Public Relations

 The spring chores in the garden are amping up as the weather gets warmer. Cool weather greens are planted, much of the clean up is done, pots from the greenhouse are gradually being moved out, topiaries and other candidates given a neatening up trim, new purchases planted in the ground, outdoor furniture reinstated, plants in need re-potted, the list is endless! It’s easy to get completely absorbed in the tasks.

But, take a breather and get out of your garden. Get thee to your local public gardens. There is much to delight and inspire. I promise. Something I particularly enjoy in making these forays are the flowering trees and plants that my own garden cannot sustain. Like big magnolias. Or entire hillsides of a particular plant in bloom. In making a practice of visiting 21those gardens for such specific visual pleasures has given me a sense that in some way they belong to me. And to you. Thats the genius of public gardens – they belong to us all. /Knowing I’m a member of the NYBG and Wave Hill or consistently supporting gardens like Untermyer gardens which are free to everyone, allows me to have a personal sense of pride in their success. I play a part in making this beauty happen.

This past week, I visited both Wave Hill and the NYBG. Wave Hill has a spectacular blue moment every spring. A hillside of scillas sets the stage for the season just unfurling. To me, it looks as though the heavens tipped over all the stars to give us this cascade of twinkling blue. In the sunlight, the hill sparkles. A brief show that is worth waiting for all year long.

My own meadow has scillas naturalizing and mingled with the opening daffodils, the splashes of blue and yellow is one of the most joyous sights of early spring.

While at Wave Hill, I also stopped to admire the many hellebores in bloom all through the gardens. I do not have the real estate to house such a vast collection but they give me reason to appreciate what I do have. Observing the various areas yet to emerge was comforting to this impatient gardener. Wave Hill being further south from my garden is a week to a couple of weeks ahead of mine in bloom time. It’s like getting a preview of what’s to come.

And new ideas are borne – last year, Wave Hill gardener Harnek Singh (@plantstani), created a window-box of succulents that was pure inspiration. Along with my daughter ( a budding succulent collector), we are designing our own window-box and have an ideal location for it. Stay tuned!

At the NYBG, I took advantage of Members Preview day and got to see the Kusama exhibit. The show was scheduled for last year but got put off for obvious reasons. This artist’s work has given me, also an artist, much to think about. Do try and see the show – appointments required.

Here again, there were personal bonuses – the many daffodils and trees in flower! Simply breathtaking. One cannot help but feel joyous in the presence of magnificent magnolias and cherry blossoms.

Similarly, there is a magnolia down my street that gives me enormous pleasure every spring. It belongs to a neighbor but grows right by the road – so for all conceivable purposes, it belongs to everybody. While it is in bloom only!

My Belgian fence espalier of apples and pears is getting ready to bloom. The pears flower ahead of the apples. In a good spring (one with no sudden cold snap or unseasonal heat), this fence in bloom is glorious. Just as grand and exciting as anything anywhere I believe.

This week, I’m aiming to visit Untermyer Gardens to revel in Daffodil Hill’s display. Thousands of daffodils loudly trumpeting the glory of spring. If you have a hillside, do please create your own show. I’m happy to live vicariously and would love to visit. Meanwhile, I invite you to come and be inspired by my Untermyer Gardens. After all, my support played a small part in this spectacle.

Note: Due to Covid-19 restrictions, please check the websites of each public garden to learn about timings and requirements for reservations/appointments.

Mother’s Day is fast approaching. Shop my Printed Garden Collection for beautiful, useful gifts!

At Wave Hill –

Hellebores

More hellebores

Swathes of scillas

Setting up my topiaries

Window-box

More topiaries

The magnolia on my street

NYBG –

A Kusama sculpture

My assortment of hellebores

Some of my scillas and chionodoxas with daffodils

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Public Parks, Private Gardens

The exhibit with that title just closed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan. I saw it when it had just opened in the spring – a time when we were all so tired of the protracted winter. Remember how spring seemed like it would never come? This art show was exactly what my spirit needed. For a good hour or two I was lost in the gardens and parks rendered by the artists of the nineteenth century. It got my imagination fired, my gardening juices flowing and I emerged with plans and ideas for my own gardening life.

But what other information I gathered was how the parks informed the public of that time. What they saw in these communal spaces were echoed in their own gardens. This was transforming for the people.

At the time, explorers were sending home vast shipments of botanical specimens. Nurserymen were actively hybridizing plants and making available new and diverse selections. Royal properties were opening up for the people to see and public green spaces were created for Parisians to enjoy in their city. Those living in the suburbs and further in the country were inspired to create their own flower gardens.

And so began the important role that public parks and gardens play in our lives.

It struck me that this vital purpose of gardens and parks open to the populace is just as significant today as it was then. By simply being there for ones leisure to commune with nature, escape from the demands of quotidian life and take in the beautiful sights, smells and sounds is purposeful enough. However, they also instruct and inform both professional and amateur gardeners as well as those who visit for artistic and aesthetic inspiration.

For me personally, as one who grew up with the tropical plants in India, the learning curve was steep. There was little I could relate to or identify in the North American garden. I had so much to learn! As a graduate student, I made numerous visits to the Chicago Botanical Gardens and the Lincoln Park Conservatory to both escape the pressure of academia and to learn about the new and exciting plants I was discovering. Everywhere I traveled in the US and in Europe, the public gardens became a must see. On moving to New York, the New York Botanical Gardens and Wave Hill were my go-to places right away. In subtle and not so subtle ways, my own personal style and tastes evolved.

So, here I am today – with strong opinions and a depth of horticultural knowledge that has grown exponentially since those early years. But here’s the thing – I still seek out gardens and parks open to the public everywhere I go. I’m acutely aware of the continued need to learn more, seek ideas and keep up with the advances in the field.

The NYBG, Wave Hill, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, Central Park and the popular new-kids-on-the-block the High-Line and Untermyer Gardens, remain dear to my heart and mind. I’m privileged to live in a region that also boasts other smaller but vital treasures like Storm King, Inverness, Stonecrop and several others.

The learning and sheer pleasure of visiting public gardens and parks never stops. They are the frontiers of horticultural understanding and information. Their continued discoveries, research, trials and collections are of an importance that cannot be overstated. I salute every one of them and all those hardworking individuals who create, maintain and continue to develop them for us. To entertain and inform is a tall order.

With an upcoming trip to Amsterdam, you can bet the Hortus Botanicus will be the first place I will visit. There are other Dutch gardens and nurseries on my list too. Rest assured I’ll tell you all about them in due course.

Note – Given how much I value public gardens, I am thrilled and honored to be involved in the upcoming symposium : “Great American Public Gardens: Successes and Challenges on September 29. Following solo presentations by the Directors of Horticulture of Wave Hill, the High Line and Untermyer Gardens, I shall be moderating a panel discussion with the three notables themselves.

I hope you will make it a point to attend. The third part of the symposium will be guided tour of Untermyer Gardens. A veritable treat I promise.

Here are a few glimpses of the gardens-

Untermyer :

My superheroes. Garden-makers of Untermyer and Wave Hill. L-R: Timothy Tilghman, John Trexler, Marco Polo Stufano, Drew Schuyler, Louis Bauer

 

Wave Hill:

The High Line ( in winter):

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar