Saturday, November 07, 2009

Zen and the art of garden pottering

I twitter intermittently. There, it's out in the open, and I've admitted it. For those garden bloggers who twitter, you may have come across links to ThinkinGardens, a website that encourages a more critical analysis of gardens.

After having had a few Twitter discussions with Anne Wareham, I came across a book to which she contributed - Vista - the Culture and Politics of Gardens. It's a challenging book, and unlike many books on gardens, has no pretty pictures. I'm still ploughing through it. It has made me think, it has made me shout. Some of the essays seem like utter tripe.

One, however, has made me think about the importance of my garden. It's called 'Zen and the art of Tea Gardening' by Charles Chesshire. The essay talks about the importance of the 'roji', the tea garden where you leave behind the concerns of the real world and enter into a world where you purify the mind before entering the tea house. Traditionally, this is a pathway to the teahouse, where you stop along the way to contemplate views and statues which help clear your mind of everyday concerns.
Few gardens have a roji and a tea house, but how many of us take a walk around the garden after a hard day at work, in an attempt to calm the mind and take you out of yourself? Each small change in the plants, each view, helps to calm us, to purify the mind. We don't need a Japanese tea garden, just a little time to slowly walk and observe the small changes that take place in our gardens.

Take time to potter.

17 comments:

Ryan said...

I will have to take a look at that book. It's been mentioned a few times in our Twitterings and it seems to have sparked many different emotions and thoughts.

In the Summer months I always start my day off in the garden with a cup of tea. This always sets me up and helps me clear my mind and focus on the day ahead. I also check my plants and make a mental note of what I need to do on the weekend.

Apparently, in Japan it is common place to start the day in the garden as a form of meditation and in that respect I can associate with the post.

It's just a shame its dark both morning and night at this time of year!

Ryan

Mark D said...

Fab post. Interesting about that book - I find that although my favourite books are brilliant from start to finish, there arent many of them - but the ones I learn most from are exactly as you describe - crap in places, fabulous in others. Bit like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - the gems are all in the background, slightly out of focus. Will try to dig out the book. Lovely photo too

Arabella Sock said...

I have been in gardens that have calmed and purified my mind - most notably the fabulous Prieure d'Orsan in France which seemed to me, at the time I visited, a place of absolute sanctuary.

But calmed and purified in my own? Unfortunately not. Each time I sit and stare I notice every flower that needs deadheading, every plant that I would rather was somewhere else, that annoying space in the border where something failed and the absolute knowledge that there are vine weevils in my pots and whitefly in the greenhouse.

How can I meditate with so much that needs my attention around me? Give me someone else's Japanese tea garden to calms me.

Victoria said...

I agree with Arabella. It's very difficult to sit down and relax in one's own garden, which is why I love my goldfish. They are a kind of meditation aid - watching them stops me thinking about other things.
I find I read more and more gardening books without pictures. I've almost got to the point where I find the ones with lots of pictures rather unsatisfying - I think it's something to do with wanting ideas but not formulas. If you haven't already read them, I recommend Mirabel Osler's books, A Breath From Elsewhere and A Gentle Plea for Chaos. Great bedtime reading.

Esther Montgomery said...

We don't have a tea house (and our garden is small) but we have a 'quiet corner'. If anyone goes to sit there on their own, they are not to be disturbed. If we want to talk something through, we take cups of tea and sit on the bench there.

I've spoiled it somewhat recently by chopping everything down so, instead of being hidden behind greenery, it is a bit exposed but the tradition stands. (And the greenery will when it has grown back.)

Esther

Joanne said...

A great post.
Pottering in the garden can be very theraputic and certainly takes the mind away from other worries.

Gentleman said...

I totally agree about the garden being a Zen place. The trick for me is not to strive for perfection. Gardening is an unpredictable thing. Some days are for working hard, some days for pottering but the other days are for watching it do its thing. Having said that my garden & veg are never going to win any prizes from anyone else for beauty, I love it though. Nice post, got me thinking.

Anna said...

A most thoughtful post HM. It bought the words of this poem to mind :
"What is this life if full of care
We have no time to stand and stare?"

elizabethm said...

Fascinating stuff. I twitter too and have been following some of the debate generated by Anne. I do recognise the way the garden can quiet the mind. I often find that walking through mine initially starts off the chattering of the to do list. If I can just potter long enough, it becomes a more peaceful place. Must read the book.

Wendy said...

I would love to be able to stop and relax more. It'd be great to create a quiet spot, or somehow create paths or whatnot to slow the visitor (or me) down. Though as I say this, I realize what I'm really doing is looking for more work to do and that is the opposite of slowing down!

chaiselongue said...

I agree with Gentleman - we don't strive for perfection. It helps that we aim to grow vegetables rather than have an attractive show garden, although we have flowers and ornamental plants too. Our worry is that we spend too much time eating in our garden, since here we can eat outside at lunchtime all through the year. So we often spend more time sitting, eating and admiring than actually gardening! It is a haven of peace for me, probably because of this...

Karen - An Artist's Garden said...

HappyM, I have enjoyed this post very much.

The best part of my day is the first cup of tea, sitting outside looking down the garden - then the monkey mind kicks in and all is lost - perhaps I should turn my studio into a teahouse?
K

SomeBeans said...

As the non-gardening faction in the partnership my key role has been in bringing adequate seating into the garden!

Nutty Gnome said...

I really enjoyed this post HM and need to take your advice because even though I'm in the middle of creating my own roji and tea house, do I ever take time to enjoy it and just 'be' in the garden as a whole? Do I heck - I'm too busy working!!!

easygardener said...

I find the Zen moment difficult in my own garden. I think pottering is like Zen on the move - the nearest I can come to that moment of serenity.
Serenity is much easier in someone else's garden :-)

Esther Montgomery said...

Easy Gardener - I think that's a lovely concept - pottering being like Zen on the move.

Esther

Gail said...

I love to sit in the garden and just look...the problem here is that we have mosquitoes once it gets warm; sitting or even walking becomes a terrible experience. Except on warm winter days, early spring and today! gail