Climactic Changes

Is there any place on earth not experiencing atypical weather? It’s as though an overdrive switch has been turned on by the weather gods. Too much rain, intense drought, extreme heat, super strong winds, widespread fires – anywhere one looks, there’s a weather problem.

We gardeners observe the changes in weather sooner than most. And perhaps, feel it more acutely as well. The rather unusual spring we had this year for example – we noted delayed flowering as well as early flowering. While it appeared that there were always plants in bloom, the timings were out of sync. It wasn’t just the flowers, emergence and leafing out were also not on cue. I worried what impact the discordance in the garden was having on the dependent wildlife. The best laid planting schemes set awry were the least of my concerns.

It’s been a very wet summer so far and the slugs are happier and more abundant than ever. It’s virtually impossible to patrol the garden and pick off all the slimy pests and drown them in soapy water. There are simply too many this year. Some plants that do well in more arid conditions are looking miserable and there’s nothing I can do to fix that.

The reality is that for the past few years, the seasons have not been ‘as usual’. But with no significant problems persisting and the garden still rising to the occasion, it has been easy to ignore the elephant in the garden. Climate change.

It’s time to reckon with it and adapt. While we may have been doing our part all along in our methods and practices of being eco-concious, organic, sustainable etc., we must now reexamine how and what we are growing. Certainly, on top of the list are hardy natives and other eco-beneficial plants. Those that put up with a wider range of conditions and are resilient to change. The choices depend on geographic location, micro-environments and suitability to ones personal aesthetics. It’s a matter of systematically selecting or abandoning plants according to their characteristics and requirements. It has become too expensive to nurture certain plants that clearly cannot compete in these changing times.

I’m only just beginning to confront my reality. No, I’m not ready to pull up all the plants that are finding it hard to cope just yet. But I will not be adding any that are not capable of adapting or are too cantankerous. Native designation notwithstanding.

In my region, it seems our summers of late are often fraught with very hot, dry days between wet, muggy spells. The winters have been milder than previous years but interspersed with sudden blizzards that easily dump a couple or more feet of snow or days that feel very Siberian in temperature. It’s one extreme or another. Perfect weather has became a very scarce commodity. As are perfect plants.

I’m seriously considering putting out an ad in the Classifieds (or should it be Personals?) or maybe there is an App – Looking for botanical companions. Must be American native, very good looking, healthy, highly flexible and adaptable, undemanding, very responsive to gardeners attention, independent, fearless, excellent team player, hardworking and productive. A perfect playmate in every way.

Who knows, it just might work.

Note: Here are a few images of plants I will be keeping fo r sure and a few of the kind of monsoon hitting Mumbai – where I am at present. 

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

July Ripples

July

July comes in many waves

surges first in stars and stripes

then butterflies surf garden sites

spilling over in swells and sprays

as heated rollers collapse the days.

Shobha Vanchiswar

The past week has been trying. The heat wave followed by heavy rains pretty much kept me indoors. In the beginning, it was kind of fun to have legitimate reason to loll in air-conditioned comfort and read at leisure. But after a couple of days, I started fretting over the garden. When I finally ventured out, as expected, the weeds had made great strides. A few days without vigilance and the hooligans had gone to town. What weeding could be done between rain showers was done. But that’s it. It just wasn’t possible to do more.

This week is once again fraught with erratic weather but I think I can no longer take it easy. There’s more weeding, plenty of deadheading and cutting back awaiting. The spice bush and climbing hydrangea are being strangled by Virginia creeper that somehow escaped notice till now. And the ornamental raspberry is threatening to overrun the meadow. The bees love it so, thus far, I’ve been reluctant to disturb their bliss. It’s going to be quite a job to pull out a substantial chunk of this hardy plant but I cannot afford to delay– several other plants in the vicinity are being smothered.

Meanwhile, with all the warmth and humidity, the snail and slug populations have exploded. A real bumper crop. Aaaargh!

The list of chores grows and the weather refuses to cooperate. So I’m left with no choice but to get out and get on. Sigh. My pile of summer reading must wait.

Note: Some images of whats doing in my garden at present –

Milkweed

Ornamental raspberry

Coneflowers

Nasturtium

Canna

Gardenia

First fig

Day lily

R. strawberry hills

Astilbe

Acanthus rising

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Whatever May Come

The only thing consistent about May has been its inconsistency. It has run the gamut of all four seasons in three short weeks and now, in its final stretch, we finally get to enjoy the month as it ought.

The intense heat last week put paid to the tulips and I’m still feeling cheated. It was a very short time with them. Meanwhile, the alliums are ablaze and I can only hope they will last longer. Much longer.

The two clematis at the arch in front are in full flower – typically, the buds open in sequence allowing one to enjoy them in a prolonged manner. Not this year.

It feels as though spring has been cruelly compressed. I worry this might well be the pattern to come. Globally, we are experiencing unusual weather. From heavy rains in some parts to high heat to others and widespread strong winds whipping up frequently. Nothing is typical or predictable. Like it or not, climate change is underway.

In my little corner, I see that I need to be flexible and think deeply about future plans and plants with climate changes in mind. For instance, I’m still going to order bulbs because I cannot imagine a spring without them but my expectations will be more in accordance with the reality.

These developments also underline strongly the need for us all to look to native and/or ecologically beneficial plants that are proven to be hardy and adaptable.

The rain barrel serves well during the dry spells – best to seriously start looking to conserve water. Pots are watered as needed. We turn on the hose to water the plants in the ground only when and if it has been unbearably dry and there is a threat of plant loss.

I’ve taken to checking the bird bath assiduously. Between the heat and wind, it seems to dry out very quickly. The same diligence with the hummingbird feeders. With heat, the sugar water begins to ferment and can harm the wee birds. There is a helpful guide that I follow about when to replace the water. Note: always clean the feeder before each refill.

It’s easy to feel the lack of control in the garden when the weather is so uncertain. However, I’ve found solace in doing my part in tending to the chores that are in my control. That covers my choice of plants, organic, sustainable practices, encouraging pollinators of all kinds, conserving water and most importantly, accepting change. That last one is truly hard and my progress has been slow. Very

Yet, I must persist. My planet is counting on me. And you.

Note: Reminder! My Open Garden Day is June 5. Get tickets online.

Alliums coming up strong. Camassia too.

First iris

Clematis

Calycanthus

Alliums taking over from the tulips

Last of the tulips

Itoh/intersectional peony

Primula in a friend’s garden

Buttercups with primula.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Quick March!

Last week was as though Winter had dug in her heels and wasn’t going to budge and then the weekend arrived with Spring at full throttle. It was glorious. Galvanized me into action.

During that wintry spell, I spent my time in the garden doing clean up work. Area by area, each day I helped the garden shed itself of winter debris – twigs and broken branches scattered around, bits of paper and plastic blown in. Half the garden looks so much neater now. Still have the other half to go. I’ve told myself to remember the lessons from Lockdown 2020 – take the time to work mindfully. It was such a pleasure to do the chores last year without time pressure. Both, the garden and I, benefited enormously.

I’ve been hardening off the sweetpea seedlings and this week I shall plant them out. Bulbs planted in pots and wintered over in a sheltered spot have been moved to where they can be viewed – they are coming along nicely. I feel the quickening of my pulse knowing I’ll be seeing the pots in bloom well before their counterparts in the ground.

The stratified columbines sown in seed pots are yet to show any sign of awakening but I’m hopeful. Patience not being a virtue of mine makes me check on them way too often. Later this week, I’ll get the nasturtium and micro-greens going.

Over the weekend, I pruned the roses and secured the limbs of the climbers. While the oak-leaf hydrangea do not get pruned in spring since the flowers are borne on old wood, they’d suffered significant snow damage. Several limbs had been broken and a trimming, tidying up was performed. The H. paniculata however, was given a severe pruning. Until now I’d been giving it a little trim but felt emboldened this year to do a good chop. Lets hope the plant rewards the torture with a splendid showing of blooms.

On cleaning out the birdhouse in this area, it was so interesting to see how the nest was built and what materials were chosen. I wonder if the sparrows that moved in after the wrens made any changes as we humans tend to do when we move into new quarters.

I want to emphasize that one must wear a good mask when doing this task as it is possible to breathe in particulates and microbes that can cause serious lung disease.

In cleaning up in the meadow, we noticed the ivy from the neighbors property had made great progress in here. That was dealt with but clearly this will be an ongoing job.

Along the side pathway, the peony rings were put in place since the grapevine prunings were awaiting re-purposing in being wound around the rings as I cannot permit the mechanics to show and distract from the flowers. I use the grapevine prunings to conceal the ugliness of a pipe railing that is set into a retaining wall as well.

Routine repair work on the front fence was begun – it’ll be in tip-top shape by the coming weekend. There are of course other things needing fixing in the wings but I’m just glad to be doing the jobs systematically. Slowly but surely.

A mason bee house was put up near the fruit espalier and I cannot express how fervently I’m praying for it to be duly occupied. Having the bees around when the apple and pear blossoms open is so critical.

The new bird house for the front garden goes up this week. It’s all about getting ready for the birds and the bees!

To be working in the garden once again, is not only life affirming but there is a profound sense of gratitude. After the year gone by, being present to witness this spring fills me with unparalleled joy and humility. I’m sure you agree.

Note: Due to Covid restrictions, the Garden Conservancy has moved my garden’s Open Day to June 5. Mark your calendars!

Mother’s Day is coming up. Do shop from the beautiful selections in the Printed Garden Collection. 50% of the profits go to the ACLU – an organization working very hard to right so many wrongs across the country. They really need all the support they can get.

Old nest in the birdhouse

Bulbs potted up in November 2020

Bee house on the ready

Grapevine after the pruning

Awaiting the sweetpeas. This reminds me of a natural looking harp!

Grid showing where I planted sedge last fall

Tidied up front beds

Snowdrops coming up everywhere

(c) Shobha Vanchiswar

Stock And Bond

Summer is winding down and frankly, I’m eager for cooler temperatures. Between the heat, humidity and biting critters, it’s made gardening less than pleasant. Simply being in the garden is uncomfortable. Given the current paucity of options for visiting, socializing and entertainment, not being able to spend enough time in my garden has been quite frustrating,

However, taking the lessons learned from the lockdown, I’m determined to be positive and make the best of the situation. Typically, I’m away for most of August only to return to a garden in desperate need of care. Forced to stay in place this year has been an opportunity to review and reset the garden. In addition, staying on top of the weeding, feeding and general maintenance is satisfying.

Right off, I finally got around to addressing the Sanguisorba alba conundrum. This plant, obtained at a ‘rare and unusual plant’ event, has the prettiest of leaves. Serrated edged ovals of bluish green foliage gave reason to covet. And I did. After a rain shower, the beads of water sit like diamonds on the leaves. Even more reason to love it.

However, the fuzzy, white flowers are less than stellar. They look like albino woolly worms which quickly turn a sad shade of brown in the heat of the sun.

I’d just cut off the blooms so as to allow the foliage to be the real draw. But, there was always something that made even that impossible. Something that obviously agreed with me on the plant’s beauty. Japanese beetles! Every year, a whole army of the loathsome creatures would devour the leaves rendering them skeletal and unsightly. Still, I was too enchanted with the plants and just a tad too stubborn to admit they were a mistake. Till this summer.

The Sanguisorba were unhesitatingly dug up and disposed off. In their place, were planted Echinacea. Native, attractive, butterfly and bee friendly and happily hardy. I think that both, garden and gardener breathed a big sigh of relief to be rid of the burden of trying to support an inappropriate, high maintenance member. Now, there is so much more harmony in the grouping of Echinacea, Eupotorium, Asters, Solidago and Rudbeckia (the paler yellow sweet coneflower variety) and phlox/stock. The pollinators have certainly endorsed my action.

This year, I have derived so much pleasure from watching the birds in the garden, that I’ve ordered another bluebird/wren house to install in the front garden. I look forward to observing more avian activity from the comfort of the porch preferably with a drink of choice in hand. I also expect to have the increased number of birds patrol this area for bugs and such. A mutual sense of kinship I hope.

Keeping in mind that we expect to spend more time in the garden from now on, I’ve had time to consider more carefully the places and times we hangout in the garden and plan on improving these sites. More comfortable cushions for the daybed in the tree house – it’s my husband’s ‘office’ on good weather days. Better, eco-friendly (solar powered, LED) string lights for the terrace to make it festive and pretty – we are, after all, spending so much time here.

Better systems for protecting the fruit trees from marauding squirrels are under consideration. Similarly, I’m going to re-do the way we are growing tomatoes and squash in the greenhouse but keeping it under wraps till a proper plan is ready before revealing it to my husband who sees this particular growing operation as his realm. Ha.

While the weather is too hot and humid to physically do much in the garden, my mind is working overtime to improve it. For ourselves and the environment.

Note: With so many events of injustice and unrest in the news these days, there is great need to do what we can to help the victims. Please join me in supporting the American Civil Liberties Union – 50% of the profits from the sale my Printed Garden collection of soft home furnishings will be donated to the ACLU. I’m very proud of these products and I believe you will enjoy having them in your home. Together, we can do our part to make things right. Your support means so much. Stronger together.

The wall right now

Japanese beetles on the Sanguisorba

After the attack

With the removal of the Sanguisorba, the bed is reset.

Phlox

Sweet Coneflower

Bees all over the Joe Pye

Echinacea

Hibiscus

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar