Earthly Days

I’ve been sticking rather low to the ground lately. Literally. Remember when I planted hundreds of native sedge Carex appalachia plugs in a part of the garden and then added in hundreds of F. meleagris last fall? Well, this ‘field’ is looking absolutely delightful right now. The sedge is greening up nicely and the frittilaria are up and waving their checkered bells very sweetly. I’m smitten. Imagining is one thing but having it become a reality is excitement overload.

All weekend I kept taking frequent breaks from other garden chores to gaze at my little ‘field’. Joy. Joy. Joy.

This sedge is the larval food for the Appalachian brown butterfly. I’ve given my family direct orders to take pictures of any brown butterflies they might see flitting around the garden lest I miss such an important sighting.

Life in the garden is one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Connecting with nature is fundamental to our very existence. The past year demonstrated this imperative loud and clear. With Earth Day two days away, I reckon it’s a good reminder to renew this bond to make it stronger, better, healthier.

As gardeners, we are acutely aware of what’s happening in the environment. The situation is dire and its all hands on deck to mitigate climate change. I recently watched a morning news segment of a major network wherein each host voiced the one thing they have adopted to be more ’green’. They mentioned things like returning dry cleaning hangers, carrying their own bottle of water and such. All good practices but I had to think – surely all of these measures ought to have been adopted a long time ago no?.

At this point, we should be doing so much more. And please lets not get complacent about how we’re conscientious in our recycling. Simply tossing all recyclables into the appropriate bins and putting them out for pick up is not a big effort. Reducing the amount in those bins is.

In the garden, organic practices, collecting rain water, composting, using electric tools instead of gas powered ones, growing a majority of native plants, encouraging pollinators of all sorts, mulching etc., has always been my modus operandi. What I struggle with are the plastic pots the plants come in. Even the ‘biodegradable’ ones aren’t so great as they take a really long time to degrade. I truly wish all nurseries would take back the empty pots to be returned to the growers for reuse. I understand this is not so easy to manage but there must be a viable solution.

On a bright note, growers that ship out plants directly to gardeners are coming up with many ‘green’ ways to safely transport plants. Perhaps something similar can be invented for nurseries and garden centers. Personally, I’d be more than willing to take my own containers to fill with plant purchases – much the same as taking bags to the farmer’s market or supermarket.

Similarly, in the house, we use non-toxic/organic/homemade cleaning products, consume organic, locally sourced foods, carry our own drinking water, cloth napkins, use beeswax cloth, silicone freezer/sandwich bags, reusable bowl covers to reduce the usage of plastic, aluminum or other paper wraps. Paper towels and toilet paper are from Who Gives A Crap that uses 100% recycled paper and donates 50% of its profits to build toilets in needy areas all over the world.

Recently, we switched to toothpaste tablets from By Humankind. This totally eliminates toothpaste tubes – something that is not even recyclable. The same company also sells floss that dissolves or can be composted. The entire packaging it arrives in is compostable. The containers to keep the tablets and floss are made of glass with silicone tops. They’re really clean and minimalist looking. By subscribing, one receives refills to serve several months at a time. This helps with the carbon footprint. Ditto for the aforementioned paper products.

While we have been using woolen dryer balls instead of dryer sheets to fluff and ‘soften’ clothes for some years, we were a bit hesitant about ‘green’ detergents that could clean the clothes properly. We tried a few options but were not too satisfied. Just recently, we’ve made the switch to laundry soap sheets from Tru Earthno more dealing with plastic jugs or cardboard boxes.. One sheet per wash – hot or cold and usable in any type of machine. The soap itself is free of all harsh-to-the-environment ingredients. The jury is still out on the efficacy of the sheets but I’m very optimistic.

I go into those details because we can each do better in every aspect of our lives. There are  always more efforts to be made of course but for now, I know I’m trying my very best to do as much as I can. In the end, that’s what matters – committing wholeheartedly to doing our part in caring for this beautiful, wondrous planet we call home.

FYI – The companies I’ve mentioned were discovered in my research to find good eco-products. I am NOT sponsored by any company.

Note: Reminder! Mother’s Day is fast approaching! Do shop from the Printed Garden Collection mom will love the products!

Daffodils

Amelanchier in bloom

Tree peony pushing up.

The ‘field’ of sedge and frittilaria.

Watercolor

 

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

A Wander To Wonder

But for the odd pot or furniture to put away, the garden has been put to bed. As I gaze out the window slowly sipping my coffee and contemplating the day, it looks very subdued and quiet out there. I’m planning on going into the garden a bit later in the day. Spend some time getting the benefit of the outdoors. Sunshine notwithstanding, it looks cold. I’m tempted to make excuses and stay in. I know that once I’ve made it outside, I’ll be totally fine. It is getting past the inertia that is the hardest.

After a morning of work, I’m ready for a break. I require some diversion to get my mind ready for the next tasks that must be completed. I pull on warm layers kept on the ready, grab my winter gear and step out. The sharp edge of the cold hits me as I squint in the bright sunlight. Right away I feel more awake and my body adjusts to the temperature. It’s not so bad at all.

Instinctively my eyes start surveying the perennial beds on either side of where I stand. I look down at the hellebores left uncut so the emerging buds are protected. Gently lifting a couple of the leaves, I note the tiny buds nestled at the base. In my minds eye, I see the flowers in bloom. Hellebores are so dependable. I cannot have enough of them. The rest of the beds look tidy and flat with the plants cut back. They and the bulbs are nicely tucked away for the winter under a thick layer of mulch. Staring a bit longer, I detect the slightest growth – slender tips spearing through. Crocus or snowdrops awakening way too early? There had been a few days of mild temperatures a couple of weeks ago. Could that have triggered some bulbs? I fervently hope not. There’s not much I can do about it so I tell myself to let it be.

Leaving the front garden, I walk past the vertical garden – a length that looks so devoid of any growth, that one would be hard-pressed to imagine the lush greenery that is a hallmark of this space in the growing season. My heart feels a twinge – I miss the wall garden. It surprises me to realize just how much I love this feature. I wonder if the mosses looking barely present in their dormancy miss their fern companions now ensconced safely in the emptied vegetable bed in the potager.

Standing at the top of the steps that lead down to meadow, I marvel at the filigree of tree branches above. Denuded of leaves, like a loosely knit scarf the patterns trace through the air against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. Below, I become aware of birds hopping around as they forage for food. It’s only in being still that I am able to detect the many sounds in the garden. What at first felt quiet is in reality humming with activity.

The rustle of small creatures in bushes, the scratching of the birds as they avail themselves of worms and scattered seeds, distinct birdsong punctuates the air and I begin to watch the various singers at different locations of the garden. Each time a gust of wind come through, I hear the creak of branches swaying. Airlifted leaves perform balletic dances before settling down again on the ground. The sunlight glancing off the metal sculpture brings into focus the moire pattern on its surface. Reminds me of eddies of water in a stream. I watch a hawk high on a tree of a neighbor’s property – it is feasting on something newly caught. I don’t want to know what its eating. Nearby, I watch a spider hard at work – a web is such a marvel. I wonder if the spider does it instinctively or has some forethought directed the strategy. As an artist, I know both factors come into play when I create.

Before I know it, an hour has passed. My body feels so alive and filled with inspiration. Wandering around the garden, has quieted my mind and prepared it for the work that lies ahead. I return indoors refreshed, relaxed and motivated.

Tomorrow, I will get to do it all over again. The daily gift of Nature.

Note: I’m very pleased to have my series of 6 paintings on “The Women Of India” at the International Art Show Of Raleigh on the Arts Of India. Do please take a look!

Hellebore leaves shielding new growth

Buds peeking through

All bedded down

Up close and personal with dormant mosses

The winter wall garden

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Child’s Play. Part I

Private gardens in India are typically tended by professional gardeners. Garden owners might supervise but the real work is done by their hired help. As a child, I was given free reign in the garden where I would spend most of my waking hours. I learned a great deal simply by spending time outdoors. Observing bugs, tearing apart a flower to see its different parts, trying in vain to extract color from colorful petals ( I’d squeeze wet petals), waiting for a chrysalis to turn into a butterfly, learning from my mother to make tiny clay pots from mud, picking berries as they ripened and never leaving any for others – the list is endless.

I didn’t have any grown-ups who took it upon themselves to teach or guide me and the gardeners in the area were way too busy heeding their employers and going about their responsibilities. But, I did get to watch these gardeners from whom I undoubtedly absorbed some good gardening methods. I think I also got in their way frequently.

I’d collect pretty leaves and flowers in tins and pass many afternoons in the shade arranging and rearranging my treasures in patterns. I crushed fragrant leaves and flowers to perfume my hands and face before I learned about primitive cultures doing the same. I learned to identify edible herbs and often experimented with propagating plants from seed and cuttings. Waiting for fruits to ripen and determining that moment when they were ready to be picked was a responsibility I took seriously. Mind you, none of this was conducted scientifically. It was all play for me. I didn’t make notes or tell anybody. It was just how I enjoyed my time outdoors. Curiosity and imagination were my constant attendants.

I’d routinely get all sorts of insect bites and stings, cut my hands from handling thorny plants, scorch the soles of my feet by walking barefoot on stones made so hot by the mid-day sun, get my clothes mud-splattered and stained. Nothing kept me away from the garden – it was where I belonged. Instead, the mishaps were just as instructive as the happy discoveries. I learned to identify plants, insects and birds, treat my wounds and through trial and mostly errors, I taught myself to dye clothes with natural materials. My mother had her own opinions about some of my efforts.

Simply by spending unstructured time in the garden, my young mind learned an enormous amount of information. Children are naturally curious and the garden is the best classroom. Looking back, I see how all my subsequent choices and passions were inevitable. I was shaped by the garden. It raised me as much as all the important adults in my life. The garden is very much why and who I am today.

Based on my own history with the garden, I have many thoughts about children and the great outdoors. I will share that in Part II next week. Meanwhile, think about your own young selves and what gardens meant to you. An occasional walk down memory lane helps one gain fresh perspective.

Note –

I have some of my art works in a show at the Phyllis Harriman Gallery, NYC, the week of March 12, 2018. I hope you will visit! Reception is on Tuesday March 13 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.

Enjoy the photos below – taken some years ago at the garden show “Play In The Garden”  in Chaumont, France:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar