My Garden (Part Three)

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gardening in Wayland
Magnolia, Cherry and forsythia from my garden

Read the first two parts here: (Part One), (Part two)


Growing up as a boy in Kolkata, I developed a deep penchant for drawing and painting, particularly landscape painting in watercolor, inspired mostly by the nineteenth-century French Impressionist masters known for their dazzling display of bright and iridescent colors. On the other hand, I felt a strong kinship with nature motivated by our annual month-long stay in Salboni, a desolate hamlet inside deep surrounding forests with all the splendor of nature.

I carried all my boyhood feelings and sensitivities across seven seas, to America when I came here for higher studies in the mid-nineteen seventies. However, my graduate student and postdoctoral trainee days, and later on the struggle to establish myself as a junior to senior faculty at Boston University, as well as my research career left me with no time for painting.

In the late-nineteen eighties when my wife Swapna and I bought our current house in Wayland, Massachusetts, twenty-five miles west of Boston, our elder son Arjun (Babu) was two years old. Our younger son, Karna (Abu) was born two years later. It is worthy of note that we live very close to the fabled Walden Pond of Henry David Thoreau, the nineteenth-century Transcendentalist leader, and a pioneering American thinker and writer.

forsythia painting
Forsythia bloom painted by me

Wayland is truly a rural town. There are horse, sheep, and cattle farms, green meadows, a river, and dense forests. While driving by those farms I entreat myself with memories of my childhood days, my deep liking for countryside paintings by French masters, and John Constable, the famous British landscape painter.

At night, darkness engulfs the entire locality, because there are no streetlights. In the beginning, we were truly scared to live in this darkness. However, soon my childhood days in Salboni and my fondness for darkness and nature crept back into my being. Soon we started enjoying the peace of the place. This is the time when I started thinking about a garden. I had Claude Monet and his fabled garden in my mind.

The house came with a decent sized grassy lawn, some bushes, and a few very tall pines, as is typical of the American landscape design. The green grass was nice, but I craved flowers and trees. I had no training in landscape design. But that did not deter me from thinking of the land as an open canvas ready to be painted with new ideas and colors. We bought saplings of flowering plants and trees on Mother’s and Father’s Days and on all other occasions and planted them wherever we chose with no consideration for the needs of the plants and trees. Of course, as a city boy from Kolkata I had no idea about what gardening was all about.

forsythia bloom gardening
Forsythia bloom in our backyard

Soon I learned that all plants need sunlight to survive and thrive. Of course, I read about photosynthesis by plants and trees for their survival, but that was only bookish knowledge devoid of any real experience. The result was very predictable– a few plants died because I planted them in shade. Some survived but showed no sign of vitality. Soon I learned that some plants needed very little care and can turn out to be very aggressive. They simply took over and killed all other plants. In contrast, some other plants needed a lot of tender loving care including regular fertilizing and watering. Even then, some plants simply wilted and died. I learned that I watered them too much. Some plants did not mind crowding, while others liked to stay by themselves, much like humans. An experienced gardener would have laughed at me for my ignorance; after all trees and plants are living beings just like other animals.

I also learned that some plants are perennial, meaning that they come back to life after long and cold winters year after year. That was a true shocker. During long and frigid winters plants simply look dead and trees lose all their leaves, except the evergreens. How can they be alive? To my joy, I learned that these perennials spring back to life every year. I also learned that there are annual plants, meaning they do not survive the cold winter and need to be planted every year.

Then, there are trees. I bought dogwood, cherry, magnolia, and other trees as small saplings and planted them almost anywhere of my choosing. To my chagrin, I learned that when trees mature they need a lot of space to grow. They also can not walk away from each other to avoid crowding. But, how would I, a city-grown person know about tree-growth secrets? Fortunately, I learned this lesson early enough so that I could move them apart before they became mature trees with large foliage.

Soon I learned that all plants need sunlight to survive and thrive. Of course, I read about photosynthesis by plants and trees for their survival, but that was only bookish knowledge devoid of any real experience. The result was very predictable– a few plants died because I planted them in shade. Some survived but showed no sign of vitality.

Within a few years, I learned many secrets of successful gardening. I was ready to paint my garden canvas with concrete ideas – a path here, a flowerbed there, trellises and arbors, a fence here to highlight, etc. I started implementing my ideas and filling the canvas with flowering plants, creepers, bushes of various kinds, plants for foliage, and so on. After years of digging, planting, mulching, weeding, fertilizing, and watering now, I have a mature garden. Spring through summer I enjoy waves of color as the plants and trees bloom. I also enjoy the autumn when leaves of maple and other trees turn yellow, red, or orange before unhinging from branches, fluttering in wind, and ultimately falling onto the ground. I enjoy this natural spectacle year after year.

In Part 1 of this series, I elaborated on the extreme harshness of the New England weather. During November through April, we get snow storms regularly, and the temperature often remains significantly below the freezing mark. For months the ground and everything else remains covered with snow, while the cold and wintry wind blows through leafless tree branches with a gusto.

However, changes in the weather pattern, as well as the landscape start happening at the beginning of April. With April showers the frozen ground starts thawing, and crocuses raise their heads. Small blooms of various colors peer through melting snow and ice in profusion. By the time crocuses are gone, forsythia bushes burst with iridescent yellow flowers, before giving in to green foliage. Then pregnant magnolia buds open up with white star-like flowers with a pink core. Then there is the famous cherry blossom. This is just the beginning of a fantastic magic color show by the star performers.

Images are from the author’s collection.

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