Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


The Hugging Saint

mimulus aurantiacus, monkey flower

Mimulus aurantiacus, monkey flower

Amma, aka Mata Amritanandamayi, aka the Hugging Saint, is in town and I got hugged yesterday, my third time in two years, making me feel almost like a regular. Amma has a certain random significance for this gardenblog — my first post, aside from a one sentence “Hello world,” happened to be about Amma and her Blessed Calendula growing in our garden. That was due more to circumstance than any editorial intent — I happened to set up the blog a day or two after getting hugged, and the calendulas grown from seed blessed by Amma were just about the only thing blooming in our garden at the time — but her calendulas continue to be a mainstay in our garden, showing up in five or ten photos on the blog so far, and we do cut out from work to go get hugged every time she comes to town. So as a first blog post, it was random, but not inaccurate.

The hugs are Amma’s form of giving darshan or blessing. I don’t know too much about that, I just like the idea of getting hugged by a master hugger. She’s had a lot of practice; last year when I looked at the stats, she had hugged 26 million people. I’ve seen video of her hugging in Indian in a highly efficient hugging operation with various handlers organizing lines and moving people in and out of her embrace. One source says her personal best is 45,000 people in 22 hours, another says 75,000 in 24. If you do the math that’s 35 and 55 people a minute. She hugs at a slower pace here in the states where the crowds are smaller. I seem to always get an especially long hug, perhaps because I’m a bit more detached from it all. Last time she trilled in my ear while she hugged me; this time she repeated “My daughter, my daughter, my daughter.’ I have a goatee at the moment, so I doubt she was confused about my gender. I didn’t mind, and in any case, it was a good hug.

Amma’s organization has planted 400 million trees worldwide, which must make it one of the larger gardening organizations in the world, and at the ashram where she was hugging, they are in the process of planting 1,000 fruit trees. They’ve had the property, a former cattle ranch outside Castro Valley, for about twenty five years. The eastern side of the property has reforested with a lot of natives and some invasives. They are now planting the western side with the fruit trees. They are field grafting the trees, which I had never seen, so I checked that out. I’m not sure of the advantages or disadvantages of field grafting, but it seems to have worked reasonably well; some of the scions had been knocked off by winds and deer, but the bulk of them had taken.

comfrey and newly-grafted apple tree

comfrey and newly-grafted apple tree

They also planted a comfrey plant beside each fruit tree. Comfrey does various beneficial things, but I think the main idea is that the tap root accumulates nutrients from deep in the soil and makes them available to the trees, similar to what dandelions will do for a lawn. There were also some natives planted with the fruit trees, including one mimulus looking like a prisoner in its cage, but blooming. It should be nice when it all grows in.

ryan 6/5


One Response to “The Hugging Saint”

  1. June 7th, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    lostlandscape(James) says:

    A tree-planting, human-hugging saint, how great is that? I hadn’t heard about comfrey used like this as a companion planting, though the basic idea makes sense. If deer keep nibbling the mimulus I wonder if you’d end up with cylindrical topiary once the cages come off the plants …

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