Open Season

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:

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Hanging Out With Hellebores

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 coming alive.

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 exactly that.

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:

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Flowers, Showers, Zero Hour

What in blazes is going on with the weather? Just two weeks ago we had a rash of summer heat followed by near perfect spring days and now we’ve regressed to days poised to blow hot and cold. And from needing some respite from the dry conditions, it is now wet, wet, wet.

As Open Day draws near ( this Saturday!), I’m searching anxiously for some indication of what will be in bloom. Typically, the meadow should be sparkling with alliums, camassia and columbines in full bloom, the creeping phlox in the checkerboard garden ablaze with starry flowers while the wisteria over the pergola bears imminent promise of a purple explosion. The ‘heat wave’ helped jump start the plants after winter dragged on and on. But now, we’re back to being behind schedule. This is admittedly frustrating. A little warmth and sunshine is not too tall an order right?

The perennial beds in front are looking fetching with tulips and newly opened camassia but even there, the columbines, amsonias and baptisia are lagging behind. With the exception of a riotous carpet of violas, forget-me-nots and dandelions in the meadow, all of the gardens in the back of the property are replete with buds – so, are they going to pop open for Open Day visitors or not?

I guess we will just have to wait and see. Zero hour is 10:00 am Saturday May 19.

I look forward to your visit.

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar