I suspect all gardeners, know the giddy anticipation of the fruits of our labor. Pun intended!

From sprouting seeds, elements of design, color combinations, textural pairings and finally the flowering and/or fruiting of the plants, gardening is fraught with the thrill of waiting. The realization of plans, vision and dreams is wonderful in itself but, anticipating it is a whole other joy. Because, in that period of expectancy everything is possible. Defying all odds, things are poised to come true. And that is precisely why it feels so wonderful. Life is full of uncertainties but for this period of awaiting, one can hope for nothing short of perfect. Pests, weather, mistakes, miscalculations, mix-ups be damned. Right?!

This past week, while we’ve been sweltering in the high heat and humidity, the delicious sense of anticipation has held me in good spirits. The promise of good things to come is reassuring at a time when it feels impossible to gather the energy to get tasks done. Apart from weeding a little bit each day and watering ( only the pots) as required, little else is accomplished. Even sitting the shade has been a challenge – it’s too muggy and armies of mosquitoes attack at all times of day and night. This week, when the heat is expected to break, I’m really hoping to get certain espaliered trees pruned and a spot of editing in the meadow where the jewelweed is getting too rambunctious.

In the interim, I’m indulging in the positive signs in the garden and for that, I’m immensely grateful. One just needs to stay calm, stay hydrated and observe ones’ surroundings. And to have faith,

A few things I’m anticipating –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Sizzling July

Ah! The month of pure Summer. Fireworks, fireflies and freedom from routine. Heat, humidity and bad hair days too. It is a time to slow down and savor the season. Simplify the days. I think, if we do summer correctly, we can then keep that sensibility through the other seasons. An ideal recipe for living mindfully. This year, I’m going to give Summer my best shot. Really.

In order to do that, July’s garden chores are whittled down to the essential minimum.

Things To Do In July –

1. Weed, weed, weed! Do a half hour each day and stop. It’ll all add up. Remember, pouring boiling water over bricks and other stonework will kill  weeds growing in-between. Hot water from cooking pasta, boiling eggs and such can be used.

2. Deadhead often ( unless you’re going to collect seeds from certain plants). Neatness matters and keeps the garden looking cared for. Deadheading encourages several plants to put out a second round of blooms.

3. Mulch all beds once, fertilize plants in pots weekly, water as necessary ( collect rain water and use that).

4. Mow regularly but keep the mower blade high. Leave grass clippings in place to act as mulch first and then enrich the soil as it breaks down.

5. Watch out for pests and/or disease. Use organic treatments.

6. Plant out vegetable seedlings for fall harvest. Harvest summer vegetables regularly.

7. Keep birdbaths filled with fresh, clean water.

8. Order fall bulbs

9. Take time to watch dragonflies by day and fireflies by night.

Some close ups from the garden –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Days Of Wine And Roses?

June is characteristically about roses and rosé is it not? Weddings, graduations, the start of summer – so much to celebrate! This year, it started off as expected. In fact, the first two weeks were gorgeous. Sunny, dry and very, very pleasant. Then arrived week 3. A rather hellish heat wave. Each time I stepped out I was in a sauna. Ugh. I stepped back in.

Thank goodness for air-conditioning but spending so many hours indoors had me feeling crabby. I resented not being able to spend hours in the garden. Really, I should’ve taken advantage of this house arrest situation and got caught up on books and movies/shows. Instead, I found myself getting antsy about a myriad chores pending which was all rubbish because nothing pressing was being neglected. I made lists of tasks that ran well into early winter and took to behaving as though it was a big conspiracy against me by Nature.

I was eventually able to talk myself into being more reasonable. Routine tasks could wait. Instead, venturing out in the (slightly) cooler hours were spent indulging in paying attention to what was in bloom. I observed. In doing so, I noted that there was far more happening in the meadow than one perceived. For one thing, amidst the native but thuggish wood anemones, were some long lost Indian Pinks blooming their hearts out. I’d all but given up on them because they hadn’t been seen since being planted two years ago. Their unoppressed counterparts on the other side of the meadow, were putting up a splendid show. Thrilling certainly but discovering what I thought I’d lost was even more exciting.

The pale pink candelabras of Veronicastrum were glowing pretty. Their graceful structure bring height and elegance to this somewhat wild looking space. Astilbe and Monarda were also in bloom – I’d quite forgotten that I’d added more. They too had not been observed last year. Then, it dawned on me that I was away for a whole month this time last year. Of course I’d missed this whole show. Silly me. We gardeners are so insecure. We feel abandoned by our plants way too quickly. We need to have more faith in them – they really do want to please us.

I assessed that the jewelweed was up to its old tricks of seeking to take over the meadow. Some serious thinning out is required. See? A more true and practical list was shaping up.

I noted in my necessarily slow stroll in the garden ( anything more vigorous was sweat inducing) that the persimmon and magnolia espaliers had had quite a growth spurt. Add to list – prune them back to define the patterns in which they’re being trained. The magnolia is in bud and the persimmon has developed fruit – this is immensely exciting because it’s the first time for both! The babies have grown up.

Surprisingly, I observed that the plants in the front garden are not as wild looking as they’ve been in Junes past. Perhaps, the Chelsea Chop will not be needed. An item off the list!

The front arch, the one on which the New Dawn rose had performed so well till this year because the chipmunks had munched up the roots over the winter, is making a comeback. Until 10 ten days ago, there had been no sign of any life at all. But now, one limb is leafed out and in the time I’d been hiding indoors, it had even bravely put out two buds which of course succumbed to the heat. So, I shall not replace the rose. It will be relieved of the dead limbs and given some TLC instead. So glad I hadn’t rushed to dig up the rose. Delaying action to wait and see often pays off.

The summer window boxes are looking blah and a redo of sorts is in order. The front walkway and the brick paths in the potager could use the old hot water treatment to stop those emerging weeds poking through. Get ‘em young.

General weeding and deadheading concludes the new list. Not so extensive at all. Leaves me with plenty of time to smell the roses and sip the rosé.

Some of what’s in bloom right now –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Chill In!

It’s a heat wave – all week long. We’ve had such a gloriously beautiful and long spring that it’s really hard to switch gears and confront the soaring temperatures with accompanying humidity. I shouldn’t complain but I know I will. Particularly about not spending enough time in the garden. However, it’s best not to fight common sense guidelines on how to cope in a heat wave.

First and foremost, do only the bare minimum in the garden. That really comes down to light weeding, watering as necessary and general deadheading and tidying. Do these chores in the early morning or later in the evening when the heat is somewhat tolerable. If you’re not up to doing anything at all, that’s okay. Your health is priority number one. The garden can wait – plants are resilient. When the heat wave passes, you will tend to the chores.

Lets see what useful things we can accomplish –

A non-negotiable for me are the hummingbird feeders which must be refilled more frequently. The sugar water will begin to ferment when the days are very hot and that can be very harmful to the tiny birds. Under circumstances like the present, I take the feeders down every other day to empty and wash out thoroughly. I replenish with fresh sugar water (1:4 sugar to water ratio) but I do not fill up the whole feeder. Instead, I add only a third of the volume which is about how much the birds typically consume before the next fill-up. That way, I’m not wasting too much of the nectar.

Similarly, the birdbath is kept filled with clean water for other thirsty avian friends. While you’re at it, remember to keep yourself hydrated!

This is a good time to do some simple propagation and it can be done indoors or in the shade. Lavender, rosemary, dianthus and such are prime candidates. Take 2-3 inch cuttings of non-flowering shoots from the parent plant. Strip away all lower leaves and poke the stems around the edge of a pot of gritty compost. Water and place in sheltered but still bright area. Monitor. When you can see strong, new growth, gently lift and check for good root development. Transplant each new ‘baby’ to its own appropriately sized pot.

Begonia, African violets and succulents can be multiplied from just a leaf. Stick a healthy leaf of the plant into a pot of free-draining compost or sphagnum moss. Water well. Create a greenhouse for each pot by placing it in a sealable, clear plastic bag. Close the seal properly. In a few weeks, new growth will emerge. At that time, cut off the original leaf and repot the new plant.

In the cool of the indoors, examine your wish list of plants for fall planting. Source them. Preferably from your local nurseries. Otherwise, place your orders online. Schedule delivery in time for planting.

On a similar vein, start selecting your bulbs for fall planting. It’s not too early! Popular choices get sold out fast. The orders get shipped out only at the right time for planting in your temperature zone. You also get charged only at that time. I find it hugely freeing to place my bulb order well ahead. Then I can go about the business of enjoying the season, go on vacation, harvest flowers and fruit without worrying about the likelihood of forgetting the bulb order or missing out on my favorite selections.

The heat wave is by no means a blessing but one can certainly find the silver lining in the thick of it.

Here’s what‘s doing in the garden right now –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Making Scents Of The Garden

Gardens appeal to all the senses. The visual is obvious. There are many plants that beg to be touched and/or tasted – who hasn’t instinctively reached out to caress the soft, furry leaves of Lamb’s Ears or picked a tomato straight off the vine for the first true taste of summer? Nibbled on a mint leaf whilst surveying the garden lately?

And then there are the smells that elevate the garden to become more than just an experience. Smells, more than the other senses, bring forth remembrances. Our memories are most easily evoked by smell. And the month of June seems suffused in fragrance.

In my own garden, June starts off with the climbing hydrangea in bloom. The tendrils of its heady perfume climb up into the house and spread out reminding me of the week spent at a dear friend’s lake house many years ago. It was my first time in a log house and also where I was first introduced to the climbing hydrangea. The friend has since passed away but her spirit remains in my heart and whenever I inhale the gift from the climbing hydrangea, I think of Kate and how much she meant to me.

As I weed in the north perennial bed in the front garden, the subtle fragrance of purple Siberian irises remind me to be strong and fearless like the one who gave them to me. Hedda was decades ahead of her time and paid no mind to nay sayers. She lived boldly, truthfully and with deep consideration of the earth and all its residents. That gentle, olfactory nudge was so timely as I’d been feeling a bit discouraged about something at that moment. Hedda might not be around any more but she communicates to me through her irises. Mostly to tell me to trust my instincts.

Whilst deadheading the scented geraniums (pelargoniums really), I’m transported to the time when I introduced my then two year daughter to the different smells of the leaves of assorted geraniums – attar of rose, lemon-rose, citronella and mint-chocolate. She expressed delight at sniffing the first two, crinkled up her nose at the third and positively lit up with the last one. Many subsequent tea parties with her stuffed animals had mint-chocolate ‘cookies’ in abundance. Such fond memories.

The perfume of the night blooming jasmine embraces me as I settle into bed and takes me back to my own childhood in India. The night air thick with the same aroma lulling me to sleep. Likewise, during the day, the powerful bouquet of the gardenia’s creamy flowers evoke images of my mother helping me tuck a bloom in my braided hair. These days, I’m more inclined to place it on my desk or bedside. A single gardenia flower perfumes the entire house.

Lavender invariably takes me to Provence – a place very dear to my heart and one I return to as often as possible. I inhale the crushed leaves or flowers in my garden and right away, I can feel the hot Provencal sun on my skin and the steady thrum of the bees accompanied by the rise and fall of the call of the cicadas. And suddenly, a sense of peace comes over me.

Rosemary, basil, mint, sage, thyme, cilantro, bay all recall so many memorable meals and recipes shared with families and friends. I’m motivated to recreate a dish or two, invite a couple of friends and voila, a summer party happens. New memory created.

Santolina, that I often dry in bunches and hang to repel moths in closets where out of season garments and other linens are stored, has the same memory for my daughter as I have about naphthalene balls from my childhood. Familiar, comforting even but, not necessarily pleasurable.

So many memories raised by a mere whiff from the garden. So powerful and yet, so underrated.

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Tune Into June


June of roses, summer wine

Vows of love, firefly time

Sunny dreams of sandy waters

Plans for camp, temporary quarters.

– Shobha Vanchiswar

And while we’re happily easing into the slow pace of summer, let’s not forget that the garden still needs tending!

Here’s the list:

Things To Do This Month

1. Weed, weed, weed! Do it regularly and you’ll be less inundated.

2. Continue deadheading flowers after they’re done blooming. Let those that you want to go to seed remain.

3. As many plants take off this month, keep the garden looking tidy by staking and tying back.

4. Water only as needed. As summer heat and humidity increases, too much watering will encourage the proliferation of fungal diseases.

5. Keep close vigil for pests and disease. Take prompt action. Use only organic methods.

6. Fertilize the vegetable beds and  plants in pots every two weeks or so. Comfrey tea, Epsom salts and compost are my go to fertilizers.

7. Mow lawns regularly but keep the blades at a height of 4 inches. The slightly longer grass will retain moisture better. Leave clippings to enrich the soil.

8. Prune back lilacs by one-third their height. Do the same for other spring blooming plants – once flowers are done of course.

9. Net soft fruits to keep away the birds.

10. With the threat of frost over, plant out tender plants.

11. Harvest vegetables regularly.

12. Each evening, make a point of sitting still in the garden and observing the fireflies do their silent dance. Smell the roses. Gather peonies to bring indoors. This, is why you garden.

A few glimpses of what’s doing in the garden right now –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

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May Daze

At this point of the month, it hardly ever feels like it is still Spring. As if on cue, when the unofficial start of summer is declared on Memorial Weekend, the temperatures will rise, humidity will arrive and there will be a very summer-like thundershower. I deeply resent this annual phenomenon. Summer needs to stop muscling into Spring. After all, the season of rebirth and renewal still has at least three more weeks if not a month to go. And I would like to savor it fully.

Instead, Summer bullies her way in, puts paid to the late spring flowers just as they’re coming into their own. Case(s) in point – the alliums were standing tall and resplendent in their purple pompoms before the unwelcome heat and humidity quickly faded them out . They look like allium ghosts now.

The peonies in my garden start revealing their exotic beauty unfailingly at the approach of Memorial Day. And just as unfailingly, the temperatures get uncomfortable high and a heavy downpour will follow. The heat hastens the blooming and the rain madly tears out the petals leaving behind a sorry, sodden browning mess to clean up. I’ve learned to run out just before the shower and gather as many peonies to enjoy indoors. But we know well it’s just not the same. Cut peonies do not last as long and the plants outdoors look bereft. Truly sad.

The pair of native wisteria scrambling over the pergola bloom later than their Asian cousins. This is a trait I value because early Spring has so much to offer that waiting for the wisteria makes late spring more comparable. But, my joy at basking under the flower laden pergola or gazing swooningly at them from the rooms above, is short lived. The cruel heat rapidly toasts the racemes to a shade of gray causing petal fall that closely resembles the sorry, week old remnants of a ticker tape parade.

Indeed, resentful I am. But, having vented, I feel better. A tiny bit.

Note: Late May in my garden –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Why I Garden

Every now and then, but especially when I encounter events or people who are well known in the horticultural world, I reflect on my own life as a gardener. You know the sort of people, the kind who only use the Latin nomenclature and/or collect and grow mostly rare, special or exotic plants. Don’t get me wrong. As a scientist I’m very aware and respectful of scientific names of any plant, animal or thing. And as a gardener, I am thrilled to acquire an unusual or uncommon addition to my garden. I certainly understand passion or even obsession for particular plants. Unless I’m having an intellectual sort of discussion or need to be horticulturally clear or accurate in my speech, I prefer common names of plants. It then feels as though one is discussing mutual friends.

It’s the snobbery or elitism displayed by some that bothers me. When I periodically encounter such sorts of individuals, I take a step back to consider my own reasons for why or how I garden.

First and foremost, I see my role as a custodian of my little garden. It is a responsibility and privilege I take seriously and fulfill it to the best of my ability. I apply both my scientific understanding as well as my artistic skills to create and care for my garden.

Organic practices, water conservation, composting, installing mostly native plants, encouraging wildlife etc., are sound, science based principles that are fundamental to how I garden. Using shapes, forms, color, texture coming up with a design that is creative, innovative, beautiful and pleasing is where I apply artistic sensibilities. In the end, a garden must imperatively be an interactive, engaging space that appeals to our soul and all our senses. In communing with Nature, we are reaffirming our intrinsic connection to the natural world.

When I select plants, I do have fun finding unusual varieties of a well-known plant but only so it will add more to the interest and complexity of the design than to simply stand out as different or superior to the common types. There is room for the ordinary and extraordinary in the garden as it is in the world at large. It’s far more satisfying to share than show off my garden. Visitors to the garden, be they knowledgeable, experienced gardeners or novices, artists or art lovers, scientists or nature enthusiasts or city dwellers ( or a combination thereof) are all encouraged to engage however they are inclined. To sit and contemplate, walk around slowly and examine in detail, take innumerable photos of everything or just one captivating flower, make copious notes, settle down to sketch or paint, sit or stretch out to read or nap, it is all good. That’s precisely what a garden should do. At any given time, I myself gratefully indulge in any one of those activities.

Ultimately, it is to stay connected and engaged with Nature is why I garden. To understand my place in the bigger context. It really is as simple as that.

Note: Some images from the garden right now. It’s heavy on the meadow because that’s where I’m totally entranced at present!

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Universe! You Did Hear Me!

What a weekend it was – packed to the gills with events, I’m finally coming up for air. Friday and Saturday was the PlantFest at Teatown Lake Reservation where for some years now, I’ve participated as a vendor to sell my soft home furnishings. 100% of the profits are donated to deserving causes and that’s my strong motivation to do what I do – using my art to create beautiful, useful products in order to raise funds for projects I believe in. This year, the ACLU and Doctors Without Borders are my chosen causes. If anyone is interested in my products or in supporting the two causes, please use the link provided above and make your purchases on-line.

Now, at PlantFest, folks primarily come to make a beeline to the plethora of plants available from some pretty amazing growers. So to purchase anything else is not a priority. I participate because Teatown itself is a very special place of nature and deserves to be supported. PlantFest is an important fund raiser. As an opportunity to sell my products, it is less than ideal. But, every item sold helps the big purpose. I did okay. What is gratifying are the people who return every year to buy Mother’s Day gifts. That is definitive endorsement and I sure feel good about it.

On Friday, it was tough – cold and rainy weather had everybody wishing for time to fly. The thought of a hot shower tantalized relentlessly. Finally, at 7:00 pm we were able to go home. But that hot shower had to wait.

Last minute garden work awaited – that final effort to get the garden as ready as it could be for Open Day on Saturday.

So, in the drizzle and cold, I deadheaded, weeded and neatened up the garden for another hour and a half. Satisfied, I finally went in for shower, sustenance and sleep. I couldn’t dare to consider the weather for Saturday.

Well, the Universe heard my pleas – Open Day could not have asked for better weather. Sunshine! Blue skies! Warmer temperature! Not too warm but perfectly comfortable. Hallelujah! While I anticipated the visitors I reveled in the sunshine. It felt heavenly.

And the garden truly rose to the occasion. It looked so beautiful even if I say so myself. As all gardeners know, all we can do is our best and the rest is up to Nature. Over a 100 visitors came and time passed quickly. I so enjoyed meeting everybody. It never ceases to impress me that they take the trouble to come to my little garden. Some had visited a few years prior and had liked it so much to return – that cannot but touch my gardener heart. Meeting new people is invariably fun as friendships get forged this way. And boy did we gossip about plants, gardens and gardening! And maybe about certain gardeners! All in all, a perfect Open Day. Thank you all for visiting – my deepest gratitude.

The day ended with our traditional pizza party with close friends arriving after Open Day hours to get their own private viewing and to linger on into the night eating, drinking and being merry. Sublime.

Note: The baby robins in the nest above the dining table on the terrace had grown and flown in time! So we could use the table guilt-free!

Sunday was Mother’s Day. And the rain had returned but not for the entire day. While it was not really busy or hectic, it was delightfully eventful. I feel extremely blessed.

I’ve given myself a well earned break this week. No gardening. Except for the planting of seedlings. Maybe a bit of routine weeding. Keep up the deadheading. The edgers of the beds in the herb garden could use some straightening. A little re-potting. The tiny front lawn will need mowing. The lilacs look done so maybe get the pruning over with? Ha! What am I thinking? There’s simply no rest for the wicked and the good don’t need any do they?!

Note: Some pictures from Teaown’s PlantFest and my Open Day –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Opening The Garden

It’s the final stretch – Open Day is this Saturday! All the last minute frenzy is happening. Fussing and faffing, mowing and moving, planting and panting. Since the weather forecast has a chance of rain for Wednesday through Friday ( fingers crossed for Saturday), the deadline to get ready is really sunset today. Madness!

I know it’ll all get done but there’s always that final push and panic. The adrenaline is high and truthfully, I’m super excited to welcome the visitors so we can gossip and commiserate on all things garden. I hope you are planning on dropping by?

If the race to get the chores for May haven’t been addressed as yet, here is the list –

  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 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.

Get cracking!

In the garden right now tulips are having their moment!

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

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