Tending to the Garden
Cutting Back Perennials
By: Cheng Tong - Aug 16, 2020
“The world is sacred.
It can’t be improved.
If you tamper with it, you will ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you will lose it.
The Master sees things as they are,
Without trying to control them.
He lets them go their own way
And resides at the center of the circle.”
Dao de Qing, Chapter 29, from Laozi
I have begun cutting back the perennials in the meditation garden that have passed for the season. Bleeding hearts, ligularia, lilies, with hostas not far behind. It is the way of things, the time of season. The butterfly bushes have presented their seed pods, and I’ve collected them for drying.
Next month, I will dig up the bleeding hearts, split them, and plant in the garden’s empty spots. The same with the hostas and butterfly bushes. And when the seed pods have dried, I will sprinkle them liberally in the same spots. Next season, there will be a pleasing mix of height, color and texture in these areas, and the garden will become more lush.
There is a Mandarin expression – “man man lai.” Slow by slow, having the patience to allow our mud to settle and the water above to become clear. Nature doesn’t need our help, but it doesn’t refuse it, either. If we find our place in it, recognize we are a part of it, and observe, that help becomes easy and, well, natural.
Researching plants that thrive in this climate of the Berkshire Mountains, coming to understand how they grow and how to propagate them, entwines me in the nature of these things, and helps me see things as they are.
I lend a helping hand in their spreading, but then I will simply be smart enough to stay out of their way. As I said, nature doesn’t need my help, but it won’t refuse it, not if I understand my place in it and not try to control it.
The world truly is sacred. Have you ever seen a hummingbird moth flit from blossom to blossom on a butterfly bush in bloom? I watched one this morning for quite some time and I can tell you it is a magical and wondrous experience. Nature can not be improved, as we are told in the first chapter of Genesis: when God, from a state of perfect repose, looks at the world and says, “Behold, it is good.”
The world is filled with chaos, turmoil, disease, rancor and evil. Yet, nature does not care. It is unaffected by these distractions of man. It doesn’t need us, other than to stay out of its way and learn our place in it, to see it merely as it is – sacred.
Take a moment someday soon. Look around you. Find your place in the world and in nature. Be in a part of that sacred space. Leave the noise of man behind for a little bit. Don’t try to control it; just “reside in the center of the circle.”