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August 7, 2012

Native Plants of Tassajara

Diane Renshaw and Daiyu Judith Randall will soon team up for one of the final retreats of the summer, Native Plants of Tassajara. Diane, a professional consulting ecologist in the Bay Area, has been teaching at Tassajara for nearly two decades, and Judith, a student of Ryushin Paul Haller, has been living and practicing Zen at Tassajara for the last nine years. A little bit about the upcoming retreat and Diane’s long history with the Zen Mountain Center and its flora appears below.

Photo by David Silva

“Almost 20 years ago, in 1993, Tassajara built a new bathhouse. The architectural plans did not include landscaping and the construction site was a bare expanse of sand and river rocks. The outgoing and incoming directors knew I was familiar both with California native plants and with Tassajara, and they asked me to help establish some drought-tolerant plantings around the new building and cultivate a connection with the surrounding wildlands. That was the beginning of my long-term, and increasingly intimate, relationship with native plants, gardens, and the surrounding rugged wilderness ecosystem at Tassajara. As a teacher, the Tassajara ecosystem is unsurpassable! I am constantly surprised with abundant learning and practice opportunities.

Many people are interested in gardening with native plants, and abundant benefits accrue from putting this interest into action. Gardens are where most people are able to be intimate with plants on a day-to-day basis, which can be a very personal learning opportunity, even if the garden is as small as a cluster of potted plants on a deck.

Native plants have evolved in concert with their surroundings and are perfectly adapted to the place in which they grow — climate, topography, soils, water, drought, neighboring plants, insects, microbes, grazers, fire. I think native plants teach us what it means to be interconnected to all beings and things: all we need to do is pay attention.

Photo by Zohra Kalinkowitz

This retreat should appeal to anyone interested in observing nature, interacting with plants, and learning from the experience. We will begin with an introduction to the natural diversity of the Tassajara landscape on a day hike, becoming familiar with the plants, how they fit into the landscape, and thinking about how they might work in a cultivated garden setting. We will take a look around Tassajara to see how the gardens and landscaping fit into or contrast with their wildland setting. In the Tassajara greenhouse, we will do a bit of hands-on work, planting seeds we have collected in flats and propagating cuttings of natives.

Paying close attention, looking at the big picture, learning to think like the plants — I hope gardeners, non-gardeners, and everyone in between will take something valuable from these practices home with them.

Judith Randall, my co-leader, is a Zen priest and a long-time Tassajara resident. I’m looking forward to Judith’s wonderfully incisive and thoughtful observations on nature, attention, and life in general as we enjoy our time together on this retreat.” — Diane Renshaw