What is Wabi-Sabi?

cherry blossom on the ground
By ooma90

I came across this excerpt (which I shortened slightly at Ian’s blog).  It is quoted from Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers by Leonard Koren:

Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

It is a beauty of things modest and humble.

It is a beauty of things unconventional.

Wabi-sabi is a nature-based aesthetic paradigm that restores a measure of sanity and proportion to the art of living.

Wabi-sabi — deep, multi-dimensional, elusive — is the perfect antidote to the pervasively slick, saccharine, corporate style of beauty.

Get rid of all that is unnecessary. Wabi-sabi means treading lightly on the planet and knowing how to appreciate whatever is encountered, no matter how trifling, whenever it is encountered. …..
Mud, paper and bamboo have more intrinsic wabi-sabi qualities than do gold, silver and diamonds.

cherry blossom path
By jamesjustin

This little story of wabi sabi and the spirit of garden design is what really caught my attention:

Sen no Rikyu desired to learn The Way of Tea. He visited the Tea Master, Takeno Joo. Joo ordered Rikyu to tend the garden. Eagerly Rikyu set to work. He raked the garden until the ground was in perfect order. When he had finished he surveyed his work. He then shook the cherry tree, causing a few flowers to fall at random onto the ground. The Tea Master Joo admitted Rikyu to his school.
Rikyu in due course became a great Tea Master. It was he who introduced the concept of wabi-sabi, or elegant simplicity.

cherry blossoms on the sand
By tanakawho

Here is more of the quote from the book:

“Greatness” exists in the inconspicuous and overlooked details. Wabi-sabi represents the exact opposite of the Western ideal of great beauty as something monumental, spectacular and enduring. Wabi-sabi is about the minor and the hidden, the tentative and the ephemeral: things so subtle and evanescent they are invisible to vulgar eyes….

cherry blossoms in paving

By lolagranola425

Things wabi-sabi are unpretentious, unstudied and inevitable looking. They do not blare out “I am important” or demand to be the centre of attention. They are understated and unassuming, yet not without presence or quiet authority. Things wabi-sabi easily coexist with the rest of their environment.

Things wabi-sabi are appreciated only during direct contact and use; they are never locked away in a museum. Things wabi-sabi have no need for the reassurance of status or the validation of market culture. They have no need for documentation of provenance.

Things wabi-sabi can appear coarse and unrefined. They are usually made from materials not far removed from their original condition within, or upon, the Earth and are rich in raw texture and rough tactile sensation. Their craftsmanship may be impossible to discern.

cherry blossoms on bricks
By missjanetb

Simplicity is at the core of things wabi-sabi. The essence of wabi-sabi, as expressed in tea, is simplicity itself: fetch water, gather firewood, boil the water, prepare tea, and serve it to others.

The simplicity of wabi-sabi is best described as the state of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence. The main strategy of this intelligence is economy of means. Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don’t sterilize. (Things wabi-sabi are emotionally warm, never cold.) Usually this implies a limited palette of materials. It also means keeping conspicuous features to a minimum. But it doesn’t mean removing the invisible connective tissue that somehow binds the elements into a meaningful whole. It also doesn’t mean in any way diminishing something’s “interestingness”, the quality that compels us to look at that something over, and over, and over again. (end quote)

cherry blossom petals
By dezainur

What is wabi -sabi in your life? In your garden? These thoughts have been bouncing around in my head for last few days and I think they will have a profound effect on my future designs.

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rochelle greayer

Hi, I'm Rochelle and for 18 years I have worked as a landscape designer, author/writer, and design teacher. I've designed residential and hospitality (for hotels, restaurants, and spas) gardens across the USA and in the UK, Europe and the Middle East. After many years of teaching garden design topics in person, I launched the PITH + VIGOR Boot Camp series in early 2018. Through my blog, social media, and online courses (Garden Design Bootcamp and Planting Design Boot Camp) I aim to help homeowners learn how to confidently design and create home gardens that reflect their own personal and unique style.
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3 Comments

  1. Matt on November 9, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Congratulations! You have rekindled my love for cherry blossom trees. I have some good wabi sabi pictures of crepemyrtle flowers dusting the ground around a black eyed susan right after a summer storm.

  2. Pam on November 13, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    What a wonderful post!

  3. C. Duke on November 28, 2010 at 2:29 am

    I love this wonderful reminder–I will try to read some more about wabi-sabi–I studied the tea ceremony in Japan for one year–but now I am so far away from those things, that it is easy to forget–thanks for refresher!!!

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