top of page

Mindful Gardening: the art of subtle and constant practice

Contributed with love by a beloved member of our SHIFT tribe Lisa Rados

When Mary came by, our bathtub turned into a beautiful garden oasis—plants danced beneath the continuous drizzle of cool water, ever so grateful for the thoughtful and wholehearted attention. When I was first married, my mother-in-law would drop by for one thing another, but while there would always check on our house plants. As she moved about the kitchen, her finger would find each pot, checking the soil for dampness, and shooting me a disapproving look at what she had discovered. She knew my thumb wasn’t very green, and I never asked for her help, but as time went on it became clear to me that she not only had a knack for the tending to, and caring of plants, but also a love for their wellbeing that extended deep into her heart.

That was 30 years ago, and though I am still not very good with tending to my house plants, fresh flowers adorn our entryway and kitchen, and my love of gardening and the understanding of what plants and nature have to teach us has grown exponentially.

"Care melts when you kneel in your garden." ~ Anon

When I was training to be a yoga instructor, we had daily “homework” and one assignment was to meditate for ten minutes. One of my fellow trainees commented on how difficult it was for her to just "sit". She figured out that her meditation, although not as instructed, came more in the form of mindfulness, which occurred for her most naturally in her garden. Each morning she would drift about her yard and focus on new discoveries, or just be present to the sights and sounds of her garden as it awakened.

Anything that allows us to be aware of what is going on right now, in the present moment, is a valuable practice in mindfulness. And I always say that when we’re being mindful, we’re practicing yoga. Whether it be mindful walking, or eating, or driving, mindful practices create "peace in a frantic world”. Meditation teacher, Guy Armstrong defines mindfulness as, “knowing what you are experiencing while you are experiencing it. It is moment-to-moment awareness, has the quality of being in the now, a sense of freedom, of perspective, of being connected, not judging.”

I am still struck by, and often tell the story of what I observed one Spring a few years ago. Driving down my street on a neighbor's side yard a woman worked, crouched on a small stool, and covered head-to-toe in cotton. It began a few weeks earlier, the grandmother visiting from China, clawing at the brown grassy patch day after day. Two weeks later she had moved on to another spot. Any one of us would have found a faster and easier way to thatch and re-seed our lawn, so there must have been something else drawing her towards the meticulous way she worked with the earth. I often smile at the memory, knowing how much I love digging my hands deep into the soil, tending to and nurturing that which lives just outside my door.


"I try to regard pruning not as maintenance, but as a joyous art of cutting away the spent and dead to make light and space for new life." ~ K. Elting Brock

Like everything else in life, our garden has cycles—the excitement of planning and planting, and then the anticipation and newness of buds giving way to the burst of flowers. But what of the time in-between, when we weed and water and prune. In yoga we call that Tapas, the day to day tending to our practice and our lives, like we do during the summer in our garden. Longtime yoga teacher and author Judith Lasater says, “A better way to understand tapas is to think of it as consistency in striving toward your goals.” So if our goal is to have a happy, healthy and thriving garden, then consistent tending and pruning will keep our plants thriving for months.

We can think of our yoga practice and tapas in terms of pruning. When we step onto our yoga mat, we listen to what shows up for us in that moment. From there we soften and let go of what isn’t serving us, making space for something that does—just as the flower let’s go when it is spent, making room so new buds can blossom.

“In this moment, there is plenty of time. In this moment, you are precisely as you should be. In this moment, there is infinite possibility. ”  ~ Victoria Moran

Gardening blogger Tom Smart says, “We gardeners know that on a good day, when all the plants around us are reaching toward the sky, when the soil in the vegetable beds runs richly through our hands, that we feel totally connected to the present moment. There is a calm in gardening which cannot be found anywhere else.”

From the tiniest windowsill pot, to the expansive backyard garden—the benefits of working with plants and soil is available to almost anyone—a little slice of Zen for us all. Today, as I was caring for a “patio tomato plant”, I felt drawn to nurturing this strong young plant so it can produce a healthy amount of tasty tomatoes for our table. I moved about, potting some plants, and mindfully pruning some others. Due to the recent rain, I carefully remove soggy leaves and spent flowers, knowing that the work of tending to each plant is vital for its health, as it allows for more light and space and for new flowers to blossom.

The work was meditative, I felt connected, and hours passed by like minutes. I often think about my mother-in-law Mary when I am out in the garden, remembering the pleasure she took in caring for my plants. This day, nature seemed to be caring for me as well, it fed my body and my soul, and I knew that there was no place else to be—just right here, right now.

Please enjoy a few articles on yoga and gardening. They are short and worth the read.

And if you really dislike tending to the garden, especially keeping the weeds at bay, check out this article titled, A Mindfulness Practice for Weeding the Garden of Your Mind. It’s short, packed with food for thought, and may just change your perspective.

Happy gardening and namaste,

Lisa Rados


bottom of page