Overture To Spring

Contrary to the saying, March is going out like a lion. Rain and high winds are escorting its exit. It seems as though we’re getting days of such strong winds more frequently. And it would not be remiss to plan for this pattern going forward. This of course means the soil will dry out more quickly which then could imply more watering. I’m also giving serious consideration to securing various climbers and planters more firmly. Ditto for furniture and other movable structures. In the right circumstances, even a small object can become a powerful projectile. I’m not trying to cause panic – just being more aware and proactive.

A couple of warm days last week coaxed the garden fully awake. Each day, the canvas of earth is rendered with more and more colorful splashes. The early bulbs have a very short window to shine before they’re overshadowed by their bigger, flamboyant cousins. I relish this time with them – so diminutive and so exquisite. Even more gratifying is to spy hungry insects quenching themselves on these tiny flowers. The give and take in nature is perhaps one of the most beautiful, life-affirming exchanges one can witness.

A much longed for trip to the nursery had me happily potting up the window-boxes and other pots/urns over the weekend. They set the stage for the season’s drama yet to unfold. The fence post in front was replaced and the whole fence got new roping – it all looks quite smart and ready for duty. I got a few plants to add to the front beds and with any luck, they will be planted imminently. Once the tiny lawn is raked over and reseeded, the entire front garden will be properly spruced up for the season.

In the meadow, the ivy invading from the neighbor’s yard has become my daughter’s number one target. When I asked her to cut it back, I had no idea she’d find the job so satisfying – I’m pleasantly surprised the way things have worked out. She even discovered the pathetic state of the Dutchman’s Pipe I’d planted a couple of years ago to replace the ivy. I’d written it off when I couldn’t see it on a cursory examination last summer. The poor plant was being strangled by that invasive thug. Once relieved of its oppressor, a good feeding was given and I’m determined to keep an eye on it so it can do the job its been assigned to do. I have a feeling the under-gardener is even more determined but I’m not going to say anything lest I jinx her gradual evolution into a first rate gardener ( it’s happening despite all her early protests as a child).

The birds are very busy house hunting and the morning chorus can be deafening. But oh so welcome! I’m keeping my eye on a pair of cardinals near the grapevine. Out front, the robins are involved in what seems to me a bidding war for the rose arbor. Fingers crossed the new birdhouse will be claimed by bluebirds. Wrens usually commandeer the one in the meadow.

Last Saturday’s warm weather brought everyone including the garden snakes outside to enjoy some sun and fresh air. One was unabashedly sunbathing on a flagstone by the greenhouse. I fully expect it (and the rest of its family) to do their job of keeping all the rodent forms under control. They’ve been negligent some years and I don’t take kindly to such laziness.

And so the season is in full swing. Let there be beauty, growth and grace.

Hellebore

Fence all fixed up

New birdhouse ready and waiting

Plants awaiting planting

Slytherin the snake

Window box potted up

They don’t look like much at present but soon they will be shouting SPRING! – anticipation is half the fun.

First crocus. More have quickly followed.

First daffodils

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Quick March!

Last week was as though Winter had dug in her heels and wasn’t going to budge and then the weekend arrived with Spring at full throttle. It was glorious. Galvanized me into action.

During that wintry spell, I spent my time in the garden doing clean up work. Area by area, each day I helped the garden shed itself of winter debris – twigs and broken branches scattered around, bits of paper and plastic blown in. Half the garden looks so much neater now. Still have the other half to go. I’ve told myself to remember the lessons from Lockdown 2020 – take the time to work mindfully. It was such a pleasure to do the chores last year without time pressure. Both, the garden and I, benefited enormously.

I’ve been hardening off the sweetpea seedlings and this week I shall plant them out. Bulbs planted in pots and wintered over in a sheltered spot have been moved to where they can be viewed – they are coming along nicely. I feel the quickening of my pulse knowing I’ll be seeing the pots in bloom well before their counterparts in the ground.

The stratified columbines sown in seed pots are yet to show any sign of awakening but I’m hopeful. Patience not being a virtue of mine makes me check on them way too often. Later this week, I’ll get the nasturtium and micro-greens going.

Over the weekend, I pruned the roses and secured the limbs of the climbers. While the oak-leaf hydrangea do not get pruned in spring since the flowers are borne on old wood, they’d suffered significant snow damage. Several limbs had been broken and a trimming, tidying up was performed. The H. paniculata however, was given a severe pruning. Until now I’d been giving it a little trim but felt emboldened this year to do a good chop. Lets hope the plant rewards the torture with a splendid showing of blooms.

On cleaning out the birdhouse in this area, it was so interesting to see how the nest was built and what materials were chosen. I wonder if the sparrows that moved in after the wrens made any changes as we humans tend to do when we move into new quarters.

I want to emphasize that one must wear a good mask when doing this task as it is possible to breathe in particulates and microbes that can cause serious lung disease.

In cleaning up in the meadow, we noticed the ivy from the neighbors property had made great progress in here. That was dealt with but clearly this will be an ongoing job.

Along the side pathway, the peony rings were put in place since the grapevine prunings were awaiting re-purposing in being wound around the rings as I cannot permit the mechanics to show and distract from the flowers. I use the grapevine prunings to conceal the ugliness of a pipe railing that is set into a retaining wall as well.

Routine repair work on the front fence was begun – it’ll be in tip-top shape by the coming weekend. There are of course other things needing fixing in the wings but I’m just glad to be doing the jobs systematically. Slowly but surely.

A mason bee house was put up near the fruit espalier and I cannot express how fervently I’m praying for it to be duly occupied. Having the bees around when the apple and pear blossoms open is so critical.

The new bird house for the front garden goes up this week. It’s all about getting ready for the birds and the bees!

To be working in the garden once again, is not only life affirming but there is a profound sense of gratitude. After the year gone by, being present to witness this spring fills me with unparalleled joy and humility. I’m sure you agree.

Note: Due to Covid restrictions, the Garden Conservancy has moved my garden’s Open Day to June 5. Mark your calendars!

Mother’s Day is coming up. Do shop from the beautiful selections in the Printed Garden Collection. 50% of the profits go to the ACLU – an organization working very hard to right so many wrongs across the country. They really need all the support they can get.

Old nest in the birdhouse

Bulbs potted up in November 2020

Bee house on the ready

Grapevine after the pruning

Awaiting the sweetpeas. This reminds me of a natural looking harp!

Grid showing where I planted sedge last fall

Tidied up front beds

Snowdrops coming up everywhere

(c) Shobha Vanchiswar

Marching Orders

So typical of March to arrive with in the guise of winter, abruptly show us what spring could feel like and then, just as quickly go back to winter again. Last week’s mild weather had me realize that my sabbatical from the garden was over. It’s funny how from December on, I’m in a state of anticipating and planning for spring. And then, with the first days of mild weather, I feel unprepared and already behind schedule.

I promptly got my master list ready – this is a detailed inventory of every task to be done to get the garden in good growing shape. The checklist is divided by each sector of the garden. It allows me to easily see what is immediate and what can wait a bit. I’ve found that it prevents me from feeling overwhelmed. While a good many chores are pretty much standard, additional ones get added after a walk around the garden to take note of how things look. What has taken a beating through the winter and needs repair or replacement invariably shows up. A broken fencepost, displaced stepping stones, a worrisome hole in the middle of a flower bed – there’s much to contend with.

Over the weekend, I got started. The columbine seeds I’d stratified got sown indoors. I’ve never done this before but finding myself in need of many native columbines, it seemed time to grow my own. I’m so curious to see how it’ll work out. Fingers crossed!

I started the hardening off of the sweetpeas sown in mid-Feb. A daily dose of some hours outdoors helps acclimatize them. The trellis to support them was also restored so all is ready for when the seedlings will be planted in another week or so.

Last Friday, I sprinkled Shirley poppy seeds over the snow in a certain part of the meadow. Today, no snow remains so I’m fervently hoping the seeds have ensconced themselves in the earth and stirring about to begin the gradual process of sprouting. It’s supposed to rain hard this Thursday so lets hope the seeds don’t get washed away.

This week, I’ll prune the roses – cut away dead or wayward limbs. A light shaping too. Climbers will be re-secured as the winter somehow manages to loosen them out of the ties. A dose of compost and Epsom salts will be welcomed by the roots as they begin their work in earnest.

Likewise, a pruning and a compost feed for the grapes and fruit espalier is in order. Now is the time to spray dormant oil to smother any pest eggs.

The grapevine cuttings will be put to use in concealing the peony supports and other unsightly mechanics.

The new bee and bird houses will be put up by the weekend. Old bird house cleaned and made ready. I often make ‘nesting’ wreaths and hang them nearby to give the birds a little assistance as they make their nests. Simple wreaths of grapevine decorated with natural materials like moss, tiny pine cones, bits of straw, lichen, jute and cotton string. The wreaths look festive and seasonal and have been repeatedly endorsed by discerning homemakers. I get a special thrill when I come upon a nest decorated with my offerings.

If I do a bit of clean up every day, the garden will look greatly improved by the weekend. As much as the chore doesn’t sound fun, it actually gives me an opportunity to observe whats coming up and get excited about each returning old friend and some unexpected new ones.

Materials for repair have been noted and shall be purchased during the week so no time is wasted over the coming weekend. Lots to do!

Something I did last week when the warm weather lured us out, was to take note of the progression of the snow melt. This is the ideal time to see which parts of the garden get more (or less) sunlight. It can be quite surprising. Areas you think should be similar are often not. Things can change as trees grow or get taken down, new construction happens along next door etc., Knowing about the assorted micro-climates serves to make better decisions about what to plant and when to expect their bloom. Or even what to change.

There you have it – I’ve received my marching orders – get off the couch by the fireplace and into the garden. And hop to it. Yes ma’am.

Note that disc of snow on top of the pot!

I love seeing the meadow emerge as the snow melts.

Poppies sprinkled last week

First snowdrops – happens where the snow melts first!

Forced hyacinths – Spring has sprung indoor

Day 1 of last week’s warm weather

Day 3 of warm weather

Grapevine awaiting pruning

Snow melt pattern in potager

Lower end of side path. The middle melts first, then the bottom and finally the top end. Which is surprising because the top looks most exposed but the neighbor’s tree actually casts a shadow just long enough in the day so the snow remains longer.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

My Real Garden – Part II

Grab a drink and settle in – This is the long-ish story of how a special group came to be, how they collectively dealt with the last 12 months and how much good resulted from this association.

This time last year, we had just started sheltering at home in New York State. In the beginning, it seemed strange – we understood so little about the virus that the threat felt surreal. As we learned more and New York rapidly succumbed, the gravity of the situation was unmistakably severe. I realized that the lockdown was a powerful step to mitigate the spread of the disease. Our fear of the unknown, invisible and formidable enemy was very real. It became instinctive to want to stay home and be safe.

I was fully aware of how fortunate I was to have a home that gave me all the comfort I needed. And not confined indoors either – I was blessed with my own bit of the outdoors. My garden which has always been essential to my well-being, took on greater significance. With no other items on my agenda to go anywhere, the benefit of unlimited time amidst my plants was unquestionably a gift beyond measure.

For the first time in more than a decade, I could devote my total attention on the garden. Time was ample, spring had just sprung and the myriad tasks offered the ideal solution to be productive, creative and content. It was so therapeutic to immerse myself in this space and not fret about the raging virus.

But, I missed the company of others. Particularly like-minded folk who were out in their gardens coping, healing and learning in the process of planting, weeding and nurturing. And I struck gold.

I came across @myrealgarden on Instagarm. Of all the innumerable accounts on Instagram, something about Ann-Marie Powell’s (AMP from now on) posts connected with my core. Here was someone who could be my friend in real life – it seemed as though we shared very similar sensibilities.

Boy! Was I right! AMP, with her inimitable exuberance and sense of humor drew me into her garden so to speak. Every day for a half hour we hung out talking about all things garden via IGTV. Seasonal chores, how to do them, mistakes, successes and just about everything in between were covered. No pretensions or gloss overs. This was real gardening.

Of course I Googled AMP. Turns out she’s a somebody! A highly acclaimed garden designer in the UK, Chelsea Show medalist, very well regarded by her peers in the industry, smart, shrewd and total fun person. She knows all her garden stuff and while she has created some truly impressive gardens both private and public, her own garden reflects her true self. And she is unhesitant about showing you every bit of it – warts and all. Something every single gardener can appreciate and relate to wholeheartedly. AMP is the genuine article – a gardener’s gardener. No airs and graces, not high and mighty. She’ll cringe that I’m saying good things about her!

When I started following @myrealgarden, I assumed that most of the followers were from the UK. But before long, I identified many from other parts of the globe. The group just snowballed in size and formed a most delightful MRG community. We began following each other – commenting, passing on advice and tips, complimenting, comforting and cheering everyone on.

For myself, following AMP going about her tasks, was a lovely thing – the UK is a few weeks ahead of us in the garden calendar. I knew to stay on track with my chores but observing what was to come in AMP’s garden spurred me on in an exciting way. It was so critical to be positive and motivated. Ann-Marie made it that much easier. FYI – I was brave enough to ruthlessly execute the Chelsea Chop because of her!

We were all in the same boat and each doing the best one could. Connecting to @myrealgarden was a daily highlight – her half-hour live always put me in a good mood. This was so important because in addition to the pandemic, the economy was a mess, people were going hungry, racial injustices were being rightfully protested, the political climate was appalling. I’m certain I was not the only one in a prolonged state of being on edge. Gardening was the one thing that took me away from all the problems and gave me hope. Tending to it was productive and uplifting. With all the attention, I do believe my garden hasn’t looked better.

At the same time, I was looking to find ways to help with the various needs arising. Donating to ACLU through the sales of my Printed Garden Collection was a no-brainer. But there were also other organizations and individuals in need of urgent assistance. I could certainly do my part in supporting small businesses, local restaurants, food pantries, worthy political candidates and. checking in on friends and neighbors living alone. There was just so much need at every level that I sometimes felt I didn’t have enough time, money or energy to give to them all. It was overwhelming. It still is.

Then, in late summer, AMP came up with a brilliant idea that infused the MRG community with new purpose. A book! Full of images, tips and tales from our own gardens. That in itself was a welcome project to participate in – everyone was enthusiastic. But it got better – the proceeds from the book sales would go to Green Fingers Charity  – an organization in the UK that creates gardens for children’s hospices. That we gardeners could help in any way was perfect.

AMP teamed up with her friend and fellow member of MRG Tamsin Westhorpe (she of Stockton Bury Gardens) to put together all the submissions. The task was quite big and I can only imagine the many hours that went into it. The book is now a reality! Crowd funded by the MRG community and its many friends, it is a beautiful manifestation of what can be achieved in the name of friendship and gardening. Globally and during a pandemic.

I am so proud to belong to the MRG group and be a part of the book. And immensely grateful to AMP for starting it all and consistently, generously providing motivation, inspiration, joy, humor, relevant information and support to her entire tribe. All along, she was dealing with her own lockdown demons. Thank you dear friend – I look forward to meeting you in person in the not too distant future!

Note: You can read AMP’s own version of the @myrealgarden story . it’ll show you what I meant by our like-mindedness!!

Here AMP talks more about the My Real Garden Book .

How To get yourself a copy of the My Real Garden Book – at present and until April 1, the book can be pre-ordered through British Garden Centres . After April 1, there will a choice from where to purchase. I’ll let you know as soon as that information becomes available. Stay tuned!

Sharing photos from my garden that you might see in the MRG book –

Ann-Marie Powell

Checkerboard garden

Printed Garden Pillows

The Vertical Garden

Pear In A Bottle in progress

Overview of the potager

Alliums in red, white and blue

Garden concert for the neighborhood. Memorial Day 2020

Meadow

Front Garden

The MRG book!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

My Real Garden – Part I

Last March, when we went into lockdown, I, like everyone else, felt confused, unsettled and more than a little scared. With all plans and projects canceled for the foreseeable future, the work shrunk down to almost nothing. Kept apart from anyone not living with me felt isolating in a way I could not fully adjust to. I have close family across three continents and the physical distance between us suddenly seemed as good as living on different planets. It was not good.

I believe four things kept me from going crazy. First, I was ‘stuck’ at home with the two people most dear to me. Second, with Skype, FaceTime and Zoom, one could ‘visit’ with family and friends – we were able to stay in touch consistently. Third, the entire world was grappling with the same situation – we were all in this together and many were struggling with extremely difficult conditions. Lastly, I had a garden that was my salvation – it is where I always go for solace, comfort, life lessons and inspiration. A blessing but still, quite a luxury.

In the grand scheme of things, I had nothing to complain about. And I didn’t. But privately, worries, fears and demons did surface up and I had to find a way to keep myself positive, motivated and engaged.

A big advantage I had was that for the last so many years, I’ve worked from home. Unlike most others, I did not need any adjustment to that. Instead, I naturally gave expression to my emotions in painting, poetry, other writing and design work. I spent blissful hours in the garden. Even the smallest of garden tasks felt good to do. Being creative and productive is key to my sense of wellbeing.

While I was figuring ways to keep the creative juices flowing, I became more active on Instagram. I began posting daily – marking each day with a single activity/observation with the tag-line “Social Distancing Day __”. Today is Day #360. That’s right. – it’s almost a full year since New York went into lockdown/sheltering at home.

On my @seedsofdesignllc Instagram account, I follow mostly gardens, gardeners and garden designers. I believe gardeners form communities easily – we relate and connect to each other almost instinctively. The problem I began having was that a good many of the garden ’influencers’ were posting images of what they were up to whilst sheltering at home that had what I call the Marie Antoinette Syndrome. They were showing images that appeared as though their lives were untouched by the global crisis – fabulous (read big and expensive) garden projects, lavish meals of certain items that were either unavailable at the supermarkets or beyond most budgets. As though they had risen above the fray in the most naturally obvious manner. I thought they were tone deaf and could not relate to most of these people at all. It’s one thing to be upbeat and positive and quite something else to flaunt a ’ Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous – Garden Version’ sort of message. With a pandemic, socio-economic inequities and racial injustices raging, it was frustrating and often enraging to see such posts. I’m not suggesting people don’t live they way they want to. I am however making clear that there is much need for us all to be aware, sensitive and empathetic.

It’s entirely possible that I was following some wrong folk on Instagram but, I started looking for other gardeners who were as affected as I was and found connection through the mundane yet life affirming acts of regular garden tasks. One from across the big pond, became a genuine source of support and encouragement. And it led to a wonderful global project that I’m deliriously excited to share with you. Next week!

Note: It’s not too early to start thinking of spring home sprucing and/or Mother’s Day! The Printed Garden collection offers a choice of beautiful products AND 50% of profits goes to support the valuable work of the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU is fighting to correct all those aforementioned inequities and injustices.

I’m re-sharing some random photos from the last 12 months –

Last day of my group art show in NYC and first day of lockdown. March

Peony gone to seed. Watercolor

April – hid eggs around house and garden and created a virtual egg hunt for great nieces in the Netherlands and Singapore

Robin babies

Checkerboard garden in bloom

Memorial Day concert for neighborhood friends

Newly minted graduate after a virtual ceremony. June

Allium fireworks for the Fourth

Printed Garden photo shoot

‘A Peek Into The Potager’. Watercolor

Hummingbird friend

August birthday – all 3 birthdays in my family are in August

Vertical garden in August

‘Gilded’ Watercolor

October in gold

Paperwhites for the home. November

Beautyberry jelly

Lemons ripening in the greenhouse. December

Gilding alliums for the holidays

December dusting

Meyer lemon marmalade

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Farewell February

The final week of February means we are in the home stretch to Spring. Puts me in a good mood all together. It’s felt somewhat tedious being snowbound and socially distanced. Nothing to complain about but wearisome nevertheless. Transitioning into March feels positively cheery.

With so much snow, there’s nothing stirring in the garden horticulturally speaking. I wonder if the birds are getting impatient as am I. Eager to rustle about looking for early signs of spring, I’ve taken to vicariously enjoying gardens across the pond. The English spring has begun – snowdrops and other early bulbs are up and glinting like gems scattered on the unfurled green carpet.

The bulbs I’d potted up to get a jump start on spring are now under snow and impossible to retrieve till the big thaw. I should’ve moved them to more sheltered locations. I kept meaning to but dropped that ball. Note to self – next year, place potted bulbs in cool and easy to access sites. Also, pot up many more bulbs.

I’m supposed to winter prune the roses this week but for obvious reasons, that task needs to be rescheduled. Perhaps towards the latter part of March when the snow has melted sufficiently and they can be reached more easily. We gardeners must always defer to the climate and weather and stay flexible.

In the meantime, I’ve got all the cooling hyacinths out of the refrigerator and into forcing vases. Watching them grow and gradually bloom sending shots of color and perfume around the house should satisfy my need for sights of spring till the garden decides to join the party.

The limoncello started in early January is ready. As is the lemon pickle put up around the same time. They feel extra special because the lemons came from my garden. I’m looking forward to sharing both with friends as soon as enough snow has melted to make room on the terrace for friends to gather (around the heater) and we toast to a new spring in the garden. Hope abounds.

Present day

Looking forward …!

Hyacinths in vases. Present day.

Last year.

And this one from last year as well.

The roses in my garden

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

A Little Winter Winge

February is the most challenging month. We’re still in winter’s tight grip, there’s nothing much going on outside and yet, the days are growing longer and the light is nudging the gardener to get cracking. But it’s too early! It’s best to get ones attention diverted to other activities and events.

This year in particular, February feels particularly hard. The garden is covered in a nice, thick blanket of snow. Over two feet of it. Any chance of spying the occasional early snowdrop or aconite is impossible. Icicles abound instead. At present, the front walkway, the driveway and a narrow path to the greenhouse are all that’s available for any sort of ‘walk’. Given Covid conditions, there is pretty much no place else to go for entertainment or socialization.

Thankfully, the parks and nature preserves are open for brisk walks and snow related activities. Apart from that, I’m pretty much stuck at home. It’s taking much effort on my part to resist starting most of the seeds – it’s simply too early! I might however go crazy poring over the plant catalogs and order up more plants than my budget and/or garden can handle. The temptation is strong.

It’s going to be weeks before the snow melts away but I know it’ll be exciting to watch the ground reveal itself with offerings of the year’s first growth. To discover the first brave snowdrops or the hellebores tossing their pretty heads is a thrill that never gets old.

I’d intended to start sweet peas ( flowers not vegetable) a few weeks ago but the snow storm that arrived at that time reminded me to wait a little while longer. It wouldn’t be a good idea to have them grow long, leggy and straggly waiting for planting outside. I’m treating myself to this spirit uplifting job this week. By early April, I hope to have a host of healthy, young plants ready to settle into the garden and scramble up the trellis already in place.

The excitement I feel about this single activity is disproportionately high. As though I’ve never grown anything before.

The many amaryllis I started in November have generally been rather slow. I cannot think why. A few are in bloom and looking spectacular but others are stirring about much too lethargically. Maybe they too are feeling unmotivated like many of us these days.

This weekend, I start forcing the hyacinth bulbs that have been cooling in the refrigerator. Fingers crossed they will be more energetic than certain lazy amaryllis sitting around the house.

My hope is that these indoor beauties will keep me cheered up till the garden can once again be worked upon.

That’s what this pandemic has shown me – to not take for granted all the little, joy-giving things we do routinely.

Sweetpeas seed packets from Floret Farm

Soaked seeds overnight

All planted up

While I wait for the forced hyacinths and sweet peas, I’m surrounded by my Printed Garden products. They really do cheer up the home! “I’m not just the designer, I’m a customer too!!”:

 

Napkin with hyacinth

Tea towel with hyacinth

Table runner

Sweet pea pillow a

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Sharp And Smart

This week, I’m taking advantage of the January lull and getting organized with my garden tools and accessories. I love gadgets and tend to want every new and improved contraption that comes my way. Over the years however, I’ve wised up to myself and don’t give in to every temptation. The tools I actually use over and over and cannot do without are a small selection of tried and true implements.

I’m conscientious about keeping tools clean and easily accessible. It’s my co-gardener who tends to create disorder by not putting things back in their rightful places. It drives me crazy to have to search for simple things like secateurs and trowels. Worse, he always denies such travesties. This pattern is clearly not going to change. Instead, I make sure to have multiple secateurs and trowels available and I hide my very favorite ones. Yes, I resort to such devious practices because they not only safeguard my own trusty tools but also preserve domestic peace. That latter bit is high priority – one cannot let petty problems sabotage the harmony at home.

After a year of extensive use, most blades and edges lose their sharpness. It’s not only frustrating to deal with tools that do not work well but, they can cause harm to plants by tearing and fraying them at the cut. So, I’ve rounded up the mower blade from the push reel-mower, different pruning shears, sawtooth knives, shovels and such to drop off at the local hardware store for professional sharpening.

The hand-held secateurs and scissors are given the once over and kept in good working condition by using them to cut up different grades of sandpaper. This is an easy, effective method to sharpen them at home.

It pays to start with good quality instruments. But taking care of them is a commitment that will ensure a good many years if not a lifetime of devoted service. Clean after use, put back in place, sharpen and/or lubricate regularly, be thankful for having them. That’s my mantra.

I use the tool sharpening trip to the hardware store to stock up on twine, stakes and other necessary accessories. Replace worn-out gloves perhaps?

In a couple of weeks, the roses and grapevines will need pruning. While it isn’t fun to do this task in the cold, the job gets done quickly with well sharpened tools. And soon enough, it’ll be time to mow and dig, trim and train. I shall be ready!

Note: The Open Day for my garden through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program has been scheduled for Saturday, May 22. When the Conservancy determines the new Covid-safe protocols, I’ll keep you posted. Mark your calendar and keep fingers crossed!

Here are some early March images from last year –

The newest addition to my tool kit.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

In The Beginning …

The first week of a brand new year. Much hope and expectations rests on it. Everything will be better, bigger, brighter. Gardeners have a bit of an edge here. We are after all, an optimistic lot. Practical too. Never mind the countless plants that died on our watch, the misdemeanors of the weather that put paid to plans and designs or, the times pests took control away from us. We not only carry on but our determination to succeed gets stronger. It’s not because we simply repeat our efforts but that we are good learners.

Gardeners are students of life. We observe, experiment, record, research all the time. We share information freely, heed advice from the experienced. We are constantly collecting and collating information (not on paper but mostly in our heads ). And then, we boldly go and garden our hearts out.

At the start of a new year, in the icy grip of winter, I’m grateful for the time to look back at the past year, review what was successful and what was not. Importantly, I note why. If something I specifically did to make it go either way, I learn what I must change. If however a cool spell kept pollinators away and the apple blossoms went unpollinated and so couldn’t bear fruit, I just accept that it was not in my control.

However, I also dream big at this time. This year, I tell myself , my garden will be brilliant. I will be brilliant. Seeds will be ordered and started on time. Planting, weeding, digging, pruning, deadheading, dividing, watering – every task will be done properly and regularly. And I’m going to do them all perfectly. I can see this amazing garden so clearly! Thriving through the seasons, blooming exuberantly and on time, providing fruit and vegetables in abundance, free of pests, weeds and bad weather.

I know at the same time that I’m merely dreaming of the impossible, reaching for the unreachable. Life is never that straightforward. I’ll get in my own way, the weather will not cooperate and the unpredictable will necessarily disrupt plans. The beauty of this is that, no matter what, the garden will still grow and do its best. And as a good learner, so must I.

In that spirit, I’m beginning the year by getting my gardening calendar organized. For years I had a new year’s day ritual of filling out a physical calendar – obviously started in a time before electronic devices. I realized last year, that I missed my old calendar where I could readily see what chores were scheduled every day. I’m unable to say exactly why I feel the need to revert but I am. I’m now armed with all my garden chores and plans listed and scheduled both on the calendar sent by the Nature Conservancy as well as the ones on my laptop and phone.

Some seed packets have arrived and I await a few more. Seed starting pots, trays and medium are ready and waiting. I’d written about acquiring self-watering pots for tomatoes and other veggies – it’s been done! Three of them arrived last week. Later in the week, I’ll home in on other plants to purchase and source and order them from my favorite local or specialist nursery in time for spring planting. Tools will be sharpened, stakes, ties and twine stocked, leaky watering hoses and cans replaced. To be prepared is half the victory.

Indeed, in the beginning, hope and resolve reign.

Note: While we continue in anxiety filled circumstances, let’s remember that we’re all in this together. As we work in the garden, we will dig ourselves out of these times and emerge stronger. But first, lets be there for each other.

I share with you a few of my recent watercolors of seed heads and pods. They are full of promise for a future full of potential, possibilities and prosperity.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

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