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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November Norms

‘November Norms’

November is a minimalist

Simply clad in earthy dress

Giving thanks with quiet grace

Nothing more, nothing less.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Things To Do In November

1. First and foremost, put away all Halloween decorations. Set up Thanksgiving display – gourds, pumpkins, corn husks, ornamental kale and cabbages, chrysanthemums and asters.

2. Having cut back plants and cleared debris, mulch all plant beds with those recently raked leaves.

3. Hurry up and finish all pending tasks from last month!

4. Finish planting spring flowering bulbs.

5. Protect pots to be left outdoors, vulnerable plants such as boxwood, certain roses, and garden statuary.

6. Fill bird feeders. Regularly!

7. Be prepared for snow and ice. Keep snow shovels, grit or sand, firewood stocked and handy.

8. In case of power outage, have candles, flashlights, matches and batteries on the ready. A hand-cranked radio too – this has been a real asset when we’ve lost power and Wi-Fi for a length of time.

9. Finish raking leaves only where necessary. Let the leaves remain wherever possible. I clear walkways and paths and my tiny ‘lawn’ which receives too many leaves that if left in place, completely smother and snuff out all the growth beneath.

10. Clean and store tools. Get appropriate ones sharpened.

11. Start setting aside seed and plant catalogs. Soon you will be planning for next year!

12. While the weather is pleasant enough, keep on weed watch!

13. In the greenhouse, be sure the heater is doing its job. Ventilation is also important to keep plants healthy.

14. Start a routine for regular watering of plants indoors. Keep vigil for early signs of pests or disease.

15. Start growing amaryllis and paperwhites for seasonal cheer. Similarly, put bulbs such as hyacinths, muscari , crocus and tulips in for cooling. (I use my refrigerator). In about fourteen to eighteen weeks, you can start forcing them and pretend it is spring!

16. Enjoy a beautiful Thanksgiving.

Note: I’m truly enjoying the earthy colors in the garden. Don’t miss the nasturtiums still blooming and a revival in a pot of primroses –

(c) 2022 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Gratitude Attitude

Finishing the job of putting the garden to bed generally coincides with Thanksgiving. It’s natural then that my mind, already in the throes of reviewing the past year ,takes on a more grateful outlook. All too often, whilst cleaning up and cutting down, I’m thinking about the problems and failures that occurred. What failed to thrive, pests that destroyed plants, weather related challenges, paucity of butterflies and/or bees, lack of time in the garden because of a bumper crop of mosquitoes … so many garden trials. And then, in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, just as most of the chores are completed, my attitude shifts. I’m in a state of gratitude for almost the very things that I was lamenting.

Just when the apple trees were poised to bloom in spring, a sudden drop in temperature pretty much closed down that show. I was really frustrated. No flowers meant no pollination and therefore no fruit. A real bummer. On recent reflection, I see how this setback made me that much more diligent in my care of the trees. I trimmed and pruned, fed and watered, checked for pests far more regularly than I had in recent years. I carefully nurtured the few apples that did develop. I’m determined to be prepared for unexpected cold spells next spring so I can protect the buds and give them a fair chance to flower.

We observed that this year there was a drop in numbers of butterflies in our region. I missed their usual company sorely. So, mid-bulb-planting, I made a dash to the nursery and picked up several butterfly/caterpillar friendly, native plants to add to the ones already in the garden. With so much to do both in and out of the garden, I probably would’ve let this action slide by unattended and simply continued to complain about the drop in butterfly population. Now, I can look forward to even more blooms in the garden and feel good about taking some positive action to help attract and nurture the winged dancers.

The heat and high humidity last summer made it quite unbearable to enjoy the outdoors. But the amount of bugs waiting to eat one alive, pretty much had us mostly stay indoors. I felt cheated and was very resentful. While going about my fall chores, I kept thinking about that. And then, I stopped. For next year, I have a good supply of an effective, natural bug spray to slather on and a couple of electric fans to keep me cool and bug free. It will not do at all to let another year go by without living in the garden as much as possible.

There are many other instances but you get the idea. The garden has given me a quick refresher course in how important it is to be patient, positive, resilient, understanding, accepting, pro-active, empathetic and most importantly, grateful.

Wishing everyone a beautiful Thanksgiving. May it be one of peace, love, blessings and fellowship.

Sharing a few favorite photos of the company I keep –

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Giving Thanks

For a year replete with so much dissidence and despair, I find myself overcome with gratitude as never before. With Thanksgiving two days away, it is not the meal that is uppermost on my mind but the simple fact that I’m present and accounted for. Everything that has brought me through the months up to this point has my deep, sincere thanks. Every single thing.

Ups and downs, good and bad, sad and happy, birth and death have all been experienced. What a year! As I look back, it’s painful to recall some events but, there have been celebrations as well. If anything, 2020 has exposed the raw reality of life. Nothing glossed over. All the trimmings of how we live have been stripped away to reveal exactly who we are. And that I see is the gift.

The’ pause’ button was pressed and a ‘reset’ was initiated. A new way of living was begun.

To arrive at this realization, I give full credit to the garden. I rediscovered my joy of gardening and paying attention to the lessons it teaches. With so many other plans and projects canceled or postponed, I had no need to rush to be elsewhere. I approached each garden task with the unfettered willingness to do it properly. I even had the luxury of time to take satisfaction in completing each achievement and fully appreciate every chore the garden provided. What I did in all other aspects of my life paralleled what I did in the garden.

As I pruned and cut back wayward branches, I reduced the personal to-do list to only what was essential. Nurturing the plants with a layer of rich, homemade compost directed me to make delicious yet healthy new meals for the family. I took the time to pay mind to the process of creating them. Vegetables, flowers and fruits from the garden were no longer assumed as given; they were admired and prized. I started appreciating my own near and dear ones anew instead of taking them for granted.

Finishing a big task in the garden invariably caused my body to express itself by way of aches and soreness. Rather than complain about the demands of the garden, I noticed how much more energy I had, how my strength had improved and how my mood was uplifted. I took to valuing my physical self instead of grumbling about its decline with each passing year.

In spending more time in the garden, I became acutely aware of the wildlife that enjoyed it with me. Stopping to watch a pair of wrens checking the bird house or a robin foraging for worms to feed its babies, had me breathing deeply and relaxing my muscles. I chuckled at the butterflies and bees vying for a drink from the same flowers. Noting a toad hopping around and then staying completely still once it felt my presence made me stand still as well. A few minutes observing its markings and cuteness instantly put me in a good frame of mind.

I spent many hours watching the birds – right here in my own garden, there are so many different kinds. Over the years, I’d forgotten how pleasurable it is to be in their company. Chipmunks flourished this year – while I was not elated about their presence, I couldn’t help being amused by their antics. A live and let live policy seemed to be good for us all.

All sorts of problems and conundrums got resolved when I weeded and watered. Lines for new poems came to me, I found the correct approach to responding to difficult emails, ideas for gifts or celebrations, resolutions to conflicts, working through worries were some of the personal benefits from these chores. I mourned, adjusted to new circumstances, celebrated, commiserated, vented and worked out dilemmas in the garden. A lot of joy, fears, sorrow, tears, laughter and anger have found expression in this beautiful space.

To garden is to live in hope. That tomorrow will come and it will be bountiful. This, I believe with all my heart.

The more time I had, the more I spent it in simply appreciating the garden. After all the years of being too overwhelmed, I was finally ready to paint my garden. Not simply individual flowers but actual parts of the garden. It was as though I had been liberated. Nay, I had liberated myself. The garden had, very quietly and gently, coaxed me to shed my doubts and uncertainties. I was free to create as I pleased and exactly how I saw it.

I’ve so enjoyed the day by day changes in the garden. I’ve learned as much about myself this year as I have about my garden. It’s an intimate relationship. Together we have grown to be more authentic, articulate and expressive. For which, my gratitude knows no bounds.

I sincerely wish each of you a safe, healthy, meaningful Thanksgiving. It might look and feel different this year but celebrate it we must. Gratitude begets happiness.

Note: Here is a collection of my garden paintings since the pandemic started. I will share the ones done in the autumn (and potentially this winter) another time.

Daffodils

The Light By The Woods

The Embrace

F meleagris

Tree peony

Remembering Spring

The phlox garden

Vertical Garden 1

Vertical Garden 2

A Peek Into The Potager

The Side Path

Nasturtium

Beauty In Passing. Hydrangea

Summer Collapsing Into fall

Amaryllis Social Distancing

(c) 2020 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

Planting Peace, Growing Gratitude

Two days to Thanksgiving. I love this holiday so much that I wait all year for it. A holiday spent with friends, family and food. A day to come together in gratitude and love – what could be more simple and pure?

Apparently not so simple for many. Holidays are fraught with anxiety for many. Confrontations, resentments and old wounds seem to surface at these times. We are advised to stay away from discussing politics, religion, relationships and gossip. Really, what else is left to talk about?!

Then, we complain about eating too much, drinking to excess, moving too little and feeling awful about it. Why do we repeat this pattern consistently? Surely we can do and be better.

Science has shown that activity and getting out in nature improves the disposition. A walk is a great solution but not everyone is able to get too physical. Besides, people break up into smaller groups and walk at different paces. It can become yet another opportunity to avoid certain nosy relatives altogether instead of connecting to everybody. Similarly, a good game of touch football is not for everyone. No worries, lets get the entire Thanksgiving party into the garden. We’re going to plant bulbs.

This weekend is the unofficial last call for bulb planting. Unless you reside way up north, the ground can still be dug up. While it’s too late for planting shrubs and trees, it is just fine for bulbs. So, get to the local nursery in a hurry and buy up all the bulbs you can afford. By now there might not be much choice left but they are often at very reduced prices. (You will plan ahead next year).

Select the part(s) of the garden where you would like the bulbs planted. Have gloves, dibblers, hand trowels, spades etc., ready and waiting. When your Thanksgiving crowd is gathered, let them know that you are starting a new tradition – a gratitude garden of bulbs. Divvy up the bulbs between all the participants. This is an activity for all ages. Not too strenuous and comes with the gentle instruction of keeping faith and hope. Making a garden is after all, about optimism and belief in a better tomorrow.

Adults will instruct kids, young can assist the old. Whether a trench is to be dug up for a multitude of bulbs or they must go into the ground individually amongst existing perennials, explain the simple rules of bulb planting – holes are three times deeper that the size of the bulb and they are planted pointy tip up. Small bulbs are easier for very small hands.

Suggest to each person that for each bulb they plant, they must privately count a blessing and/or bury a grievance. Encourage laughter and camaraderie. Typically, folk will get into the spirit quite naturally. Prior gardening experiences will be recounted, favorite bulbs declared and undoubtedly lead to further discussions on a myriad topics. One hopes.

In case of inclement weather – have everybody pot the bulbs up. The pots are to be kept outdoors in a sheltered area and towards the end of winter you will start noticing some tiny tips emerging. At this time you can either bring the pots indoors to hurry up the flowering or, leave them outside to bloom in due time. Either way, they will look gorgeous. You might also consider sending each guest home with a pot of bulbs of their own.

This project gets everyone interacting, builds healthy appetites and couldn’t be easier. PLUS, you get to anticipate a beautiful spring. At which time, you will take photographs to share with all your bulb planters. If you’re up for it, invite them all for a viewing!

Happy Thanksgiving from the bottom of my heart. Studies have proven that both incivility and kindness are contagious. So, lets make the choice to put aside our differences, hold hands and strengthen our bonds. Yes we can.

Note: I hope these images will inspire you to undertake the Thanksgiving bulb planting project!

Hyacinths
Daffodil
Tulips
Allium
Frittilaria
Iris

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Giving

Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday, holiday gift giving – ‘tis the season. It seems to be a flurry of assorted giving. Yet, I’m always struck by the limited, ephemeral nature of it all. Come January, we all resume focusing on ourselves and those resolutions. Somewhere in the frenzy of the holidays we lose sight of the true spirit of the season – kindness and goodwill to all that lives on earth. And that spirit should persist throughout the year no?

This past Thanksgiving, while considering my many blessings, I spent a while thinking about how each of those deserved awareness and appreciation every day. The people we value, the home, food, work, pets, health etc., influence our happiness at any given time. Surely then, I must express my gratitude consistently and not simply on that fourth Thursday of November? In addition, must I not reciprocate in action wherever possible?

So, that’s what I’ve resolved – to purposefully practice giving and gratitude all through the year. Starting immediately; not waiting for January 1.

On a daily basis, connect to all I encounter. Greet, appreciate, compliment, listen. Giving voice to every positive thought is the corollary to ‘if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all’. Too often we tell others about someone’s talent, good work or looks but we fail to tell the individual herself. No more. Everybody deserves to hear kind words about themselves. Even a smile makes a difference.

Ditto for pets.

Horticulturally -In the garden, I will consciously appreciate its quotidian offerings and beauty and not merely focus on what’s wrong or needs doing.

Once a week, I will reach out to someone who lives far away. In this day of electronic communications, there is simply no excuse to let relationships lapse. I hope my life is never deemed too busy that I cannot convey a simple hello, thinking of you or how are you to a friend, family member or even a shut-in neighbor. Baking an extra batch of cookies to drop-off or mail to someone is worth the effort. Share the bounty from the garden with a city-slicker or one who can no longer garden. If I’m going to do the work anyway, it’s really easy to do a bit extra.

Horticulturally – Joining a Community Supported Agriculture program is my way of appreciating local farmers – and am I thanked in return! The beautiful, organically grown vegetables are a weekly gift to my health and happiness.

I’ve long had it set up that a monthly donation goes to my favorite charities. This not only ensures that the recipients do not get overlooked but it actually means I give more than I would if it all happened once a year. Of course, certain other causes like disaster relief arise spontaneously and will be responded to duly.

For every service I rely upon, there is a person(s) who serves. So, each month one such individual will be the beneficiary in some small but meaningful way. Hand warmers left in the mail box for the postal carrier to enjoy on a cold day. A gift card for a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop for the dry cleaner. A tray of homemade cookies for my local nursery on a very busy plant buying day ( that’s usually the Saturday before Mother’s Day!). A gift card for a manicure for my cleaning lady. Actually, so many people come to mind that I might have to commit to two individuals a month! This in no way precludes holiday bonuses/gifts.

Horticulturally – visit a public garden. While they receive my membership/support, I reap the benefits of viewing, learning and relaxing. Similarly, visit private gardens through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program. I’m a long standing member of the Garden Conservancy and several public gardens but I don’t visit as often as I ought. That frequency must be improved.

Annual memberships to institutions like public gardens, museums, public television and radio are ways to sustain not only oneself but entire communities with a healthy quality of life.

Less on-line shopping and more local, small business shopping.

In keeping with protecting and nurturing the earth, something new that I’m adding to my efforts is that for every garden or home tool/gadget I buy or replace, I will plant a native tree either in the woods behind my property or other appropriate location.

I’m determined to walk the walk rather than just talk the talk at Thanksgiving. In the end, for all that I give, I’ll be so much more wealthy in what I receive. Merci, merci, merci.

Note: Speaking of gifts – please see the ‘Printed Garden’ and ‘ Botanical Note Cards’ merchandise. 100% of the profits goes to support the children with HIV/AIDS at the Mukta Jivan orphanage in India. I’m very proud of the ‘Printed Garden’ products and totally in awe of those children.

A few things for which I’m grateful:

Amaryllis. This was my ‘Amaryllis tree’

The children at Mukta Jivan orphanage. They inspire me.

Magnolias in bloom

Painting with artist friends in my garden

The gift of another birthday

Fall in New York

Walks with family

Thanksgiving and all other celebrations with family and friends

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

A harvest, a fruit

A forest, a tree

Abundance isn’t always

what the eyes see.

An open door, a glass of water

A sunny day, a summer shower

Simple respites

hold mighty power.

A stranger’s kindness, a child’s wave

A timely hug, a puppy’s lick

Gestures small in size

impact so big.

Love of family, support of friends

Reason to laugh, purpose to live

Immeasurable riches

sincere thanks to give.

Shobha Vanchiswar

Wishing each of you a Thanksgiving abundant in love, laughter and simple, honest pleasures.

Note: infuse a little art into your Thanksgiving weekend and make time to see “Points Of View” and “Inside small”. Hint – Works of art make beautiful, unique gifts.

Art Has The Potential To Unify. It Can Speak In Many Different Languages Without A Translator’ – Barbara Jordan, former Texas Congressperson.

Speaking of gifts – please see the ‘Printed Garden’ merchandise. 100% of the profits goes to support the children with HIV/AIDS at the Mukta Jivan orphanage in India. I’m very proud of the ‘Printed Garden’ products and totally in awe of those children.

Some of my watercolors evoking the season –

‘From The Pumpkin Patch’

‘Still life With Apple’

‘Still Life With Pears’

‘Still Life With Garlic’

‘Autumn Aura’

‘Burnished’

A ‘Printed Garden’ teaser –

Tea towels

Napkin and placemat

Table runner and napkins

Pillows

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar

Grow And Give

Stop Press! I’m in the NY Times!

Thanksgiving! I love this holiday. It elevates the concept of everyday gratitude to a national celebration. It also makes us accountable – how has the year been and how have we made the best of it? This holiday is an annual reminder that one ought to make every day matter. In doing so, we experience personal growth and consequently, have more to offer to the world.

The garden inevitably teaches me how to deal with the highs and lows. Adverse conditions like high heat, storms, drought and such might stunt or stop the plants from growing but, they take it in stride. As soon as the circumstances improve or let up they rally back and push forward. A shrub loses a good portion of itself in an ice-storm and the remaining part will compensate and thrive till the plant is restored and whole once more. A tree topples over in high winds causing some damage to the garden but the exposure to more sunlight promotes fresh plant growth and new opportunities to the gardener while the fallen tree itself enriches the soil as it decays and offers itself up to all sorts flora and fauna.

When the going is good, the garden provides an abundance that one must share. Be it inviting folk to came and enjoy the garden in full glory to taking a bunch of flowers to cheer up a neighbor or donating produce to a food bank. We give our thanks in actions.

The garden has been put to bed but accommodations have been provided for critters such as toads, butterflies, birds and bees ( and in all probability mice ) by way of the compost pile, some corners with leaf litter and/or wood piles, brambly shrubs near the woods and other sheltered hideaways.

On my part, I am grateful for so much. From monumental stuff like my family growing by the arrival of a second great-niece, launching my ‘Printed Garden’ collection, evolving in my art and participating in a record number of shows both solo and group, my poem being read at a community event, my efforts as a gardener getting recognition in the New York Times ( admittedly, I’m really kicked about this!), zip-lining over the rain-forests in Costa Rica to seemingly minor but no less significant events like vacations, reunions with family and friends, coaxing a finicky plant to flourish, reading some good books, seeing an amazing play, making new friends, discovering a new, now favorite restaurant, the list is actually endless.

That’s not to forget how much loss and suffering there has been nationally and internationally. I’m dropping off supplies for a few Thanksgiving meals at my local food pantry, shopping locally, renewing memberships to museums and botanical gardens, donating to the Red Cross, Salvation Army and to http://www.visitcalifornia.com/attraction/grateful-table . This last one helps the vineyards devastated by the fires in northern California. In giving, we grow.

A very happy, abundant Thanksgiving to each of you.

Enjoy the pictures of seasonal abundance:

(c) 2017 Shobha Vanchiswar