A former member of the Arboretum Society’s Board of Directors, Jack draws upon his almost 40 years of gardening experience – including 12 years at Sunset Magazine – to provide this monthly feature. Included are, of course, tips and advice, as well as anecdotes and stories about gardening and gardeners. His website is: www.jackthegardencoach.com
My Aikido teacher just celebrated 50 years in the martial arts. Frank Doran of Stanford Aikido and Aikido West in Redwood City is truly a great teacher, I recommend you see him teach. Aikido is called The Way of Harmony and is often used by peace officers, teachers, social workers and community leaders to quell potentially violent situations before they become out of hand. In the garden there is a lot of potential for conflicts and violence to our plants and our bodies. Here is how to use Aikido techniques to harmonize with your garden and create the win win results we all want.
1. Know your garden and all its strengths and weaknesses. The better you know the sunny spots, shady spots, too wet and too dry places the better you will be able to deal with them before they become problematic. In Aikido the advanced student knows what the attackers strengths and weaknesses are before the attack even starts. This gives them the where with all to blend with the attack and redirect it.
2. Get to the problem before it becomes a problem. If there is a potential for weeds, then put down mulch before they even sprout. If you spot the beginnings of an infestation of aphids, slugs or any other plant eating pest, deal with it at first sight, before it becomes a problem.
3. Know your strengths and weaknesses as a gardener. If you can only garden for one or two hours a week, use this knowledge to your advantage. Have tools in a convenient location and keep them clean and sharp. Have all the amendments, fertilizers, compost and mulch near the garden so it is accessible when you need it.
4. Plan for the goals you want and the timing you want them to happen in. Planning in the moment is an art but planning ahead is a skill we can all learn. Plan out your spring garden now while it is cold and wet. In Aikido a technique is rehearsed over and over again until it becomes automatic and doesn’t even need to be thought about.
5. When problems arise, relax and breathe. Getting uptight is the last thing we want to do in a garden or in life. We grow plants ourselves to have the best, freshest and most interesting flowers, fruits vegetables and landscapes right where we are. These places bring harmony just by existing.
6. Be co-ed and ambidextrous. In Aikido every technique practiced is done by everybody with everybody and we use both left and right equally. This way we are able to stay centered and balanced. In the garden I try to use all the tools left handed as well as right handed. In garden coaching I encourage everybody to garden, men, women, boys and girls, young and old. In this way, all are participating in working toward growing their food and cultivating the landscape.
7. Warm up and stretch before and after any physical activity. This has many rewards. It helps us know where our aches and pains are so we pay better attention to them and it helps those sore spots heal. Go slow at first, then increase your pace. I used to train at two speeds; fast and out of control. I think now, looking back (I haven’t trained in 23 years) that I may have been a much better Aikido student and certainly a better gardener if I had gone a little slower.
8. Work from your center. If you can imagine holding your arms up as if reaching for the sky, and spreading your feet as if to anchor to the earth you will know exactly where your center is. Move around the garden with this center in mind. This will give you much greater stability, leverage, power and endurance. Once you do it for a while, you will know immediately when you are out of balance.
9. Pay close attention to everything around you. Notice the temperature of the air, the moisture in the soil, the sounds of the breeze, where the clouds are and which direction they are moving. In Aikido as in all martial arts, knowing what is going on around you at all times is the best way to avoid trouble. In the garden, knowing when weather will change can help you prepare for it.
10. I know a 90 year old farmer here on the coast side that still climbs up on his tractor and discs his fields. He says that he still climbs up there but he cannot jump down like he used to. Know your limits in the garden. If the digging, hoeing and heavy work is getting to be too much for you then it is time to teach a young person how to garden. The younger the better. They learn really fast and have great energy.