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

Tips In The Thaw

So, from temperatures suitable to the tundra we went to spring over the weekend. On Saturday, the thermometer outside my kitchen window registered a solid 55 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s expected to creep up to 57 today. Kinda crazy but oh so welcome. Puts me in a Spring frame of mind.

While I have no idea how these impressive fluctuations in temperature will affect the plants, I’m staying optimistic. After all, it’s in the plant’s best interest to survive. However, I do fervently wish the garden pests are not that determined and succumb to the stress of the cold. What a boon that would be.

This blast of balmy weather has got my sap flowing and I’m corralling my plant catalogs, garden magazines, photographs and notes made on assorted pieces of paper. Dreams must be examined and turned into reality one hopes. New plants to source and their residency in the garden determined. At this stage of the planning, I’m naturally delusional and write up a wish list that only a garden the size of Versailles could accommodate. I’m aware of this but it’s so much fun to dream. Reality will hit all to soon and that list will ultimately fit on a Post-It.

In the UK, that mecca of gardens and gardeners, they are ahead of us by a couple of months. Some are already talking about noting emerging buds on shrubs and such. Snowdrops are in bloom! Meanwhile, here in New York, I cast my eyes around my modest, snow clad garden and there’s nary a sign of anything. Sigh. However, it’s all a matter of time. Here too spring will arrive. In any case, it’s the anticipation that truly excites. Planning at this time is the perfect way to enjoy the wait. Of course, being prepared means we can get started on the garden as soon as possible.

It is not simply about plants and designing /redesigning borders. To be honest, I’m not looking to do anything drastic or dramatic this year. Some additions, a little tweaking and a whole lot of TLC. I’m always looking to learn new, improved methods and practices. To garden smarter.

So far, I’ve come up with two tips to ease my work and still be eco-friendly. The first has to do with my vegetable bed. This is a small rectangle in the herb garden that largely supports cool weather greens as it gets only a limited amount of sunlight. Shade notwithstanding, weeds still thrive in this compost enriched area and it’s a real nuisance to keep up with them.

This year, I’m going to try the “ stale seed bed method. The area is first cultivated and then, instead of sowing right away, the bed is cultivated repeatedly – once a day for two weeks. As mine is a small space, it will not be as much work as it sounds. What this practice does is eliminate weeds whose seeds might have been embedded from the previous year and other pests like slugs. It’s starting from zero so to speak.

The second tip concerns my boxwoods. Those in the ground and the ones wintering in pots in the greenhouse will be pruned earlier than usual – in early to mid- March when fungal spores are not active. The cuttings will not be composted – instead they will be tossed away with the garbage. Keeping a bucket of a solution of vinegar handy means periodically dunking the pruners to sterilize them. Boxwood blight is a real threat and being scrupulously clean is imperative.

I will keep you posted about how these two applications work out. Should you try them yourself, please share your experience as well. Remember – we’re stronger together.

Note: As we’re dreaming of spring, here some watercolor renditions of spring blooms. The real ones will be visible soon enough! Enjoy.

FYI – some of these images are available in note cards and/or on fabric related products  ‘The Printed Garden’. Do check out shop.

Yardage is available on spoonflower.com .

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

January Jubilation

We’re already half-way into January – where did the time go?! It’s as though the new year was welcomed only yesterday. Yet, the record low temperatures we’re experiencing has made the days seem slow. Apart from a brief spike in temperature towards the end the last week, it really has been unbearably cold. On the up side, this has made me turn to the indoors. I’m reorganizing and rearranging. During the course of the years, so much in the house goes by the way side when engaged in the purpose of living. Now is the perfect time to look around and take stock of all those neglected tasks. A lick of paint, a spot of cleaning, some repair, a few replacements and a whole lot of editing. I’m cleaning up and paring down. In getting rid of anything that is no longer useful and re-purposing other items to serve me the way I now live, I’m giving my home up to my speed. Nothing dramatic or elaborate but significant to me nonetheless. Taking on this ‘project’ is infusing me with an enormous dose of enthusiasm. The sense of aligning the home space to one’s current lifestyle is pure bliss.

That doesn’t mean I’m not looking outside. I gaze at the garden in winter from the windows and whenever I’m feeling brave enough, the occasional turn in the garden itself. It is garden-dreaming season after all. The bones of the garden show up clearly in winter. And for the most part, I’m liking what I see. There is sufficient visual interest. The espalier of fruit trees takes on the role of a dominant sculpture. “Wind Song”, the sculpture seems to come alive as it reflects and fractures the light that hits it. And on windy days, it appears to mimic the swaying boughs and branches.

Viewed from the kitchen window one storey above, the potager looks as though it belongs in a cloister – orderly and graceful, waiting to serve again. Along the driveway, the vertical garden hangs as a large piece of abstract art. The whispering sounds of the now dry fronds of ferns add another experiential element in the viewing of it.

In the checkerboard garden, the smooth, white coating of snow on the squares of stone contrast beautifully with the bumpy, dark and light flecked squares of creeping phlox.

Cleared of snow, the walkway looks like a zipper running between the sheet of snow inviting passage to the shelter of the house.

Finally, lets not miss the shadows cast on the snow by the low winter sun. Oh the shapes and forms interweaving between trees and trellis! They move – growing and receding with the day. A slow, certain dance to the silent music of light.

Ah January, you offer up such quiet joy.

Note: I’ve been very inspired by the winter landscape so enjoy the photos and a couple of recent paintings!

Watercolor ‘Winter Shadows”

Watercolor – ‘Winter Pas De Deux’

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar