The Wow! Factor

It is human to want the Wow! Factor. When we take effort to create or do something, we seek gratification in impressing others. A meal, a sculpture, a song, an outfit, a speech, the list is endless, we want some kind of accolade that confirms our excellence. In turn, we expect to be impressed when we experience, attend or view someone else’s effort. Ordinary is ho-hum.

Gardens are no exception. Gardeners want to create something special and garden visitors want to see something special. As my Open Day approaches, I am acutely aware of this tenet.

Typically, most gardens on the Open Day roster, are large gardens. Large is impressive. Swathes of lawn, tall specimen trees, sweeping borders, big garden rooms demonstrate the impact of size. There are vistas and vantage points. It is hard not to be in awe.

On the other hand, small gardens like mine must work hard to justify their presence on that impressive roster. As my friend Timothy ( head gardener at Untermyer Gardens) said to me recently – “It’s much harder to do what you do in a small garden.” Thank you Timothy! Simply hearing him say that felt validated.

Yet, over the years, I’ve observed that garden visitors feel more comfortable in modest gardens. This is because, those gardens are more relatable. After all, more people have similar sized properties themselves. It is easier to see how similar plantings and/or design elements can be replicated. It takes a greater stretch of the imagination to scale down something from an estate sized landscape to a typical suburban plot. I’m always gratified when at the end of their visit, folk tell me how many notes or photos they’ve taken to help them in their own gardens. That is exactly what Open Days should be about – to share, learn, empower and support. Note: I am not immune to a bit of praise 😉

In return, I too have learned from visitors – from unfamiliar plants to seek out to gardens/nurseries/places I ought to visit. Best of all, I’ve gained some wonderful friends over these years. With a shared passion already established, it is easy to grow a friendship.

As much as it has welcomed Open Day visitors for the past dozen years or so, at its heart, my garden has and will always be a place for me and my family. It is where we spend a great deal of our time working, creating, eating, relaxing, hanging out and of course sharing it with friends. I never design any aspect or area to impress anybody. What the garden is, is a testament to my creativity, design, philosophy and lifestyle. As I look around with a critical eye, I see myself reflected clearly in this space. It is my heart opened up.

This year, the weather has been unseasonable and unpredictable so, like you, I have no idea what will be in bloom to wow the eyes. Do come and visit this Saturday, June 5 between 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. My garden and heart await.

Note: Starting this year, all Open Day tickets must be purchased on-line. The link to get Open Day tickets goes live Wednesday June 2. The Garden Conservancy will send the link out to all its members and those on the mailing list. If you are not a member or on the list, please check their website. There’s no excuse for not stopping by at my garden!

I’m sharing pictures from my friend Lulu’s spectacular garden this week. She has an impressive peony collection (tree and herbaceous).

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Be, May Be Not

From unseasonable days of April-cool. we’re now in a week that promises to feel more like June. As a result, I have lost track of what exactly to expect for my Open Day on June 5. ( Have you made your reservation to visit yet?). It will be what will be.

This past week, the tulips have shone brilliantly. I’m not at all happy to have this rise in temperatures as it means a hasty end to my tulip season. Another cool week would be so nice. But, as if to assure me that the fun will continue, the alliums are bursting open everywhere and one cannot help being cheered up. In the checkerboard garden, the creeping phlox is rippling in bloom. I wait all year for this brief but effervescent presentation. Its habit of growing with merry abandonment makes this plant a personal favorite. But, just to make note – the alliums are a bit early and the phlox a bit late. Thats how May rolls this year. Unpredictable.

The peonies and roses show buds ripening but nothing to see as yet. Fingers crossed, they will perform in time for visitors on Open Day.

With the sudden realization that I have less than three weeks to get the garden visitor-ready, I’m armed with a very long list of things that must absolutely get done by then. In trying to delegate some of those chores to my in-house labor force, I’m being met with some reluctance to hop to it. Worse, both, spouse and daughter have the audacity to tell me that there are certain other tasks I’ve overlooked. So, I have issued an all-hands-on-deck order and I have become the uber task mistress. My facial expression and general body language has been set to Don’t Mess With Me.

With the warming days, there’s been the reassuring sight of bees busy in the garden. And the birds are going about madly building nests and singing loudly as they do so. Butterflies sightings are increasing too. Stuff like this never gets boring.

Now that the possibility of frost is no longer a threat, it’s time to get some tropicals installed in pots to add a bit of drama. I’m looking forward to a trip to my nursery – the anticipation alone is thrilling. For me, nothing beats horticultural retail therapy.

With all the iffy-ness of this May weather, I find myself frequently wondering about things like, will the climbing hydrangea bloom in a week or so? The roses? The peonies? Will the alliums and camassia last long enough?

The pressure is on! There’s no telling what will be shining in the garden on June 5. Please do come and find out! .

Note: Just to reiterate – Open Days tickets must be purchased on-line. The link is not live as yet but please check here to get up to date information.

Now that we are slowly getting back to gathering with family and friends, its fun to plan and decorate for the occasion. Select from the Printed Garden collection for pretty and practical (machine washable) decorative pillows, tea towels, napkins and such.They make good gifts too!

Here’s some of what is blooming in the garden at present –

Amsonia twinkling brightly

Any day now!

First clematis of the season

Alliums in the meadow

Phlox in the checkerboard garden.

Tulip heaven

Quince in flower

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Givings

Last week was mostly cool and wet. As much as I was grateful for the rain, by the end of the week I was so done with it. The cool temperatures I can take as it prolongs the blooms and consequently the season I love so much. But the rain essentially precluded any satisfying time spent in the garden. Without a daily ‘fix’ of garden time, I tend to be a bit of a grump.

Mercifully, this week will not be as wet.

The apple blossoms that were looking so promising a week ago, have been put paid to by both the rain and the lower than normal temperatures. I doubt any bees braved the cold and bothered visiting the few flowers in bloom. The remaining buds didn’t have a chance. I’m so disappointed. I’d intended to stand in for the bees by hand pollinating with a paint brush but the rain made that impossible. Once again, there will be barely any apples this year. Hopefully the pears have fared better.

It’s funny how despite setbacks in the garden, a gardener always finds something to keep positive. Without optimism and faith in a better tomorrow, gardening of any kind would not be possible.

The tulips are looking stunning at present. The cool weather is in their favor so I’m hoping for them to linger on much longer. After all the hard work of planting them in the fall, it’s only right that we get the pleasure of the flowers for as long as possible. The alliums are getting ready to take over from the tulips and I’m already full of the excitement that comes with the anticipation for that glorious parade.

In the checkerboard garden, the Phlox subulata are beginning their annual show. It starts with a smattering of flowers and then builds to a full force that takes the breath away. Again, that build up of the excitement is pure joy. Short bloom time notwithstanding, it never fails to make me happy.

The hummingbirds are back and I’ve resumed my habit of loitering around in the vicinity of the feeder because I cannot get enough of watching them. One would think I’d take my cue from how hard these birds work and get on with my own but instead, I find every reason I can to position myself such that I can spy on them at length. A hugely satisfying, not-so-guilty pleasure while garden chores remain undone.

Weeding has commenced in earnest. The rain is a double edged sword – it enthusiastically promotes the weed growth and it also makes removing the weeds more easy. To stay on top of them, an alternate day regime is de rigueur.

There are a couple of shrubs to plant this week – purchases from TeaTown Lake Reservation’s annual PlantFest that happened this past weekend. I ordered them knowing exactly where they needed to be installed in the garden.

However, on a separate foray, also this past weekend, I made an impulse purchase. I fell in lust with an espaliered magnolia tree. It’s about a couple of years old and trained in a fan shape – I can imagine it looking spectacular all year round against a wall. Some years ago, I’d seen a pair of impressive, espaliered magnolias growing against a building at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Clearly, the image has stayed on my mind. Where exactly I’m going to plant this new acquisition is not at all apparent. My greed for plants has clearly got the better of me. I’m fervently asking the Universe to show me the ideal ( and available) site as soon as possible before the spouse tells me that I should’ve heeded his words discouraging me from making the purchase.

If my past record is anything to go by, I shall prevail. I hope.

Ha. There’s that gardener’s inimitable optimism again.

Note: I’m speaking at the reception for the ‘Color Blind’ art show this Friday, May 14 at 5:30 EST. I hope you will join on May 14th on Zoom for Color Blind –  a presentation of a selection of fine art and creative voices from CT, NY, and NJ and a brief conversation on the topic of “symbols of liberation, resistance, and empowerment”.  Registration is required.

Arts Westchester Show’ Together ApArt.’ May 7 – August 3. Free but appointment required. In-person viewing starts May 7. It can also be viewed online. Though, there’s nothing quite like viewing art in person right?!
 
New York Affordable Arts Fair ( New York Art Students League booth) 20-23 May. Buy tickets online. Tickets are going fast!
 
Katonah Museum Artist Association presents ‘Ricochet’. Online show. May 15 – June 13.
 
Do not forget! My garden’s Open Day is June 5. Digging Deeper on August 22. Preregistration required for both.
 
Back to garden images –

The new magnolia

Alliums getting ready in the meadow

Checkerboard garden with phlox

Hummingbird returns!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswaro_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

May Flowering

As if on cue, May kicks things up by several notches in the garden. Almost overnight it appears that the plants are growing exponentially. Color is popping up all over the place and I can’t get enough. Spring green is my favorite shade of green. Against this backdrop, the flowers are at their finest. There are none better than May flowers in my opinion. March/April flowers cheer the winter weary mind and June onwards, the blooms must compete with the many, heavier greens. But in May, it is all in beautiful harmony.

With a couple of warm days, the tulips have shot up. The front beds are having a wild party. Tulips have such a way of looking elegant and wanton all at the same time. Makes all the hard work of bulb planting in the fall a worthy effort. Bulbs are a necessary part of my spring garden. I cannot dream of doing without. The joie de vivre they bring is simply incomparable. Whilst bulbs can be expensive, I’m happy to forgo all other bijoux just to have the budget for a big order of bulbs. More is more is the edict of bulb planting. So no skimping on the numbers. My advice is to do as I do – put aside as much funds as you can, learn to do without things that don’t bring you any joy – like eating out with anyone you don’t truly adore or buying expensive lipstick that nobody is going to see behind your mask. You will never regret your bulb obsession.

The apple blossoms are in their pink and white finery. I’m considering doing the deed with a paint brush as I’m not certain the bees are as busy as they ought. I want to be sure there will be an apple harvest this September. A cool spring last year kept the bees away and we had no homegrown apples at all.

In the meadow – as the daffodils and snakeshead frittilaria are waning, the leucojum, forget-me-nots, violas and dandelions are performing as sweet fillers before the alliums and camassia get going. The many native plants have put forth strong growth. They will take over once the bulb show is over.

The creeping phlox in the checkerboard garden are beginning to flower. This is always a very precious interlude and I’m very glad I designed it so many years ago.

Over the past weekend, cool weather greens were planted in the vegetable bed. With the greenhouse emptied and cleaned, the new self-watering pots were installed and planted up with tomato plants. They are now sitting pretty in the confines of their glass house. Such luxury.

Everywhere in the garden, buds are plumping up. The pulse quickens at the sight of old flower friends returning for their annual stay. I feel very privileged.

The garden is open for business. The business of outdoor living.

Note: I’m in the following art shows. Please do visit them all. In person viewing is back – so exciting!

Arts Westchester Show’ Together ApArt.’ May 7 – August 3. Free but appointment required. In-person viewing starts May 7. It can also be viewed online but I don’t have a link as yet. I have art and poetry in this show.
 
New York Affordable Arts Fair ( New York Art Students League booth) 20-23 May. Buy tickets online. Tickets are going fast!
 
Katonah Museum Artist Association presents ‘Ricochet’. Online show. May 15 – June 13.
 
Do not forget! My garden’s Open Day is June 5. Digging Deeper on August 22. Preregistration required.
 
Come, let’s tip-toe through the tulips-
(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar
 

Frame Shift

Something I read recently has got me reexamining how I approach situations I would typically characterize as annoying/inconvenient/weird/all of the above. Even as one who has a glass half-full attitude, I find myself thinking pessimistically on occasion.

March has arrived with snow, more snow and plummeting temperatures. Spring is nowhere in sight. And it got me all hot and bothered. My garden to-do list has grown in leaps and bounds and I’m beginning to feel the pressure to get things done well in time for my Open Day. Between now and that day, other work projects and commitments are not going to permit me the luxury of focusing solely on the garden. Hence, anything that appears to delay the start of garden work, feels like a personal affront.

It’s easy to start railing at the elements and all concerned as though a conspiracy of sorts has been set up simply to thwart my plans. All this achieves is put me in a grumpy mood that quite literally holds me back from doing anything productive. Yet, even as I’m cognizant of this danger to myself, I can at times embark on a downward spiral and hate myself for doing so. But, no longer. I’m done with self-sabotaging my outlook!

A timely reminder, simultaneously elementary, profound and sobering, to see things differently was all it took. Nothing new or earth shattering. Often, that is all it takes to improve ones disposition. A tweak, a subtle adjustment, a slight shift in attitude can change the trajectory of intent and action dramatically.

I’m paraphrasing because I cannot remember where I came across this ‘advice’ – climate change is going to make us long for the four seasons. So, make the most of whatever we have right now. Embrace the weather we’re experiencing. Snow, intense cold and all. Admire the beauty, play in the snow, go for a walk, cozy up indoors afterwards to relax and appreciate the opportunity to slow down and be present. We need the snow to fill our water reservoirs and the cold freezes out ticks and other nasty bugs.

Separately, I’ve also realized that we often have lots of snow in March. This current weather is actually par for the course. In fact, I recall a big blizzard on April 1 about 21 years ago. The urgency of having so much on my agenda was making me feel as though everything was awry. A simple pause and reality check fixed that!

And there you have it. No complaining. ( Maybe a little inevitable worrying?) Be optimistic. If you look for the positive, you will find the positive. It then follows that we will do positive things.

Beneath that foot of snow lies spring. Ready and waiting.

Note:This evening, Tuesday March 5, is the reception to the group show I’m in at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery he New York Art Students League. 6 – 8 pm. Stop by! The show closes on Saturday, March 9. 

Mark your calendar! My garden’s Open Day this year is on May 18th. 10 am – 4 pm.

Enjoy these snowy images taken over the years – pause, take in the quiet beauty, notice the rich details, the play of light, the contrasts … breathe deeply and allow yourself to relax.


January

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar