Shobha Vanchiswar, Chappaqua, NY
Open Days Garden
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Shobha’s garden is a small suburban plot, just a quarter of an acre, but it boasts an amazing array of features and “it doesn’t know that it’s small.” She loves sharing it. “Visiting private gardens through Open Days taught me a great deal. Often the gardeners themselves were present and very generous with their time and information. If my garden can in any way inspire, delight, or instruct another, I’m very honored to pay it forward.”
In My Garden, October 20, 2020
"We are enjoying the last of the tomatoes, pears, and figs," says Shobha. "The pears and figs are consumed almost immediately. With some of the tomatoes, I've put up jars of sweet and spicy tomato chutney, which goes well with roasted meats and perks up sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and anything that needs just a little more flavor." To see Shobha's tomato chutney recipe and some of her other harvest favorites, click here.
"I am once again appealing to readers to purchase from my Printed Garden Collection of home furnishings to help a great cause! Fifty percent of all profits are donated to the American Civil Liberties Union. Brighten up the coming dark days of winter with a few of my items. Above: napkins; below: pillows and tea towels. Learn more about Shobha's Printed Garden Collection on her website.
In My Garden, October 6, 2020
"This past week, an area roughly 625 square feet in size, that didn't do much of anything in the lower garden where the 'meadow' resides, has been transformed into a sward of native sedge. Almost 900 plugs of Carex appalachia were planted! The idea is to provide some aesthetic gravitas to the site while offering native birds and insects a haven. This is in keeping with the environmental and design principles I've applied in the rest of the garden. Later this month, a thousand bulbs of Fritillaria meleagris will be planted amidst the sedge."
"At present, the sedge sward does not look impressive. But I envision an ethereal scene next spring: glowing in the sunlight, the checkered bells of snakeshead fritillaria nodding gracefully atop slender stems rising just above the green, marvelously textural sedge. Can't you just see the light and movement?"
"Elsewhere in the meadow, autumn is well underway. The leaves are turning colors that complement the fall flowers brilliantly. Similarly, the beds in the front of the house are a riot of color, growth, and activity. I'm taking my cue from the bees and getting on with my seasonal chores."
In My Garden, September 29, 2020
You don't need dozens of acres to create a garden. Shobha and her husband, Murali Mani, transformed a cinder-block wall into a handsome horticultural feature. Their vertical garden, inspired by French botanist Patrick Blanc, is looking quite lush in late September.
In My Garden, September 22, 2020
Above, pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii) in the evening sun
Shobha is enjoying seasonal highlights in her garden. She reports, "There's a great deal going on in the garden! Fruits and vegetables ripening, fall flowers beginning to bloom, summer flowers going to seed, pollinators going about their business in a mad frenzy... life in action."
Above, left to right: Helenium autumnale, yarrow, coneflower, and milkweed
"There is so much beauty in senescence—each plant's seedheads are unique and exquisite. I'm inspired to capture them in my art. Stay tuned!"
"Remember the pears I started in bottles? Success! Okay, 50% success. Of the four bottles, only two carried the process to completion. In the other two, the pears broke off from their stems very early on. I've really enjoyed this Pear Williams / Eau de Poire project and I'm eagerly anticipating the tasting (Oh, all right, imbibing) in a couple of weeks."
In My Garden, September 8, 2020
"Happy September! The 'meadow' in my garden is an area of such delight at this time of year," says Shobha."It's full of native plants that hit their stride in mid to late summer and into the fall. It is what I like to call a state of controlled chaos...abuzz with pollinators and I could not be more gratified. It has taken some years to get the meadow to this point and it is still an ongoing project. Onward!"
Helenium autumnale (above); below, left to right: cardinal flower, turtleheads, jewelweed.
In My Garden, August 25, 2020
Shobha's garden may be small, but it's lively! Shobha reports, "It's been sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll in my garden. Exactly the way I like it. The birds, bees, and butterflies are hooked—on nectar; monarch butterflies have been caught in the act; and I rolled another year and rocked my birthday Covid style. Friends surprised me; if it wasn't for the garden, we'd have had to settle for a very short visit on the street. It was an unplanned, impromptu party (see masked ball below)! The best kind."
"The sheer luxury of having even the tiniest of gardens cannot be overstated in these unsettled times. I'm savoring all the details and activities. Trying to capture the memories for posterity, I'm painting and photographing everything."
Gilded Watercolor, 9 x 12 inches, by Shobha Vanchiswar
Shobha also shared a recipe for nasturtium pesto, with this comment: "I've been going around telling everyone that the nasturtium 'Empress of India' is named after me. The kicker is that many have believed me. Go figure."
In My Garden, August 11, 2020
"Now that we're into August," says Shobha, "It's all about enjoying the garden before fall creeps in. I'm loving the little things, like taking care of topiaries — training, clipping, repotting (above). Last Saturday, I added to my collection after a lovely visit to Atlock Farm, in Somerset, NJ. Earlier in the season, I'd started some root cuttings and they are now in need of bigger pots and stakes — more topiaries! In setting up the vignettes of topiaries, it's been so much fun juxtaposing the agapanthus so its flowers echo the shape of the plants beside it (below)."
"The meadow is looking quite full and the splashes of red from the cardinal flowers and sneezeweed along with the smudges of pink from ornamental raspberry, wild bergamot and coneflowers are attracting lots of butterflies and bees (below, right). Exactly what a gardener wants! Notice how the wings of a swallowtail on the Echinacea appear to mimic the 'Wind Song' sculpture behind (below, left)."
In My Garden, July 28, 2020
"Despite the horrid heat, there are many sweet moments in the garden," reports Shobha. The milkweed has caught up with the coneflowers and started blooming; spying a monarch butterfly on it has been a particular delight. Thus far, butterflies have been in very short supply in this area. That's quite concerning."
"Looking around my garden, it seems as though, in sympathetic compliance with the New York State mandate, the grapes and pears are either masked or muzzled! This year, for the first time, I decided to try growing pears in bottles. Just a few. If successful, some lucky friends will enjoy a splash of extra cheer at the holidays."
"The bags protect the fruits from being marauded by critters big and small. The grapes are Concord, so they make a fine jelly; more gifts for a select few! Add the jars of basil pesto piling up in the freezer and sun-dried tomatoes in rosemary infused olive oil yet to happen, my holiday gift list should be done well ahead of time. I know, I know! December is months away, but any gardener worth her/his soil plans well in advance, right?"
In My Garden, July 21, 2020
“Green is the dominant color in my garden this month,” Shobha tells us. “There are splashes of color, of course, but it’s really all about the many greens. While this may not appeal to those who want lots of color year round, I've come to appreciate this time. Without the distraction of flowers, it shows me the strengths and weaknesses of my design and plant choices, rather ruthlessly,” she adds. “But, I swallow my pride and make notes of what needs changing – the different shades of green and the assorted shapes and textures (or lack thereof) guide me to do better.”
“The promise of August, with many native plants blooming in the meadow, makes me eager and optimistic. The anticipation of watching it hum with all sorts of insect activity keeps me going. I'm allowing the greenness to inspire my art. It's always challenging. My painting (above) is my view of my herb/potager from the terrace.
The response to my Printed Garden home furnishings collection raising funds for the ACLU has been heartwarming. Thank you! To all those who wrote to say that they were waiting for the products to be up on my website, it is up and running! Please visit the link above."
Above: milkweed about to bloom in the meadow (left); yarrow and monarda in the herb garden (right), which, Shobha says, "Is about as gaudy as it gets!"
In My Garden, June 30, 2020
The wall is the coolest element in Shobha's garden right now – literally and figuratively! With the temperatures soaring, its span of green soothes the eyes and spirit (above, left). It's looking quite fetching with the different ferns, Tiarella and Heuchera against the mossy background. "I felt compelled to paint this wall garden," says Shobha (above, right).
"My garden played a special role this week. I'm getting ready to launch my new line of soft home furnishings and needed to photograph the products. The wall was an ideal backdrop to showcase the pillows and the terrace hosted the tea towels and napkins. It was as though it'd come full circle. I'd painted the flowers from the garden, the images were used to print up fabric, the fabric made into products and here they were back in the garden."
Fifty-percent of the profits from the sale of Shobha's line will be donated to the American Civil Liberties Union. It's a limited collection and, because of the current Covid-19 pandemic, future production is somewhat uncertain. Shobha adds, "I will be introducing this second line of "The Printed Garden" in a week to ten days. It was so much fun working with photographer August Brosnahan!"
In My Garden, June 23, 2020
"This week I've been taking note of the native plants in bloom in the meadow. They aren't splashy like the roses and peonies blooming in other parts of the garden and, yet, they are so loved by the bees and butterflies. I've whiled away many hours watching yellow swallowtails and silver spotted skippers dancing around the flowers to the accompaniment of the loud hum of bees." Photo above left: Anemone canadensis; photo right: Cranesbill geranium.
Photo left: Native wisteria visited by silver spotted skippers; photo right: Ornamental raspberry.
"My creative effort this past week was a fun project with the alliums. The spent umbels were harvested so the bulbs themselves can rest and fatten up for next year. I painted the 'harvest' in red, white, and blue. They look like sparklers ready for the Fourth of July! These days, there are many walkers on my street. The new installation gives them reason to chuckle and get in a summer state of mind."
In My Garden, June 16, 2020
"Everything is exploding in June," Shobha says. "There's so much to enjoy: irises, peonies, baby birds...and so much more! The vertical garden (below) has commenced its beautiful performance, which will slowly build up to a crescendo in late summer."
"The spectacular alliums in the meadow (below) have finished their 'moment.' I tried to capture them in a watercolor. Given the time we are in, when physical contact is lacking, I seem to have subconsciously expressed myself in the sculpture. So I've titled the painting below 'The Embrace'. I miss hugging everyone!"
In My Garden, June 2, 2020
Shobha shares that she has been taking advantage of the slower pace of our days at present. "I've been enjoying, observing, and writing short verses about the little details in the garden," she says. Below are some of the verses, inspired by her garden photos.
In My Garden, May 26, 2020
"Saturday, May 16, would have been my Open Day. Wouldn't you know it, the garden looked so good! And the weather couldn't have been more perfect. So I thought I'd share a few photos for In My Garden."
"With the slower pace of days and no other place to be, I'm rediscovering my garden. Everything feels more precious and beautiful. And I'm genuinely appreciating the beauty in a way I haven't been able to these recent years when there were so many other commitments demanding my attention.
"All the seasonal chores are once again a pleasure and I'm exploring and planning a new creative project for the garden. Too soon to say anything!"
"As an artist, I've painted innumerable individual flowers that grow here but I've never painted an area or 'scene'. Until now. And it's making me so happy. I've attached a recent painting (below)."
"Light by the Woods," watercolor by Shobha Vanchiswar, 11 x 11 inches
"With the slower pace of days and no other place to be, I'm rediscovering my garden. Everything feels more precious and beautiful."