May Daze

At this point of the month, it hardly ever feels like it is still Spring. As if on cue, when the unofficial start of summer is declared on Memorial Weekend, the temperatures will rise, humidity will arrive and there will be a very summer-like thundershower. I deeply resent this annual phenomenon. Summer needs to stop muscling into Spring. After all, the season of rebirth and renewal still has at least three more weeks if not a month to go. And I would like to savor it fully.

Instead, Summer bullies her way in, puts paid to the late spring flowers just as they’re coming into their own. Case(s) in point – the alliums were standing tall and resplendent in their purple pompoms before the unwelcome heat and humidity quickly faded them out . They look like allium ghosts now.

The peonies in my garden start revealing their exotic beauty unfailingly at the approach of Memorial Day. And just as unfailingly, the temperatures get uncomfortable high and a heavy downpour will follow. The heat hastens the blooming and the rain madly tears out the petals leaving behind a sorry, sodden browning mess to clean up. I’ve learned to run out just before the shower and gather as many peonies to enjoy indoors. But we know well it’s just not the same. Cut peonies do not last as long and the plants outdoors look bereft. Truly sad.

The pair of native wisteria scrambling over the pergola bloom later than their Asian cousins. This is a trait I value because early Spring has so much to offer that waiting for the wisteria makes late spring more comparable. But, my joy at basking under the flower laden pergola or gazing swooningly at them from the rooms above, is short lived. The cruel heat rapidly toasts the racemes to a shade of gray causing petal fall that closely resembles the sorry, week old remnants of a ticker tape parade.

Indeed, resentful I am. But, having vented, I feel better. A tiny bit.

Note: Late May in my garden –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

[do_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

Why I Garden

Every now and then, but especially when I encounter events or people who are well known in the horticultural world, I reflect on my own life as a gardener. You know the sort of people, the kind who only use the Latin nomenclature and/or collect and grow mostly rare, special or exotic plants. Don’t get me wrong. As a scientist I’m very aware and respectful of scientific names of any plant, animal or thing. And as a gardener, I am thrilled to acquire an unusual or uncommon addition to my garden. I certainly understand passion or even obsession for particular plants. Unless I’m having an intellectual sort of discussion or need to be horticulturally clear or accurate in my speech, I prefer common names of plants. It then feels as though one is discussing mutual friends.

It’s the snobbery or elitism displayed by some that bothers me. When I periodically encounter such sorts of individuals, I take a step back to consider my own reasons for why or how I garden.

First and foremost, I see my role as a custodian of my little garden. It is a responsibility and privilege I take seriously and fulfill it to the best of my ability. I apply both my scientific understanding as well as my artistic skills to create and care for my garden.

Organic practices, water conservation, composting, installing mostly native plants, encouraging wildlife etc., are sound, science based principles that are fundamental to how I garden. Using shapes, forms, color, texture coming up with a design that is creative, innovative, beautiful and pleasing is where I apply artistic sensibilities. In the end, a garden must imperatively be an interactive, engaging space that appeals to our soul and all our senses. In communing with Nature, we are reaffirming our intrinsic connection to the natural world.

When I select plants, I do have fun finding unusual varieties of a well-known plant but only so it will add more to the interest and complexity of the design than to simply stand out as different or superior to the common types. There is room for the ordinary and extraordinary in the garden as it is in the world at large. It’s far more satisfying to share than show off my garden. Visitors to the garden, be they knowledgeable, experienced gardeners or novices, artists or art lovers, scientists or nature enthusiasts or city dwellers ( or a combination thereof) are all encouraged to engage however they are inclined. To sit and contemplate, walk around slowly and examine in detail, take innumerable photos of everything or just one captivating flower, make copious notes, settle down to sketch or paint, sit or stretch out to read or nap, it is all good. That’s precisely what a garden should do. At any given time, I myself gratefully indulge in any one of those activities.

Ultimately, it is to stay connected and engaged with Nature is why I garden. To understand my place in the bigger context. It really is as simple as that.

Note: Some images from the garden right now. It’s heavy on the meadow because that’s where I’m totally entranced at present!

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

[do_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

Universe! You Did Hear Me!

What a weekend it was – packed to the gills with events, I’m finally coming up for air. Friday and Saturday was the PlantFest at Teatown Lake Reservation where for some years now, I’ve participated as a vendor to sell my soft home furnishings. 100% of the profits are donated to deserving causes and that’s my strong motivation to do what I do – using my art to create beautiful, useful products in order to raise funds for projects I believe in. This year, the ACLU and Doctors Without Borders are my chosen causes. If anyone is interested in my products or in supporting the two causes, please use the link provided above and make your purchases on-line.

Now, at PlantFest, folks primarily come to make a beeline to the plethora of plants available from some pretty amazing growers. So to purchase anything else is not a priority. I participate because Teatown itself is a very special place of nature and deserves to be supported. PlantFest is an important fund raiser. As an opportunity to sell my products, it is less than ideal. But, every item sold helps the big purpose. I did okay. What is gratifying are the people who return every year to buy Mother’s Day gifts. That is definitive endorsement and I sure feel good about it.

On Friday, it was tough – cold and rainy weather had everybody wishing for time to fly. The thought of a hot shower tantalized relentlessly. Finally, at 7:00 pm we were able to go home. But that hot shower had to wait.

Last minute garden work awaited – that final effort to get the garden as ready as it could be for Open Day on Saturday.

So, in the drizzle and cold, I deadheaded, weeded and neatened up the garden for another hour and a half. Satisfied, I finally went in for shower, sustenance and sleep. I couldn’t dare to consider the weather for Saturday.

Well, the Universe heard my pleas – Open Day could not have asked for better weather. Sunshine! Blue skies! Warmer temperature! Not too warm but perfectly comfortable. Hallelujah! While I anticipated the visitors I reveled in the sunshine. It felt heavenly.

And the garden truly rose to the occasion. It looked so beautiful even if I say so myself. As all gardeners know, all we can do is our best and the rest is up to Nature. Over a 100 visitors came and time passed quickly. I so enjoyed meeting everybody. It never ceases to impress me that they take the trouble to come to my little garden. Some had visited a few years prior and had liked it so much to return – that cannot but touch my gardener heart. Meeting new people is invariably fun as friendships get forged this way. And boy did we gossip about plants, gardens and gardening! And maybe about certain gardeners! All in all, a perfect Open Day. Thank you all for visiting – my deepest gratitude.

The day ended with our traditional pizza party with close friends arriving after Open Day hours to get their own private viewing and to linger on into the night eating, drinking and being merry. Sublime.

Note: The baby robins in the nest above the dining table on the terrace had grown and flown in time! So we could use the table guilt-free!

Sunday was Mother’s Day. And the rain had returned but not for the entire day. While it was not really busy or hectic, it was delightfully eventful. I feel extremely blessed.

I’ve given myself a well earned break this week. No gardening. Except for the planting of seedlings. Maybe a bit of routine weeding. Keep up the deadheading. The edgers of the beds in the herb garden could use some straightening. A little re-potting. The tiny front lawn will need mowing. The lilacs look done so maybe get the pruning over with? Ha! What am I thinking? There’s simply no rest for the wicked and the good don’t need any do they?!

Note: Some pictures from Teaown’s PlantFest and my Open Day –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

[do_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

Opening The Garden

It’s the final stretch – Open Day is this Saturday! All the last minute frenzy is happening. Fussing and faffing, mowing and moving, planting and panting. Since the weather forecast has a chance of rain for Wednesday through Friday ( fingers crossed for Saturday), the deadline to get ready is really sunset today. Madness!

I know it’ll all get done but there’s always that final push and panic. The adrenaline is high and truthfully, I’m super excited to welcome the visitors so we can gossip and commiserate on all things garden. I hope you are planning on dropping by?

If the race to get the chores for May haven’t been addressed as yet, here is the list –

  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 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.

Get cracking!

In the garden right now tulips are having their moment!

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

[do_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

Flowering May

The pace in the garden has picked up by leaps and bounds. It feels as though the plants are all coming up at the same time. I sincerely hope not! The temperatures this week are projected to be unseasonably high so there’s no telling what will happen. The tulips are at their peak prettiness and I’m keeping my fingers crossed they will not succumb to the heat. I desperately want to enjoy them for a while longer.

The apple blossoms have joined the pears at the espalier fence. Their frothy exuberance is irresistible to the bees and I can’t be more pleased. In the meadow, just as the daffodils are waning, the ornithogalum have stepped forward. The white bells nodding sweetly are such good place holders for the drama of the alliums coming up soon.

With flowers unfurling everywhere, the birds have been busy. It sounds as though they’re mostly busy chattering but I know they’re focused on nest building and raising their young. The chandelier in the pergola has been comandeered once again by robins. Three turquoise blue eggs repose in a nest built from material found in the bin that holds garden waste headed for the compost heap. I notice dried leaves of brugamansia and papery flowers of hydrangea. All no doubt carefully selected by the discerning robins. I’m impressed.

This past weekend, as I went about our gardening chores, I was made acutely aware that my presence anywhere within a 3 foot radius of said nest was highly disapproved. I did my best to give space but the table under the chandelier is key to doing the potting up of small to medium plants, shaping the small topiaries and such. If only there was a way to assure the robins that I’d never harm their babies and would instead do my best to protect them.

Until eggs are hatched and babies are grown and flown, we will not be using this area for al fresco meals and gatherings. The birds have no idea how much they’ve inconvenienced us and nor do they care. We can empathize.

Sitting well away from the pergola and sipping a much needed cup of coffee I was given the pleasure of seeing my first hummingbird of the season. Only just a bit earlier I’d wondered if these tiny treasures had returned and if it was time to put up the feeders they enjoy so much. They have and it is.

I’m almost breathless keeping up with all the garden goings on. May begins tomorrow and the flowers are here. Lets hope Open Day on May 11 will be abundant with all the blessings for everyone to enjoy.

Glimpses of the garden right now –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

[do_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

Parallel Processing

Working on two deadlines at the same time is anything but dull. The pressure is on full throttle – final stretch to Lyndhurst In Bloom which happens this weekend and less than a month to my garden’s Open Day. Both are very personal to me as they speak of my philosophy, my creativity and skills. In both cases, I’m aiming to share whats important to me – the natural world that deserves to be appreciated, admired and protected at all costs. Along the way, we find joy, laughter and comfort.

In the garden, given the vagaries of the weather, it’s been slower than I’d like. Between cold and rain, I’ve had to be cautious about bringing out plants from the greenhouse and/or planting too soon. This past week, I focused on replacing groundcovers that had simply run their course. In the garden, perennial doesn’t mean forever. They come back every year but many will eventually run their course and peter out over time.

This was the case with a favorite of mine – Mazus reptans. Originally planted along the side path that connects the front and back of the garden, it had faithfully performed spectacularly. But over the last couple of years, it started losing momentum and finally, very little showed up last spring. This is a very pretty garden stalwart. Undemanding, requiring no direct sunlight it carries on. Diminutive leaves delicately scalloped around the edges form fresh mats that knit together to beautifully cover the earth. The flowers come up a bit later in spring and look like small moths charmingly speckled in purple and white. So very pretty. After the flowers, the green carpet remains and serves for rest of the growing season.

It was a joy to find them in my local nursery and plant them in on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the creeping phlox in the checkerboard garden had been challenged by moss that wanted to take over. Last years wet summer had clearly favored the moss. So much of the moss got removed and new phlox was added to the ones that remained. This garden will have to be reexamined as it is entirely possible that conditions have changed more permanently with surrounding trees and shrubs casting more shade along with all the rain we seem to be getting lately. For now, the new phlox will do. I must research some other interesting yet suitable alternatives.

Opposite from attending to spring chores, is my project on seedpods for Lyndhurst In Bloom. A wholly different season and still so very interdependent. The diversity, sheer beauty and genius designs in packaging so well suited to how the seeds are dispersed is breathtaking. I’ve learned so much through my efforts at painting them. But as I created some arrangements this past weekend, I found myself learning more about how exactly those designs functioned. Quickly meshing into a network or snagging a hold on a neighbor just to get a bit of leverage, quivering at the slightest disturbance, using its sticky seed coat to attach firmly till its safe to open and send its seeds out into the world. They all wait patiently for the rain, wind or critters to help them. Some, do it on their own via ballistic action or gravity. And in each, the circle of life carries on. Just brilliant.

In all the busyness, I’ve been mindful about taking the time to enjoy the process. Giving each task due attention is imperative. Because to have a garden to work in is a privilege. To have the opportunity to show my art is a gift. To share both garden and art is a blessing. I’m aiming to deliver with Grace.

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

[do_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

Spring Fever

What a week that was. From Monday through Thursday it rained continually. The brief breaks permitted only quick walks to get the blood flowing. No garden work was possible. Then, come Friday, the sun shone bright and we were surprised by that earthquake – no damages but it was certainly scary to feel the house and all its contents shake and shudder. And funnily enough, a solitary snakeshead Fritillaria popped up. I’m convincing myself that the tremors jolted it awake. An after shock was felt in the early evening. All very unsettling.

Still on the subject of out of the ordinary happenings, the much anticipated North American Solar Eclipse happened yesterday. We got up to 90% of totality in our area. Unlike other prime viewing locations, we were not hindered by clouds until after. There’s something special about the shared experience of entire groups/communities gathered to experience an event well beyond their control and devoid of all the differences so rampant these days. Together we acknowledged not only our humanity but also our humble place in the mighty, magical, wondrous and ever-expanding cosmic universe. That’s extraordinary.

The past weekend was thankfully dry and even had periods of sunshine. But it was cold and windy. Felt more like March of the old days. There is no new normal as yet. However, some garden work got down. New plants to replace lost ones got planted, the watering system for the vertical garden was turned on after the whole apparatus was cleaned and serviced and, the peony rings were put in placed. Other tasks that were on my agenda had to be tabled as it was simply too cold. Inevitably, when chores get delayed, I start feeling the pressure of falling behind. Especially with Open Day less than a month away. There’s plenty to do. At the same time, I’m working on my installation for Lyndhurst In Bloom coming up in less than 2 weeks. Exciting and anxiety ridden.

The poem below, written some years ago, sums up what the gardener experiences every year –

Spring Cleaning

Sweep away detritus

Winter’s wild remnants

Prune roses

June’s dress code

Straighten borders

Summer edges to spill

Outside order

Inside peace

Clearing, cutting

Room to breathe deep

Opening, widening

Minds broaden fast

Plants get bigger

Spirits grow higher

Colors multiply

Senses infused

Days lengthen

Smiles brighten

Outdoor classroom

Paradise within.

-Shobha Vanchiswar

Note: While I’ve been very focused on meeting project deadlines, it has been wonderful to take walking breaks in my neighborhood. The images below are from this morning –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

[do_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

April Showers, April Flowers

Hello April – we’re expecting all of this first week to be rainy. Can’t say I’m terribly pleased. Too much of anything is not good. Yet, we must carry on with the garden duties. The number of activities ramp up hence forth. Best to get a move on regardless of the weather.

Things To Do In April

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.

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 in bloom.

As I took my daily walk around the garden this morning, eager to see what has sprung up overnight, I once again couldn’t help being amused by the emerging scalloped leaves of the columbines. This wayward charmer does not like being told where to live. Not a single one of my plants remains where planted. Instead, they chooses their own locations with no regard whatsoever for the fragile ego of their gardener. The most unlikely of sites are perked up by their random selections. Truth be told, yhey truly know better than I – the garden looks all the better when the lovely, spurred flowers surprise the visitor. Sometimes, knowing ones own mind and ignoring others can be a very good thing. From the photos below, you’ll see that it appears they like being between a rock and a hard place!

Note: Do remember Lyndhurst In Bloom and Open Day are fast approaching. Don’t miss!

A few glimpses of what’s blooming in the garden right now as well as proof of where the columbines have chosen to grow.

Columbines –

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

[do_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

Learning On The Grow

The more I garden, the more I learn. There’s never a point when one feels all gardening knowledge is now acquired. It’s quite the opposite isn’t it – there’s so much I still don’t know. It’s what keeps a gardener excited and curious. And humble,

Curiosity is what drives me to experiment with new plants and projects. What thrives is cause to celebrate. What does not is never a failure because they teach us about the whys, whats and hows of the living world. We discover our own humanity.

In the course of creating my garden, the countless life lessons, the personal growth of mind and spirit and, the practical understanding of the natural world sustain me and give me the courage to live larger, take chances, stretch my skills outside the garden. So every new thing I learn as a gardener enriches every aspect of life. What a blessing.

Late last summer, I beheld a gorgeous plant at the Cornell Botanical Gardens. With a statuesque, bold silhouette, it called attention unabashedly. With strong burgundy-plum stems, heart-shaped, multi-lobed leaves glistening in the sunlight, the plant bore large, creamy yellow flowers with a crimson center. On closer examination hung long, tapering fruit capsules also colored maroon-plum. I coveted it instantly. It was a variety of okra!

I then noticed the more common green okra that is equally beautiful. Together the two look quite spectacular and peak at a time when so many plants are beginning to tire. While I enjoy okra ( there are many non-slimy ways to enjoy it) very much, I’m going to try growing them as ornamentals. Having obtained the seeds, I’ll start them indoors next month. Can’t wait to see how successful I’ll be. Fingers crossed. FYI – in India, okra is also called Lady’s Finger!

More recently, on a visit to Wave Hill, drooling over the cascades, pools and rivers of scilla in bloom, I expressed aloud how much I wished the scilla in my meadow would self-seed and naturalize as rampantly. Wave Hill gardener Harnek Singh told me that the effect was achieved by actually collecting the seeds and scattering them over the areas. Planting them as bulbs would either require planting thousands of them or waiting an interminably long time for them to multiply. Seeds! I must get them!

Something else I learned from Harnek on that visit was that yucca can be grown in my zone and cutting them down in the fall is a good way to manage the plant size.

Finally, along the entry path at Wave Hill, I noticed for the first time a feature that’s actually been there for some years. Sedge being used to hold a low embankment as the land slopes down to the path on one side. As the photograph below testifies, it looks so interesting and effective.

The four new things learned have given impetus to introduce some novel late summer flair with the okra – scheduled to happen this year hopefully, early spring beauty of scilla – but that will come into its own only in a couple of years after the seeds establish, grow and the plants mature. Meanwhile, I shall seek a variegated yucca to brighten a blah spot in the garden. I don’t have immediate need to use the sedge in the manner of Wave Hill but rest assured it will be applied when the opportunity arises in either mine or a client’s garden!

This is my kind of exciting. Growth in the garden as well as the gardener.

Reminder! Lyndhurst In Bloom and my Open Day cometh! Make your reservations!

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

[do_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]

Spring Up!

Happy Spring! The first day of the season and as if on cue, the daffodils have begun the celebration. I cannot recall the last time there was so much early growth on this day. Despite the uneasiness, I can’t help but feel eager to see what’s popped up overnight. And this year, the season has hit the road running. The snowdrops are done but the Hellebore. Crocus and Scilla have been dancing gaily for several days already. The Daffodils have just joined in. The party has begun. Even the birds are raucously going about their business of disturbing the morning quiet earlier in the season than ever before. Note to self – clean out the birdhouses so new tenants can move in!

Feeling cautiously optimistic, this past weekend, we began the seasonal chores in earnest. The arrival of 5 young ( two years old) apple trees to replace ones we’d lost over recent years in the espalier spurred us into action. The weather was mild enough, the soil quite pliable to plant and so it seemed foolish to wait.

This in turn led to chores like digging up some boxwood that had been struggling the last few years. While new replacements will be procured, the evicted plants will be given a go with some TLC and cossetting in pots to see if they might come around. I do hate just tossing plants away.

The large pots were dragged out of winter storage, positioned in their rightful locations and filled with fresh soil and compost. They will be duly planted up next weekend. It’s best to work systematically and mindfully. I’ve learned not to rush. Though all of a sudden I’m beginning to feel the pressure of the myriad tasks that must get done ahead of the garden’s Open Day on May 11. The work of getting ready for my installation at Lyndhurst In Bloom is also underway. The weekend of April 20 is only a month away!

The juggling act requires not only a good deal of organizational skills but a good sense of humor to boot. Admittedly, it’s all exciting.

As I schedule out my chores, I imagine gardeners everywhere doing the same. Making lists, trips to the local nursery, extensive searches online for plants and such, examining the garden closely. But mostly, I allow myself to feel a sense of camaraderie where, in the guise of gardening, we indulge in the sheer joy of once again being out in the garden. It is our happy place.

Together, lets make this a very happy, healthy and productive Spring.

This week in my garden:

(c) 2024 Shobha Vanchiswar

[do_widget “Blog Subscriptions (Jetpack)”]