Have a Wabi-Sabi Wednesday!

Wabi-sabi: a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.

– From Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koran

When we bought our house, the yard was overgrown. The house is about 120 years old, and a lot of people have made their marks on the garden—with sometimes good and sometimes not so good results. But it’s an old garden, so to be fair to gardener’s past and present, let’s just say if the garden and gardeners were in a relationship on Facebook, the relationship status would read “It’s Complicated.”

One particular garden bed, right outside our kitchen door, really needed help. It was overgrown by the most beautiful Siberian irises. But it also had the craziest patchwork of other plants: some Pot of Gold, Antique Bleeding Hearts, Ajuga, Lady’s Mantle, but mostly the overgrown but still beautiful irises.

I had a vision of a kitchen herb garden, and I started out strong, planting three big clumps of chives, transplanted from our old house. I knew the lilac-blue of the chive blossoms and the hollow tubular leaves would go beautifully with the intensely blue irises and their spiky leaves.

But then I got stuck. I wasn’t so sure what to do because I didn’t want the crazy quilt, “Clown Pants” garden I was stuck with, but I am also not a hater or a killer of anything green. Plus, this garden was old, old, OLD. Like the house. With a lot of history. Which is what I wanted, right?

A friend of mine—an artist and an amazing gardener with a fabulous eye—lives right around the corner. I got up my nerve, and decided to call and ask for her help. Boy was I nervous. Her yard is absolutely beautiful. And perfectly cared for. With lovely river rocks forming the driveway, each individually placed by the artist. And if anything looks out of place, I assure you it’s by design. Her garden is also her palette, I reminded myself, and each journey begins with a single step. I picked up the phone.

“How ‘bout this afternoon?” She jumped at the chance!

I wondered how much weeding I could get done before she arrived.

That afternoon, I stood in the garden, side by side with the artist. This is not a talkative woman, rather reclusive by nature. And we stood silently, taking it all in. Her arms folded over her chest, finger gently tapping on the sleeve of her work shirt.

She asked only one question: “You planted these chives?”


“I like the choice of three.”

Whew! Then back to the silence. Finally after what felt like hours, when I couldn’t stand it anymore, I asked her what she thought.


“Wabi, wha?”

She laughed. “Wabi-sabi. The Japanese aesthetic centering on our acceptance of our transient time on Earth. Embrace and find beauty not just in new but also in decay—in the flowers’ deadheads, the paint peeling on the garden fence, the rust on the lamp pole, even the overgrown weeds!”

My friend smiled and stretched out her arm in a sweeping gesture. “Can you not see the beauty in the old?”

Since then, every summer as I contemplate the peeling paint, the withered plants that haven’t made it through a brutal winter, the deadwood in the lilacs, the invasions of volunteer Maple trees, the creeping weeds and grass—the reality of gardening in an old garden in Maine—I work hard to embrace the Wabi-Sabi. At the same time, I try to forgive and appreciate myself (and all my gardening predecessors) for all we can (and cannot) do.



p.s. Is there anything wabi-sabi in your life? Do you embrace it or does it drive you crazy? Are there ways that Wabi-Sabi can be incorporated into our writing lives?

This week I was reminded of Wabi-sabi when I read Melissa Crytzer Fry’s blog: End of Mighty Saguaro. Then, when I searched the web to clarify my memory, I was surprised to find an article posted this week at Mother Earth News about Wabi-Sabi!


  1. LOVE this post, Julia, as it mirrors my recent post & photos about the “Decline of Mighty Saguaro.” (http://bit.ly/e5c5yx ) I guess I’ve been practicing a little wabi-sabi myself without knowing it, as I do find beauty in the decaying desert plants on my property. I LOVE the principle of wabi-sabi in that it says to “Embrace and find beauty not just in new but also in decay …” Profound! Wonderfully written.

  2. Thank you so much for your very kind words! And thanks also for your inspiration with the mighty saguaro!