Fall Feelings

Last week, it really felt like Fall was happening. The leaves turned color in what seemed an overnight change. Not as brilliant but beautiful nevertheless. Temperatures came down significantly and concern grew that the show would soon be over with the trees simply dropping the remaining leaves. There was widespread worry about imminent frost. Happily this week, temperatures are back in the 60’s and I feel reassured that we will have more autumnal joys to experience. Now that’s more like it.

I really love a prolonged Fall. Mild days and cool nights, brisk walks in bright sunshine and cozy fireside chats, blushing apples and bold orange pumpkins, leaves in hues of ocher cascading down to meet earth ready with freshly sprung mushrooms, putting garden to bed and planning for spring, Halloween treats and Thanksgiving feasts, a season of gratitude.

In the garden, with the tender plants safe in the greenhouse, I’m delaying the general clean up and bulb planting. With the weather returning to milder temperatures, there is no great panic to rush. Instead, I’m going to use this week to be present for the simple pleasures – those aforementioned walks, appreciating the foliar colors and shapes, gathering with friends for conversation and hot cider (spiked and not) around fire-pits and heaters, fully enjoying every possible minute to be had in the pleasures of the season.

This past Saturday, we hosted a Diwali* party in the garden. The weather was just perfect and everyone was cognizant that this day was a precious gift – very soon, winter will be here and it’ll be much too cold to be enjoying a leisurely meal on the terrace. It’ll have to wait till Spring before we can do it again. Surrounded by the loveliness of the fall garden in senescence, we ate, drank and made merry. The evening ended with lighting the lamps and having some fun with (harmless) fireworks. Nothing like the joy of sparklers to bring out the child within us all. Truly, a befitting way to close out the outdoor partying season. To me, it felt particularly precious because we now live in a time when indoor gatherings are no longer easy. The holidays will certainly be celebrated but we will be in smaller groups, cautiously optimistic for brighter, merrier times to come.

On a more prosaic topic, I’m considering over-wintering my cannas and similar tropicals. In the past, they’ve been tossed on the compost heap as part of the clean up. It’s always felt wasteful So, this year, I’m going to cut back the elephant ears and cannas that are in pots and then move the pots into the garage/basement. An occasional splash of water to keep the tubers from drying out and making sure they are not exposed to extremely low temperatures is all I can offer – lets see if this works. Those plants in the garden will be dug up and the tubers stored much like the dahlias. Fingers crossed!

Yes, I’m definitely feeling the season. Are you?

*For those who may not know, Diwali is the biggest Indian holiday – it celebrates the victory of good over evil, light banishing dark, love triumphing over hate. This Festival Of Lights is a huge, joyous celebration of fellowship, food ( mostly delicious sweets) and fireworks. Lamps are lit and the whole world is set aglow. Magical!

Fall glory –

Party ready

Fireworks fun

Lit lamps

The tropicals I plan to save

(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

Designing Seeds

I’ve been seed obsessed for a while. Each seed is a whole world unto itself. The future, yours and mine and every other life form depends on the survival and viability of seeds. Seen as symbols of hope and prosperity, the importance of seeds cannot be overstated. We know that much for sure.

And so, we harvest and collect seeds. We preserve and store. We sow and grow. Fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, medicinals – everything we need is sought and coveted. National and international repositories keep all known seeds for future needs and by doing so they strive to secure our future.

At this time of year, gardeners in the northern hemisphere are gearing up to sow seeds for their gardens. As am I. However, due to time and schedule constraints, I’m not planning to start too many. Instead, I’m going to make seed bombs to disperse. It’s an experiment so I’ll just have to see how it all turns out. The scientist in me is excited about the experiment. The gardener in me is skeptical – the whole thing seems a bit iffy.

My reasoning is, instead of directly sprinkling seeds such as poppies wherever one wants them to grow, seed bombs could increase the chance of success as they will hold the seeds down, perhaps safeguard them from birds, and, when weather conditions are right, supply the seeds with an immediate boost of nutrition. Sort of give the seeds a leg up. Similarly, instead of struggling to squeeze in seedlings amidst established plantings, seed bombs might serve better.

Like I’ve already said, it’s an experiment. For very little investment in time, energy and money. If it succeeds, the returns could be big. Fingers crossed. Click here for the link to the website and recipe I’ll be using to make the seed bombs.

But it is not just seeds to grow that have my attention. I’ve become deeply enamored with seedpods, heads and capsules. In examining them to paint, the diversity and ingenuity of these vessels just blows my mind. Each design is not simply functional but also very beautiful. To my eyes, they are as striking as flowers.

I’m awed by how the plants have evolved so their seed dispersing structures are exquisite in form and function.

Some plants like hellebores , drop their seeds around themselves and keep their babies close. Columbines are more about independence and spread their seeds away from themselves, giving their progeny greater freedom to thrive but still in the same neighborhood of the parent. And then there are the likes of milkweed and dandelion that let the wind carry the seeds much further away. It occurs to me that we, human parents, can identify with these methods. Am I right?!

Seeds – where would we be without them? Would we even be?

Here’s a small sampling of seedpods I’ve painted:

Swamp mallow

Baptisia, false indigo

Tree peony

Magnolia grandiflora

Milkweed

Columbine

Wisteria

Poppy

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar