It rained. The days leading up to Open Day were idyllic. Dry, sunny and oh so comfortable. But wouldn’t you know it, on the big day, it rained. Cool and wet all day. From drizzle to downpour it took turns. But yet, they came – hardy, undaunted folk. Hallelujah.
The garden was ready – lush with greenery and bedecked in flowers. It truly came through for the visitors. I was in my element. To chat with other gardeners/garden lovers about all things garden is just immensely enjoyable. To share information, opinions and experiences is what I look forward to most on this day. The rain simply ceased to matter.
Would I have wished it to not rain? Absolutely. But here we were and we made the most it. There were repeat visitors which warmed my heart immensely. Friends who know my garden well came especially to support the Garden Conservancy, new neighbors arrived out of curiosity and eagerness to befriend and so many first time visitors came from near and far. One couple was visiting NYC from Australia – they took the train and came up just to see my garden. That blew me away.
That people come at all is something so gratifying and humbling. I garden because I love to do it. I experiment and learn as a scientist, satisfy my curiosity, design as an artist to create something I and my family can enjoy all year round. That others notice and appreciate my work is heartening. I am deeply grateful.
So this week, I’m just going to indulge in spending time in the garden and do no work at all. Really. Maybe water when the pots look thirsty but do nothing else. This time off is well earned don’t you think? Afterglow feels good.
It’s the home stretch to Open Day and all the last minute fluffing and faffing is happening. Fingers crossed – the weather looks stellar. The garden is popping with new bursts of growth and color. I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of old faces and makng new friends. It’s my favorite part of Open Day.
In all likely hood, visitors will get to see my latest project that I vaguely alluded to last week. I was not really looking for a new ‘experiment’ but when the opportunity arose, I couldn’t resist. A self-taught lotus growing friend generously presented me with some lotus divisions. Now, bear in mind that I grew up in India where the lotus is the national flower and holds much significance in different cultures in the world. So when presented with these tubers, I could hardly resist. That’s so typical of a gardener isn’t it?
Along with the tubers, Maria gave me some good instructions on getting started. But first, I needed specific supplies. Containers, heavy soil for aquatics, fertilizer, aerator as lotus love moving water. Thankfully they were all easy to source. You-Tube was very useful in showing how to plant the tubers.
Instead of planting all the tubers together, I’ve chosen to have each in its own fabric pot. The fabric allows water in but keeps soil from moving out. It is light but sturdy and very convenient to place as a group in a larger container. Four of these fabric pots are immersed in that large container of water and a small aerator and one is sitting in the trough that runs a fountain from a lion’s head sculpture.
Selecting the right large container was important. Firstly, since this was a first attempt, I was not going to invest in anything pricey. Secondly, it needed to go with the whole garden and not stick out – I needed a team player for a container. There was only one obvious site for the sun loving lotus so, whatever I selected had to sit well there. Turned out, I had exactly the right vessel. A large-ish, shallow, antique, zinc tub that I’d brought back years ago from Provence. It was used as a pool for my daughter from baby through toddler-hood. And then it sat largely unused but too dear to get rid off.
I now have tiny leaves/pads rising sweetly above the water as lotus are wont to do. Nothing dramatic to see as yet so visitors on Open Day might not be impressed but I figure it’ll be fun to share. By way of equipment, nothing was costly and I understand that lotus are resilient so I’m hoping a few visitors might be inspired to try their own lotus experiment. The big challenge will be housing these aquatic newcomers through the cold season.
It’s so exciting to try new things and my garden has always been a laboratory. This project harks to my Indian heritage so I feel the pressure to be successful. Fingers crossed that both lotus and gardener rise to the occasion admirably.
Note: Only 3 more days to Open Day! Hope you’re coming!
What a glorious weekend it was. After a week of wet, cold days, I was beginning to feel somewhat hard pressed to remain thankful for the rain that had eluded us for so long. Then Saturday arrived glowing in sunshine and temperatures that were Goldilocks perfect. The sort of day that gardeners pray for. And we made the most of it. So much got done.
Big tasks like moving large, heavy pots to their assigned positions for the rest of the growing season to smaller ones such as potting up annuals for immediate prettying up. The summer window boxes are up, boxwood and other topiaries all got a tidying trim, hummingbird feeders recommissioned, dormant oil sprayed on the fruit trees and a myriad other chores were completed. I also have an unexpected project which I will reveal in due course. Fingers crossed it’ll pan out and rise above all expectations. There’s a clue in that last line!
Open Day is less than two weeks away and things are coming together nicely. With warmer temperatures forecast this week, I expect the many plants bearing plump buds will burst forth in bloom. Timing is everything so lets hope all goes well. I really don’t want to tell visitors that they should’ve seen the garden a week earlier.
A week ago, our county,s Department of Fisheries gave out minnows for free as part of a mosquito control effort. We went and got ourselves some. They were put into the trough which could be much too small a container but certainly worth a try. Lets see. I desperately want it to work.
Regular weeding and deadheading has commenced in earnest. This really helps to stay on top of it and prevents that feeling of being overwhelmed. I’m also aiming to be more consistent with picture taking. While it seems as though I’m always taking a million photos, I often fail to capture key images and moments that will help me understand, appreciate and plan forward. Ditto making notes in my garden journal where its important to mention what tasks got done and whats in bloom each week. I generally start out well and then, about now, when it gets really busy, I procrastinate and end up giving up on journal entries all together. It’s not the worst thing to do but as one who likes keeping records, it just makes me feel bad to lapse.
And so it will go on as May 20 approaches – it’s all about getting ready for YOU. Hope to see you in my garden!
Note: This Friday and Saturday, May 12 & 13, I will be selling my notecards and products from the Printed Garden Collections at the PlantFest at TeaTpwn Lake Reservation. If you live in the area, DO NOT MISS THIS EVENT!
Also, I’m so pleased share that my painting ‘New World Symphony’ has been selected for the @katonahmuseumartistsassociation juried show ‘Rhythm, Rhyme And Harmony’. The exhibit runs from May 12 to June 9 @bethanyartsorg
All are invited to the opening reception this Friday May 12 6:00 – 8:00 pm.
May is truly a frenzy of flowers is it not! And a turbine of tasks! We finally got some much needed rain this past week and it’s making planting that much easier.
I recently learned that the wild varieties of native plants like bergamot, coneflowers, milkweed and such tend to disappear in 3 to 4 years and therefore need to be replanted regularly. While I’d always known that the wild varieties are what attract the native pollinators, I was not aware that they need to be replaced so often. Plants and pollinators have co-evolved so all those fancier, more colorful new varieties of plants one finds these days are not recognized by their pollinators and hence, do not serve the purpose at all. The wild plants do not look as splashy but they’re the ones we must include in our gardens. So that’s what I’m re-planting in the meadow – I’d noticed a reduction of some of the plants last year and had wondered what had happened. Very glad to have been enlightened to correct the deficiency.
Here is the list of garden chores for this month –
Things To Do In May:
Weed regularly if you want to keep the thugs in check.
Put stakes in place so as plants grow it’ll be easy to secure them.
Deadhead spent blooms for a neat look. Some plants will reward you with a second wave of blooms. Of course, if you want to collect seeds, do not deadhead.
Water as necessary. Add a splash of compost tea to fertilize – about every 2-3 weeks.
Plant in summer vegetables, summer bulbs and tubers and, annuals.
Keep bird baths filled with clean water. Use safe, organic mosquito ‘dunks’ to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. The same goes for fountains.
Start mowing lawns but do the right thing by keeping the mower blade high at about four inches. Leave clippings in place to replenish the soil.
Make sure all beds, shrubs and trees are mulched to retain moisture and keep weeds from proliferating.
To take care of weeds in areas that are paved or bricked, pour boiling hot water over them. The weeds will be killed and no chemicals were used! (It’s how I dispose off water used to cook pasta, boil eggs etc.,)
Stay vigilant for pests or disease. The earlier you catch a problem, the easier it is to treat them. Always employ organic methods. Be judicious.
Stir the compost heap regularly. Keep adding in kitchen and garden waste.
Take time every day to simply enjoy the garden.
Visit other gardens through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. You will be vastly instructed and inspired. Www.gardenconservancy.org
It’s now a mad dash to get the garden ready for my Open Day. Hope you’re coming!
This is a busy time in the garden for sure. All the mild weather has jump-started the myriad chores. With my garden’s Open Day less than a month away, it’s all hands on deck and no PTO! Though I do sneak in time to admire, inhale and revel in the spring flowers abounding everywhere.
With so much planting, potting, pruning and primping going on, I didn’t want April to get away without penning a poem. It is after all, National Poetry Month.
A Garden Is Waiting
A garden is waiting
In a simple seed
A blade of grass
The scent of a flower
The whistle of a reed
A garden is waiting
Wishing everyone days of satisfying garden work and may each day be a celebration.
Ah April! A sweet, sweet month. The emergence of sap green shoots, bursts of color from early bloomers, the aroma of petrichor, the myriad birdsong all promising a new, beautiful season of growth and glory in the garden. April might well be my favorite month – it holds so much potential that in these four weeks everything one dreams is still fully possible. The very anticipation of the bounty to come keeps me in the highest of spirits. Finally relieved of heavy coats, one if free once again to feel the sunlight warmly caress our senses awake. There is nothing else quite as sublime.
As my hands sink into the still cold soil, the pleasure of getting back to tending my piece of earth reminds me as always what a privilege it is to have a garden.I start every new season in the garden by renewing my covenant with the earth – to do no harm.
A number of tasks got done this past weekend.
The recycling system for watering the vertical garden was given its annual servicing – cleaning, washing etc., and then it was up and running. This week, I’ll start adding in heuchera and ferns.
Two springs ago, I got a young magnolia to espalier into a fan. It has now grown significantly taller and needed the permanent supports to help it grow accordingly. My friend Lulu has a privacy screen of live bamboo. Said screen is managed judiciously and thinned out frequently. She generously provided me with the extra long poles needed for my magnolia. The supports are now installed and the fan is taking shape.
Birds were marauding the newly seeded handkerchief sized front lawn. They were feasting on the seeds and helping themselves to the hay for nest building. I didn’t mind the latter but I objected to the former. There is really plenty of other food available in the garden. My lawn, such as it is, is not an all you-can -eat buffet. Bright, shiny colorful balloons placed around this small space seems to have done the trick of keeping the opportunists at bay. Meanwhile, I suspect my neighbors are trying to figure out what we’re celebrating.
The pots of boxwood wintering luxuriously in the greenhouse were brought out. They will get a hair trimming after they’ve acclimatized to the outdoors.
All the labels on the fruit espalier have been refreshed – it looks smarter already. The labels on a Belgian fence espalier of assorted apples and fruit are important. You can imagine with all the crisscrossing branches, it can get very confusing to identify the different types of apples/pears.
Last fall, as a first time dahlia grower, I’d decided to let those tubers that were grown in pots, overwinter as is in the unheated basement. The same for cannas. All the pots were given a good awakening drink of water. With any luck, the dahlias will start showing growth in a few weeks. The canna had been resting alongside the figs, agapanthus and Brugamansia which receive the occasional splash of water all through the winter so they are actually already showing new growth which pleases me mightily. The winter was really so mild that one of the Brugamansia kept tossing out beautiful flowers the whole time. I hope this means that with all that practice, she performs exceptionally well this year.
It’s a delightfully busy time in the garden where plants, animals and gardeners are all working hard. My garden’s Open Day is May 20ththis year – mark your calendars, clear your schedule, buy your tickets and come visit!
Here is the general to-do list for 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 or artificial 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 flowers in bloom.
The hummingbirds are back! The feeders were optimistically put up two week ago when it was still cold. It has remained pretty much below normal temperatures since but the sugar solution was duly refreshed. Yesterday morning, just as more seasonable weather arrived, the tiny birds showed up as well. I’m taking that as a good sign for the season.
Humans have always relied on signals and sightings in nature as guides for when to do things and what to expect. A glut of acorns in the the fall means a consequent increase in mice, squirrel and deer populations as well as an emergence of new oak trees. And vice versa.
A cold spring means reduced pollination and lower production of fruit and future plants.
The timing of when the leaves fall in autumn is recognized as a good predictor – too early means mild fall and winter, too late indicates a colder winter and if leave shrivel up on the branches before dropping, then expect a very severe winter. I’m going to pay attention more to this autumn!
Similarly, it’s said that the wider the woolly bear caterpillar’s brown band is, the milder the winter will be. When birds migrate or returns are foretellings. Dandelions, tulips, chickweed and such fold their petals prior to rain.
While there is some evidence that some of these signals are accurate, for the most part, they are anecdotal. On my part, I’m happy to know them and tend to believe only if they predict something I desire. Selective is what I am. Ha.
However, there are old gardening practices that are very sound and good for all of nature. When I began creating this garden about 25 years ago, I resolved to do my best to do no harm. That right away meant organic methods. This was in part driven by my own childhood where I watched gardeners do their work sans chemicals. As a scientist, I learned the harm chemicals can do – long lasting harm. So organic it was. What was good through time is good for the present and future. ( A word of caution – even organic pest control should be applied judiciously. They might knock off pests but they also kill the good bugs. They are not specific to pests.)
Compost was known to be beneficial but, it was not a general practice at the time I got started on this garden.I knew enough soil microbiology to understand how effective this natural product was. While one could buy bags of compost, people did not make their own compost. At least not in the cities and suburbs. I was hard pressed to find a company that sold composters suitable to suburban homes – something that offered protection from curious critters (think raccoon) unlike open compost bins often seen in large estates and rural properties. I did eventually find one that is ideal for kitchen waste. The woods that back my property take care of all garden waste.
Next came my quest to collect rain water. No water butts or barrels to be found. Why? Because most people were not thinking about water shortages at that time. Even though the evidence was already pointing to water becoming a global crisis in the not too distant future. Now, collecting rain water is a very old practice. Not just because of shortage concerns but also because it saved drawing it from the well water or fetching from the river. It simply made sense. We converted an old wine barrel to do the job.
Native plants encouraged native fauna and the ecosystem was kept in balance. Companion planting, crop rotation, diligent observation to thwart disease are all time tested methods for a healthy garden and gardener. Our ancestors learned the hard way and have passed on that wisdom. We strayed but now, we’re returning to those lessons. And that’s a very good thing. Admittedly, not everything our forebearers did was good but we know enough now to know the difference.
To think, my approach to gardening was called ‘quaint’ at the time. Now, 25 plus years on, I’m trendy. I’m having my moment!!
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 2022is now available. Get it! Better yet, join the GardenConservancy – 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.
After all the weather related trials and tribulations, the garden opened for visitors this past Saturday. After a year of forced ‘hiatus’, the Open Days Program was up and running! And it felt so good. Opening my garden to visitors is a sly way to meet lots of like-minded folk and have fun, interesting conversations all day long. While the visitors invariably appreciate the sharing of my garden, little do they know how much I enjoy meeting fellow gardeners and garden lovers.
Open Day 2021 was no exception. Following a few days of torrential rain, Saturday was sun filled and bright. The humidity and temperature was high but, nobody cared. It felt wonderful to be outdoors. I was so ready to see people that the fact that the garden was a bit toned down on the flowers in bloom section, did not bother me. Abnormal heat from the previous week had put paid to several flowers that would typically have been at peak beauty. But, there was enough color provided by the baptisia, roses, geraniums, native wisteria, hibiscus, nasturtiums, peonies, irises and others.
As gardener and designer, I know my garden all too well. Warts and all. So it is hard to be objective. The critical mind always takes over. Stuff will bother me that absolutely nobody will notice. Still, until I improve or change it, the ‘problem’ will nag me. And by its very existence, a garden is never done. There is always more to do, undo and redo. And then, like a knight in shining armor, Open Day arrives to rescue me from myself.
After doing the usual last minute fussing and primping, the garden is what it is as the clock strikes the start of Open Day. Visitors arrive and perhaps it was my imagination but this year, they seemed more eager to tour and observe. Like me, they too must’ve missed Open Days. How else can we see all the beautiful private gardens that we yearn to see and covet?
On my part, I’m always impressed by the depth of knowledge and degree of curiosity that visitors bring . I’m gratified when they take note of elements and plants that I’ve designed and/or selected. Seeing my garden through their eyes and preferred interests is enlightening and fun. We commiserate about trends and fads, discuss cultivars and species, joke about chores, share ideas and information and linking it all together is our deep and abiding love for gardening.
I don’t know or care to know their political leanings, religion, socioeconomic status, level of education or other credentials. All that matters is the universal connection we have to nature and consequently to each other. Surely, if we can come together on all aspects of gardening, that in itself becomes, literally and figuratively, the common ground upon which we, as a people can build better relationships and understandings.
At the end of the day, I was, as always, euphoric about the new alliances made, plant suggestions, garden recommendations, good feedback on my own garden, humorous anecdotes shared and hopelessly optimistic about achieving all my horticultural dreams.
After the last guests had left and all paraphernalia had been put away, it was with such satisfaction that I ‘closed’ the garden. Days like that are truly special. At many levels.
My sincere thanks to all who came from near and far – I loved meeting each of you. Deepest gratitude to all who purchased from the Printed Garden collection. Your generosity supports good causes like the ACLU and orphan children with HIV.
Note: Do sign up to visit private gardens through the season and all across America at the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. They will inspire, motivate, teach and entertain. I promise!
All but the first image below were taken by ceramist and photographer August Brosnahan:
Spring! It’s definitely staging a comeback. Where I reside, it’s
not quite so obvious but the signs are there. The snowdrops are up.
However, one has to look a bit harder to notice that the witch hazel
is quietly gracing the garden with its tassels of flowers and
characteristic fragrance. Bulbs like daffodils and hyacinths are
fearlessly pushing through the still crusty earth and slender spears
of crocus appear as though they were secretly planted in the cover of
night. The climbing hydrangea is studded with fattening buds. I hear
birdsong more clearly; it’s only a matter of time before feathered
couples will begin house hunting. Everywhere, one can observe nature
Which brings me to hellebores. In my opinion, no garden should be without them. They live to serve the gardener. Starting from that time of year when you know winter is still in session but you cannot help look for some signal that spring is on its way, one need only check carefully at the base of the hellebores. Nestled close to the ground, safely tucked under the canopy of large leaves of the previous year, the shy buds have silently emerged. Long before anything else is stirring, the hellebore gives a sweet heads up for spring. This singular sight is reassuring and exactly what an impatient gardener needs.
Soon after, it’s time to cut back the old leaves and unleash the new growth. Stands of upright stems extravagantly displaying cup-shaped flowers nodding in the garden are sure sights of spring. Single, semi-double or double, the hellebore flowers appear as though painted in watercolor. Translucent and soft, the hues range from dark, almost black to deep pink to rose to cream to yellow. Some new varieties sport petals gently edged in a complementary color recalling finely hand-painted porcelain cups of another era.
There are today a variety and color that would suit every taste or
situation. The flowers last a very long time – often through
summer. The colors may fade or deepen and turn less showy as the
season progresses but I still love their look. Hellebores self seed
very easily and some gardeners complain about it but in my
experience, if you mulch diligently, then it is not a problem at all.
The mulch suppresses the seeds from germinating. I typically get only
a few seedlings that I often pot up to give away or plant elsewhere
in the garden.
Hellebores prefer deep soil rich in hummus, moist but not soggy. They
do not require regular feeding. I find that an annual application of
compost topped with the mulch of wood chips is sufficient. The plants
do best in cool, semi-shaded locations. At a full height of about 18
to 24 inches and a spread of the same, they are ideal in border
fronts. The large leaves will shade out more diminutive neighbors so
plant accordingly. In the fall, I let the leaves remain to protect
the following season’s young buds and remove them only around late
March. Hellebores are slow growing and do not get too big so it is
best to not divide them. To grow your collection, get new plants or
start from seed.
In pots – Because of their extensive root system, they require large
pots to allow for growth. A nurseryman friend recently presented me
with a couple of hellebores in bloom potted up splendidly in a French
zinc pot. While I adore how beautiful it looks on my dining table, I
think the plants are displaying a restlessness as though they want to
be planted in the ground. As soon as the thaw happens, I will do
Hardy, low-maintenance, easy to grow and oh so dependable, hellebores
are a mainstay in my garden. Bonus – deer generally stay
away from them.
Hanging out with hellebores is indeed a very good thing.
Note: I’m in the upcoming New Horizons art show in Cos Cob, Greenwich, CT. Do stop by to take a look! April 2 – 28. Click here for details.
Mark your calendar – my garden Open Day is May 18, 2019.
Here are images of some of the hellebores I hang out with: