Wabi-sabi in the garden

– Posted in: Garden Adventures, Garden Design

Rose hips

Autumn is a good time to look at the garden in terms of wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic that finds beauty in imperfection and transience.  In seeking wabi-sabi, one cultivates an appreciation for the ordinary and becomes aware that age offers its own poignant beauty. Because wabi-sabi evokes a feeling, it sometimes is defined as the ability to see the invisible. For me, it’s savoring what normally is ignored.

Canna seed pod

In my summer garden, cannas produce fountains of orange and yellow petals. When the jazzy flowers are gone, the green, thumbnail-sized seedpods have a quieter appeal.

 Aeonium

The lower leaves of aeoniums dry and curl, and are so delicate, it’s amazing they manage to linger. 

Mint geranium leaf

None of my trees turn fall colors, so when I see something like this, I’m delighted. It’s a fuzzy mint geranium leaf.

Magnolia petal2

A fallen magnolia petal is as dry and crisp as a potato chip. I like its creamy color and the way the edge curls. The other side is red-brown velvet.

Agave tip

After an Agave attenuata leaf was damaged, the tip shriveled. (I considered using this as the first photo above, but I was afraid someone might assume wabi-sabi is a leaf disease!)

Cotyledon blossom

A dried Cotyledon orbiculata blossom suggests an uncorked champagne bottle.

Amaryllis bulbs

Amaryllis belladonna bulbs are as large as onions. These look like they need to be buried, but they’re fine partially exposed, in fact, they prefer it. I like the touching the bubs’ papery exterior, admiring their concentric symmetry, and being in on the secret that each produces stunning pink lilies.

(I took the remaining photos in Georgetown, Colorado.)

Seedhead

This seedhead—of a weed growing in a field—is teacup-sized. 

Pine needles

These pine needles caught my eye because of their shockingly sunny hue.

Lichen

Lichen, growing on a boulder.

Fence finial

As exemplified by this gate finial, wabi-sabi need not be limited to plants.

Next time you’re in your garden, instead of rushing to finish pre-winter chores, slow down and observe the beauty in things that are aging, imperfect and transient.  Let us know what you find.

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Debra Lee Baldwin

Award-winning garden photojournalist Debra Lee Baldwin authored Designing with Succulents, Succulent Container Gardens, and Succulents Simplified, all Timber Press bestsellers. Her goal is to enhance others' enjoyment and awareness of waterwise plants and gardens by showcasing the beauty and design potential of succulents via books, articles, newsletters, photos, videos, social media and more. Debra and husband Jeff live in the foothills north of San Diego. She grew up in Southern California on an avocado ranch, speaks conversational Spanish, and at age 18 graduated magna cum laude from USIU with a degree in English Literature. Her hobbies include thrifting, birding and watercolor painting. Debra's YouTube channel has had over 3,000,000 views.
Debra Lee Baldwin
Debra Lee Baldwin
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