Carpe Diem!

There I was all draggy with jet lag last Thursday when presented with unexpectedly balmy weather. 51 degrees F in early February is not common and the weatherman promised three whole days of it. So what was I going to do about it? For starters, all thoughts about slowly getting back into the groove of winter idleness had to be put aside. This gift of sunshine and warmth simply could not be overlooked.

On the first day, which was also my first day back, a good walk around the neighborhood was in order. A reconnaissance of sorts – checking out my neck of the woods as though mighty changes could’ve occurred in the two short weeks I’d been away. There was a fair amount of snow everywhere with patches of tired looking terra firma showing through. Not particularly pretty but hopeful of spring not being too far off.

I returned to my own garden and noted where the snow had melted completely, where traces lingered and where it remained in quantity. I conduct a studious observation every year because all the micro-climates are revealed by snow melt. The varying amounts of light in the different parts of the garden dictate which plants are likely to thrive or struggle. Even nano-climates can be exposed. This pattern can change year to year as trees or shrubs grow or die, new constructions come up or old ones torn down. Even the introduction of a car park can influence the situation. I take mental notes and lots of photographs.

Then, keeping the approach of Valentine’s Day in mind, I decided to make the effort of creating an fun ephemeral sculpture to mark the day. Knowing the snow would melt fast in the current mild temperatures, I decided to act immediately. Using a nifty mold, I made a couple of dozen snow hearts. And then put them all in the freezer to keep for the eve of Valentine’s when the whole work would be assembled. Thinking ahead with the weather in mind is a hallmark of all gardeners. Comes in handy for other matters too.

When Saturday, the warmest of this mild spell, came along, I announced to the family ( much to their surprise) that all hands on deck would be required in the garden. Pruning was on the agenda. Grape arbor, all the climbers and shrub roses and the espaliers of fruit trees. This is a tall order. Hence the need for all available deckhands. We had this window of one day before the temperatures would plummet.

An prune we did. Honestly, it was glorious to be outdoors. I guided my daughter through her first attempt with the roses – this felt rather special to me. A passing along of lessons to the next generation.

Grapevine clippings were stored away for camouflaging the peony supports later in March. And so the day was spent clipping and cutting till all got done just as the sun began to set. Truly, the day was a divine gift. Often the task of prunings gets significantly delayed because of huge amounts of snow still in place and temperatures being very low. At other times, one is surprised by warmer weather and fails to take advantage of it. This time however, we really did seize the day.

Whilst working, I became aware of the birdsong that was keeping us company and that reminded me to clean out the two birdhouses. Which was just as well because, shortly after removing the previous years nesting material and getting the houses refreshed, I spied a wren checking out one of the houses. It too was making the most of the warm day.

I also took out the hyacinths cooling in the refrigerator and got some potted up and others into forcing vases. The joy of monitoring the bulbs as they awaken and grow is what keeps me in a very good state of mind till the garden outside comes alive.

And then, on Sunday, temperatures not only plummeted overnight, but we awoke to a most beautiful snow clad garden. What a difference a day makes.

This was a most wonderful homecoming. Jet lag lingers but the spirits are revived.

Grape vine pruning

Vine clippings to conceal the mechanics of propping up the peonies

Rose pruning lesson in progress

Bird house to be cleaned

Pattern of snow melt

Climbing hydrangea in bud

Snow hearts

The sculpture

Sunday snowfall

Hyacinths ready to go

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Boning Up

I love the way the garden gets defined by the snow. Snow in its stark whiteness, highlights the bones of the garden. Even as it blankets everything, it reveals the design and lay of the land. There are highlights and low-lights that emerge to give a new understanding of the effect of the various elements in the space and their relation to each other. One hardly designs a garden for the snow but it is always gratifying to see an entirely new dimension revealed by it.

Winter is always a good time to asses the bones of the garden. Devoid of foliage, the garden is laid bare for scrutiny. Too much or too little structure, a need for some additional plantings or focal point, even what alterations or repairs are necessary. Add a coat of snow and it gets even more telling. Subtle gradients can be seen more clearly, Sunlight on the snow exposes how light hits the garden. Shadows from trees and buildings tell of the extent to which they impact the plantings. As the snow melts, the different micro-climates can be observed – where it melts first and where it remains cold longer helps the gardener plant appropriately. There is so much learned.

As an artist, when painting snow scenes, I have to observe even more closely.. Exactly how the light hits the ground, the angle of the shadows, dips and inclines, areas that are either particularly interesting or too bland and discerning colors in what seems like a very white canvas.

This observation has proven even more educational than simply taking photographs. In fact, I believe it has improved how I compose my photos as well as the garden.

Best of all,, both, painting and taking photos keep me in the moment. A valuable lesson in mindfulness.

Watercolor

Watercolor

Watercolor

Watercolor

Watercolor

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Farewell February

The final week of February means we are in the home stretch to Spring. Puts me in a good mood all together. It’s felt somewhat tedious being snowbound and socially distanced. Nothing to complain about but wearisome nevertheless. Transitioning into March feels positively cheery.

With so much snow, there’s nothing stirring in the garden horticulturally speaking. I wonder if the birds are getting impatient as am I. Eager to rustle about looking for early signs of spring, I’ve taken to vicariously enjoying gardens across the pond. The English spring has begun – snowdrops and other early bulbs are up and glinting like gems scattered on the unfurled green carpet.

The bulbs I’d potted up to get a jump start on spring are now under snow and impossible to retrieve till the big thaw. I should’ve moved them to more sheltered locations. I kept meaning to but dropped that ball. Note to self – next year, place potted bulbs in cool and easy to access sites. Also, pot up many more bulbs.

I’m supposed to winter prune the roses this week but for obvious reasons, that task needs to be rescheduled. Perhaps towards the latter part of March when the snow has melted sufficiently and they can be reached more easily. We gardeners must always defer to the climate and weather and stay flexible.

In the meantime, I’ve got all the cooling hyacinths out of the refrigerator and into forcing vases. Watching them grow and gradually bloom sending shots of color and perfume around the house should satisfy my need for sights of spring till the garden decides to join the party.

The limoncello started in early January is ready. As is the lemon pickle put up around the same time. They feel extra special because the lemons came from my garden. I’m looking forward to sharing both with friends as soon as enough snow has melted to make room on the terrace for friends to gather (around the heater) and we toast to a new spring in the garden. Hope abounds.

Present day

Looking forward …!

Hyacinths in vases. Present day.

Last year.

And this one from last year as well.

The roses in my garden

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

A Little Winter Winge

February is the most challenging month. We’re still in winter’s tight grip, there’s nothing much going on outside and yet, the days are growing longer and the light is nudging the gardener to get cracking. But it’s too early! It’s best to get ones attention diverted to other activities and events.

This year in particular, February feels particularly hard. The garden is covered in a nice, thick blanket of snow. Over two feet of it. Any chance of spying the occasional early snowdrop or aconite is impossible. Icicles abound instead. At present, the front walkway, the driveway and a narrow path to the greenhouse are all that’s available for any sort of ‘walk’. Given Covid conditions, there is pretty much no place else to go for entertainment or socialization.

Thankfully, the parks and nature preserves are open for brisk walks and snow related activities. Apart from that, I’m pretty much stuck at home. It’s taking much effort on my part to resist starting most of the seeds – it’s simply too early! I might however go crazy poring over the plant catalogs and order up more plants than my budget and/or garden can handle. The temptation is strong.

It’s going to be weeks before the snow melts away but I know it’ll be exciting to watch the ground reveal itself with offerings of the year’s first growth. To discover the first brave snowdrops or the hellebores tossing their pretty heads is a thrill that never gets old.

I’d intended to start sweet peas ( flowers not vegetable) a few weeks ago but the snow storm that arrived at that time reminded me to wait a little while longer. It wouldn’t be a good idea to have them grow long, leggy and straggly waiting for planting outside. I’m treating myself to this spirit uplifting job this week. By early April, I hope to have a host of healthy, young plants ready to settle into the garden and scramble up the trellis already in place.

The excitement I feel about this single activity is disproportionately high. As though I’ve never grown anything before.

The many amaryllis I started in November have generally been rather slow. I cannot think why. A few are in bloom and looking spectacular but others are stirring about much too lethargically. Maybe they too are feeling unmotivated like many of us these days.

This weekend, I start forcing the hyacinth bulbs that have been cooling in the refrigerator. Fingers crossed they will be more energetic than certain lazy amaryllis sitting around the house.

My hope is that these indoor beauties will keep me cheered up till the garden can once again be worked upon.

That’s what this pandemic has shown me – to not take for granted all the little, joy-giving things we do routinely.

Sweetpeas seed packets from Floret Farm

Soaked seeds overnight

All planted up

While I wait for the forced hyacinths and sweet peas, I’m surrounded by my Printed Garden products. They really do cheer up the home! “I’m not just the designer, I’m a customer too!!”:

 

Napkin with hyacinth

Tea towel with hyacinth

Table runner

Sweet pea pillow a

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

February Feels

The month looks pretty much all about snow. With over two feet of it already on the ground, there’s not much to do garden-wise. I’m going to use this down time to paint, write and catch up on reading and paperwork. The garden is never far from my thoughts however.

In the spirit of the season, I’m sharing some of my poems and art. I hope it’ll give you reason to pause, breathe and live in the moment, in the season.

February

The shortest month grows the longest

list of plants yet to be planted

The perfect garden patiently awaits.

Snowfall

Angel feather snow floats softly

Settles on earth deep in slumber

Squirrel decides to sleep in.

Under The Pile Of Snow

Under the pile of quilted snow
the snowdrops are stirring
Restless green ready
to meet the golden light
of a newly hatched world.

February Fervor

Golden sunsets

part leaden skies

Frost and fire

earth shifts and sighs..

Wild, untamed

landscapes wait

Restless slumber

at Spring’s gate.

Crystal snow

melts in drips

Plumping roots

greening tips.

Flowing sap

send hearts aflutter

Weather and emotions

soar and splutter.

Note: The Great Backyard Bird Count is this weekend! Don’t miss out! Get participation  details.

The checkerboard garden and potager from above

By the front door

‘Wind Sons’ in the meadow

Top of the side path.

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Snow Show

The Northeast is smack dab in the midst of a big blizzard. After last year’s mild winter with hardly any snow, it feels strange to be anticipating 20 inches of it. The gusts of wind turns the falling snow into a spectacle of whirling dervishes. Pretty awesome.

From the warmth and security of the indoors, I’m enjoying this performance art that Nature is executing so expertly. How grateful I am not to have anyplace to get to. In this whiteout situation the only thing to do is to call it a ‘snow day’ and make the most of it. With WFH in place, it might feel as though it is business as usual but I’m determined not to let it be so. It would be a shame to waste the opportunity to make hot chocolate, change ones office location to a cozy spot by a roaring fire and get outside to tramp around in the snow. After hours of screen time, the bracing effect of standing in the falling snow even for a few minutes is stimulating. Chances are, one will want to play – snowball fights, making snow-angels or snow-person building contest anyone?

As I watch the beautiful winter scene outside, I’m reassured that the dormant plants are safely insulated under the thick blanket of snow. I like to imagine that the seeds of wildflowers scattered by the wind and critters last fall will rest comfortably until the snow-melt gently coaxes their parched coats awake. Already, I can envision the meadow come alive with many more flowers this spring.

Watching the trees sway and shake in the fierce wind is a tad unsettling. Much damage is possible if one falls. Fingers crossed the trees are all healthy and firmly rooted. In the spring I’ll be sure to find interesting branches sprinkled around the floor of the woods. They will make good stakes and tepees for gangly plants in need of support. This year, I’m going to earmark a couple of good ones to use in outdoor decorating projects. Ostensibly we are all still going to only gather outdoors through the better part of this year. So, why not plan to make the terrace more festive?

The plants in the greenhouse are safe thus far but I’m constantly worrying about their heat supply. What if the propane tanks get depleted more quickly? Or, what if there is a technical glitch that fails to inform that the temperature in the greenhouse has dropped too low? Having a greenhouse can be both a blessing and a curse. Still, I’m very grateful for my tiny extravagance. Okay, okay, it’s a folly of sorts.

I make a note to myself to remove most of the snow around the fruit trees after the storm. A few winters ago, rodents made themselves cozy under the snow and had a good feast on the cambium at the base of some trees leaving a few of them completely girdled. It was heartbreaking to lose them. Replacing trees within a mature Belgian espalier is not easy or inexpensive. I’m forever determined to thwart those tree murderers. If I could, I’d banish them for all eternity but living in the ‘country’ makes that pretty much impossible.

Something to bear in mind – observe how the snow melts in the garden. As the garden resurfaces, it’ll become clear which parts are more sunny or sheltered. It isn’t always as obvious as one might think. Often, we fail to notice changes as trees grow or die or, new constructions come up. But, noting the speed with which snow disappears in certain locations and lingers on in others, tells you the different micro-climates within the garden. This information is very useful when choosing plants and designing beds.

In my garden, there are patches a mere two feet apart where the snow responds to the warming temperatures very differently.

I love the way snow silently traces over the elements and features in the garden. Almost like black and white pictures, they render the designs prettily. Any gap or lack of interest shows up clearly as though pointing out where one needs to remedy or improve the composition.

Snow brings out such emotions in us. We are awed, pleased, challenged, irritated and sometimes even devastated. But perhaps, the best effect it has is to bring out our inner child. So, before we clear the snow off our lovely, longish slope of a driveway, I simply must pull on a snowsuit and get in some sledding fun. Otherwise, what would’ve been the point of all that powder?

In the beginning-

After some hours –

Beauty indoors too!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Frame Shift

Something I read recently has got me reexamining how I approach situations I would typically characterize as annoying/inconvenient/weird/all of the above. Even as one who has a glass half-full attitude, I find myself thinking pessimistically on occasion.

March has arrived with snow, more snow and plummeting temperatures. Spring is nowhere in sight. And it got me all hot and bothered. My garden to-do list has grown in leaps and bounds and I’m beginning to feel the pressure to get things done well in time for my Open Day. Between now and that day, other work projects and commitments are not going to permit me the luxury of focusing solely on the garden. Hence, anything that appears to delay the start of garden work, feels like a personal affront.

It’s easy to start railing at the elements and all concerned as though a conspiracy of sorts has been set up simply to thwart my plans. All this achieves is put me in a grumpy mood that quite literally holds me back from doing anything productive. Yet, even as I’m cognizant of this danger to myself, I can at times embark on a downward spiral and hate myself for doing so. But, no longer. I’m done with self-sabotaging my outlook!

A timely reminder, simultaneously elementary, profound and sobering, to see things differently was all it took. Nothing new or earth shattering. Often, that is all it takes to improve ones disposition. A tweak, a subtle adjustment, a slight shift in attitude can change the trajectory of intent and action dramatically.

I’m paraphrasing because I cannot remember where I came across this ‘advice’ – climate change is going to make us long for the four seasons. So, make the most of whatever we have right now. Embrace the weather we’re experiencing. Snow, intense cold and all. Admire the beauty, play in the snow, go for a walk, cozy up indoors afterwards to relax and appreciate the opportunity to slow down and be present. We need the snow to fill our water reservoirs and the cold freezes out ticks and other nasty bugs.

Separately, I’ve also realized that we often have lots of snow in March. This current weather is actually par for the course. In fact, I recall a big blizzard on April 1 about 21 years ago. The urgency of having so much on my agenda was making me feel as though everything was awry. A simple pause and reality check fixed that!

And there you have it. No complaining. ( Maybe a little inevitable worrying?) Be optimistic. If you look for the positive, you will find the positive. It then follows that we will do positive things.

Beneath that foot of snow lies spring. Ready and waiting.

Note:This evening, Tuesday March 5, is the reception to the group show I’m in at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery he New York Art Students League. 6 – 8 pm. Stop by! The show closes on Saturday, March 9. 

Mark your calendar! My garden’s Open Day this year is on May 18th. 10 am – 4 pm.

Enjoy these snowy images taken over the years – pause, take in the quiet beauty, notice the rich details, the play of light, the contrasts … breathe deeply and allow yourself to relax.


January

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

November Nuances

It finally feels like November. Fall is on the way out and winter is moving in. Blustery cold days with a definitive crispness in the air, enough trees in now muted colors rendering the days with an understated, autumnal elegance all highlighted by that clear sunshine so particular to this time of year. The transition to winter is happening. Things are slowing down. November, a month of progression, people power and prayerful thanks.

Most of the fall garden chores are done. But for another round or two of leaf raking and covering the large pots with their winter protection of plastic tarp and burlap, little else is called for. After the ground is well and truly frozen, a layer of mulch will be applied to all the beds. Doing it too early invites rodents to make homes beneath the mulch. Besides, until the ground is frozen hard, there is the threat of freezing and thawing which can displace the mulch.

Before Thanksgiving, I’ll make another inspection to confirm that the limbs of climbers and vines are secured properly and all movable furniture put away. The greenhouse heater is giving trouble so we’re keeping an eye on it. Should it fail to kick-in, the plants will suffer or worse. Hoping it doesn’t need replacing – good heaters don’t come cheap.

In this period of down time, I’ve been making it a point to enjoy the foliage which has been spectacular this year. We were fortunate to have days bright with sunshine this past long weekend. So while temperatures dipped and the wind whipped up the fallen leaves, brisk, energetic walks were in order. Got the blood flowing and spirits raised for sure. The fall colors are fading but there’s still plenty to observe and enjoy. Yellow ocher is having its moment. I’m taking my wardrobe cues from nature’s current palette. I too would like to look understated and elegant.

The joyous displays of chrysanthemums and pumpkins in front of so many homes remind me that Thanksgiving is fast approaching. I wish I’d brought in more hydrangea to make big arrangements for the mantel. But my timing was off and now the blooms on the plants are all brown and shriveled. Still, outdoors, they continue to make a visual impact. I’m loving the earthy hues. There is so much beauty in senescence.

That is true of humans as well.

Note: Points Of View” is still on. Do check it out!

Also: I have a painting here –

 

Some images I’ve enjoyed this month:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Spring Detained

Where have all the flowers gone?” goes the song. Under 12 inches of snow is the likely answer. Harrumph! I’m getting rather tired of these snowstorms we’ve been graced with. Four Nor’easters in three weeks is a bit much. Nerves are frayed and patience is running scarce.

First, February’s mild weather indicated that we were 20 days ahead of schedule. Now March has successfully set us back considerably I shouldn’t wonder. By now, early bulbs are generally sparkling up the garden. In their cheerful company, one goes about the myriad tasks of the season with renewed energy and sunny disposition. No such luck at present.

The pruning is only half done. Last Sunday, the Concord grape vine was pruned as was only one side of the fruit espalier. The other side was not approachable because of the foot of snow that sat smug all along its length. Stepping there meant treading on the plants still slumbering beneath. Not to mention how uncomfortable it is to move in that sort of snow. Similarly, the roses could not be pruned.

No cleanup of winter detritus or dormant oil spraying has been possible. Frankly, all that I’ve done in abundance is stare forlornly at the garden and periodically get into a state of worry about how I’ll get all the chores done in time for its Open Day on May 19. Happily, common sense prevails and I go about other work. Que sera sera.

This week, I plan to get my urns and planters potted up with spring bulbs from the nursery as I simply cannot bear moving into April sans flowers. The snow has melted sufficiently and the old leaves of the hellebores can be cut off to ease the unfurling of the emerging buds. I’m optimistic that the rest of the pruning will also get completed provided the ground is not too squishy for plodding around.

Slowly, slowly it’ll happen. I have to believe. Spring after all, is all about hope and promise.

Note: Enjoy the images of flowers from last spring!

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

February Fervor

February Fervor

Golden sunsets

part leaden skies

Frost and fire

earth shifts and sighs.

 

Wild, untamed

landscapes wait

Restless slumber

at Spring’s gate.

 

Crystal snow

melts in drips

Plumping roots

greening tips.

 

Flowing sap

send hearts aflutter

Weather and emotions

soar and splutter.

  • Shobha Vanchiswar

I’m dreaming of spring! Enjoy a few of the images from late February 2017 –

(c) 2018 Shobha Shobha