SG600: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto with Leslie Buck

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Today’s show is a dream come true for me - Leslie Buck is on the show and she's the author of Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of KyotoCutting Back is Leslie’s charming memoir of her time spent in the gardens of Kyoto, Japan. 
 
Now, I read about Leslie and her memoir last year when she was featured in the Washington Post in an article by Adrian Higgins titled: A gardener went to Japan to polish her pruning skills. She found tough love. I was so intrigued by this article and I was absolutely thrilled when Leslie accepted an invitation to be a guest on the Podcast.
 
In her book, Leslie shares the revelations she had during her time working on a pruning-only crew of the centuries-old garden company. In Japan, Leslie found not only tough love, but also resilience and pride - along with a refinement of the skills required to create truly exquisite results in the garden.
 
If you love listening to garden adventures and garden stories, this episode with Leslie is perfect for you.
Imagine... being so fascinated by the ancient Japanese art of pruning, that you drop everything, put your entire life on hold, and fly to the one place on earth where pruning mastery is practiced every single day: Japan.
 
Now imagine doing this with only a handful of connections and a whole lot of hope - praying you’ll manage to secure some sort of apprenticeship opportunity to help you refine your pruning skills. (Btw: Now imagine doing that back in 1999 - without a smart phone.)
 
That’s exactly what Leslie did.  
 
In 1999, Leslie was a 35-year-old professional gardener. She owned her own landscaping business. She had worked with a few Japanese Americans and attended conferences to get better at pruning.  But, she wanted to learn more and she was very serious about pursing the craft of pruning. So, she bravely followed her heart to Kyoto - where she hoped to sharpen her pruning skills and kindle her love for Japanese culture.
 
During today’s chat, Leslie will read excerpts from many of my favorite parts in the book and she’ll also share design elements, pruning methods and interesting traditional tools from her time in Japan.
There are a few things I’d like to draw your attention to in this Episode:
 
The Natural Beauty of Native Plants.
Leslie talks about how we can sometimes mis  interpret what Japanese gardens are all about.  We shouldn’t be trying to recreate a Kyoto garden smack dab in the middle of wherever we happen to be on planet earth.  Instead, we should draw Inspiration from our own forests - and use our own native plants.  Leslie describes her own garden as being inspired by California campgrounds - very natural-looking
 
The Importance of Attuning to Our Gardens.  
Leslie poses many thought-provoking questions and insights in her book.  In today’s episode, you’ll hear her talk about pruning not to make a tree more beautiful, but to draw out the natural beauty already existing in the tree - even if that means accentuating a dead branch. (Shocking!) Leslie shares what a Garden desires most-  which is to be enjoyed and loved. And one of the things she tells her clients is to go and get a comfy garden couch to start that love affair with the garden.  So now we have our marching orders for our 2018 garden Shopping list - find a comfy garden couch. Stat
 
Attention to Detail.  
There’s attention to detail and then there’s attention to detail.  What I’m hoping you’ll take away from this, is a desire to work a little harder on your focal points or the special plants or features of your garden.  My daughter naturally does this.  All of the kids have helped me in the garden. But my daughter, Emma, is apparently very Japanese in her approach.  From the time she was very little, I learned that I couldn’t give Emma big jobs in the garden - that would overwhelm her and she’d lose interest.  But, ask her to focus on a two-foot square area?     I remember one time she cleaned debris out of a little strip of garden by my stream and it was immaculate when she was done.  I loved it - but I was more focused on the remaining 12 feet that were left to deal with and unimpressed with how long it took her to get that little patch of garden to look so good. I’m revising my assessment - and I’m excited to take a cue from Emma the next time she joins me in the garden.
There’s a point in the interview where Leslie and I talk about how to make a garden shine. Leslie says:
“A garden… it has to be loved.  As a pruner, I know how to look at a plant and say “Here are the problems.”  But, sometimes I have to step back and say, “Hey, what’s beautiful about this?” That’s why I step back and remind myself from time to time: I have to praise my garden."
 
I really liked that.
In fact, I especially enjoyed listening to the way Leslie talks about gardens - because that’s where SHE shines.

It’s time to take a little trip back to Japan courtesy of Leslie Buck and her memoir Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto

P.S. For my signoff today, I leave you with this thought to help you grow...

Spend some time in the natural environment of neighboring parks and forests and see if you can’t find some Inspiration to draw about the natural beauty in your garden - even if that means showing off a dead branch!

Thanks for Listening!

Still Growing,

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Jennifer Ebeling
Jennifer Ebeling is a proud Minnesotan and U of MN alumni. Gooooooo Gophers! Each week, Jennifer produces and hosts Still Growing - a gardening podcast dedicated to helping you and your garden grow. The show is an in-depth interview format. Guests featured on the show share a passion for gardening and include authors, bloggers, professional gardeners, etc. Listeners and guests of the show can join the Still Growing community on Facebook. It's a place to ask questions, share garden stories, interact with great guests featured on the show, and continue to grow and learn. Jennifer and her husband Philip have four children, a big golden lab named Sonny, and live in lovely Maple Grove, Minnesota. P.S. When she's not teaching her four kids a new card game - or teaching them how to drive a car - Jennifer loves inspiring individuals and groups to maximize and personalize their home & garden.
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