Wabi-Sabi: The Art of Imperfection in Your Garden

When envisioning a garden, many people think the ideal is formal planting beds with perfect blooms orchestrated into an uncompromisingly symmetrical design –mini-Versailles in their own backyards.

But for several years the trend has been to embrace a more casual feel, often described in the term “bed-head” gardening (as if your garden looked like your hair first thing in the morning before your styling ritual – a little ruffled, a bit messy, not shaped and sculpted).

Recently, the gardening philosophy of Wabi-Sabi has taken bed-head gardening to the next level. Roughly translated from the Japanese as “nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect,” it embraces authenticity and imperfection in gardening as opposed to artifice.

That doesn’t mean you just let the weeds go wild – Wabi-Sabi landscapes and gardens still require planning and maintenance – but it seeks to embrace and celebrate how nature transforms both living plants and man-made items. A weathered wooden bench with chipped paint is Wabi-Sabi; a new plastic Adirondack chair is not.

So how to embrace Wabi-Sabi in your garden?

If nothing else, a garden that emulates this style is relaxed and it is in transition (remember, nothing is ever perfect or absolutely finished in this philosophy).

So, a garden filled with perennials or self-seeding plants fit the style; during a single gardening season, you’ll see how they change or drop their seed pods. Over several seasons, they’ll tend to gently spread into places where they weren’t planted, helping your garden evolve over time without you controlling everything.

Making sure that your plants are native and well-suited to your micro-climate is also key to a Wabi-Sabi garden as they will not need an extreme degree of maintenance. Neutral, calming palettes are preferred – plants with showy blooms are used sparingly.

And if a plant “intruder” shows up in your garden one day – an ice plant or sunflower that you didn’t put into the soil but has somehow crept into your garden – don’t’ yank it out. Wabi-Sabi would tell you that’s a gift from Nature that shouldn’t be turned away. (This, of course, is assuming the gift isn’t threatening your other plants!)

Think about texture, too, like trees with rough, interesting bark cover.

You can trade in your water-hogging, high maintenance lawns for Wabi-Sabi options like prairie grasses and ground covers. They not only look more relaxed, but they also won’t require mowing every couple of weeks and are most sustainable.

In addition to plants, high high-quality materials of wood, metal, and stone are also welcome additions to the Wabi-Sabi garden because they, too, will change over time because of exposure to the elements.

Great choices for these additions are putting an old wooden chair into your garden. With time, it will get even more weathered and, as your plants grow around it, it will look like it was an organic part of your garden from the start.

Repurposed iron gates and gardening tools are good choices in this design, as they will also change with time and the elements.

If you are interested in exploring the relaxed and contemplative world of Wabi-Sabi, our staff at Warner’s can help you select plants that will work and décor that can help create a serene oasis in your backyard.