As The World Turns

Through the ages, gardens have been extolled as places that nourish ( literally and figuratively), comfort, heal, soothe, instruct, delight and nurture. The one who gardens gets the most from the garden. There is a sacred intimacy that exists between garden and gardener. Yet, as in any relationship, discord can creep in.

The gardener can one day come to the realization that he/she has become disenchanted. The act of gardener starts feeling like more work and far less pleasure. As soon as one becomes aware of this, it is time to pause and reassess. A shift has taken place to cause an imbalance. Best to understand why, what and how before the situation gets worse.

Often, the simple answer is one’s health or age or both. Loathe to confess to oneself that things have become difficult, a gardener keeps persevering but the joy that he once derived is diminished. It’s not fun anymore and it’s not easy to admit it.

This came to light at a recent discussion with some fellow gardeners. While lack of time to work to ones hearts content in the garden was a much repeated refrain, probing further revealed obvious health setbacks but even more relevant ,was the toll the natural passage of aging takes. And that’s tough to accept. After all, one isn’t feeling old. The fact is that in either case, health or age, the mind is willing but the flesh is weak. So it got me thinking about it and the evolution of our relationship with our gardens

Evolution. That is an important process that includes both garden and gardener. The two must evolve with time – to remain static is not natural. How we make a garden changes as we understand more about the science of horticulture, the invention and discovery of new tools, practices and methods. With shifting weather patterns, we must respond by way of what we choose to plant, how we use water and commit to organic practices. We invite in more wildlife to restore a healthy balance of native flora and fauna. I see this as encouraging nature to call the shots and respond with nurture only as necessary and appropriate.

With time, the gardener must adapt to aging. Growing old is inevitable but that in no way means we cease to do that which we deeply love. It merely requires a shift in attitude and a willingness to accept certain inevitable developments. From less energy and/or strength to the challenges of arthritis or other ailments, it is hard to do what one could when younger. That is A okay. We don’t need to garden harder. Instead, we garden smarter.

For starters, native and ecologically beneficial plants are hardy and far less demanding. They bring in the native fauna. Installing water baths and bird, bee and bat houses also helps. This natural pest control means the gardener, whilst remaining vigilant, needs to do less. Similarly, mulching with compost and bark chips translates to less watering and weeding and, no other fertilizer application.

Raised beds are a good solution for those who can no longer kneel or bend comfortably. Replacing or reducing expanses of lawn with more plants or other appropriate native groundcover is not just a way to reduce the upkeep but is vastly healthier for the environment. There are now available ergonomic tools to make it easier on the hands and back.

Finally, it is perfectly okay to delegate tasks that have become difficult to perform. Ego or plain stubbornness has no place in the gardener’s attitude – by now, he/she should have learned humility from mother nature.

In the end, we gardeners and our gardens will grow old gracefully together. It’s a beautiful thing.

Notice how all the measures stated will also free up some time? Those who complain about lack of time have no excuse anymore!

Reminder! Have you pre-registered for my Open Day? Do it soon – numbers are limited. Thanks!

Note: My garden is springing awake!

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Agenda

Ah April! I love this month. With the garden waking up, every day unveils more flowers. A month full of promise and possibilities. And an urgency to get to all the seasonal chores in the garden.

To that end, I’m putting the to-do list here.

 Things To Do In April

1. Time to restart the compost pile! Give it a good stir and add fresh compostables. If you don’t have a composter, please do make or buy one.

2. Clean up all winter debris.

3. Can you believe weed patrol begins now? Be regular about it and you will always be on top of this chore.

4. Seedlings started indoors can be planted out once the soil has warmed up and has been well prepared for planting. Stay vigilant for spells of late frost. Keep cloches and fleece covers at hand.

5. Attend to the lawn. De- thatch, aerate, reseed and finally, fertilize with a good layer of compost.

6. Similarly, feed trees, shrubs and all garden beds with compost.

7. Remove burlap and other protection from plants and pots.

8. Divide overgrown perennials.

9. Plant summer-flowering bulbs.

10. Remove any dead, damaged or diseased stems/branches from roses, other shrubs and trees.

11. Start using an organic control to put off slugs and snails.

12. Put out nesting material such as wool, moss, cotton string, shredded paper, small twigs, feathers and hay for the birds. Nothing synthetic please!

13. Uncover the outdoor furniture and give them a good cleaning. Now you’re prepared for the first truly warm day!

14. Plant or move evergreen shrubs and conifers.

15. Take the time to revel in the beauty of the bulbs and other plants in bloom. They and you deserve this moment.

Get to it!

Note: Have you registered to come to my Garden’s Open Day? Do please! Tickets must be purchased online only. Saturday May 14 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Lawn service! Removing thatch, aerating, reseeding,

Lawn reseeding

Starting seeds for summer

Planting spring window boxxes

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Has Sprung

Oh happy days – the garden is waking up! With the lengthening days and emergence of the early bulbs, my spirits are high. This is my most favorite time of year. Expectations are limitless and the anticipation is almost too exciting to bear. At this moment, all dreams and plans are entirely possible. There is every reason to believe that this year, the perfect garden is going to be realized. And I am going to be the perfect gardener. Yes indeed. ing palette of colors.

This fresh start is a gift to savor. Slowly and deliberately. No mindless dive into a list of chores and frenzied activity. Rather, it’s a time to immerse oneself in the garden with all our senses. Feel the sunlight and fresh air caress the skin. Soak in the atmosphere – we’ve waited all winter long for this.

Smell the petrichor as the damp, newly thawed earth stirs itself into activity and the delicate perfume of early bulbs and emerging grass rise gently with the sun. Breathe deep.

Spend some time looking around at the landscape. What at first seems mostly brown and bare starts morphs into a canvas of a myriad colors. Young, bright green shoots, periwinkle blue flowers of Vinca minor, smokey blue grape hyacinths, sulfur yellow forsythia, royal purple crocus, pristine white snowdrops, dusty rose hellebores – nature teases out her ever-expand palette of colors.

Sitting quietly, one becomes aware of the myriad sounds in play. All sorts of birds are busy finding mates, building nests, foraging for food and guarding their territories. Not to be outdone, the bees shake off their winter stupor and step up their pace. They buzz and hum in chorus. Butterflies flit and descend so gracefully that it takes my breath away. They’re quiet but attention grabbing.

Nature serves up delicious treats from the get go. Tender young leaves of dandelion, a few of the early pansies can transform a green salad from simple to sublime.

This is a very special time of the year in the garden. Yes, there is plenty to do but never at the expense of communing with nature. This is what an abundant life looks like.

Note: My painting ‘Labor Pains” is in an International art show online. The show titled Femina 2022 honors women – this is Womens History month. Please do take a look at the show. Like and leave comments. Online shows need the feedback to keep doing such impactful shows. My sincere thanks in advance.

Some glimpses of the garden as of last weekend:

Looks blah and brown

Wait! There’s green too!

And slowly more growth and colors are discerned

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Other People’s Gardens

Gardeners are an innately inquisitive lot. That’s what drives us to keep gardening year after year. How to grow anything, do it better, battle the growing conditions, … even how to save the world. But, here’s our guilty pleasure – we are most keen on investigating other people’s gardens. How and why someone else is gardening is a much indulged passion. Contrary to popular assumption, it is not about competition but rather, it is about checking on the doings of the garden community and what we can learn from it. Admittedly, there’s a bit of envy or ‘what am I missing’ every now and then. However, in equal measure comes moments of self-satisfaction and validation that one is doing well.

Garden books are a great source of information but truly, actually visiting a garden(s) teaches much more. The instruction from such visits cannot be overstated. One learns new methods and designs, novel solutions to universal problems, unusual/striking plants and combinations and best of all, the gardener is generally available to answer questions and share knowledge freely. Sometimes, I’ve come away with generous gifts of seeds, seedlings and/or cuttings.

No matter what kind of garden one visits, there is always some nugget of information to come away with. I liken it to a visit to a new art exhibit. Whether the art resonates or not, the viewer is transformed even just a wee bit. We know what we like and what we do not. Or we now know a new way to see or depict something. Our minds expand regardless. Gardens do the same.

Over the years, I have personally gained infinite knowledge from visiting gardens. I am the better gardener for it. Acquiring like-minded gardener friends has been the icing on the botanical cake.

So, coming to the point, I urge everyone to make a commitment this very minute to regularly visit gardens this year. Both public and private. The Open Days Program of the Garden Conservancy is perhaps the singularly most convenient and organized way to see gardens all across America. A diverse and most interesting range of gardens and gardeners await!

Note: The Open Days Directory for 2022 is now available. Get it! Better yet, join the Garden Conservancy – you will be privy to all sorts of garden visits, event, talks and tours. At the same time, you will be supporting the Conservancy’s mission to preserve important gardens in America.

Furthermore, my garden is open May 14 – make your reservation online! I’ll be taking attendance.

In 2021, I visited –

The gardens of Christopher Spitzmiller and Anthony Bellamo in Upstate New York –

Notice the plant supports

 

Hollister House in Connecticut –

Such a lovely color palette

Formal and informal blended seamlessly

Hay Honey Farm in New Jersey –

How I covet this bench!

This meadow validated mine own!

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Garden Therapy

It’s hard to imagine anyone going about their daily lives and not feeling the weight of the war in Ukraine. I personally find myself unable to stop thinking about what the Ukrainians are experiencing. While, like so many others, my family and I are trying to help them and their cause as much as we can, it still feels inadequate and heart-aching. It’s difficult to get away from the sadness and horror.

In times like this, the privilege of having a garden, however small, is very comforting. One does not often think about it but, being able to oversee a plot of earth is truly an honor and a blessing. A garden must never be taken for granted.

For one, at its best, the chance to care for a piece of earth is an opportunity to nurture and protect our global environment. One garden at a time. Imagine if every gardener applied her/himself with sincerity how big an impact we could make. As Doug Tallamy puts it, we’d have created the biggest national park in this country. Now, consider that on a worldwide level. Powerful right?

A garden helps us feed ourselves. If not complete self-sufficiency, at least partially supporting ourselves is not only gratifying but it is empowering. Recall the concept of Victory Gardens. Particularly in times of war when rations are imposed as food becomes scarce, being able to supplement ourselves from the garden can make all the difference. Going a step further, we can share the bounty with neighbors and beyond. After all, we are in this together so together we will overcome.

Working in the garden is healthy and healing. The magical combination of fresh air, sunlight, sights and smells of plants, sounds of birds and bees, the feel of the breeze on our faces and soil in our hands and, the physical work of gardening, results in a mental, physical and spiritual transformation. I cannot think of any other activity that equals the power of gardening. Can you?

In making and growing a garden, we create beauty that changes not just the local landscape but also changes anyone who works in it or visits it. Bad moods are improved, sad hearts are comforted, low spirits are uplifted and, joyous emotions are celebrated.

So, as we do what we can to help mitigate the current crisis, let us use our gardens to help ourselves and the world at large. For those without gardens, volunteer at your local public gardens or ask to assist a friend in their garden. If possible, create a garden – a simple collection of plants in pots counts. I promise, you will never regret gardening.

To garden is to keep hope alive. Gardens are places filled with optimism and faith tin the future.

Note: I’m sharing images to put a smile on your face and a spring in your step:

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

March Moves

Can’t you just feel the approach of spring? The light feels brighter and days are distinctly longer. As the sap rises in the trees and the buds begin to swell, the pulse quickens and spirits soar. It’s time to get moving in the garden!

Things To Do This Month

  1. Cut some forsythia and pussy willow branches for indoor forcing. Place in water and keep in a cool place until the buds are swollen. Then move them to a location where they can be viewed as the blooms burst forth. A lovely prelude to spring.

  2. As snow melts, start clean up process. Twigs and other debris can be removed. Protect the still wet areas of grass and beds by first placing cardboard or wood planks and stepping on those instead. They help distribute the weight better.

  3. Later in the month, remove protective burlap and/or plastic wrappings and wind breaks.

  4. Get tools sharpened. This includes the mower blades.

  5. Commence indoor seed sowing. Begin with the early, cool weather crops. Read seed packet instructions and calculate dates for planting out.

  6. Order plants that will be required for the garden as soon as the ground has warmed up. Let your local nursery know your needs – they will inform you know when shipments arrive.

  7. As soon as possible, once snow is all gone and soil has thawed, spread compost on all the beds including the vegetable plot.

  8. Finish pruning fruit trees, grape vines and roses early in the month.

  9. Take an inventory and stock up on whatever is lacking. Soil, gloves, mulch, stakes, twine, tools, water retaining crystals, grass seed, pots, hoses etc.,

  10. Survey the garden and see what needs replacing, repairing or painting. Schedule and do the needful.

  11. Start bringing out or uncovering outdoor furniture. It’ll soon be time to linger outdoors!

  12. Get Open Days directory from Garden Conservancy – www.gardenconservancy.org. Mark your calendars to visit beautiful gardens in your area. Come to my Open Day on May 14 between 10 am and 4 pm. I’m looking forward to seeing you!

Let’s get on with it.

Current glimpses of what’s doing in my garden –

Swelling buds on climbing hydrangea

Snowdrops braving the snow

Hyacinths coming along indoors

My watercolor of a snowdrop

Forced bulbs from a past year

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Designing Seeds

I’ve been seed obsessed for a while. Each seed is a whole world unto itself. The future, yours and mine and every other life form depends on the survival and viability of seeds. Seen as symbols of hope and prosperity, the importance of seeds cannot be overstated. We know that much for sure.

And so, we harvest and collect seeds. We preserve and store. We sow and grow. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, medicinals – everything we need is sought and coveted. National and international repositories keep all known seeds for future needs and by doing so they strive to secure our future.

At this time of year, gardeners in the northern hemisphere are gearing up to sow seeds for their gardens. As am I. However, due to time and schedule constraints, I’m not planning to start too many. Instead, I’m going to make seed bombs to disperse. It’s an experiment so I’ll just have to see how it all turns out. The scientist in me is excited about the experiment. The gardener in me is skeptical – the whole thing seems a bit iffy.

My reasoning is, instead of directly sprinkling seeds such as poppies wherever one wants them to grow, seed bombs could increase the chance of success as they will hold the seeds down, perhaps safeguard them from birds, and, when weather conditions are right, supply the seeds with an immediate boost of nutrition. Sort of give the seeds a leg up. Similarly, instead of struggling to squeeze in seedlings amidst established plantings, seed bombs might serve better.

Like I’ve already said, it’s an experiment. For very little investment in time, energy and money. If it succeeds, the returns could be big. Fingers crossed. Click here for the link to the website and recipe I’ll be using to make the seed bombs.

But it is not just seeds to grow that have my attention. I’ve become deeply enamored with seedpods, heads and capsules. In examining them to paint, the diversity and ingenuity of these vessels just blows my mind. Each design is not simply functional but also very beautiful. To my eyes, they are as striking as flowers.

I’m awed by how the plants have evolved so their seed dispersing structures are exquisite in form and function.

Some plants like hellebores , drop their seeds around themselves and keep their babies close. Columbines are more about independence and spread their seeds away from themselves, giving their progeny greater freedom to thrive but still in the same neighborhood of the parent. And then there are the likes of milkweed and dandelion that let the wind carry the seeds much further away. It occurs to me that we, human parents, can identify with these methods. Am I right?!

Seeds – where would we be without them? Would we even be?

Here’s a small sampling of seedpods I’ve painted:

Swamp mallow

Baptisia, false indigo

Tree peony

Magnolia grandiflora

Milkweed

Columbine

Wisteria

Poppy

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Carpe Diem!

There I was all draggy with jet lag last Thursday when presented with unexpectedly balmy weather. 51 degrees F in early February is not common and the weatherman promised three whole days of it. So what was I going to do about it? For starters, all thoughts about slowly getting back into the groove of winter idleness had to be put aside. This gift of sunshine and warmth simply could not be overlooked.

On the first day, which was also my first day back, a good walk around the neighborhood was in order. A reconnaissance of sorts – checking out my neck of the woods as though mighty changes could’ve occurred in the two short weeks I’d been away. There was a fair amount of snow everywhere with patches of tired looking terra firma showing through. Not particularly pretty but hopeful of spring not being too far off.

I returned to my own garden and noted where the snow had melted completely, where traces lingered and where it remained in quantity. I conduct a studious observation every year because all the micro-climates are revealed by snow melt. The varying amounts of light in the different parts of the garden dictate which plants are likely to thrive or struggle. Even nano-climates can be exposed. This pattern can change year to year as trees or shrubs grow or die, new constructions come up or old ones torn down. Even the introduction of a car park can influence the situation. I take mental notes and lots of photographs.

Then, keeping the approach of Valentine’s Day in mind, I decided to make the effort of creating an fun ephemeral sculpture to mark the day. Knowing the snow would melt fast in the current mild temperatures, I decided to act immediately. Using a nifty mold, I made a couple of dozen snow hearts. And then put them all in the freezer to keep for the eve of Valentine’s when the whole work would be assembled. Thinking ahead with the weather in mind is a hallmark of all gardeners. Comes in handy for other matters too.

When Saturday, the warmest of this mild spell, came along, I announced to the family ( much to their surprise) that all hands on deck would be required in the garden. Pruning was on the agenda. Grape arbor, all the climbers and shrub roses and the espaliers of fruit trees. This is a tall order. Hence the need for all available deckhands. We had this window of one day before the temperatures would plummet.

An prune we did. Honestly, it was glorious to be outdoors. I guided my daughter through her first attempt with the roses – this felt rather special to me. A passing along of lessons to the next generation.

Grapevine clippings were stored away for camouflaging the peony supports later in March. And so the day was spent clipping and cutting till all got done just as the sun began to set. Truly, the day was a divine gift. Often the task of prunings gets significantly delayed because of huge amounts of snow still in place and temperatures being very low. At other times, one is surprised by warmer weather and fails to take advantage of it. This time however, we really did seize the day.

Whilst working, I became aware of the birdsong that was keeping us company and that reminded me to clean out the two birdhouses. Which was just as well because, shortly after removing the previous years nesting material and getting the houses refreshed, I spied a wren checking out one of the houses. It too was making the most of the warm day.

I also took out the hyacinths cooling in the refrigerator and got some potted up and others into forcing vases. The joy of monitoring the bulbs as they awaken and grow is what keeps me in a very good state of mind till the garden outside comes alive.

And then, on Sunday, temperatures not only plummeted overnight, but we awoke to a most beautiful snow clad garden. What a difference a day makes.

This was a most wonderful homecoming. Jet lag lingers but the spirits are revived.

Grape vine pruning

Vine clippings to conceal the mechanics of propping up the peonies

Rose pruning lesson in progress

Bird house to be cleaned

Pattern of snow melt

Climbing hydrangea in bud

Snow hearts

The sculpture

Sunday snowfall

Hyacinths ready to go

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

February Fervor

February Fervor

Golden sunsets

part leaden skies

Frost and fire

earth shifts and sighs..

Wild, untamed

landscapes wait

Restless slumber

at Spring’s gate.

Crystal snow

melts in drips

Plumping roots

greening tips.

Flowing sap

send hearts aflutter

Weather and emotions

soar and splutter.

Shobha Vanchiswar

A poem I wrote a few years ago to sum up February.

I’m heading back home today after a couple of weeks in Mumbai, India. So eager to check on the garden and get the cooling hyacinths started in the forcing vases.

Note – The images below are ones I took the same February I wrote the poem:

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

February Foward

I’m currently enjoying some mild temperatures in Mumbai. While this is not a vacation per se it still feels good to get a bit of warmth. For reading material, I’d brought my rather large stack of garden related periodicals with the sincere intent to get through them all. Progress has been slow. But the two I’ve read thus far have certainly jolted me out of my winter induced stupor. It’s time to jump into action – seeds to get started, pruning of fruit trees, list of plants to acquire, repairs and/or replacements to be made and various other odds and ends.

Closely following the big snowstorm that blasted the northeast over the past weekend, I confess to selfishly hoping my little garden would be spared any damage. About 7 inches of snow fell – enough to be an event but certainly nowhere near a calamity. I breathed a sigh of relief because worrying from a distance is always more stressful. The imagination can be cruel.

Meanwhile, my lovely English gardening magazines reminded me that the winter aconites and snowdrops are up and blooming in their part of the world. So, here I am in 80 degree weather, reading about spring awakening in the UK and snow blanketing my garden back home. All together a bit confusing. I’m itching to get started on preparations for spring but know it is really not yet time – the feeling of urgency is only because those pretty pictures of early bulbs and seed flats full of seedlings are making me think I must be behind schedule. The pleasant warmth I find myself in only augments the sense of being tardy.

I get back home in about ten days. At that time, the hyacinths cooling in the refrigerator will be brought out and forced. That’s the sort of early spring that will actually be happening. Towards the end of the month, if weather permits and barring mounds of snow preventing moving around the garden, the fruit trees, grapevines and roses will be pruned. As March rolls up, seeds will be started. I’m eagerly awaiting the rather charming cart ordered from @gardeners – a metal number in cheery yellow with a grow light system to coax seeds to unleash their potential in the lower shelf. The top shelf I have assigned for reviving the small topiaries that get weary of the greenhouse by this time. I plan to station the cart somewhere in the house where I can monitor it closely and gaze fondly at the seedlings as they emerge. And the sunny color will surely banish any and all grumpiness.

All good things to anticipate. February doesn’t look so bleak after all.

In the greenhouse right now. (I get updates on request!)

In bloom right now

Hyacinth forcing 2021

A few of the seed sources

How cute is this cart?!

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar