記得上園藝課的第一堂課，老師就說：認識一種新的植物，就好像認識一個新的朋友；以後無論到那兒，看到你認識的植物，你就會想：「啊！我認識它！它叫…名字！」這就是為什麼從亞洲來的外國人，總是要想盡辦法把認識的「老朋友」移民或偷渡過來，例如桂花、梅花、玉蘭花…等等。當其他亞洲朋友，在此看到這些熟悉的花樹，也會特別的高興；就好像與老朋友異地重逢，總是份外親切。這也是美國本地人難以瞭解、也不滿意的地方 ── 亞洲人總是愛種那些又怕霜凍、又浪費水的植物！因此鼓勵大家來上課，多認識一些本地的新朋友，多和本地生的植物溝通打交道，不要捨近求遠。
I’m a gardener at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas (CTTB); or, you could call me a slave of flowers. Today, I would like to use it as topic to share my insight with you friends and update you on the work of greening CTTB.
A few years ago during the process of applying for the building permit for IIP&E [the International Institute for Philosophy and Ethics], in one of the hearings a Ukiah resident brought up his doubt about our ability to maintain our existing campus, how much the less to maintain the future new big project. Thereafter, people started to pay attention to campus upkeep and gardening. Recently, we are in intensive process of designing IIP&E which includes landscaping as well. This has caused people to pay attention to landscaping and gardening again. Dharma Realm Buddhist University (DRBU) also started a new landscaping class to meet these needs. We definitely need more people to take care both existing and future gardens on campus.
Gardening work is not as simple as washing dishes or vegetables in the kitchen. The most basic tasks in gardening are weeding and watering. You might think that anybody can do this kind of easy work. Actually, it is not as easy as you think. Even the most basic gardening jobs require basic knowledge on gardening; much the more so for tree trimming and applying fertilizer. Otherwise, what shouldn’t be uprooted can be uprooted, or those drought-enduring plants can be “drowned” by someone’s overly watering — an unnecessary loss.
For example: tree peony is a deciduous flower which means the leaves fall off in the winter and the trunk looks like dead branches without the leaves. One time, a kind volunteer thought it was a dead plant and pulled it out. Another person cut it down. It was too small to bloom in that coming spring. Another example was a very drought tolerant small tree named ‘Fremontodendron’ which bears yellow flower in the spring. One summer, it died because a kind volunteer gave it too much drink.
Furthermore, we lost a lot of plants because of improper pruning. I believe that most of you still remember that there was a group of nice green Juniper in front of the Chun-Kang Restaurant and in the parking lot by the Administration Office. Someone with a good intention tried to prune the bush to make it look nicer. Unfortunately, it turns out that the plants were killed due to the lacking of pruning knowledge.
As a result, it was a big loss for the temple. Not only do we need to spend more money for new plants but also takes a lot of time and labor to redo the garden. Although people begin with a good intention to help, sometimes the more you help the busier we are. Therefore, we are happy to have more sincere, kind-hearted volunteers to help, but please make sure to contact those experienced members of the gardening group for advice or instructions before you start with your own way. After all, the most fundamental way to solve the problem is to train more people — have them learn more about horticulture so as to maintain our gardens in accord with the four seasons. The best garden, without proper care, will turn into a waste garden.
It is only as good as the maintenance continues because the plant is a living thing. Sometimes, it overgrows and sometimes it dies. Therefore, the changes are always evolving and landscape maintenance will never completely finish. A successful garden doesn’t come by chance. It has to be a well designed, proper installed and timely maintained. Normally a finest garden takes 4-5 times improvement. The garden has to be maintained according to the schedule. There are things that have to be taken care of in each season. It is not something that you can wait until you have spare time or when we have volunteers show up. If both design and construction are done well but without a timely maintenance, the garden will degenerate as time goes by.
For instance, twenty-five years ago, on the northeast hillside of the Buddha Hall, it was covered completely with the Juniper which is a very drought tolerant shrub. Later, CTTB established a Vietnamese Refugee Center and there were a lot of refugees around. People felt that the evergreen Juniper is boring and ugly. Therefore, they cut down the entire Juniper and replaced it with some beautiful flowers. It looks very pretty for several years. However, after the Refugee Center closed down, no one has time to take care of it. We lost most of the flowers except some very drought tolerant bush, such as rockroses and rosemary. During the year of 94-95, Rebecca Lee (Jin Rou Shr) used many little drought tolerant plants and made a rock garden. It was admired by many CTTB residents and visitors. However, Rebecca was a full time teacher and have problem with her knees. She hardly had time to take care the rock garden. Later, she left and lived in other branch monastery. Even though that she used the weed fabric to cover the ground, after a period of time the weeds was so vigorous it had taken over that pretty rock garden and became very messy. Now, there is a Dharma Master determined to try the third time to retrofit that area. From the lessons that we’ve learned, I hope she will be very careful in selecting plants.
A success garden doesn’t come by chance. It takes a lot of thinking and planning because every plant has its own character, function and form. It takes experience and knowledge in horticulture and landscaping to coordinate them well together harmoniously. There are many styles of gardens, such as: English style, French style, Mediterranean style, Japanese style, Chinese style, California country style…etc. Now, which style fits the monastery? Some people think that monastery is a place for people to cultivate and it should be simple and adorned, not too jazzy or too spiffy. Especially, our Venerable Master is the Zen patriarch and our landscaping should have a Zen flavor. Some other people think that we should plant the flowers that bloom all year round and we can offer the flowers to the Buddha. Also, the visitor loves to look and take picture with the flowers. Some practical people said that since we don’t have enough labor sources, it’s better to plant the carefree cactus, which takes full sun and doesn’t need to drink the water in the summer. Some frugal people said it’s better to grow some plants that you can harvest such as vegetables and fruits. It saves a lot of money. Some American naturalists prefer California country style garden which consists of wild flowers herbs and indigenous plants. So, whose opinion is right? I thought about it for many years. Finally, I figure out that the Buddha had already told us the answer. It is the middle way, not too extreme to either side. Everybody is right and we can combine everyone’s favorite idea tactfully and naturally integrate these ideas into one that satisfies everyone’s wish. We can select the native carefree trees and shrubs as the main structure of the garden and use some small colorful annual and perennial flower which takes a lot of maintenance as the supporting role. If we’re short of people, we can give up the flower and it won’t change the main structure.
I remember in the first landscape gardening class, our teacher said that to know a plant is to make a new friend. Later, wherever you go and whenever you see the plant, you’ll say: “I know its name is so and so.” This is the reason why Chinese people like to immigrate or smuggle their “old friends” to the US, such as: Osmathus, Flowering ume, Michela alba.etc. Most of Chinese would get very excited whenever they see these familiar plants in CTTB because they are just like their old friends. This is the reason that the local Americans can’t understand, “Why do the Chinese people always like to plant those finicky plants that are frost tender or require a lot of water?” So, I like to encourage people to come to the class to learn more about local native plants and make friends with them. Don’t drop what is near and go for what is afar /seek far and wide for what lies close at hand.
The Venerable Master often said that the sun, the moon, the stars, the earth and every thing that you see is speaking the Dharma. We’ll understand Dharma if we observe it with our sincere and subtle mind. In the Herbal Chapter of the Dharma Flower Sutra, it says that the Dharma is just like the rain; living beings that have very good nature are just like the big trees which can receive more rainfall. Livings beings that have fewer roots are just like the small grass which receives less rainfall. This is a very simple and clear analogy. Has anyone thought about how a tree grows into a big tree? There is an oak tree and a loquat tree in the rose garden. Every spring, I have to pull the seedling of these two trees. I notice that the root of the loquat tree is very shallow. On the contrary, the oak tree has a main strong deep root. The length of the root is three times of the trunk when it sprouts the first year. The root of the 100 ft tall oak tree is also 100 ft deep. The roots grow as wide as the oak tree. The root of a big oak tree summed up about million miles long so that it can support the big and heavy trunk and branches above ground. Because the oak tree is so deeply rooted, it can survive the whole summer without any raindrop or water. In horticulture realm, the oak tree is the king of all the trees. The famous redwood tree, taller than the oak tree, can be easily toppled because it’s shallow rooted. The quality of oak wood is high and hard; it’s top building material. In comparison, the loquat tree’s root extends for 2 inches deep when its sprout grows 6-7 inches tall. Besides, there are many horizontal bearded root, that’s why loquat tree can’t become a big tree.
From observing the growing process of these two trees, I realized why the Venerable Master often instructed us to conceal our talents and not to show off. The Venerable Master also said,
“When one can train oneself to appear as if foolish, Then one’s genuine cleverness comes forth. If one can study until one appears dull, Then one’s real talents begin to appear.” He taught his monastic disciples in early days very strictly and kept a conservative style.
When I first came to the CTTB, I was wondering how we could propagate the Buddha Dharma to the Westerners with such strict and conservative attitude. Shr Fu knew what was on my mind. During a phone conversation, he explained to me that the purpose for him to come to the U.S. was to clear the obstacles on the ground and lay a strong and solid foundation for the Buddhism in the west. From observing the growth of the oak trees, I then understood what Shr Fu had told me. It is just like the way the oak tree grows. It concentrates in growing the roots first without growing much of its the branches and leaves above ground. It starts to develop the top only until the roots reach 3-5 feet deep under the ground. In cultivation, we should follow the growing path of the oak trees – make a strong Bodhi resolve and a great vow to cultivate single-mindedly. The vow that we make should be just like the roots of the oak trees – deep and vast. We should cut off our false thoughts and outflow, which is just like the leaves of the oak trees – hardly evaporate any moisture. If we can cultivate just like how the oak trees grow, it is certain that one life in the future we will become a living being with superior roots which can receive more rainfall.
One time I met a very common ordinary landscaper who had told me a wise saying that I can never forget. “It is not me who creates the garden. It is the garden that creates me instead.”