Saturday, May 08, 2010

Garden Views: Gardening With Beginner's Mind

Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki popularized the term "Beginner's Mind" in America. He tells us: "In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few." This is also true in gardening, as I learned just the other day. Dan had joined me in my evening garden rounds, during which I point out what has bloomed since last time (usually yesterday), and what difficult weed (this week it's curly dock) is beyond my capability to pull out and requires his attention.

This year, the Tiarella (Foam flower, left) are particularly robust and covered with magnificent blooms. As Dan admired these, he pointed toward Heuchera Venus (Coral Bells, right) and wondered why its flowers were so much taller and so much farther behind "those other ones."

I'm sure I must have rolled my eyes as I explained that they were two entirely different plants. "Look, the Tiarella leaves are all sharp and pointy – the Heuchera leaves are way more rounded," I said, wondering how he could overlook such dramatic differences in leaf shape and inflorescence. "Looks the same to me," he said. "They don't look anything alike," I thought.

Next day, this discussion was still smoldering in the back of my mind. All day. I was thinking about how I would make him look at the Saxifrage in the hanging basket above my desk so that I could permanently imprint on his mind what "rounded, lobed leaves" look like. Then all of a sudden the light went on – in my head. While these are all different plants at the Genus level of plant classification, they also all belong to the same Family, Saxifragaceae. So we were both right, but I got a lesson in humility.

Learn to garden with beginner's mind. You never know what new things you may discover.

Lois de Vries' thoughts on gardening and environmental issues run the gamut from gardening in her own back yard to promoting land management practices that reconnect people to the Earth. To discover how to express more of your personality and creativity through your garden, or how body/mind/spirit can play itself out in your gardening activities, visit: or contact me at

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