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

The Benevolence Of Bulbs

Bulbs give an unparalleled bang for the buck. It is a simple matter of plunking them into a deep enough hole in the ground, covering them up and letting them be. Come spring, they show up in good form and raise the ante in the garden. While the perennials are slowly stirring, bulbs burst forth boldly and bring instant cheer. For the effort of digging them a decent home in the fall, the payback is big at a time when we most need the beauty and inspiration.

This past weekend was all about bulb planting. About 2000 of them. At one time, this task was accomplished by me alone but the years have taken their toll so, I had called in reinforcement by way of husband, daughter and a nephew. And the job got done. The weather cooperated perfectly, moods remained cheerful and it had the energy of a barn raising. I’m deeply grateful to my’ team’ – without their support no vision of mine could be realized.

With the planting of bulbs in autumn, we are essentially saying we have hope for the future. That we will get through the cold, dark days of winter to greet a beautiful, promise-filled spring. This seemingly simple act of faith epitomizes the very optimism it takes to move life forward.

Note: At the request of many, here is the list of bulbs that I’ve planted for a beautiful 2021 –

TULIP ANTOINETTE
TULIP COOL CRYSTAL
TULIP DON QUICHOTTE
TULIP DREAMLAND
TULIP GREENLAND
TULIP GREEN WAVE
TULIP LOUVRE
TULIP ROSALIE
TULIP SPRING GREEN
TULIP WHITE PARROT

TULIP FLAMING BALTIC

ALLIUM AFLAT. PURPLE SENSATION
CAMASSIA QUAMASH
FRITILLARIA MELEAGRIS
FRITILLARIA MICHAILOVSKYI

Final burst of roses

All bulbs sorted out

Time for a respite

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

Planting Peace, Growing Gratitude

Two days to Thanksgiving. I love this holiday so much that I wait all year for it. A holiday spent with friends, family and food. A day to come together in gratitude and love – what could be more simple and pure?

Apparently not so simple for many. Holidays are fraught with anxiety for many. Confrontations, resentments and old wounds seem to surface at these times. We are advised to stay away from discussing politics, religion, relationships and gossip. Really, what else is left to talk about?!

Then, we complain about eating too much, drinking to excess, moving too little and feeling awful about it. Why do we repeat this pattern consistently? Surely we can do and be better.

Science has shown that activity and getting out in nature improves the disposition. A walk is a great solution but not everyone is able to get too physical. Besides, people break up into smaller groups and walk at different paces. It can become yet another opportunity to avoid certain nosy relatives altogether instead of connecting to everybody. Similarly, a good game of touch football is not for everyone. No worries, lets get the entire Thanksgiving party into the garden. We’re going to plant bulbs.

This weekend is the unofficial last call for bulb planting. Unless you reside way up north, the ground can still be dug up. While it’s too late for planting shrubs and trees, it is just fine for bulbs. So, get to the local nursery in a hurry and buy up all the bulbs you can afford. By now there might not be much choice left but they are often at very reduced prices. (You will plan ahead next year).

Select the part(s) of the garden where you would like the bulbs planted. Have gloves, dibblers, hand trowels, spades etc., ready and waiting. When your Thanksgiving crowd is gathered, let them know that you are starting a new tradition – a gratitude garden of bulbs. Divvy up the bulbs between all the participants. This is an activity for all ages. Not too strenuous and comes with the gentle instruction of keeping faith and hope. Making a garden is after all, about optimism and belief in a better tomorrow.

Adults will instruct kids, young can assist the old. Whether a trench is to be dug up for a multitude of bulbs or they must go into the ground individually amongst existing perennials, explain the simple rules of bulb planting – holes are three times deeper that the size of the bulb and they are planted pointy tip up. Small bulbs are easier for very small hands.

Suggest to each person that for each bulb they plant, they must privately count a blessing and/or bury a grievance. Encourage laughter and camaraderie. Typically, folk will get into the spirit quite naturally. Prior gardening experiences will be recounted, favorite bulbs declared and undoubtedly lead to further discussions on a myriad topics. One hopes.

In case of inclement weather – have everybody pot the bulbs up. The pots are to be kept outdoors in a sheltered area and towards the end of winter you will start noticing some tiny tips emerging. At this time you can either bring the pots indoors to hurry up the flowering or, leave them outside to bloom in due time. Either way, they will look gorgeous. You might also consider sending each guest home with a pot of bulbs of their own.

This project gets everyone interacting, builds healthy appetites and couldn’t be easier. PLUS, you get to anticipate a beautiful spring. At which time, you will take photographs to share with all your bulb planters. If you’re up for it, invite them all for a viewing!

Happy Thanksgiving from the bottom of my heart. Studies have proven that both incivility and kindness are contagious. So, lets make the choice to put aside our differences, hold hands and strengthen our bonds. Yes we can.

Note: I hope these images will inspire you to undertake the Thanksgiving bulb planting project!

Hyacinths
Daffodil
Tulips
Allium
Frittilaria
Iris

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Endings And Beginnings

Fall in the garden is such a time of contradiction. It is as much about endings as it is about beginnings. Hope and despair. Plants are in senescence or going into dormancy – but they do so with panache. The colors of autumn are unparalleled.

The gardening season is coming to a close – the frenzied activity is winding down. Outdoor furnishings are getting put away and the retreat to the indoors has become final.

Yet, this is the time to look ahead, plan for the future. New trees are planted. Perennials are divided and replanted for fuller or new beds and borders next year. Hundreds of bulbs are planted with the intent to make a brighter, more beautiful spring. Fallen leaves are gathered to make new mulch to enrich the soil in times ahead. The spent plants pulled up and tossed return as compost to feed the garden a few seasons later.

It’s a time of farewells so we can we say hello again.

Last weekend, the big cut back and clearing commenced in my garden. I always feel a bit sad at this time as I recall the the joy of the spring and summer just passed. The high expectations with which I greeted the new growth. The celebrations held amidst the beauty of the garden. The bounty that graced the table. Sweet memories were made. It feels bittersweet.

But very quickly, with a sense of deep gratitude, I’m planning madly for the next year. In the myriad bulbs I plant and the new plants I select to add to the perennial beds. The fresh resolve to be more dutiful in my care and stewardship, stay on top of chores and make even more time to simply enjoy the garden. Already, I’m giddy with anticipation.

That’s the very heart and soul of the garden – it unfailingly provides us with so many life lessons. To stay optimistic, take chances, own failures, be responsible, work is its own reward, forgiveness is important and so much more. But right at this moment, the big take home is this – we get yet another chance to do better next year. Everybody deserves that.

Note: I have two paintings in the ‘Colors Of Fall’ art show at the Blue Door Gallery. You are invited!

Cycle of life:

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar