At 35, Leslie Buck made an impulsive decision to put her personal life on hold to pursue her passion. Leaving behind a full life of friends, love, and professional security, she became the first American woman to learn pruning from one of the most storied landscaping companies in Kyoto. Cutting Back recounts Buck's bold journey and the revelations she has along the way. During her apprenticeship in Japan, she learns that the best Kyoto gardens look so natural they appear untouched by human hands, even though her crew spends hours meticulously cleaning every pebble in the streams. She is taught how to bring nature's essence into a garden scene, how to design with native plants, and how to subtly direct a visitor through a landscape. But she learns the most important lessons from her fellow gardeners: how to balance strength with grace, seriousness with humor, and technique with heart.
"Buck has as good an eye for cultural dissonance as she does for pines that need pruning...This is an absorbing read about the formative interplay of humans, cultures, and gardens." (Publishers Weekly)
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Cutting Back: The Poetry of Pruning is a Delight
Top 10%. Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto is a delicious memoir. Both the delicacy of pruning and the necessary fearlessness of the pruner are the contradictions at the heart of the arborist's life--and at he heart of Leslie Buck’s book. It gave me so much to think about! The whole concept of pruning and shaping is very much like a poet's method of revising. The delicate hierarchy of the world of Japanese gardening men was beautifully described. Buck’s friendships with these men were tender and complex. Her frustrations, her youthful stubbornness, the hesitating boldness with which she made the leap to Japan in the first place, all unfolded with zest. Although there is a placidity in arbor work, the book had the quality always of leaving me wondering and wanting more--ever leading me to the next chapter.
I very much liked the way Caroline McLaughlin narrated the book, a casual American voice in formal Japanese apprenticeship.
- Molly Peacock