Reckonings In The Garden

A double feature this week! I missed posting last week as I was in the throes of helping my daughter move into her apartment from where she will attend graduate school. She will be dearly missed. Living at home since the pandemic, she morphed into a very capable gardener and I’d come to rely on her assistance. Fingers crossed she will miss the garden and visit often enough to help out. It’s only a 3 hour 45 minute drive – surely a monthly trip is possible? I live in hope.

A couple of weeks ago, I placed my bulb order for fall planting. A few weeks later than usual due to all the traveling I was doing. As expected, a few of my choices tulips were sold out. Some other favorites were not being offered. I had to find alternatives and make design adjustments as I was placing my order on the phone.

Note: Being able to speak to an actual person is far better than ordering online or by mail. I could discuss alternatives that were suggested when my selections were not possible.

I found out that due to the horrid heat endured throughout Europe last year, the volumes of bulbs were smaller this year. The heat also put paid to certain longtime favorites.

Given this year’s unusually wet, cool summer will in all possibility impact next year’s bulb production. This is the direct result of changing climate. Similarly, other plants will also be affected. We must ready ourselves to shift how we garden and what we plant.

Just yesterday, I heard that the olive oil production this year will be 20% less than last year when it was already lower than usual. The excessive heat over the summer all across the olive growing regions in Europe has caused the olives to drop before its time. I’m bracing myself for a hike in cost.

So, if you haven’t as yet got around to ordering your bulbs, don’t waste any more time. The tulip selections have been seriously impacted. The alliums, camassia and such were not as affected but its only a matter of time that they too will. This is a gentle warning that global warming is happening and we as citizens of the world as well as our governments and corporations must take action before it gets worse. So much is at stake. We cannot ignore the writing on the wall. A reckoning is underway.

As gardeners we are generally so busy doing thing that we mostly miss out on the wondrous goings on in the garden. We see what is in bloom but don’t pay attention to the details of the flower. Similarly, we don’t notice the beautiful and brilliantly designed seedpods specific to a plant. We miss noting details of shapes, colors, interactions of the many critters with the plants and so much else all through the seasons. We think we notice but we don’t really. Mindfulness takes conscious effort and time.

This was made beautifully apparent when I attended a ‘mindful walk’ at the botanical gardens at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY this past Friday. Sarah and Kevin who work there, took our little group on a slow walk where they pointed to plants and trees and highlighted things we had to stop and look closely to truly understand and appreciate the details. Patterns, designs, textures and how they evolve and change over time. There’s always something you notice that you’d missed before. How flora and fauna work together, how colors complement or camouflage, how pollinators are attracted and guided to do their work… the list is endless! This kind of walking is meditative and so uplifting for body, mind and spirit.

Full disclosure – I do my best to be mindful in my garden but it is hard because I’m often distracted by to-do elements – weeds that need pulling, plants that need staking or trimming, what needs watering, who is attacking and munching on whom. It’s much easier for me to go to a public garden and do a really good mindful walk. Perhaps one day, I will be evolved enough to do the same in my own garden. To simply and purposefully observe is a goal.

I sincerely believe that in being mindful, truly present in the garden and in everything else in life is how we will stay aware of changes in the environment, our homes and in ourselves and act accordingly before matters get out of hand. Everything in Nature is connected and together we can overcome any challenge. Together we will thrive. We must.

Note: Some images from past years to get you motivated to order bulbs for fall planting –

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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And That’s A Wrap!

I’m still enjoying the benefits of all the garden work done to get ready for Open Day. Apart from watering the pots (it has been rather dry), deadheading and routine weeding, it’s been sheer bliss to sit and enjoy the garden with family and friends. The cooler temperatures have given us a beautiful, long spring and I’m taking full advantage of it. If only days like these would last forever.

The Pleasantville Garden Club in conjunction with their local television station, have put out a short clip of my garden. Instead of writing more this week, I’m sharing the video link. Enjoy!

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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It rained. The days leading up to Open Day were idyllic. Dry, sunny and oh so comfortable. But wouldn’t you know it, on the big day, it rained. Cool and wet all day. From drizzle to downpour it took turns. But yet, they came – hardy, undaunted folk. Hallelujah.

The garden was ready – lush with greenery and bedecked in flowers. It truly came through for the visitors. I was in my element. To chat with other gardeners/garden lovers about all things garden is just immensely enjoyable. To share information, opinions and experiences is what I look forward to most on this day. The rain simply ceased to matter.

Would I have wished it to not rain? Absolutely. But here we were and we made the most it. There were repeat visitors which warmed my heart immensely. Friends who know my garden well came especially to support the Garden Conservancy, new neighbors arrived out of curiosity and eagerness to befriend and so many first time visitors came from near and far. One couple was visiting NYC from Australia – they took the train and came up just to see my garden. That blew me away.

That people come at all is something so gratifying and humbling. I garden because I love to do it. I experiment and learn as a scientist, satisfy my curiosity, design as an artist to create something I and my family can enjoy all year round. That others notice and appreciate my work is heartening. I am deeply grateful.

So this week, I’m just going to indulge in spending time in the garden and do no work at all. Really. Maybe water when the pots look thirsty but do nothing else. This time off is well earned don’t you think? Afterglow feels good.

Some pictures from Open Day

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Rising To The Occasion

It’s the home stretch to Open Day and all the last minute fluffing and faffing is happening. Fingers crossed – the weather looks stellar. The garden is popping with new bursts of growth and color. I’m eagerly anticipating the arrival of old faces and makng new friends. It’s my favorite part of Open Day.

In all likely hood, visitors will get to see my latest project that I vaguely alluded to last week. I was not really looking for a new ‘experiment’ but when the opportunity arose, I couldn’t resist. A self-taught lotus growing friend generously presented me with some lotus divisions. Now, bear in mind that I grew up in India where the lotus is the national flower and holds much significance in different cultures in the world. So when presented with these tubers, I could hardly resist. That’s so typical of a gardener isn’t it?

Along with the tubers, Maria gave me some good instructions on getting started. But first, I needed specific supplies. Containers, heavy soil for aquatics, fertilizer, aerator as lotus love moving water. Thankfully they were all easy to source. You-Tube was very useful in showing how to plant the tubers.

Instead of planting all the tubers together, I’ve chosen to have each in its own fabric pot. The fabric allows water in but keeps soil from moving out. It is light but sturdy and very convenient to place as a group in a larger container. Four of these fabric pots are immersed in that large container of water and a small aerator and one is sitting in the trough that runs a fountain from a lion’s head sculpture.

Selecting the right large container was important. Firstly, since this was a first attempt, I was not going to invest in anything pricey. Secondly, it needed to go with the whole garden and not stick out – I needed a team player for a container. There was only one obvious site for the sun loving lotus so, whatever I selected had to sit well there. Turned out, I had exactly the right vessel. A large-ish, shallow, antique, zinc tub that I’d brought back years ago from Provence. It was used as a pool for my daughter from baby through toddler-hood. And then it sat largely unused but too dear to get rid off.

I now have tiny leaves/pads rising sweetly above the water as lotus are wont to do. Nothing dramatic to see as yet so visitors on Open Day might not be impressed but I figure it’ll be fun to share. By way of equipment, nothing was costly and I understand that lotus are resilient so I’m hoping a few visitors might be inspired to try their own lotus experiment. The big challenge will be housing these aquatic newcomers through the cold season.

It’s so exciting to try new things and my garden has always been a laboratory. This project harks to my Indian heritage so I feel the pressure to be successful. Fingers crossed that both lotus and gardener rise to the occasion admirably.

Note: Only 3 more days to Open Day! Hope you’re coming!

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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Powering Through

What a glorious weekend it was. After a week of wet, cold days, I was beginning to feel somewhat hard pressed to remain thankful for the rain that had eluded us for so long. Then Saturday arrived glowing in sunshine and temperatures that were Goldilocks perfect. The sort of day that gardeners pray for. And we made the most of it. So much got done.

Big tasks like moving large, heavy pots to their assigned positions for the rest of the growing season to smaller ones such as potting up annuals for immediate prettying up. The summer window boxes are up, boxwood and other topiaries all got a tidying trim, hummingbird feeders recommissioned, dormant oil sprayed on the fruit trees and a myriad other chores were completed. I also have an unexpected project which I will reveal in due course. Fingers crossed it’ll pan out and rise above all expectations. There’s a clue in that last line!

Open Day is less than two weeks away and things are coming together nicely. With warmer temperatures forecast this week, I expect the many plants bearing plump buds will burst forth in bloom. Timing is everything so lets hope all goes well. I really don’t want to tell visitors that they should’ve seen the garden a week earlier.

A week ago, our county,s Department of Fisheries gave out minnows for free as part of a mosquito control effort. We went and got ourselves some. They were put into the trough which could be much too small a container but certainly worth a try. Lets see. I desperately want it to work.

Regular weeding and deadheading has commenced in earnest. This really helps to stay on top of it and prevents that feeling of being overwhelmed. I’m also aiming to be more consistent with picture taking. While it seems as though I’m always taking a million photos, I often fail to capture key images and moments that will help me understand, appreciate and plan forward. Ditto making notes in my garden journal where its important to mention what tasks got done and whats in bloom each week. I generally start out well and then, about now, when it gets really busy, I procrastinate and end up giving up on journal entries all together. It’s not the worst thing to do but as one who likes keeping records, it just makes me feel bad to lapse.

And so it will go on as May 20 approaches – it’s all about getting ready for YOU. Hope to see you in my garden!

Note: This Friday and Saturday, May 12 & 13, I will be selling my notecards and products from the Printed Garden Collections at the PlantFest at TeaTpwn Lake Reservation. If you live in the area, DO NOT MISS THIS EVENT!

Also, I’m so pleased share that my painting ‘New World Symphony’ has been selected for the @katonahmuseumartistsassociation juried show ‘Rhythm, Rhyme And Harmony’. The exhibit runs from May 12 to June 9 @bethanyartsorg

All are invited to the opening reception this Friday May 12 6:00 – 8:00 pm.

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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May Power – Showers And Flowers

May is truly a frenzy of flowers is it not! And a turbine of tasks! We finally got some much needed rain this past week and it’s making planting that much easier.

I recently learned that the wild varieties of native plants like bergamot, coneflowers, milkweed and such tend to disappear in 3 to 4 years and therefore need to be replanted regularly. While I’d always known that the wild varieties are what attract the native pollinators, I was not aware that they need to be replaced so often. Plants and pollinators have co-evolved so all those fancier, more colorful new varieties of plants one finds these days are not recognized by their pollinators and hence, do not serve the purpose at all. The wild plants do not look as splashy but they’re the ones we must include in our gardens. So that’s what I’m re-planting in the meadow – I’d noticed a reduction of some of the plants last year and had wondered what had happened. Very glad to have been enlightened to correct the deficiency.

Here is the list of garden chores for this month –

 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 safe, organic 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! (It’s how I dispose off water used to cook pasta, boil eggs etc.,)
  10. Stay vigilant for pests or disease. The earlier you catch a problem, the easier it is to treat them. Always employ organic methods. Be judicious.
  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.

It’s now a mad dash to get the garden ready for my Open Day. Hope you’re coming!

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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This is a busy time in the garden for sure. All the mild weather has jump-started the myriad chores. With my garden’s Open Day less than a month away, it’s all hands on deck and no PTO! Though I do sneak in time to admire, inhale and revel in the spring flowers abounding everywhere.

With so much planting, potting, pruning and primping going on, I didn’t want April to get away without penning a poem. It is after all, National Poetry Month.

A Garden Is Waiting

A garden is waiting

In a simple seed

A blade of grass

The scent of a flower

The whistle of a reed

Quietly, patiently

A garden is waiting

-Shobha Vanchiswar

Wishing everyone days of satisfying garden work and may each day be a celebration.

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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April Antics

It’s been quite a week! It started pleasantly enough. Perhaps a few degrees above normal (which is what these days?!) but so comfortable to get things done. Then, the temperatures spiked – we had a heatwave! Almost 90 degrees for three days! With it already being so dry, the heat caused serious concern. Suddenly, watering the vulnerable plants was high priority. Spring plants that had begun blooming began to wilt. It broke my heart to see many of the daffodils so short-lived. Hardly seemed fair. The apple blossoms caught up with the pears and that is an unusual sight. I’m uncertain what that means regarding pollination and fruit formation but nevertheless it’s a pretty sight. And the tulips coming along nicely were jolted into bloom before they’d reached full height. All shorties in flower presently.

In the meadow, the fritillaria have also begun flowering. While they look good, they’re out of sync with the sedge that should be complementing the bobbing snakeheads with their sap green spikes of new growth. The sedge are not quite ready, As a designer and artist, I’m frustrated and disappointed. As a gardener, I’m gravely worried. But, there’s nothing immediate to be done about the current weather pattern so I’m here for the seasons beauty such as it is.

By weeks end, it had mercifully cooled off so the heavy work of emptying the greenhouse of all the winter residents could be accomplished. This task is truly physical – moving the big pots to their various outdoor locations is no picnic.

Each pot also gets a thorough tidying up. A proper trimming, removal of dead growth and any other necessary sprucing. Once every pot is installed in its spot for the season, they’re all given a good dose of organic feed. Helps them get on with the business of growing and flowering and/or fruiting.

It was a long, busy, tiring but very satisfying day. And then it rained at night. Hallelujah.

The very recently emptied greenhouse was cleaned of all winter detritus and is now housing several pots of dahlia tubers being pampered awake in rather cozy quarters. The top layer of the pots have been sown with seeds for micro-greens. I figure we can enjoy the nutritious leaves of peas, beets and broccoli in spring salads until the dahlia growth emerges through and takes over.

I still have other seeds like quince, cardinal vine and nasturtiums to start. The quince will be interesting as I’ve never started those before – they were a gift with an impressive provenance. The seeds are from quince that grows at the Metropolitan Museum’s Cloisters. I feel the pressure! The quince growing in my garden was obtained as a young plant from Hortus Gardens. I think I’ll ask them for advice.

This past week, I had the privilege of previewing the much awaited and immensely popular Lyndhurst Flower Show. It was wonderful. Each of the rooms were decorated by different floral artists resulting in a diverse array of creative, sumptuous, inspired displays. I loved it all. Three in particular stood out for me.

First, was the dining room flooded by the paper creations of lotuses by artist Sourabh Gupta and his team that took my breath away. So very original and beautiful. Do look up his work @sourabh_gupta

The there was the kitchen below – opulently festooned with flowers in bright citrus hues matched with similarly colored vegetables and fruits awaiting the deft hands of the cooks to create meals for the family upstairs, the room was just lovely.

Next door, was the servants dining room and it was adorned with a more simple, organic, free-form arrangement reflecting the humble nature of the space it occupied.

I really appreciated how the arrangements in both rooms were so marvelously interpreted by the individual artists. They spoke volumes.

The flower show was sold out for both days of its tenure. It gives me so much pleasure to imagine the many people who were cheered, awed and inspired by it.

All in all, it was indeed quite a week.

Note: Don’t forget to get tickets for my garden’s Open Day on May 20.

Some images from the Lyndhurst Flower Show and some from my garden right now –

The Dining Room-

The Servant’s Dining Room And the Kitchen –

A couple of other rooms –

In my garden –

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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April Flowers

Is April the new May now? That’s exactly what it looks and feels like doesn’t it? The season is moving at a pace I’m finding hard to manage – there’s too much to do all at once. What typically starts slowly with the sweet sightings of snowdrops and winter aconites shyly blooming and gradually picks up momentum as the days lengthen and the earth is coaxed awake has been replaced this year with the garden exploding into bloom like a runaway train. Mind you, I’m enjoying seeing what is in bloom every day but it is all too much too soon. Whatever will May look like?

And it has been very dry. No April showers thus far. Add the unseasonably high temperatures and here we are – under threat of brush fires. In my county, there have already been some minor fires in woods and preserves. Frankly, I’m nervous. At this rate, we could be facing moratoriums on watering which will of course lead to loss and damage to our gardens and fields. The potential for greater consequences cannot be overlooked.

I’m allowing myself the luxury of enjoying the flowers in bloom. The daffodils are having a divine moment – so joyous and celebratory. I cannot imagine anybody not smiling upon seeing them trumpeting in sunny hues. I do believe that daffodils are the sunflowers of Spring.

The early magnolias all over the area are spectacular this year. As were the cherry blossoms. It’s hard to complain in the presence of such beauty.

The temperature today hit 80 degrees. Predicted to go up to 84 tomorrow. And the day after. Yikes! That could mean the flowers won’t remain in bloom for too long. Makes me feel cheated. After all the back-breaking work of bulb planting in the fall and dreaming of the spring all through winter, it simply is wrong if one is not awarded the right amount of time to bask in the glory of bulb season.

The pear trees have started flowering and the later bulbs are rapidly emerging and growing. I’m hoping the bees and butterflies show up soon. No pollination, no fruit. I should probably put up the hummingbird feeders soon. Tender perennials like the bays, figs, agapanthus, brugamansia and such have been brought out from their winter dwellings a few weeks ahead of schedule.

Spring is my favorite season and I revel in the chores. Except this year, I’m feeling rather overwhelmed by how much needs to be done quickly. Everything everywhere all at once!

Peony supports are already up. Vegetable bed planted up with cool weather greens. Annual herbs potted up and set out. The watering system of the vertical garden is in full operation. By weeks end, the greenhouse will be completely emptied of the citruses and other tropical treasures. After a proper cleaning, said greenhouse will be housing dahlias in pots. The tubers in storage have survived all right and shall be reawakened in pots of fresh soil.

Despite my trepidation about climate change, I’m resolved to be present in the moment. This season of renewal comes by just once each year and I cannot waste it. Each day I’m making time to simply appreciate the flowers, the new growth, the birds and to certainly, take advantage of the warm weather to get things done.

The optimist in me is willing the weather Gods to ease up and bring back more seasonal temperatures and some life affirming rain. I couldn’t call myself a gardener by any measure if I didn’t think wishfully. It’s mandatory – says so in the Gardeners Handbook.

Note: Remember my Open Fay is May 20 – get your tickets and come visit

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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April Thrill

Ah April! A sweet, sweet month. The emergence of sap green shoots, bursts of color from early bloomers, the aroma of petrichor, the myriad birdsong all promising a new, beautiful season of growth and glory in the garden. April might well be my favorite month – it holds so much potential that in these four weeks everything one dreams is still fully possible. The very anticipation of the bounty to come keeps me in the highest of spirits. Finally relieved of heavy coats, one if free once again to feel the sunlight warmly caress our senses awake. There is nothing else quite as sublime.

As my hands sink into the still cold soil, the pleasure of getting back to tending my piece of earth reminds me as always what a privilege it is to have a garden.I start every new season in the garden by renewing my covenant with the earth – to do no harm.

A number of tasks got done this past weekend.

The recycling system for watering the vertical garden was given its annual servicing – cleaning, washing etc., and then it was up and running. This week, I’ll start adding in heuchera and ferns.

Two springs ago, I got a young magnolia to espalier into a fan. It has now grown significantly taller and needed the permanent supports to help it grow accordingly. My friend Lulu has a privacy screen of live bamboo. Said screen is managed judiciously and thinned out frequently. She generously provided me with the extra long poles needed for my magnolia. The supports are now installed and the fan is taking shape.

Birds were marauding the newly seeded handkerchief sized front lawn. They were feasting on the seeds and helping themselves to the hay for nest building. I didn’t mind the latter but I objected to the former. There is really plenty of other food available in the garden. My lawn, such as it is, is not an all you-can -eat buffet. Bright, shiny colorful balloons placed around this small space seems to have done the trick of keeping the opportunists at bay. Meanwhile, I suspect my neighbors are trying to figure out what we’re celebrating.

The pots of boxwood wintering luxuriously in the greenhouse were brought out. They will get a hair trimming after they’ve acclimatized to the outdoors.

All the labels on the fruit espalier have been refreshed – it looks smarter already. The labels on a Belgian fence espalier of assorted apples and fruit are important. You can imagine with all the crisscrossing branches, it can get very confusing to identify the different types of apples/pears.

Last fall, as a first time dahlia grower, I’d decided to let those tubers that were grown in pots, overwinter as is in the unheated basement. The same for cannas. All the pots were given a good awakening drink of water. With any luck, the dahlias will start showing growth in a few weeks. The canna had been resting alongside the figs, agapanthus and Brugamansia which receive the occasional splash of water all through the winter so they are actually already showing new growth which pleases me mightily. The winter was really so mild that one of the Brugamansia kept tossing out beautiful flowers the whole time. I hope this means that with all that practice, she performs exceptionally well this year.

It’s a delightfully busy time in the garden where plants, animals and gardeners are all working hard. My garden’s Open Day is May 20th this year – mark your calendars, clear your schedule, buy your tickets and come visit!

Here is the general to-do list for April

1. Time to restart the compost pile! Give it a good stir and add fresh compostables. If you don’t have a composter, please do make or buy one.

2. Clean up all winter debris.

3. Can you believe weed patrol begins now? Be regular about it and you will always be on top of this chore.

4. Seedlings started indoors can be planted out once the soil has warmed up and has been well prepared for planting. Stay vigilant for spells of late frost. Keep cloches and fleece covers at hand.

5. Attend to the lawn. De- thatch, aerate, reseed and finally, fertilize with a good layer of compost.

6. Similarly, feed trees, shrubs and all garden beds with compost.

7. Remove burlap and other protection from plants and pots.

8. Divide overgrown perennials.

9. Plant summer-flowering bulbs.

10. Remove any dead, damaged or diseased stems/branches from roses, other shrubs and trees.

11. Start using an organic control to put off slugs and snails.

12. Put out nesting material such as wool, moss, cotton string, shredded paper, small twigs, feathers and hay for the birds. Nothing synthetic or artificial please.

13. Uncover the outdoor furniture and give them a good cleaning. Now you’re prepared for the first truly warm day!

14. Plant or move evergreen shrubs and conifers.

15. Take the time to revel in the beauty of the bulbs and other flowers in bloom.

Note: I’m participating in an on-line art show. Do take a look –

Scenes from the garden –

(c) 2023 Shobha Vanchiswar

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