No Challenge, No Change

The final days of a year give pause to reflect and reassess on how we did, what we’ve experienced and learned. The new year is full of expectations and anticipation. We hope it will be the best year yet.

2020 has been a most challenging year. I doubt if there is even a single person who was not had to face some kind of test in the past ten months. At best, it’s been a struggle for most of us. Devastating for many. 2020 has not been easy.

We have had to adjust, change and rethink so much. How we work, live, shop, communicate, entertain and connect to others and the environment. But, we’ve done it – we humans are resilient. We grow from our problems. We adapt.

I’m giving plenty of thought to how I’ve handled 2020. Undoubtedly, my garden got me through. Like everyone else, I’ve dealt with fears, anxiety, confusion, loss, disappointments and setbacks. Through it all, the garden kept me engaged and busy. I was consoled by it’s beauty, comforted by its bounty, kept productive by the many tasks. Somehow, even easy, uncomplicated tasks like watering the plants, managed to calm the mind and lift the spirit.

So much joy was experienced in the garden. Birthdays, graduation, new jobs, small gatherings were celebrated in the midst of flora and fauna. I found time to do the varied chores with attention and appreciation. Equally, there were plenty of opportunities to sit back and enjoy the artistry of the plants. Beguiled by the antics of the numerous birds and butterflies, my resolve to ensure their continued residency in my garden was reaffirmed over and over.

What I’ve learned is that I need to slow down so I can immerse myself in what truly fulfills me. Short changing the garden by giving the tasks limited time or a rushed effort results in shortchanging my own joy and well-being. Devoting a good amount of time taking care of chores, listening to the birds chatter as they go about their own business, inhaling the perfumes of flowers and aromatics, reveling in the beauty of the plants, watching the bees and butterflies making their rounds has kept me in a state of equilibrium at a time when the world seemed to be torn asunder.

As if to reward my attention, the garden was brilliant all through the seasons. It filled cup repeatedly. And I couldn’t get enough. My only regret is that I was unable to share it with everyone. After all, gardens should be shared and lived in.

Reviewing the year, I understand that the garden recognized where I was coming from and comforted me accordingly. It gently revealed to me that I’d been stretching myself too thin, got involved with too many things and how far I’d moved away from my true north. Not any more.

While a good amount of the global challenges from 2020 will carry over into 2021, I feel better about the coping skills I’ve acquired from under the tutelage of the garden. I now have a clearer , cleaner vision for myself. Simplify, streamline and then full steam ahead. In the garden and in life.

From the bottom of my heart I send each of you the warmest of wishes – health, hope and happiness for the New Year. May 2021 bring peace, joy, love and laughter to all.

Note: Looking backwards –

December

November

October

October

September

August

August

August

July

June

May

May

May

April

March

February

January

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Giving Thanks

For a year replete with so much dissidence and despair, I find myself overcome with gratitude as never before. With Thanksgiving two days away, it is not the meal that is uppermost on my mind but the simple fact that I’m present and accounted for. Everything that has brought me through the months up to this point has my deep, sincere thanks. Every single thing.

Ups and downs, good and bad, sad and happy, birth and death have all been experienced. What a year! As I look back, it’s painful to recall some events but, there have been celebrations as well. If anything, 2020 has exposed the raw reality of life. Nothing glossed over. All the trimmings of how we live have been stripped away to reveal exactly who we are. And that I see is the gift.

The’ pause’ button was pressed and a ‘reset’ was initiated. A new way of living was begun.

To arrive at this realization, I give full credit to the garden. I rediscovered my joy of gardening and paying attention to the lessons it teaches. With so many other plans and projects canceled or postponed, I had no need to rush to be elsewhere. I approached each garden task with the unfettered willingness to do it properly. I even had the luxury of time to take satisfaction in completing each achievement and fully appreciate every chore the garden provided. What I did in all other aspects of my life paralleled what I did in the garden.

As I pruned and cut back wayward branches, I reduced the personal to-do list to only what was essential. Nurturing the plants with a layer of rich, homemade compost directed me to make delicious yet healthy new meals for the family. I took the time to pay mind to the process of creating them. Vegetables, flowers and fruits from the garden were no longer assumed as given; they were admired and prized. I started appreciating my own near and dear ones anew instead of taking them for granted.

Finishing a big task in the garden invariably caused my body to express itself by way of aches and soreness. Rather than complain about the demands of the garden, I noticed how much more energy I had, how my strength had improved and how my mood was uplifted. I took to valuing my physical self instead of grumbling about its decline with each passing year.

In spending more time in the garden, I became acutely aware of the wildlife that enjoyed it with me. Stopping to watch a pair of wrens checking the bird house or a robin foraging for worms to feed its babies, had me breathing deeply and relaxing my muscles. I chuckled at the butterflies and bees vying for a drink from the same flowers. Noting a toad hopping around and then staying completely still once it felt my presence made me stand still as well. A few minutes observing its markings and cuteness instantly put me in a good frame of mind.

I spent many hours watching the birds – right here in my own garden, there are so many different kinds. Over the years, I’d forgotten how pleasurable it is to be in their company. Chipmunks flourished this year – while I was not elated about their presence, I couldn’t help being amused by their antics. A live and let live policy seemed to be good for us all.

All sorts of problems and conundrums got resolved when I weeded and watered. Lines for new poems came to me, I found the correct approach to responding to difficult emails, ideas for gifts or celebrations, resolutions to conflicts, working through worries were some of the personal benefits from these chores. I mourned, adjusted to new circumstances, celebrated, commiserated, vented and worked out dilemmas in the garden. A lot of joy, fears, sorrow, tears, laughter and anger have found expression in this beautiful space.

To garden is to live in hope. That tomorrow will come and it will be bountiful. This, I believe with all my heart.

The more time I had, the more I spent it in simply appreciating the garden. After all the years of being too overwhelmed, I was finally ready to paint my garden. Not simply individual flowers but actual parts of the garden. It was as though I had been liberated. Nay, I had liberated myself. The garden had, very quietly and gently, coaxed me to shed my doubts and uncertainties. I was free to create as I pleased and exactly how I saw it.

I’ve so enjoyed the day by day changes in the garden. I’ve learned as much about myself this year as I have about my garden. It’s an intimate relationship. Together we have grown to be more authentic, articulate and expressive. For which, my gratitude knows no bounds.

I sincerely wish each of you a safe, healthy, meaningful Thanksgiving. It might look and feel different this year but celebrate it we must. Gratitude begets happiness.

Note: Here is a collection of my garden paintings since the pandemic started. I will share the ones done in the autumn (and potentially this winter) another time.

Daffodils

The Light By The Woods

The Embrace

F meleagris

Tree peony

Remembering Spring

The phlox garden

Vertical Garden 1

Vertical Garden 2

A Peek Into The Potager

The Side Path

Nasturtium

Beauty In Passing. Hydrangea

Summer Collapsing Into fall

Amaryllis Social Distancing

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Transitions And Traditions

Transition : the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.

Tradition : the handing down of information, beliefs, or customs from one generation to another.

Over the weekend, the cutting back, clearing and mulching got started. The leaves were raked and added to the compost pile. There are sufficient ‘safe harbors’ in the garden for all manner of critters that the general clean up does not make the garden inhospitable. While it is necessary to provide shelter for birds and such, it is also important to get ready for the next growing season. Equilibrium

The big in-ground bulb planting took place a couple of weeks ago. But I also wanted bulbs to pot up so I went to my local nursery and got myself the leftovers from their bulb stock. While one has a very small variety to select from this late in the season, it is actually fun for me to not have too much choice. The combinations can be unusual and quite lovely. The bonus is that the prices are highly discounted. I also picked up a bag of 10 hyacinths marked ‘assorted’ – it was added to the bulbs already cooling in the refrigerator. I’m so curious to see just what colors those hyacinths will be!

I started many paperwhites as well. For me, they start off the winter – watching them grow and bloom never fails to thrill. I love how the green and white cheer up the rooms in the house. By the time they are finished, the amaryllis have begun growing. The cooling bulbs follow the amaryllis and then the potted up bulbs. It’s a progression I absolutely need to get me through the winter.

At this time, the work in the garden is all about transition. Closing out one season and moving into the next. What we do now determines the future. When we cut back and clean up, we are getting rid of debris and potential disease. We are making space ready for new growth. Seeds are collected to ensure a continuity in succession and hence our own supply of flowers and food.

As I wash, dry and put away pots and tools, I’m conscious that my effort now means I get a good start in the spring. What needs repair or replacement, I address at this time. It is reassuring to know that everything is ready and in good order. I am prepared.

Gardeners follow traditions and wisdom handed down from those who gardened before them. None of what we do is new. It’s been happening through the ages. How we do them might’ve changed. New inventions and understandings drive us forward but in essence, we are still practicing a well known sequence of chores and order.

At this current time of uncertainty, it’s easy to feel frustrated and/or anxious. It seems so outside ones control. However, I believe there are things we can do in our own immediate spheres that will collectively impact the big world. As gardeners we already have a role in making the world beautiful, bountiful and healthy. Our gardens are havens for all manner of living beings. We are but custodians of this precious earth. So it follows that we conduct ourselves responsibly and with thoughtful attention.

In turn, we are setting an example for the next generation of gardeners. The tradition of gardening and caring for the world, the knowledge of lessons learned, the gain of progress and innovation so when the time comes the trowel is passed smoothly and with grace.

Perennial bed 1 before cut back and mulching

Perennial bed 2 . Before.

Bed 1. After

Bed 2. After.

Pots with bulbs ready to winter over.

The urn getting prepared

Paperwhites

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

A November To Remember?

There is just so very much that’s not in our control. I’ve learned to tune out the ‘noise’ and instead focus on the things that I can manage. Having the garden has admittedly been a big reason for keeping me not just occupied but also motivated and engaged in my day to day activities. Being able to share the garden with nature starved, apartment dwelling city friends has not only been a pleasure but also reinforced my faith in the healing, restorative powers of nature.

So, heading into a winter with much of the same concerns as earlier in the year feels mighty daunting. How will I cope when its too cold to be outside in the garden? I have spent some time preparing for this season. Our overall health (mental, physical and emotional) depends on the ministry of nature.

To that end, here’s what I’ve come up with. A brisk, daily walk around my neighborhood or, time and weather permitting, in one of the many nature preserves nearby should clear the cobwebs in my head and get my blood flowing while absorbing some sunlight.

In packing the tiny greenhouse with the numerous tender plants this year, I deliberately relegated several plants to the basement just so I could carve out space for a small table and single chair in one corner. With work-from-home continuing, it will be good to have an alternate space for a family member who might crave a change of scene or some ‘green’ time during a particularly busy day.

The greenhouse is positively heavenly when the orange blossoms and jasmine bloom. I predict it will be a very popular location and I might have to institute a ‘sign-up’ for this perk so as to prevent conflicts or monopolizing. Yes, like the tree-house, the greenhouse receives WI-fi.

After a great deal of searching on the Internet, we finally scored an outdoor heater. This opens up the possibility of regularly getting outside and also having friends over to enjoy some social time with drinks and/or comforting soups. I look forward to returning from a hike and extending the time outdoors sipping hot cocoa and breaking bread. Indoor gatherings may not be possible at present but, we can still make the best of the outdoors.

Currently, the house is aglow with hibiscus and brugamansia in bloom. Both plants were heavy with buds so I brought them in – they have repaid my kindness very handsomely. When the flowers are done, they’ll be relocated to the basement to spend the winter in dormancy.

I have a whole slew of amaryllis bulbs started in the house. They will bring much cheer through the holidays and into the new year. Following that, the bulbs of hyacinths and crocuses already cooling in the refrigerator will be forced into bloom. February and March will not seem so bleak with the fragrance and color of these harbingers of spring.

Note: It’s not too late to get started on the amaryllis and bulb cooling.

The drinks ( remember the eau de Poire and rose-geranium cordial?), chutneys, jellies, sauces and pestos I made through summer will do more than perk up our winter meals. They will remind us of the good things about the year and that summer will come again. Heartwarming.

There are a few more chores still pending before the garden is truly put to bed. I’m loathe to finish up because the winter seems too long, dark and cold. So lets hope between my efforts to mitigate the anxiety and what unfolds this month, spirits are lifted and the light at the end of the tunnels shines bright. Take courage.

Note: GO VOTE!

Brugamansia in bloom

The coveted WFH location

Amaryllis in waiting

Fall beauty

  

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Bedding Down

As I did my chores in the garden this past week, it felt as though there’s much more to do in the fall than in the spring. In a way, this is probably true as a good deal of the work is about getting the garden ready for the spring. Clearing, cleaning up and cutting back right now makes spring so very enjoyable.

But what makes it feel pressured is that having prolonged our pleasure in the garden and delayed the tasks for as long as possible, we now have to get everything done before it gets too cold. Get the tender plants clipped, cleaned and moved indoors before the first frost. Finish harvesting the last of the vegetables and herbs for the same reason. Pull up spent annuals, empty, wash and clean pots. Once dry, put away the pots. Protect other plants and immovable features like statuary. Clean and store outdoor furniture.

Add new plants to the garden. Divide and replant others. Mulch everything. There’s removal, repair and replacement work, It feels endless!

And then there is the bulb planting. It’s a big deal in my garden and it gets harder every year. With almost 2000 bulbs to plant this coming weekend, I’ve called for reinforcements. Daughter and nephew will be joining the effort. I cannot tell you how relieved I am to have their assistance.

Finally, whatever was harvested must be dealt with. Drying, cooking, freezing, canning big time. It’s the last push before one can sit back and catch a breath. But so worth it. The flavors and fragrances of summer will infuse the winter comfortingly.

In my garden, all of this happens over about three weeks. We take on the chores in a divide and conquer kind of way. But one thing is clear – I am the project manager. I have a list, a strategy and a have very clear idea of how the jobs are to be done. Being well organized is super-important. Over the years some minor mutinies have been crushed and slipshod efforts called out.

This year, it has been so much calmer. It’s been possible to be systematic and give proper time and attention to every task. Doing something well is hugely satisfying. It’s because this year, no member of the very small team of three had a pressing social/cultural calendar! And I rediscovered why I love gardening so much – this must be what renewing ones wedding vows must feel like.

I’ve made a note to self – when the world opens up again, do not schedule anything else for the weeks of fall gardening.

The value of being present for each job cannot be overstated. It’s energizing to be so engaged. The intimacy of tending the plants is therapeutic. It’s funny how in doing what we think of as taking care of the health of the plants and the garden as a whole ends up being good for our own well-being.

Note: My painting ‘This Land Is Made OF You And Me’ is in the art show “Sunrise And Solidarity” – Art inspired by BIPOC in Westchester at the Art Closet Gallery, Chappaqua, NY in conjunction with the Town of New Castle’s Council For Race Equity. Art for social justice. The show will in part benefit Showing Up For Racial Justice Westchester Chapter. You can visit in person or on-line. Either way, please take a look!

Herb harvest for winter feasts.

Vertical garden still looking lush and lovely

Greenhouse is fully occupied

One more ‘party’ while the weather is still good.

Autumn Beauty

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Gift Of Timeout

It is such a busy time in the garden. Putting the garden to bed involves many chores and it feels as though one needs to rush before the weather gets really cold. Personally, over the years, I’d taken to doing the fall chores in a state of frenzy. There were always additional commitments demanding attention. But not this year.

This fall, all my free time can be spent in the garden. And for the most part, weekends are wide open for seasonal chores. This is a gift. For the first time in many years, I’m able to give the necessary focus to the tasks. This awareness was foremost on my mind over the weekend. During the previous week, the greenhouse was cleaned inside and out, the heater and fan serviced and set up. The pots of tender plants could be moved in. But first, in the interest of good hygiene, every plant must be clipped back and cleaned thoroughly. This is a process.

I reveled in this chore on Sunday. The weather was perfect too. With nowhere else to be, the whole day lay in front of me like an invitation to play endlessly. A gardener’s dream.

I clipped and trimmed the many standards of boxwoods, bays, roses and myrtles. In taking my time, I was able to identify any damage, disease or abnormality and take appropriate action. The top of the soil in the pots often play host to weeds and roly-polies (wood lice) so it’s always prudent to weed the pots and apply garlic spray to any take care of any bugs.

Once the trimming and checking is done, both, plants and post are ‘power-washed’ to get rid of dirt, debris and any tiny critters hiding around. And only then are the plants moved into the greenhouse. It takes some hours to get it completed. In the greenhouse, arranging the pots so each gets enough light and adequate space for good airflow can be tricky – much shifting and rearranging occurs. Given the size and weight of many of the pots, it is also physically tiring. However, given enough time, it is much less challenging.

For the most part, the really big plants have made the shift. The mid-size plants such as the rosemary, citruses and jasmines along with the many smaller topiaries will be given their check-up during the week – a task that actually serves very nicely as a method of decompressing after a long work day. Come the weekend, the greenhouse will be full.

This year, I’m relegating the Brugamansia, hibiscus and fancy/scented pelargoniums to the basement where the agapanthus and figs have always spent the winter. I’m hoping that this frees up some space in the greenhouse for a small table and chair. Given that we will still be observing current pandemic guidelines and continue working from home, having the opportunity to get a little change of scene in the warm greenhouse will be a very welcome relief. Spending even a short time amidst the plants with the fragrance of boxwood/orange blossoms/jasmines in bloom can make all the difference to one’s disposition.

I have a feeling I’ll have to set up a sign-up sheet so we don’t waste time arguing over who gets to enjoy the greenhouse at any given hour. Yes, the Wi-Fi extends to the greenhouse as well as the tree-house. Now you see where our priorities lie!

Note: Before being moved to the basement, the aforementioned plants will be cut back and cleaned as well. They will spend the winter in dormancy.

Also over the weekend, the espalier of fruit trees was pruned, fallen leaves everywhere were raked and deposited in the woods, a new quince tree was planted in the lower garden. The quince will be espaliered to form a nice feature in what was thus far an unexceptional spot.

I now have a basket full of bay leaves for friends to come by and stock up for winter cooking and fragrant tea. Turns out bay leaf tea has some good health value. I also brought in a nice bunch of rose scented pelargonium leaves to make a few bottles of cordial – I came across a recipe recently that I’m eager to try. Seems like a good way to make any day feel festive.

Several pots of annuals were emptied and washed before being put away for the winter. I gathered up all the nasturtium leaves for more of that delicious, lemony-peppery pesto.

Memories of summer evoked in our winter meals is one way of getting through the cold days in a good mood.

Thinking ahead, root-cuttings of some of the clippings of boxwood, bays etc have been started – by spring there should be new plants to train into topiaries and add to the collection.

So much got done in a day. It was singularly satisfying – something only the luxury of time could make happen. I did not hurry, skip opportunities to start root cuttings or set aside ingredients to try new recipes.

There is still plenty to do but instead of feeling the pressure, I’m looking forward to getting the job done right – with my full attention and presence.

Note: While we’re in the throes of getting our homes ready for the winter and in a state of anxiety about the national unrest and injustices, do take a look at my Printed Garden Collection for the home. Beautiful products to cheer up the home AND support the ACLU. Every effort to improve matters makes an impact.

The vertical garden looks stunning right now!

Rosehips in the sunlight

Beautyberry.

‘Wind Song’ rising above a froth of asters

A few of the pots awaiting clipping and cleaning

Root cuttings

Bay and rose geranium cuttings

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

October, Oh My!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Reaping Benefits

Harvest season is underway and I’m here for it. What a privilege. In a year when so many craved space and opportunity to be outdoors, those of us who had gardens to nurture and be nourished by, know this blessing all too well. In the months to come, the garden will continue to provide in the form of preserves, sauces, baked goods, seasonings, libations and frozen vegetables and fruits.

I’ve been making batches of basil pesto throughout summer. I think the freezer has enough of it to take us through till spring. So at present, I’m just going to blitz the remaining basil in olive oil, freeze in small amounts to flavor soups and cassoulets. This summer, I discovered nasturtium pesto and I’m hooked. Naturally, I’m planning on making a few batches of it. It’s easy. A handful each of parsley and nasturtium leaves, pine nuts or cashews, zest and juice of a lemon, garlic to taste ( I like lots), salt, pepper and olive oil. Everything gets blended together in the food processor. It is terrific with any pasta. Add grated Parmesan at time of serving.

Last week I made enough sweet and spicy tomato chutney for five ½ pint jars. Kept one jar and gave away the rest. It was quite a hit. By popular demand more will be made to punch up sandwiches, hors d’oeuvres, accompany omelets, cheeses, mixed in mayo for fritters and fries …. the list goes on! Recipe is provided down below.

I’ll make and can tomato sauce and bake up loaves of zucchini bread to freeze. Bunches of herbs like thyme, sage, oregano, mint, lemon grass, bay and marjoram will be dried for a good supply of seasonings.

Sadly, no grape jelly will be made this year. Squirrels got every last Concord grape two weeks ago. Sigh.

I’ve had lots of folk ask how the Eau de Poire was ‘created’. It’s quite simple really. Select a tree branch and find the lead pear in a cluster of tiny, emergent pears. Remove all but that main pear and insert into clean bottle and secure the bottle to the tree. The pear will grow in the bottle. When ready, release the pear from the stem and take the bottle down with the ripe pear in it. Wash the bottle and pear with hot (not boiling) water several times till clean. Fill the bottle with either pear flavored vodka or clear pear brandy. Cork or cap the bottle. Store in a cool, dark place for a couple of weeks. Voila!

The photos below will illustrate the process.

Seeds from native plants such as milkweed, baptisia and amsonia will be collected to make more plants in spring.

Cuttings of rosemary, coleus, geraniums, boxwood and hellebores were started in summer – they will be nurtured through the winter and be ready for planting next growing season in my garden as well as in others ( holiday gifts delivered in time for spring!).

It’s a busy time but oh! so rewarding.

Indian-ish Sweet And Spicy Tomato Chutney –

Ingredients

    •  

2 Lbs tomatoes chopped

    •  

Salt to taste

    •  

Dry red chillies to taste. Broken up into small pieces.

    •  

4 tsp Red chili powder

    •  

6 Tbsp Olive Oil

    •  

2 Tbsp Nigella seeds

    •  

¾ to 1 Cup sugar

    •  

1 Tbsp Asafoetida ( you can purchase this from Indian grocery stores or on-line. Or, you can substitute with minced garlic)

Instructions

    •  

Heat oil in a pan. Add Nigella seeds, dry red chilies, and Asafoetida Saute for few seconds.

    •  

Add chopped Tomatoes and salt. Mix well.

    •  

Cover it and cook it for 20 minutes on medium flame.

    •  

Add chili powder and sugar. Mix very well.

    •  

Cover it again and cook it for 10 minutes more.

    •  

Open the lid to stir once. Again, cover and cook until it thickens somewhat. Remember, this is not a jam.

    •  

That’s it!! Apply standard canning process to filled sterilized jars.

Rooted cuttings of hellebore, variegated boxwood, sanguisorba, rosemary and scented geraniums

Rosemary

Bay standards

Rooted cutting of coleus

Herb awaiting harvest

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Projects Positive

In a year rife with crises and challenges, it’s been a struggle to be positive. As I’ve said all along, the garden has singularly kept me hopeful and sane. It is impossible to tend a garden without the trust that tomorrow will be better.

With unexpected time on hand, I’ve been able to contemplate parts of the garden that are being underutilized and need work. These are not necessarily new observations but ones that have been ignored or put off due to lack of time or motivation. This year, the excuses stopped working.

Two areas needed to be addressed and I’ve called them Projects Positive – they move the garden in the right direction and align even more with my values about the environment and sustainability.

The first area needing attention was the very back of the lower garden where the ‘meadow’ dominates. This roughly 7×40 foot space along the property line buffers the meadow from the woods. Over the years, I’d added some native shrubs and an Amalanchier tree but it remained inconsequential. It had no real role to play. To make it worse, the groundcover was pachysandra that had been there for decades and was therefore very thickly established. The very thought of getting it all out had been the reason I let it remain. Until this year.

With Open Day canceled, I was at liberty to tackle spring work that typically would’ve interfered with getting the garden ‘visitor ready’. So, out went the pachysandra. That was really hard work – the growth was tight and thick and the roots ran deep. I had to get the able help of Ephraim our occasional garden assistant.

Following the pachysandra purge, layers of paper and cardboard ( recycling hack) were put down to smother any pachysandra still lurking around. The paper will eventually breakdown and supplement the soil. Over the paper, we laid down landscape fabric to act as a further deterrent.

Pachysandra can be persistent. I’m certain bit and pieces of root remain and will put out growth so vigilance is called for – pull out as soon as they poke out.

Native Chrysogonum virginianum was planted to replace the pachysandra. It seemed like the correct choice of groundcover for this shady area. The yellow flowers should brighten the area next growing season. I’ve also added to the oakleaf hydrangea, Solomon’s seal, bleeding hearts, ferns and dogwood shrubs with several Fothergilla and Ceonothum. In time, the shrubs will grow, fill out the bed to seamlessly join the meadow and provide what I imagine will be a lovely visual tapestry of shapes, hues and texture. Not only will all the plantings attract the native pollinators, Fothergilla flowers have a fragrance which I believe will invite a person (mostly me) to pause a bit at the conveniently provided stone bench and enjoy the garden from this perspective. I want every bit of the garden to matter.

Having completed the plantings, pine bark mulch was spread all over the ground to conceal the black fabric and to keep moisture in. This latter point is important as the ground can get very dry very quickly.

The second project is also in the lower garden. On either side of the path to the greenhouse, there are good sized patches that I’d left without any deliberate plantings. Over the years, they would put on a brilliant spring show of forget-me-nots, dandelions and violas. A beautiful mix of blue, yellow and white. However once that show was over, they become areas of shabbiness. Not wild and engaging. Just messy and unattractive.

I’ve taken my time trying to figure out what to do – something that was different and yet segue ways smoothly into the meadow. This past weekend, after clearing the two areas, 350 plugs of Carex appalachia have been were planted in one and later this week, 450 more will go into the other. The native sedges will be low enough so as to never block the meadow plantings beyond. They will look natural and provide movement. In addition, several types of native butterflies will welcome the presence of their favored food.

A large number of Fritillaria meleagris has been ordered to augment these areas. In my minds eye, I can see the plum colored, checkered flowers bobbing happily over the sedges in the spring. And when the vernal sun casts its gaze, the whole ‘field’ will look ethereal. A fantasy.

Now you see why gardening is full of optimism? It gives us permission to dream.

May all our projects in life be positive.

Note: If, like me, you too have been deeply saddened by the passing of our beloved Notorious RBG, then you must want to continue her work in uplifting people and making matters equal for all. When I elected to support the ACLU by donating 50% of the profits from the Printed Garden products, it was because  of RBG’s work with that organization. I make a fervent appeal to each of you to please join me in carrying on her legacy. Because,’We the people’ should include every single individual.

Project 1:

Project 2: Observe how it all looks pretty in the spring but by early summer (photo 3), the area in the right foreground looks blah.

Flats of sedge

One side all planted up

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Are You Ready For Friluftsliv and Hygge?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Countryside vibrant with goldenrod.

Camouflaged!

The resident praying mantis

The vertical garden right now

Ready for a socially distanced evening

The tree-house ‘office’

A swathe of sunflowers

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar