The Buddhist philosophy of Wabi-sabi has a broad definition – ‘Wabi’ can be defined as ‘rustic simplicity’ or ‘understated elegance’ with a focus on less-is-more, and ‘Sabi’ translates to ‘taking pleasure in the imperfect’. When put together, ‘wabi-sabi’ is the art of finding ‘beauty in imperfection’.
Incorporating the wabi-sabi style into your garden can create the opportunity to embrace a whole new garden aesthetic – and sway away from the usual standard of pristine backyard design. Whilst wabi-sabi philosophy isn’t exclusive to gardening, and can be implemented throughout the home and in other areas of life, it is quickly becoming one of the latest gardening trends.
Use natural plants
The first step to incorporating wabi-sabi in your garden is choosing plants that change in appearance throughout the season such as peeling bark. Self-changing plants also come under this category, and fit in with the wabi-sabi approach. Instead of choosing annual plants for your garden, which get replanted each season, plant perennials and self-seeding plants will do the trick.
Much of the philosophy surrounding wabi-sabi emcompasses the idea of leaving nature as it is. For the gardener, this can involve a change of mindset; learning to welcome those tiny imperfections which are so often the reality of growing plants. Things that seem quite alien to most gardeners, such as letting weeds flourish, watching plants go to seed and allowing dry leaves to collect on the ground, become the norm. Switching your view, so the death of a favourite plant is no longer a ‘gardening failure’ but actually part of nature’s life cycle, is key to wabi-sabi.
Wabi-sabi also involves a different approach to perfectly planted plants, and border planting. Rather than placing the plants in a certain way so they grow equally, wabi-sabi embraces the idea of allowing the plants to grow how they please, in an imperfect fashion.
Integrate natural elements
Plants aren’t the only natural elements to make up a garden, when you consider stones, wildlife and ponds. Rather than only choosing flower beds, consider using stones and placing them randomly around the garden, allowing the moss, and lichens to grow over them. Wabi-sabi also embraces the beauty of aging over time and this is where natural objects such as wood and iron come in. Whether it’s an old gate, iron gardening tools or a watering can, weathered wood and rusted iron is celebrated in the eyes of ‘wabi-sabi’ philosophy.
Wabi-sabi is about exploring how nature influences and enhances manmade objects, and landscapes. You could do this by repurposing old objects in the garden, for example placing an old chair in the flowerbeds to see the long term effect of nature.
Add your homemade creations
For your own garden, it’s always a nice touch to incorporate homemade creations. Whilst rustic furniture and urns are great additions to the aesthetics, your own loving crafted wooden water bowls, ceramic pots or planters will make the space seem more intimate – and still follow the wabi-sabi approach.
De-clutter the garden
Every open space needs room to breathe and a garden is no different. Donate your cluttered plants to neighbours or friends, and remove excess objects around the garden to create more space. By simplifying the area, it’ll allow you the freedom to embrace wabi-sabi, and implement all the natural elements.
Change the traditional garden path
Many gardens will have a straight or windy path through their garden, whether it leads from the door to the shed, or simply divides the garden, and is usually made of stone slabs. To transform the path following wabi-sabi’s philosophy, you need to alter the perfection and precision. Replant grass over the path, change the shape and style of stones, to give it a more unusual and imperfect look.
Use other Japanese traditions in the garden
Tea ceremonies are a large part of Japanese culture usually taking part in tea gardens, however there’s no reason to say they can’t happen in wabi-sabi gardens. If implementing a tea house, it’s important to keep it simple. Rather than having an actual building as the teahouse, create a wild outdoor space of calm, that can be used for meditation. It’s also important to keep the utensils simple and even use chipped teacups.
The wabi-sabi philosophy can go hand in hand with a zen-inspired garden. Also known as a Japanese rock garden, it consists of boulders, sand, gravel and rocks. And as the zen garden is already quite simplistic, you could use easily incorporate the wabi-sabi approach.
Put your twist on it
Wabi-sabi’s all-natural philosophy doesn’t stop you from being creative, and can open doors for a new garden vision. Take your perception of wabi-sabi and express it in your unique garden creation. If you’re unable to completely makeover the garden, use as many elements to embrace the wabi-sabi philosophy as possible by incorporating natural plants and manmade materials.
When creating your own wabi-sabi garden, the key is to always ensure you’re accepting the philosophy and embracing the impermanence of all the elements. We want everything to be perfect in life, however wabi-sabi is about shifting your perspective from perfecting everything around you, to appreciating it.
About the author
Japeto is a family owned business who offer an extensive selection of handpicked, high quality Japanese gardening tools, developed for professional and amateur gardeners.