Spring Forward

Spring in the middle of a heatwave? Yes, I’m thinking about next spring. Regardless of the heat, now is the time to consider bulbs to order for Fall planting. It’s perfect timing when you think about it. Firstly, the intense heat is keeping one indoors so, might as well address the bulb order.

In picking up the bulb catalogs now, I have the luxury of time to peruse the pages to ensure my favorites are available and check out new introductions. It permits a thoughtful selection keeping in mind color schemes and bloom times to get the most of the spring bulb season.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to tulips. There are so many choices of color, forms and varieties – its such fun selecting. I generally think about a color scheme – nothing rigid. A loose blend of shades that go together or complement/counterpoint well with a bit of surprise thrown in. This year, I went with my regular mainstays and added several new ones. I cut out the pictures and laid them out randomly ( that’s how way they get planted anyway) to see the effect. Of course they will not all bloom at the same time but this visual gives me a rough idea that it’ll work. Anything jarring will be noticed and rejected right away. It’s a lovely activity of dreaming and planning in the cool comfort of air-conditioning.

It’s easier selecting daffodils, alliums, fritillaria and such. The biggest obstacle is my budget. I covet certain bulbs like F. imperialis both lutea and rubra maximus and would love to order a great many but can only permit myself a handful. So be it. A few of them will still look impressive. However, when it comes to the alliums, few will not do. A few hundreds are required in the meadow so I stick with Purple Sensation and Summer Drummer which are beautiful and less costly. One day, after I win the lottery, I’ll include Globemaster and others. I don’t have any complaints about having to compromise – there are so many great choices that one way or other, a suitable selection can always be made.

Bulb growing is not an easy industry. For that matter, growing anything is not easy. I’m quite content with what I can afford and careful to factor in all expenses when deciding a realistic budget. I’m always happy to forgo designer anything for plants. And art supplies.

This year, I’m not adding any more crocus, ornithogalum, hyscinthoide and other minor bulbs. I want to see how the ones already in place continue to perform. It’s necessary to make periodic assessments.

While I believe there’s no such thing as having too many bulbs, it’s just wasteful to keep adding bulbs without allowing those that naturalize easily to do their thing.

By ordering bulbs now, one has the best chance to ensure their choices are not sold out. It always surprises me how fast certain varieties get bought up. Even when I think I’m relatively early, I’ve sometimes been too late to grab popular choices.

In the process of selecting bulbs, the mind is wholeheartedly in spring season – a very pleasant place to be when its blazing hot outside, A little side bonus of advance planning.

Once ordered, I’m free to enjoy the summer without that pending task. The order gets charged only at the time of shipping which is scheduled according to the right planting time for your zone. Pretty convenient.

Happy spring planning!

Note: Ordering now means ordering from bulb houses – you get the largest selections and best prices. Large quantities can be ordered wholesale. Buying bulbs later on from local nurseries is just fine if you’re buying only a few bulbs and not looking for a big choice. I usually get my amaryllis and paperwhites for holiday decorations and hyacinths for forcing from my local nursery. Often, I go again towards the end of the season and snap up the remnants for potting up and getting an early start on the spring show.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Parched Earth

This past Saturday it rained. Not for long but, the garden plants got a decent watering. The relief I felt was disproportionately huge. It’s been a very dry summer. The rain barrel has been low for a while and but for the fact that the condensation from the central air-conditioning unit is directed to the barrel, it would’ve been bone dry some weeks ago. Saturday’s rain did not fill the barrel. But I’m grateful for every drop of water.

Yesterday, we finally got a true ‘rainy day’. Thunder and lightening too. Torrents so powerful that there was flooding of roads and basements. The problem with this kind of rain is that the earth cannot soak up the rain in a hurry so there’s a lot of run off water. Still, it quenched the thirsty plants.

And now, for the foreseeable future, we are in a heat wave. No rain but plenty of heat and humidity. Ugh. I shudder to think of all the unhealthy conditions for the flora and fauna. All life.

While the unprecedented heat followed by the fierce monsoons in Asia have wrought some devastation there, the lack of rain and soaring temperatures are doing much damage in other parts of the globe. It’s getting hotter everywhere. That, combined with severe lack of water, is going to see the biggest human migration to date. And this could begin in our lifetime.

I don’t know about you but I worry a great deal about this. In this country alone we are experiencing the horrific effects of climate change. Wild fires, large bodies of water drying up, power cuts, water rationing, loss of homes, crops and related livelihoods – the writing on the wall is clear. The science is evident. What are we going to do about it?

For a start, it would help enormously if our representatives in government could accept that we’re in a climate crisis and accordingly make and institute policies to help mitigate the threat. Concurrently, we citizens must do our part. Conserve, reduce, reuse, recycle water, energy and other resources.

In the garden –

Re-examine how and what we grow. Native plants are less demanding and more resilient.

Eliminate or drastically reduce water and energy guzzling lawns.

Collect rain water, gray water for the garden. I recently learned that in some parts of the country, it is illegal to have rain barrels – WHAT??? If they’re worried about a rise in mosquito populations, there are simple, safe ‘dunks’ available to stop them from breeding.

Water from boiling eggs, pasta and such can either be poured right away to kill weeds emerging between pavers on pathways or cooled and used to water plants.

And please, can we agree that timed watering systems MUST have a moisture/rain detection monitor attached so no automatic watering happens when its raining or the ground/pots are wet? Reduce the frequency of watering too. With the right plants, there will less demand for water.

If plants struggle and require too much care, get rid of them. I feel your pain but it is what we must do to keep our place on earth.

Finally, vote out the politicians who do not support the environment or believe in climate change and replace them with green-thinking, progressive minded candidates.

These asks are not as difficult as they seem. Lets begin right away. There is literally no time to lose.

Note: To counter the stress of worrying about the world, I’m sharing photos from my visit to Hollister House last. Sunday. A gem of a garden. Do visit!

Call Maintenance!

July is all about maintenance. No major planting or project occurs at this time. It’s time to enjoy the fruits of ones labor. And I’m here for it. There’s nothing as satisfying as strolling around, preferably with a cool drink in hand, admiring what’s in bloom and what’s going well. Finally, a bit of time to simply take in the beauty and wonder of what one has created.

Of course, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. That would be wishful thinking. Weeding, watering, propping up, trimming back and general faffing is in order, But these can set a happy rhythm to the days. Leaving plenty of time to sit and soak up sunshine and revel in the delightful horticultural offerings. Hours spent watching the numerous insects and birds never get old. Quite the contrary – like sunrises and sunsets, rainbows, full moons and meteor showers, we never tire of what’s in bloom, butterflies flitting and floating gracefully, hummingbirds darting from feeder to flowers, bees laden with pollen whirring home, dragonflies pausing at the water filled trough, their iridescent wings refracting sunlight into flat rainbows …. the list goes on. Before one knows it, afternoon has become nightfall and the fireflies are twinkling in time with the stars.

All too often, I’ve allowed myself to be caught up in the spirit of the season and neglected to do enough in the maintenance department. It’s so easy to let that happen. I think I’m doing enough only to discover that the garden is no longer just expressing summer exuberance. Rather, it is shockingly messy and overgrown. Not this year. My resolution made early in the spring has held up well thus far and I’m seeing the impact due diligence makes.

Regular weeding and watering as required have always been kept up but, timely deadheading, staking and cutting back overgrowth makes all the difference to the health and appearance of the garden. This past weekend, blessed with good weather, that’s exactly what was accomplished. Snipping off spent flowers, cutting overgrowth of certain highly rambunctious plants, staking and supporting those in need, re-potting plants started from cuttings, trimming topiaries, chopping some plants like asters by 1/3 to prevent legginess and encourage fuller growth, feeding all the roses and every plant in a pot with organic fertilizer – it all got done. And the garden breathed a big sigh of relief. Everything looks so much better.

My husband and I split the numerous tasks but we made sure we took breaks for coffee, lunch and many glasses of water on the terrace, at which time we watched the hummingbirds, counted butterflies and shared observations made when we were tending different parts of the garden. A happy balance of work and pleasure. Pre-dinner drinks and dinner felt very well deserved as we sat back and appreciated this piece of earth of which we are blessed to have custody.

My final task before calling it a day was to water all the plants in pots – something that is done almost daily. I had to resort to the tap as the rain barrel was very low in water indicating how dry its been. I then noticed some plants in the beds looking mighty thirsty and watered them too. Fingers crossed it’ll rain later today, slake the earth and fill up the barrel.

In doing the maintenance chores regularly, it’s easier to notice what’s new. Which flowers are blooming, is there a scarcity or abundance of pollinators, where the nests are, what pests have made an ugly appearance and addressing the problems right away before it gets too late. The tasks remind me that I am a caretaker. And care I shall take.

Scenes from the garden –

Hummingbird at the feeder

Blue Jay taking a a break

Before and after a light trim

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Sizzling Into July

Both temperatures and garden are distinctly taking on summer sizzle. I don’t do well in the heat so I’ve learned to keep my time in the garden to the cooler hours of the morning and evening. I leave the hot midday to mad dogs and Englishmen.

It’s now all about balancing between letting the sounds of birds and insects lull us into a happy state of doing nothing and keeping on top of weeding, tidying and watering. The weeds are the biggest offenders – they seem to come up with an enthusiasm that I wish would rub off on the choice plants that are taking time to spread.

The season to gather with friends has commenced. I firmly believe gardens are created to be shared with others. Have you noticed how everyone instinctively inhales visibly and relaxes in nature? Entertaining outdoors is unfussy and naturally easy. The food is simple and fresh and the garden does its magic at putting everyone at ease.

I’ve had the pleasure of hosting several groups of artists in the garden this month. A garden is a perfect muse – inspires us to paint and stretch ourselves, it relieves us of inhibitions and nudges us into working more freely, exploring, experimenting, learning to see anew. Encouraged by the creative company and commiserating about the challenges of all the greenery, the whole experience is joyous. As both gardener and artist, I absolutely love to see how others view my garden. It’s the same when I see photographs taken by visitors. I learn a great deal and grow as gardener as well as artist. Quite possibly, in sharing the garden, I’m the one who gains the most!

As we head into the long weekend, here’s incentive to get stuff in the garden –

Things To Do In July

1. Weed, weed, weed! Remember, pouring boiling water over bricks and other stonework will kill  weeds growing in-between.

2. Deadhead often. Neatness matters.

3. Mulch, fertilize, water.

4. Mow regularly but keep the mower blade high.

5. Watch out for pests and/or disease. Use organic control.

6. Plant out vegetable seedlings for fall harvest.

7. Keep birdbaths filled with fresh, clean water.

8. Order fall bulbs

9. Take time to watch dragonflies by day and fireflies by night.

Happy Fourth!

Summer vibes

Veronicastrum lighting up the meadow.

Lady Slippers getting worn out

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

This, That And The Other

I can hardly keep abreast with the flowers exploding in the garden. I might be gazing adoringly at the alliums when from the corner of my eye I notice the irises gracefully unfurling themselves. The clematis on the arch tumbles in a cascade – its exuberance is contagious. In counterpoint to the rounded heads of allium, the camassia shoot up in tall cones of pale blues and cream.

The foxgloves are having their moment in the potager. Their speckled spires distract me no end. It’s hard to work in their towering presence. And just this past weekend, the native wisteria scrambling up the pergola nearby, decided to join the party. The tiny bell shaped flowers of both the common and the more unusual blue comfrey are supporting actors in this cast of performers. Their part is no less important in the tableaux. Indeed, the bees and other insects seem to prefer them to the more showy companions.

The first rose to bloom is the David Austin R.Boscobel but the others are getting ready to compete any day now. Surprisingly behind schedule, the Baptisia and Amsonia are adding their shades of blue to the late spring parade. It’s rather interesting to view them amidst a new cast of characters. They fit in rather well.

What has excited me the most is something diminutive and easy to escape notice amidst this floral carnival are the Cypripedium parviflorum – the yellow lady’s slipper. I’ve long coveted them and acquired two plants last summer at the plant sale held at Hollister House. Both were planted in two different parts of the meadow. One is currently in bloom and the other is in bud. I am so pleased.

On the other end of my excitement was the discovery of cutworms on a small, potted pine. They looked so creepy writhing around in a cluster. Already a branch had been totally denuded and the vandals were working on another. They were dealt with swiftly. Felt very satisfying.

Today, the temperatures are expected to rise to the low 90s. Just when the late spring garden is looking so glorious. Don’t you just hate that! I’m keeping my fingers crossed that no real damage is done. I went around late last evening harvesting the peonies in bloom and those just about to. The anticipated heat would burn them easily. So now, while I work in the cool indoors, I’m basking in peony perfume and beauty. That’s a pretty good upside.

Lady’s Slipper

Wisteria on the pergola

Wisteria viewed from above

Cutworm cluster

Rescued peonies before the heat wave.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

Opining On Open Day

What a glorious Open Day it came to be! The weather was perfect – cloudy (colors show up better), cool and very pleasant. The sun peered out occasionally but mostly, it stayed hidden. The previous day had been so humid and muggy that I feared for what might be on the big day. Clearly, the weather Gods heard my plea and decided to be kind.

And the visitors arrived – a steady flow all day. In fact, it felt so comfortably paced that it was only at the end of the day that I realized that we’d had about 150 people explore my small garden. I’ve said it before and I say it again – gardeners and garden lovers are the nicest people. Curious, eager, observant and enthusiastic. They notice everything and are generous with compliments and good insight. It is such fun to share ideas, inspiration and experiences.

Visitors came from near and far. Whether local or from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut or Long Island, I an humbled and so very grateful that they took the time to come to my little patch of earth. What lovely conversations I had with so many. I shared, I learned and together we celebrated our passion for gardening. Could anything be better?

I remember the first time my garden was opened and how nervous I was. That was 14 years ago. I worried how a seasoned gardener would view my seat-of-the-pants gardening style. What I learned then and it has proven true is that nobody makes all the effort and time to visit with the intent to criticize or be judgmental. As a group, we gardeners understand the trials and tribulations of working with nature. So we know to appreciate it all. And we learn constantly – in the doing and in the sharing.

Over the years, I’ve grown eager for Open Day because it acts like a tonic to rejuvenate my gardening passion. By being privy to how others view my garden, I get to see it through fresh eyes. And always I’m struck by what and how they notice the various elements be it color, plants and the plantings, the overall design and solutions to universal problems. I gain so much from how others view my work.Truly, I am renewed and refreshed at the end of the day. The exhaustion from getting the garden ready is totally worth it!

I send out deep thanks to all who came this past Saturday. You may not be aware of how how much your visit and feedback means to me – it honestly helps me be a better gardener.

Now, for the rest of the growing season, I’m ready to do my share of visiting gardens near and far. No doubt I’ll be delighted, inspired and duly instructed. Perfect.

Note: The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program is invaluable. Do take advantage of it. Better yet, become a member – you’ll get informed on not just the gardens that are open but also the interesting talks, study tours and symposiums on tap. Members get discounts and first dibs.

Glimpses of Open Day 2022 –

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

When Old Is New Again

The hummingbirds are back! The feeders were optimistically put up two week ago when it was still cold. It has remained pretty much below normal temperatures since but the sugar solution was duly refreshed. Yesterday morning, just as more seasonable weather arrived, the tiny birds showed up as well. I’m taking that as a good sign for the season.

Humans have always relied on signals and sightings in nature as guides for when to do things and what to expect. A glut of acorns in the the fall means a consequent increase in mice, squirrel and deer populations as well as an emergence of new oak trees. And vice versa.

A cold spring means reduced pollination and lower production of fruit and future plants.

The timing of when the leaves fall in autumn is recognized as a good predictor – too early means mild fall and winter, too late indicates a colder winter and if leave shrivel up on the branches before dropping, then expect a very severe winter. I’m going to pay attention more to this autumn!

Similarly, it’s said that the wider the woolly bear caterpillar’s brown band is, the milder the winter will be. When birds migrate or returns are foretellings. Dandelions, tulips, chickweed and such fold their petals prior to rain.

While there is some evidence that some of these signals are accurate, for the most part, they are anecdotal. On my part, I’m happy to know them and tend to believe only if they predict something I desire. Selective is what I am. Ha.

However, there are old gardening practices that are very sound and good for all of nature. When I began creating this garden about 25 years ago, I resolved to do my best to do no harm. That right away meant organic methods. This was in part driven by my own childhood where I watched gardeners do their work sans chemicals. As a scientist, I learned the harm chemicals can do – long lasting harm. So organic it was. What was good through time is good for the present and future. ( A word of caution – even organic pest control should be applied judiciously. They might knock off pests but they also kill the good bugs. They are not specific to pests.)

Compost was known to be beneficial but, it was not a general practice at the time I got started on this garden.I knew enough soil microbiology to understand how effective this natural product was. While one could buy bags of compost, people did not make their own compost. At least not in the cities and suburbs. I was hard pressed to find a company that sold composters suitable to suburban homes – something that offered protection from curious critters (think raccoon) unlike open compost bins often seen in large estates and rural properties. I did eventually find one that is ideal for kitchen waste. The woods that back my property take care of all garden waste.

Next came my quest to collect rain water. No water butts or barrels to be found. Why? Because most people were not thinking about water shortages at that time. Even though the evidence was already pointing to water becoming a global crisis in the not too distant future. Now, collecting rain water is a very old practice. Not just because of shortage concerns but also because it saved drawing it from the well water or fetching from the river. It simply made sense. We converted an old wine barrel to do the job.

Native plants encouraged native fauna and the ecosystem was kept in balance. Companion planting, crop rotation, diligent observation to thwart disease are all time tested methods for a healthy garden and gardener. Our ancestors learned the hard way and have passed on that wisdom. We strayed but now, we’re returning to those lessons. And that’s a very good thing. Admittedly, not everything our forebearers did was good but we know enough now to know the difference.

To think, my approach to gardening was called ‘quaint’ at the time. Now, 25 plus years on, I’m trendy. I’m having my moment!!

Note: Last call to pre-register for my Open Day!

The greening of the wall

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

May Flowers

It’s finally looking and feeling like spring. After last week’s cool, windy days, the weekend arrived bright, sunny and warm. A gift! It’s now a mad dash to get the garden in ship-shape for its May 14 Open Day. Lots got done over the weekend – aching muscles bear testimony. Still more remains. Because of the unprecedentedly cold weather, we’re running behind schedule. But, that’s life in the garden. Nature is always in charge. However hard we gardeners work, we are not in control. Ever. That is a good lesson to take to heart – do your best, stay humble, be resilient and work with Nature not against.

Our relationship with Nature, whilst seemingly collaborative, is an unequal one. It is best to accept that. Leave the ego outside the garden or else it’ll be shredded ruthlessly in no time. And in the end, when the garden looks gorgeous, graciously accept your part in it but know in your heart who really had the last word.

So, I’m keeping my head down and focusing on getting the work done. I’m also beseeching the powers that be to be kind and generous to send good weather, get the plants blooming and bring in many happy visitors.

Here’s the general To-Do list for May –

Things To Do In May

  1. Weed regularly if you want to keep the thugs in check.

  2. Put stakes in place so as plants grow it’ll be easy to secure them.

  3. Deadhead spent blooms for a neat look. Some plants will reward you with a second wave of blooms. Of course, if you want to collect seeds, do not deadhead.

  4. Water as necessary. Add a splash of compost tea to fertilize – about every 2-3 weeks.

  5. Plant in summer vegetables, summer bulbs and tubers and, annuals.

  6. Keep bird baths filled with clean water. Use mosquito ‘dunks’ to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. The same goes for fountains.

  7. Start mowing lawns but do the right thing by keeping the mower blade high at about four inches. Leave clippings in place to replenish the soil.

  8. Make sure all beds, shrubs and trees are mulched to retain moisture and keep weeds from proliferating.

  9. To take care of weeds in areas that are paved or bricked, pour boiling hot water over them. The weeds will be killed and no chemicals were used!

  10. Stay vigilant for pests or disease. The earlier you catch a problem, the easier it is to treat them. Always employ organic methods.

  11. Stir the compost heap regularly. Keep adding in kitchen and garden waste.

  12. Take time every day to simply enjoy the garden.

  13. Visit other gardens through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. You will be vastly instructed and inspired. Www.gardenconservancy.org/opendays

Note: I’ll be at Teatown Lake Reservation’s eagerly awaited and hugely popular PlantFest May 6 &7. Look for my Seeds Of Design booth – items from my Printed Garden Collection will be available. Beautiful gifts for Mother’s Day, teachers, hostess, brides , birthdays and yourself. All profits donated.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Disarray Brings May Open Day

For the past 14 years, this time of year is somewhat frenetic in my garden. With Open Day in mid-May, everything needs to get done in double time pace. None of the deliberate, systematic course of action. Instead, I must approach the various tasks all at once.

The upside is that it’s pretty much all the necessary work that gets completed – tasks that need to get done anyway. However, it can be physically punishing doing so much in a short time. And then, there is the weather. Some years, it’s too wet and prevents working in the garden. Other years, it gets warm too soon which means the best of plans can be thwarted when expected flowerings are over and done by the time Open Day rolls up. It’s not like I can simply rush out and buy replacements to stick into the beds. That would lose the whole point of Open Day – folks are coming to see my garden as it is meant to be. Authentic and bearing my personal stamp. In a way, my garden is my soul laid bare.

But I’m always reminded of the I Love Lucy show when Lucy enters the garden club contest and accidentally mows down her tulips. With mere hours left for the judges to arrive, she replaces the tulips with wax ones. Which of course proceed to melt in the sun.

This year, it has been much cooler than usual so the unfolding of flowers is behind schedule. I’ll take it. While it means some annuals are still unavailable at the nurseries and several plants cannot be brought out of the greenhouse, it’s so much easier to get the heavy work done.

As a result, much of the chores are being done in timely fashion. Am I aching and creaking? Yes! But it is enormously gratifying to be on track. With the birds singing as they go about their business of house hunting and building and spring bulbs in bloom, it’s a very congenial atmosphere to do my work. With husband and daughter willingly doing their share, I really cannot complain.

There are bags of soil, water hoses, assortment of tools and pots and plants all over. It looks somewhat messy but truly, it’s coming together! As this year’s experiment with dahlias is on tap, I’ve got the bed for them ready – it meant digging up a mature witch-hazel and relocating it, moving a few other plants, weeding and loosening the compacted soil. This week, I’ll add a good topping of compost and next week, the tubers will be planted. A layer of mulch will follow and then we wait. I’ve already got some tubers started in pots – they’re staying warm in the greenhouse and should be up and running well ahead of their cousins in the ground.

Pruning, placing supports and other mechanical elements have been completed. The hummingbird feeders are up. The veg bed is planted up with cool weather candidates and the herb wall is up. The vertical garden is greening up as the moss comes back to life and the ferns and heuchera are peering out cautiously. Lots of other tasks were done this past weekend. The tulips have just started blooming so perhaps the weather will permit a showing on Open Day.

Slowly, more order than disorder is becoming apparent. There is still plenty to do till the very last minute but in all honesty, I love getting the garden ready to welcome old friends and new. I hope you’re all registered and we can see each other on May 14.

Note: I’ll be at Teatown Lake Reservation’s eagerly awaited and hugely popular PlantFest May 6 &7. Look for my Seeds Of Design booth – items from my Printed Garden Collection will be available. Beautiful gifts for Mother’s Day, teachers, hostess, brides , birthdays and yourself. All profits donated.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

April Antics

April

Starts as a joke

Teases with the weather

Dresses in shades of green

Giggles in daffodils

-Shobha Vanchiswar

I wrote that verse early in the month. At this point, April has carried its joke all the way through. From an 80 degree day last week, snow showers on Easter Sunday and a Nor’easter last night, it’s been a riot. Not. However, there is greening up happening and the daffodils along with other flowers are giggling. Or they just shivering?!!

I’m getting on with the tasks – I have less than 4 weeks to get ready for Open Day! Lots to do but hopefully, the garden will be ready for its close up come May 14.

Hope you’re coming! Remember – registration is required.

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar