Living In The Sun

A big takeaway from the past year was that everyone rediscovered the power of nature. The visceral need we have for the open spaces rich in vegetation and fresh air was unarguably recognized. Those of us blessed with any size of land found sheltering at home less stifling than apartment dwellers. Parks and preserves saw a remarkable up-tick in visitors. Following more than a year of restrictions, how we live has become a focus.

Inside the home, we have quickly realized that our spaces are not designed for our current needs. For that matter, many homes were never set up for us to spend a great deal of time in it. With the flexibility of working at home full-time or part, office space is a necessary requirement. The family dining table can no longer do double duty. In order for any member of a household to get some time and space alone, bedrooms are now not merely for rest/sleep. Open living plans, hugely popular pre-pandemic are now regarded as unsustainable for multiple people living and working from home. Interior designers have noted the new needs and are responding with ingenuity and creativity.

Similarly, the gardens of many demand re-imagining. First and foremost, let me get a pet peeve out of the way – can we please stop calling our outdoor piece of property a ‘yard’? A yard is simply the grounds surrounding a building or a unit of measure. A yard does not evoke a beautiful space. Think about it. There are dockyards, shipyards, farmyard, junkyard, barnyard … you get the idea. Without the prefixes court- or vine-, yard by itself does not conjure up greenery. However, ‘garden’ immediately makes one see plants, grass, flowers and fruits. Somewhere pleasant. Words matter.

Gardens are not just for show. They should be designed for people to spend time in them – cultivating, meditating, socializing, playing, eating, reading, napping. That pretty much means outdoor living. Be it a balcony, a narrow strip or a bigger space, we must think about how they can serve multiple purposes aesthetically and effectively. I would add that all designs must be sustainable, eco-friendly, organic and environment conscious. In my book these requirements are non-negotiable.

A simple bench set in the garden provides a place to sit, read, converse and observe. Add a table and now you have a spot for eating, working, painting, writing, playing cards or board games. A swing under a tree or a hammock slung between two trees offers a different attractive choice. You see?

Of course, the right plants are critical. Color, texture, shapes, heights, widths, fragrance, tactility and functionality are all key attributes to consider. Native/eco-beneficial too. Good design makes a garden beautiful and functional.

Pulling together all the required elements to create a garden that suits the way one lives is perhaps most challenging. And exciting.

In my own garden, there are various places for escape, rest and activity. In the front, the two Adirondack chairs were installed to provide a place from which one could enjoy this area of the garden. It’s close enough to the street that spontaneous conversations with neighbors out for walks happen. From mid-afternoon on, the sun has moved on and one can sit in shade and read, work on the laptop, take a tea break, watch the birds, butterflies and bees.

The terrace on the side, is a lovely spot for breakfast before it is bathed in full sun till early evening. In summer, it’s too hot by noon. In cool months the sunny location is a gift. A table with chairs and an umbrella that can be tilted for requisite shade makes spending time here amidst the sweet smelling citrus and gardenia (in pots)is a rather sublime experience. Members of the household routinely hold Zoom meetings from this location. The hummingbird feeder nearby is visited often and always brings joyful distraction.

Similarly, the tree house has also stretched itself from just a cool spot to hangout (or camp out) with friends to a cool spot to work. Wi-Fi extends to this perch so what at one time was also a place to do homework, now permits all manner of work be conducted. As well as the occasional nap.

From late fall to early spring, the greenhouse, set up with a small table and single chair takes on the role of sheltering a myriad assortment of plants as well as an escape for any family member who needs a little nature therapy. Or simply needs to get away from the rest of us. This past winter, it became my husband’s corner office! He found it more enjoyable than sharing the house with the rest of us.

The table under the pergola on the terrace in the back is used in countless ways. We eat, entertain, work, read, paint, play, bird-watch and generally hangout. All day long. Adding an outdoor heater last fall has made it possible to use this area almost all year round. String lights and a chandelier keep us going well into the night. Poker nights, hysterical rounds of charades and long, lively conversations happen here frequently. Life.

There is a bench towards the back of the ‘meadow’ that serves as an escape from the madding crowd and also a restful spot from which to enjoy the flowers in bloom and observe more closely the activities of all sorts of pollinators. Seeing the meadow from a different perspective can be eye-opening.

A similar bench under the grapes on the far side of the terrace is another good location for bird-watching and catching some sun and quiet time.

The garden should be a true extension of the home. It’s meant to be lived in. Not merely viewed. It’s good for health.

Note: We’re in the midst of a heat wave. Hope these images give you some respite:

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Riding Out December

It is finally December. After the year it has been, there appears to be a collective wish to be done with 2020 as if magically on January 1, 2021, things will have improved. It’s necessary to have that thread of hope to take us through the months. As we passed each holiday, every personal milestone, each public event, we’ve moved along with the aspiration that it will be so much better next year. With the imminent release of vaccines, the light at the end the 2020 tunnel just got brighter. Much brighter.

But, there’s still December (and potentially a few more months) to get past. I’m taking it one month at a time.

December for me is dark. Lack of light affects me. I also miss spending time outdoors in the garden. More than any other year, this December feels particularly heavy. I realize it is because typically, one had holiday parties and celebrations to offset the gloom. Social connections matter. If the cold weather took us indoors, at least we could engage in convivial gatherings. Not this year.

With the recent acquisition of an outdoor heater, I have ostensibly addressed two of my needs. I am able to bask in the sunshine and fresh air in the garden. Sitting cozily in the warmth of said heater, I’m able to watch the birds, survey the bones of the garden with a critical eye, dream or plan future projects, catch up on some reading, do some painting/writing, take care of timely tasks like sorting seed packets and even starting some for early planting. I know that simply being in the garden will cheer me up immensely.

I adored having visits from friends all through the warm months. They were such high points of my year. Socially distanced and safe, over food and drink, we celebrated, commiserated, and uplifted each other. Sharing my garden with others is gratifying. Sending a friend home with a rooted cutting, fresh herbs or fruit, a jar of homemade preserves or a small bunch of flowers is hugely happy-making. Now, I’m able to continue welcoming friends to hang out with me and get the benefits of sunlight and friendship.

Indoors, the paperwhites are coming along nicely and the amaryllis are emerging. The hibiscus I’d brought inside in October because they were so heavy with buds have proven to be wonderful house guests. Undemanding except for a bi-weekly splash of water, they have put forth multi-petaled flowers of a deep red hue continuously. The largest bay standard I possess was too large for the greenhouse so it is occupying a fairly prized spot by the kitchen window. While the tree blocks easy access to some things, it is quite lovely to pick leaves so conveniently for sauces, stews and such. A single bay leaf elevates a pot of rice – rich in fragrance and taste. Other herbs such as rosemary, curry, thyme, oregano, sage and Thai basil are just a short trip to the greenhouse. I’m comforted by and also deeply grateful for their availability. A sense of gardening continued goes a long way in keeping me cheerful.

A couple of days ago, I came across a commercial for new device called AeroGarden – it is a hydroponic kit to easily grow herbs and vegetables at home. I have no idea if it lives up to all that the manufacturer touts but, if it does, it’s a wonderful product. If any of you have had experience with this system, please share!

With seed packets ordered, tools sent out for sharpening and a couple of design projects incubating, I’m all set for getting through this month. A gardener always likes to have some element of related work in progress. We like the continuity of growing something with the giddy anticipation of a successful end in sight.

Reminder! It is Giving Tuesday today. When you purchase from the Printed Garden Collection, you are supporting a small business and giving to the American Civil Liberties Union. 50% of the profits are donated to the ACLU.

The products make lovely gifts for the home. Yours and someone else’s! ‘Tis the season!

In the greenhouse:

Lemons!

Painting seed heads

Paperwhites

Hibiscus

Sunday morning in the garden

Conversations around the heater

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Buds, Blooms, Babies

From the first buds of spring, the pulse quickens in expectation of the blooms to come. And all through the growing seasons, the natural sequence of flowering carries one through in a state of excitement. Plants just about to burst into bloom are one of the few things that brings forth an almost childlike thrill in us. It never gets old.

This week, the Monarda and Echinacea opened up to the bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. So gratifying. The milkweed in the meadow are getting ready and I’m eager to see the butterflies flock to them. The native wisteria is similarly studded with buds – this is the second flush. It’s the first time this second round looks as abundant as the first and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this week’s heat and humidity do not do them in. Typical of the greedy gardener, I’m over the moon when plants that are generally not from here do well – case in point, the agapanthus I covet and grow in a pot, has put out three fat buds. It’s absurd how elated I am. As though the plant is telling me that I did a good job. Oh the hubris!

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been doing a great deal of bird watching in the garden. Three different robins nests have resulted in no less than 10 fledglings. The bluebird house hosted a family of wrens, followed by sparrows and is now once again occupied by wrens. I watched a tiny wren fledgling last evening making short test flights. I couldn’t capture it with my camera as it was never still.

This past Saturday, I noticed a small bird sitting on an electrical wire that runs near the maple tree in front of the property. Viewed from the back, it looked like no bird I could recognize. As it turned its head, I saw its orange beak and it dawned on me that it was young female cardinal! This was the first time I’ve seen a cardinal baby. While I observe cardinals regularly all over the garden, I’ve never been privileged to see their nests or young ones. My joy was immeasurable – simple pleasures.

This past week, I finally launched the second collection in my line of soft furnishings The Printed Garden. I’m really proud of these beautiful, useful products and hope you will check them out.

50% of the profits from any and all purchases will be donated to the ACLU ( American Civil Liberties Union). Your support is deeply appreciated. Note: Due to the pandemic, stock is limited and future production is uncertain.

And there you have it. Buds, babies and blooms. Life.

Native wisteria preparing for a second flush

Cardinal fledgling

The herb garden from above

Agapanthus in bud

Monarda and yarrow

Milkweed about to open

The white oakleaf hydrangea taking on a rosy hue

Echinacea

Concord grapes coming along.

A peek into the the Printed Garden collection 2

Tea towels

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar