The Secret Garden

2007 March 29


Recently on the way to speak at TED, I had the rare opportunity to visit a secret Japanese garden tucked away in a residential neighborhood in the Bay area. The invitation came from a reader of LOS who wanted to show me his lifework--a garden that has been evolving for over forty years that has never entered the public eye. He wanted me to experience the garden and to give my simplicity perspective on it all. I don't usually wander into unknown territories at the invitation of strangers, but this seemed worth the risk.

The garden wasn't large, but like most Japanese gardens feels larger than it really is. There is some trick that Master gardeners use with the subtle shaping of the land, the proportions within the system of rocks, and the bent boughs of the trees that define the character of the garden. The elderly but robust creator of this garden was proud to say how he spent a great deal of time moving a giant boulder a few feet, or maybe even just rotating it a few degrees to achieve perfection. Or else moving entire trees from one spot to another. He was in search of the moving target of harmony within a living landscape.

I was surprised to hear him describe the different male-ness and female-ness of the trees. He didn't mean the actual sex of the trees, but the visual character of their trunks. A tree with bark that was firm and rough he referred to as a "male" tree; another tree with smooth and soft characteristcs he referred to as a "female" tree. To achieve balance he insisted that one had to have another. The fact that the law5 were what ultimately defined the balance gave me a smile.

As I had to leave for TED, I reluctantly stepped out of his garden to head for my rental car, and instantly entered normal Californian suburbia. I was struck by the 6th Law of law6. His garden made me forget everything around me ... or else made me appreciate so much more what I had experienced. I do hope to return to this secret garden once more in my lifetime.