Saying Grace

Thanksgiving week has arrived and all the chatter is about where one will celebrates, what will be served and how much will be consumed. At some point, what we’re thankful for might be shared. Despite this being such a favorite holiday, the reason for it gets somewhat lost. I’ve learned that any lengthy discussion on gratitude is viewed as too sappy. I get it. What one person is grateful for is not that interesting to everyone else. But, surely, is it too much to ask of ourselves to give due consideration for our blessings? This is not about religion, commerce or God forbid, politics. It’s simply about life. In a world gone mad, pausing to appreciate what we have is an act of pure grace. That gives perspective to where we are and what we’re living through. This is a shared, sacred experience.

I’ve got my own private ritual at Thanksgiving. I take a walk during which I think about the year (almost) gone by. In doing so, the difficult or particularly challenging events come up right away. These are the things that seem to overshadow everything else and are not so pleasant to relive. However, I’ve noticed that as soon as I confront those memories, the people or circumstances that help(ed) in solving or coping with each challenge also show up. That’s not to say that things were not bad or to minimize the pain, Rather, it is acknowledging the truth, accepting the reality but also seeing the good that was exposed in helping us deal with the struggle. The helpers, the intangible shifts for the better, the solutions that came in unexpected guises are the blessings for which I’m grateful. The growth as a result of each such experience, the hindsight that instructs on the hows or whys, the strength and understanding that comes from it all cannot and should not be undervalued.

There are of course the clearly joyous moments and happenings that makes me feel very grateful. People and possessions, music and miracles, art and amity, the many celebrations and successes – the list is long because there are always things that are good. And cannot, must not be taken for grated.

In the midst of all the noise and chaos, there is one thing that has unfailingly kept me anchored and given me guidance, purpose, sanctuary, perspective and solace. My garden. The science of the positive impact of time spent in the great outdoors is in – it confirms what humans have always known – that Nature is the best counselor there is. And it is free for all and sundry. We just need to pay attention.

So, in essence, among all the many blessings I’ve been given, my own piece of Nature is a mainstay. My wellness of mind, body and spirit depends on it. I’m constantly learning and growing as a person because of it. The garden embodies all that is true and sacred. A space of Grace.

I wish each and everyone a very blessed Thanksgiving. I hope that you too will find your place of peace in a garden, park, lakeside or seaside, mountain top or woods somewhere.

Garden images spanning the year thus far –

January snow

January beauty indoors

February snow

February growth

March indoors

March

April flowers

Forsythia brought inside

May in the meadow

May flowers

June roses

June

July at the feeder

July promise

August exuberance

August aflutter

September exotica

October dahlia

October Diwali celebration

November in gold

November indoors

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

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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

 

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

Garden Gazing

May is a big party. Flowers bursting forth everywhere, birds furiously foraging to feed their babies, bees determinedly dive bombing the blooms while butterflies resort to flirting instead. The sort of reward I wait for all year. For all the work and attention I provide there’s got to be some reciprocity right?! And I’m here for it.

On waking up each spring morning, I peer outside eager to take in the beauty that awaits. With every new wave of blooms, there’s an overwhelming sense of joy that is hard to contain. I spend my time gazing and gloating, taking hundreds of photos, inviting friends to come and see and then taking pleasure watching their reactions. It’s reason to celebrate.

Now that the big tasks of the season are completed, it is important to make time to revel in the garden. Tomorrow, a few artist friends are coming up from NYC and we’re all going to paint in the garden. It’s been a while since we got together so I’m very excited. Friends drawing inspiration together. Hopefully, there will also be some gossiping amidst all the gazing.

After the very hot and humid weekend, we are back to cooler temperatures – I can’t tell you how I relieved I am. It means the flowers will linger around longer in the garden. And so shall I.

Making the most of this time is crucial. In the depths of winter, it’s those recollections that sustain the spirit. It’s not the work we remember but the sheer joy of reveling in the beauty of the garden. There’s much satisfaction to be had in knowing one did not let the opportunity go wasted.

Note: A few images from this past week –

(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

 

As The World Turns

Through the ages, gardens have been extolled as places that nourish ( literally and figuratively), comfort, heal, soothe, instruct, delight and nurture. The one who gardens gets the most from the garden. There is a sacred intimacy that exists between garden and gardener. Yet, as in any relationship, discord can creep in.

The gardener can one day come to the realization that he/she has become disenchanted. The act of gardener starts feeling like more work and far less pleasure. As soon as one becomes aware of this, it is time to pause and reassess. A shift has taken place to cause an imbalance. Best to understand why, what and how before the situation gets worse.

Often, the simple answer is one’s health or age or both. Loathe to confess to oneself that things have become difficult, a gardener keeps persevering but the joy that he once derived is diminished. It’s not fun anymore and it’s not easy to admit it.

This came to light at a recent discussion with some fellow gardeners. While lack of time to work to ones hearts content in the garden was a much repeated refrain, probing further revealed obvious health setbacks but even more relevant ,was the toll the natural passage of aging takes. And that’s tough to accept. After all, one isn’t feeling old. The fact is that in either case, health or age, the mind is willing but the flesh is weak. So it got me thinking about it and the evolution of our relationship with our gardens

Evolution. That is an important process that includes both garden and gardener. The two must evolve with time – to remain static is not natural. How we make a garden changes as we understand more about the science of horticulture, the invention and discovery of new tools, practices and methods. With shifting weather patterns, we must respond by way of what we choose to plant, how we use water and commit to organic practices. We invite in more wildlife to restore a healthy balance of native flora and fauna. I see this as encouraging nature to call the shots and respond with nurture only as necessary and appropriate.

With time, the gardener must adapt to aging. Growing old is inevitable but that in no way means we cease to do that which we deeply love. It merely requires a shift in attitude and a willingness to accept certain inevitable developments. From less energy and/or strength to the challenges of arthritis or other ailments, it is hard to do what one could when younger. That is A okay. We don’t need to garden harder. Instead, we garden smarter.

For starters, native and ecologically beneficial plants are hardy and far less demanding. They bring in the native fauna. Installing water baths and bird, bee and bat houses also helps. This natural pest control means the gardener, whilst remaining vigilant, needs to do less. Similarly, mulching with compost and bark chips translates to less watering and weeding and, no other fertilizer application.

Raised beds are a good solution for those who can no longer kneel or bend comfortably. Replacing or reducing expanses of lawn with more plants or other appropriate native groundcover is not just a way to reduce the upkeep but is vastly healthier for the environment. There are now available ergonomic tools to make it easier on the hands and back.

Finally, it is perfectly okay to delegate tasks that have become difficult to perform. Ego or plain stubbornness has no place in the gardener’s attitude – by now, he/she should have learned humility from mother nature.

In the end, we gardeners and our gardens will grow old gracefully together. It’s a beautiful thing.

Notice how all the measures stated will also free up some time? Those who complain about lack of time have no excuse anymore!

Reminder! Have you pre-registered for my Open Day? Do it soon – numbers are limited. Thanks!

Note: My garden is springing awake!

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar