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Garden Health

Tao of Pooh the gardener

Gardening can be very Tao. But it’s not what you “do “in the garden that makes it such.

It’s likely you have heard of the book, “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff, which looks at AA Milne’s characters from the Hundred Acre Wood and discovers and explains the principals of Taoism through Pooh, Piglet, Eyeore and the rest of them.  Hoff essentially explains how Winnie the Pooh embodies the Taoist belief system which traces its roots back to 4th Century BC in China.  Pooh has a simpleminded nature, an unsophisticated worldview, and he problem-solves in the most instinctive manner. He is Tao.

Did you know, however, that Hoff conceived the book while working at the (best) Japanese garden in the United States – the Portland Japanese Garden in Oregon?  That makes sense.

Gardening can be very Tao.  But it’s not what you “do “in the garden that makes it such. 

Known as wu-wei, Taoism is how the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways.  When we “effort,” we can disrupt the harmony made perfect by the Universe, and thus create unintended consequences.  Not unlike, I’d suppose, killing weeds with toxic chemicals.

Taoism says, that one must “place their will in harmony” with the universe.

How does this show up in the garden?

Pooh plants a crocus

Naturalizing bulbs could be considered Tao.  If Winnie the Pooh were to plant a few crocus bulbs, for example, he’d expect nothing other than the perfection of that simple action, surrendering “the results” to the Universe.  He’d “allow” those bulbs to disperse by their will, not his, and each spring, he’d be in rhythm with his garden simply by “sitting with” his lovely bulbs … wherever they decided to multiply.

Pooh ditches his secateurs

Leaving perennials and grasses alone after the growing season is Tao.  When Pooh doesn’t prune in the fall, and leaves the garden untidy (by more formal garden standards) for the winter months, he again “allows” the Universe to do its thing – in this case, provide seeds and shelter to insects and wildlife.  Pooh is in balance with his surroundings … he just “is” in the garden.

Pooh accepts all volunteers

All of those lovely plants that show up inexplicably in our garden – the Verbascums, the ferns – popping up where we never planted them … that is Tao.  As Pooh putters around his garden, he is not surprised to see the Universe has provided new plants.  He expects that abundance to come his way … effortlessly. 

Pooh is “no dig”

In the vegetable garden, Pooh is a firm follower of the “no dig” movement.  He does not till his soil – he “supports” nature with compost, but stays “in the flow” of Taoism by not unbalancing the perfection in place below the surface – leaving the bacteria, earthworms, ground beetles and fungi to be.

There are likely many other examples of Taoism in the garden, however, Pooh has to go now – he has a leak in his garden pond (again) … which really challenges his serenity!

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