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Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - August 5, 2011

Garden tips for August

Zen retreat inspires thoughtful gardening

by Jack McKinnon

I recently spent a week at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. The experience was, as always, quite profound. Tassajara is a teaching monastery in the Ventana wilderness east of Big Sur. The food is extraordinary, the people are amazing and the staff is very supportive of the guests doing personal retreats, practicing meditation or taking workshops.

This month's tips will reflect some of the observations I made there that relate to gardening.

1. Don't waste time. Be aware of how you are in your gardening practice. One can garden to get a task done or to just be in the garden. If it is to get a task done, don't waste time in needless actions.

2. Recycle everything you can. If you have trimmings, allow them to be mulch or compost. If you use a bag of soil, don't just throw away the bag, reuse it for recycling bottles or plastic. Almost everything can be reused. Be creative.

3. Use only what you need. Plan before you plant, manage your water, apply just the amendments and fertilizers your plants need for healthy growth.

4. Ask for help if you need it. Often we get stuck in "I can do it myself" even when we can't. It is good for the asker and good for the one asked if you ask for help when you need it.

5. Have a daily routine. No matter how small that routine may be, if you do it regularly it will seem achievable after awhile and then you can increase your time when you are ready.

6. Small steps to big goals. Even a large park like Golden Gate Park in San Francisco was done in stages. First they had to stabilize the sand dunes with grass, then plant shrubs, then plant trees. Each small task added to building a world-famous park.

7. Plant many varieties of flowers. The more the better I think. It is a good idea to always have flowers on every table in the house. The best way to do that is to have many flowers in the garden to choose from.

8. Have quiet retreat time in your garden. A good chair with a small table is priceless.

9. Be efficient in planning and in practice. Use ergonomic body movement, make materials, tools and watering systems easy to access and use.

10. Follow good teachers, stick with good gardening practices and associate with other gardeners. In this way you will be a great gardener and have many friends.

Good gardening.

Garden coach Jack McKinnon can be reached at 650-455-0687 (cell), by email at Visit his website at


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