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 The spring chores in the garden are amping up as the weather gets warmer. Cool weather greens are planted, much of the clean up is done, pots from the greenhouse are gradually being moved out, topiaries and other candidates given a neatening up trim, new purchases planted in the ground, outdoor furniture reinstated, plants in need re-potted, the list is endless! It’s easy to get completely absorbed in the tasks.

But, take a breather and get out of your garden. Get thee to your local public gardens. There is much to delight and inspire. I promise. Something I particularly enjoy in making these forays are the flowering trees and plants that my own garden cannot sustain. Like big magnolias. Or entire hillsides of a particular plant in bloom. In making a practice of visiting 21those gardens for such specific visual pleasures has given me a sense that in some way they belong to me. And to you. Thats the genius of public gardens – they belong to us all. /Knowing I’m a member of the NYBG and Wave Hill or consistently supporting gardens like Untermyer gardens which are free to everyone, allows me to have a personal sense of pride in their success. I play a part in making this beauty happen.

This past week, I visited both Wave Hill and the NYBG. Wave Hill has a spectacular blue moment every spring. A hillside of scillas sets the stage for the season just unfurling. To me, it looks as though the heavens tipped over all the stars to give us this cascade of twinkling blue. In the sunlight, the hill sparkles. A brief show that is worth waiting for all year long.

My own meadow has scillas naturalizing and mingled with the opening daffodils, the splashes of blue and yellow is one of the most joyous sights of early spring.

While at Wave Hill, I also stopped to admire the many hellebores in bloom all through the gardens. I do not have the real estate to house such a vast collection but they give me reason to appreciate what I do have. Observing the various areas yet to emerge was comforting to this impatient gardener. Wave Hill being further south from my garden is a week to a couple of weeks ahead of mine in bloom time. It’s like getting a preview of what’s to come.

And new ideas are borne – last year, Wave Hill gardener Harnek Singh (@plantstani), created a window-box of succulents that was pure inspiration. Along with my daughter ( a budding succulent collector), we are designing our own window-box and have an ideal location for it. Stay tuned!

At the NYBG, I took advantage of Members Preview day and got to see the Kusama exhibit. The show was scheduled for last year but got put off for obvious reasons. This artist’s work has given me, also an artist, much to think about. Do try and see the show – appointments required.

Here again, there were personal bonuses – the many daffodils and trees in flower! Simply breathtaking. One cannot help but feel joyous in the presence of magnificent magnolias and cherry blossoms.

Similarly, there is a magnolia down my street that gives me enormous pleasure every spring. It belongs to a neighbor but grows right by the road – so for all conceivable purposes, it belongs to everybody. While it is in bloom only!

My Belgian fence espalier of apples and pears is getting ready to bloom. The pears flower ahead of the apples. In a good spring (one with no sudden cold snap or unseasonal heat), this fence in bloom is glorious. Just as grand and exciting as anything anywhere I believe.

This week, I’m aiming to visit Untermyer Gardens to revel in Daffodil Hill’s display. Thousands of daffodils loudly trumpeting the glory of spring. If you have a hillside, do please create your own show. I’m happy to live vicariously and would love to visit. Meanwhile, I invite you to come and be inspired by my Untermyer Gardens. After all, my support played a small part in this spectacle.

Note: Due to Covid-19 restrictions, please check the websites of each public garden to learn about timings and requirements for reservations/appointments.

Mother’s Day is fast approaching. Shop my Printed Garden Collection for beautiful, useful gifts!

At Wave Hill –

Hellebores

More hellebores

Swathes of scillas

Setting up my topiaries

Window-box

More topiaries

The magnolia on my street

NYBG –

A Kusama sculpture

My assortment of hellebores

Some of my scillas and chionodoxas with daffodils

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

Snow Show

The Northeast is smack dab in the midst of a big blizzard. After last year’s mild winter with hardly any snow, it feels strange to be anticipating 20 inches of it. The gusts of wind turns the falling snow into a spectacle of whirling dervishes. Pretty awesome.

From the warmth and security of the indoors, I’m enjoying this performance art that Nature is executing so expertly. How grateful I am not to have anyplace to get to. In this whiteout situation the only thing to do is to call it a ‘snow day’ and make the most of it. With WFH in place, it might feel as though it is business as usual but I’m determined not to let it be so. It would be a shame to waste the opportunity to make hot chocolate, change ones office location to a cozy spot by a roaring fire and get outside to tramp around in the snow. After hours of screen time, the bracing effect of standing in the falling snow even for a few minutes is stimulating. Chances are, one will want to play – snowball fights, making snow-angels or snow-person building contest anyone?

As I watch the beautiful winter scene outside, I’m reassured that the dormant plants are safely insulated under the thick blanket of snow. I like to imagine that the seeds of wildflowers scattered by the wind and critters last fall will rest comfortably until the snow-melt gently coaxes their parched coats awake. Already, I can envision the meadow come alive with many more flowers this spring.

Watching the trees sway and shake in the fierce wind is a tad unsettling. Much damage is possible if one falls. Fingers crossed the trees are all healthy and firmly rooted. In the spring I’ll be sure to find interesting branches sprinkled around the floor of the woods. They will make good stakes and tepees for gangly plants in need of support. This year, I’m going to earmark a couple of good ones to use in outdoor decorating projects. Ostensibly we are all still going to only gather outdoors through the better part of this year. So, why not plan to make the terrace more festive?

The plants in the greenhouse are safe thus far but I’m constantly worrying about their heat supply. What if the propane tanks get depleted more quickly? Or, what if there is a technical glitch that fails to inform that the temperature in the greenhouse has dropped too low? Having a greenhouse can be both a blessing and a curse. Still, I’m very grateful for my tiny extravagance. Okay, okay, it’s a folly of sorts.

I make a note to myself to remove most of the snow around the fruit trees after the storm. A few winters ago, rodents made themselves cozy under the snow and had a good feast on the cambium at the base of some trees leaving a few of them completely girdled. It was heartbreaking to lose them. Replacing trees within a mature Belgian espalier is not easy or inexpensive. I’m forever determined to thwart those tree murderers. If I could, I’d banish them for all eternity but living in the ‘country’ makes that pretty much impossible.

Something to bear in mind – observe how the snow melts in the garden. As the garden resurfaces, it’ll become clear which parts are more sunny or sheltered. It isn’t always as obvious as one might think. Often, we fail to notice changes as trees grow or die or, new constructions come up. But, noting the speed with which snow disappears in certain locations and lingers on in others, tells you the different micro-climates within the garden. This information is very useful when choosing plants and designing beds.

In my garden, there are patches a mere two feet apart where the snow responds to the warming temperatures very differently.

I love the way snow silently traces over the elements and features in the garden. Almost like black and white pictures, they render the designs prettily. Any gap or lack of interest shows up clearly as though pointing out where one needs to remedy or improve the composition.

Snow brings out such emotions in us. We are awed, pleased, challenged, irritated and sometimes even devastated. But perhaps, the best effect it has is to bring out our inner child. So, before we clear the snow off our lovely, longish slope of a driveway, I simply must pull on a snowsuit and get in some sledding fun. Otherwise, what would’ve been the point of all that powder?

In the beginning-

After some hours –

Beauty indoors too!

(c) 2021 Shobha Vanchiswar

 

 

Light The Lights!

Whatever one believes in, celebrations are in order. Winter arrived with the solstice. Hanukkah is underway, today is Christmas Eve and Kwanzaa starts in two days. The New Year is just a week away. Best of all, we are past the shortest day of the year and slowly but surely the days are getting longer. Hallelujah!

At this time, we remember years passed and look ahead to the future. Friends and family are precious – this is a perfect time to reaffirm those bonds.

Trimming The Tree

Love hangs memories

on awaiting arms

twinkling happy thoughts

as new stories get written.

While the past is shed

the present unfolds itself

into the future.

– Shobha Vanchiswar

Before one gets caught up in the festivities, water the plants! Be they house plants or those being overwintered, they need to be kept hydrated. It’s easy to forget about them when you’re busy with so much else. Ditto for those bulbs such as paperwhites. Amaryllis bulbs do not need potting up and watering until after they finish flowering – for now, they can sit pretty anywhere you choose.

Take a turn in the garden and check if anything needs attention – broken tree limbs, plants wanting some protection, debris to clear, bird-feeders to fill and such. It’ll give you peace of mind. And the fresh air and sunshine will improve your disposition greatly.

Wishing you all a beautiful holiday.

Note: Some holiday trees through the years. Due to my daughter’s allergy, we switched from conifers to more unconventional ‘trees’.

Another alternative.This year I’m using my bay standard as the tree.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Painting In The Plantings

All Gardening Is Landscape Painting’ – Alexander Pope

It’s become something of a tradition to have a group of artist friends spend a day in June painting and bonding in my little garden. This year, it happened last Saturday. The weather was perfect. Neither hot nor cold in temperature, the air was dry, sunny with a few white clouds … like I said, perfect.

I have often said that the garden is my muse. My painting, poetry and all other writing is inspired by the garden. How and what I choose to cook, the décor of my home and much of my taste in clothes is influenced by nature – her seasons and colors. Heck, even books or movies set in a garden or about one stand a good chance of being picked up by me. So, it’s always exciting when others are inspired to create in my garden.

All the artists come up from New York city so, they notice the air quality, the clarity of light, the colors that abound, the sounds of myriad birds, the fragrances swirling around – everything. Things that I’m so used to and often take for granted are newly appreciated as I observe their responses and delight.

From the hues of fallen petals to the shapes of flowers to the patterns of leaves to the shifting shadows to the juxtaposition of stone and plant, I see it all through their eyes. As an artist myself, I appreciate the way they see my garden. As a gardener, I’m humbled by their appreciation and sensitivity to the thought and design of my horticultural creation. After all, the garden itself is my personal, never ending, forever evolving work of art. Having the artists here is a valuable critique session of sorts.

What view or plantings each of them selects to paint and how they interpret what they see is eye-opening and exciting. It feels to me I’m learning to see my own garden in a whole new way. Remarkably, this happens to me every year! A reboot. It is gratifying and instructive.

Through good gardening, we reconnect with nature and remedy some of the harm we humans cause to our natural environment. In the process, the gardener hopes to create something beautiful and useful. Artists have always observed, studied and imitated Nature. They give astute commentary to what is going on in the world.

I am the happy beneficiary of feedback from gardeners and garden lovers on my Open Day and then again from artists ( a few are gardeners as well) on Painting Day. Taken together, I am the one most enriched – making me a better gardener and artist. That’s priceless.

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Frame Shift

Something I read recently has got me reexamining how I approach situations I would typically characterize as annoying/inconvenient/weird/all of the above. Even as one who has a glass half-full attitude, I find myself thinking pessimistically on occasion.

March has arrived with snow, more snow and plummeting temperatures. Spring is nowhere in sight. And it got me all hot and bothered. My garden to-do list has grown in leaps and bounds and I’m beginning to feel the pressure to get things done well in time for my Open Day. Between now and that day, other work projects and commitments are not going to permit me the luxury of focusing solely on the garden. Hence, anything that appears to delay the start of garden work, feels like a personal affront.

It’s easy to start railing at the elements and all concerned as though a conspiracy of sorts has been set up simply to thwart my plans. All this achieves is put me in a grumpy mood that quite literally holds me back from doing anything productive. Yet, even as I’m cognizant of this danger to myself, I can at times embark on a downward spiral and hate myself for doing so. But, no longer. I’m done with self-sabotaging my outlook!

A timely reminder, simultaneously elementary, profound and sobering, to see things differently was all it took. Nothing new or earth shattering. Often, that is all it takes to improve ones disposition. A tweak, a subtle adjustment, a slight shift in attitude can change the trajectory of intent and action dramatically.

I’m paraphrasing because I cannot remember where I came across this ‘advice’ – climate change is going to make us long for the four seasons. So, make the most of whatever we have right now. Embrace the weather we’re experiencing. Snow, intense cold and all. Admire the beauty, play in the snow, go for a walk, cozy up indoors afterwards to relax and appreciate the opportunity to slow down and be present. We need the snow to fill our water reservoirs and the cold freezes out ticks and other nasty bugs.

Separately, I’ve also realized that we often have lots of snow in March. This current weather is actually par for the course. In fact, I recall a big blizzard on April 1 about 21 years ago. The urgency of having so much on my agenda was making me feel as though everything was awry. A simple pause and reality check fixed that!

And there you have it. No complaining. ( Maybe a little inevitable worrying?) Be optimistic. If you look for the positive, you will find the positive. It then follows that we will do positive things.

Beneath that foot of snow lies spring. Ready and waiting.

Note:This evening, Tuesday March 5, is the reception to the group show I’m in at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery he New York Art Students League. 6 – 8 pm. Stop by! The show closes on Saturday, March 9. 

Mark your calendar! My garden’s Open Day this year is on May 18th. 10 am – 4 pm.

Enjoy these snowy images taken over the years – pause, take in the quiet beauty, notice the rich details, the play of light, the contrasts … breathe deeply and allow yourself to relax.


January

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

Future Shock

A new year has begun. That connotes so much – new beginnings, fresh resolves, high hopes, overdue changes. The potential is high and the possibilities endless. My pulse quickens as I consider how much I want to achieve. Even while I’m aware that my ambition verges on the unrealistic, I’m still excited to indulge in dreaming big.

There is however, one thing weighing heavy on my mind. Climate change and our part in it. The evidence is undeniable and yet, not enough is being done to mitigate the circumstances. To make matters worse, policies meant to change and improve our practices have been undone and climate-change deniers are reinstating old, destructive ways. I am truly worried.

At this rate, we’re hurtling towards self-destruction. This most beautiful, blue-green home planet of ours will cease to sustain life as we know it. There will be nothing for future generations to inherit. Heck, there won’t be any future generations.

As I see it, while we await the leadership to do something positive, each of us must do our utmost to fulfill our own responsibilities. I’m fortunate to live in a far-thinking, proactive town. Our water meets and exceeds current standards, we recycle, compost and mulch, businesses no longer provide plastic shopping bags, our electricity is generated mostly from wind and solar power, our parks and preserves are responsibly maintained and as a whole, we are an environmentally conscious community. Yet, we could do more.

I’d like to see ‘quiet days’ instituted – when the use of power equipments are not permitted. Even one day a week of this would be significant. Not only in the elimination of noise and air pollution but by being a consistent practice, it would keep us aware of the need to do right by the environment.

We ought to strongly advocate the use of our school buses – if we stopped dropping our children off ourselves, imagine what a difference this would make. One can justify/make excuses about why one must take a child to and from school in a car but seriously, in the end, it is mostly about the ease and convenience. Admittedly there are exceptions but the norm ought to be to ride the bus. No one said doing the right thing would be easy.

We have got to start thinking of what’s good for the entire community and not simply our own individual selves/families. The cars we buy, our household use of energy, how we maintain our gardens, the products (and the packaging) we use at home etc., Every effort is impactful.

On my part, I’m determined to up my game.

As I reflect on the year just passed, I’ve decided on how to celebrate the lives of those dear friends I lost. I’m going to plant a native tree in honor of each of them. Considering their individual personalities, I intend to select a ‘matching’ tree and plant it somewhere appropriate. An oak for Joan, a poplar for Mike, a shad-blow for Al. Each a reminder of their exceptional lives and my good fortune in getting to know them. I’m paying it forward.

Likewise, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, for any future tool, device or gadget I purchase, a native tree or plant will be planted. So I’m either going to be a more careful shopper or I’m going to run out of place to plant anything. Either way it is a win.

Happy New Year to each of you! Here’s to collectively making a positive difference.

January
February
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December (In New York City)

(c) 2019 Shobha Vanchiswar

The Lion Roared

March arrived baring teeth, roaring madly and with claws unsheathed. High winds and heavy snow wreaked havoc along the Northeast. Trees toppled like skittles bringing down power lines and making many roads impassable. There was widespread loss of power. At present, thousands are still without electricity.

Trying to make the most of the circumstances is a challenge. Sadly, storms have become more frequent and more fierce. We should be more prepared. Still, no matter how ready one is, it is never easy to reconcile with the destruction. When old giants lay uprooted it is always reason to mourn. Having homes damaged is particularly hard.

Given the mild month of February when plants were jolted out of their winter slumber and then assaulted by the recent storm, it’s hard to know what to expect this growing season. Weather-wise, we are apparently 20 days ahead of schedule. That is insane! Clearly, we are being called to pay heed and adapt accordingly. How precisely to do so needs serious consideration. Action needs to be swift. From amping up our environmentally conscious, sustainable practices to adjusting our planting and harvesting schedules, we must act. The evidence is clear and there is ample data to support climate change. So lets get smart about what we do.

Whilst still trying to recover from last Friday’s storm, another big one is expected tonight. Heavy snow is predicted. At this point, it is difficult to simply admire the beauty of the snowy landscapes. I feel for the flora and fauna that are vulnerable to all the climactic confusion. There will be a chain reaction and finally, we humans will feel the impact. Big time.

I don’t claim to know the solution. Is there a simple solution? I think not. But, this much I do know – we cannot maintain this status quo. Every single one of us must rise to the occasion. We each have a part to play. Becoming aware is a start. There’s plenty we can do – small changes and big ones too.

By now, we assume recycling, reusing and reducing waste is routine but unfortunately, that not true. I’m consistently shocked by the number of places I visit ( residential and public) where this easy principle is not implemented.

Eating what is seasonal, being mindful of carbon footprints, packaging and processing are other things we can adopt effortlessly.

Planting, growing and literally greening our properties is doable and satisfying. Be it planting trees or growing herbs in pots, every attempt is a step in the right direction.

But, lets think bigger. Stewardship of the land. Yes. I’m suggesting that we make our moves by looking ahead. Way ahead. Rather than plan our gardens for our own immediate and near future enjoyment, lets give future generations something truly valuable. A world in good health.

For those who lost trees and shrubs in the storm, view this as a new opportunity. By no means am I trivializing the loss. It hurts emotionally and financially to have such damages. Recognize and accept the pain. Every type of loss deserves a mourning of sorts. Whenever I had to bid goodbye to a tree, I’ve taken a bit of time and thanked it for its faithful service and wished it well. It is my way of reconciling with the loss and moving on.

Replace a tree with one that is native, deep rooted and appropriate in size and shape for the location. Deep rooted generally means it is also a slow grower. You may not be around to see it mature and majestic. No matter. A subsequent generation will benefit. And think of the many other creatures this tree will support and nurture.

Fast growing trees are typically shallow rooted and come down easily in storms. In nature, instant gratification is not a wise option.

If possible, plant more trees than you lost. Sometimes, the trees that fall have outgrown their location so, while losing them is sad, it can open up the garden to other planting possibilities. The area is now sunny and new beds can be installed. That’s exciting. A long harbored garden dream can come true!

It bears repeating that fallen trees can be re-purposed, they continue to serve well beyond their lifetime – think mulch, firewood, pavers, swing seats, benches and stump-tables. If location permits, leave the tree as is on the ground and let it become a haven for all sorts of creatures. A micro-habitat that results in eventually enriching the earth.

Go organic. Our children and their children do not need chemical laden soil. Organic treatments require due diligence and more effort than non-organic ones. But so worth it. Even with organic, one should be judicious. All treatments are non-specific so good bugs are affected as well. Therefore, in conjunction with organic practices, planting mostly native plants will be the correct thing to do. It’ll promote a healthy, robust garden.

Native plants are not as fussy or greedy about water and fertilizer. Less watering is good all around right? Right? And reduce the lawn size while you’re at it. Lawns guzzle water, fertilizer and pesticides to look pristine and lush. Lawns are the divas of the garden – everybody might admire her but nobody enjoys her needs and demands. Instead, let the lawn support a mix of other low-growing plants like clover and ajuga. Use only compost ( preferably homemade) to feed and mulch the lawn. This, along with maintaining the height of the grass at about 4 inches or higher will reduce the watering needs of the lawn.

All of these points are effective and achievable. Really.

When each of us honors our responsibilities,we make progress as a whole.

I might well be preaching to the choir here but perhaps saying what might seem obvious over and over will reverberate and be felt far and wide, This is after all the only home planet we have. We must protect and preserve if we are to prosper.

Note:

I will have some of my art works in a show at the Phyllis Harriman Mason Gallery, NYC, the week of March 12, 2018. I hope you will visit! Reception is on Tuesday March 13 from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.

Here are some of my favorite photos of trees:

(c) 2018 Shobha Vanchiswar