Yellow-gold and green moss on old stone.  Wabi-Sabi, Creating the Perfectly Imperfect Garden.

Wabi-Sabi: Creating the Perfectly Imperfect Garden

Gardeners and homeowners alike strive for the perfect garden and landscape. But our need to have the perfect plant or weed-free landscape can quickly become overwhelming and discourage us from spending more time outside. What if I told you that an impeccable garden is a thing of the past? Something we can put behind us for the chance to focus on reality.

Let’s face it. Nothing in life is perfect. Plants live, and plants die. They look gorgeous one day and struggle the next. The reality of gardening is much like our existence. It’s perfectly imperfect.

Stone arch from an old military fort near St. Louis with red and yellow leaf in front of the stone.

For all those homeowners and gardeners who struggle to keep your landscape looking like it belongs in a magazine – you can stop now. Now is the time to take a step back and breathe. Set aside the obligations of creating a perfect garden and live in reality.

Let me introduce you to a term that is taking the gardening community by storm this year and just happens to be one of the top gardening trends of 2018.


The remains of a stone building entry of an old military fort near St. Louis.

Wabi-sabi is not easily definable and is complicated to translate. Wabi once referenced the loneliness of living in nature while Sabi translated to chill, lean, or withered. Wabi-sabi often referred to an old and lonely hermit living away from societal pressures.

However, by the 14th century, the meaning that described Wabi-sabis despondency began to change. The once lonely hermit turned into a wise man freed from pretentious Japanese society. A man who chooses to look past excessive possessions and wealth. Who decides to live in harmony with nature and all its beautiful imperfections.

Today, Wabi (a philosophy) and Sabi (the aesthetic) typically refer to a rustic simplicity and quietness in life. It appreciates the beauty that comes with age.

Brown and red leaves mixed with pine needles laying on the green grass.

How does Wabi-Sabi relate to gardening?

Imperfect Plants:

Wabi-sabi allows you to release yourself from the unrealistic need for perfection. It finds beauty in the transience of every living plant. But the understanding that the plant will return the following spring allows peace with natural events. 

Tan-gold and green moss cover old stones.

In the Garden:

  • Plant natives. Allow them to self-seed and grow naturally instead of being controlled by the ideals that so many equate to gardening.
  • Leave seed pods through winter for wildlife to feed on and enjoy.
  • Don’t view insects, disease, or the death of a plant as a failure. View it as a part of the natural life cycle.
  • Enjoy the weeds in our lawns. Dandelion and clover are both tremendous food sources for bees.
Old wooden bench with a heart carved on the back.

Imperfect Design:

Some aesthetics of wabi-sabi include asymmetry, simplicity, and modesty. It allows mistakes and imperfections and creates sustainable gardens that are one with the existing, native landscape. 

Using natural materials such as wood, metal, or stone is part of the wabi-sabi concept. The aging materials don’t show a lack of maintenance. They indicate an appreciation of the nature of these materials.

Old, rusty door hinge attached to the stone of an old military fort building near St. Louis.

In the Garden:

  • Use natural materials in your garden and allow them to age and become one with your garden.
  • Repurpose old objects – use an old gate as a trellis or a metal container as a planter.
  • Create gardens that appear to be one with the nature that surrounds them.
  • Choose the right plant for your area so you can enjoy its natural form without excessive pruning.
  • Create sustainable lawns by growing native grasses and sedges instead of the non-native grasses that make up our lawns.
An old stone arch doorway surrounded by green leaves.  Remains of an old military fort near St. Louis.

Nature’s grandeur will always surpass our human attempts at perfection. By following the practices of wabi-sabi, we are allowed freedom from every self-imposed expectation. This gives us the spectacular opportunity to create a perfectly imperfect garden.


All Photos Baxter Gardens

Garden Trends 2018  – Garden Media

Wabi-sabi – Wikipedia

Wabi-Sabi and Understanding Japan

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