It's a Wabi-Sabi Thing

It's a Wabi-Sabi Thing

September 14 2020

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that embraces imperfection and transience; it holds that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. It teaches an appreciation for the patina of age and the stories told by time and weather, the weathered paint on an old barn, the chip in your favorite cup, the rusty iron of an old gate and perhaps even the lines on this grandmother’s face.

I am rather fond of this philosophy, it suits my ideas of garden decor. I believe a garden is more welcoming with some evidence of human activity. One cannot argue against the beauty of a meadow of wildflowers or a forest full of ferns, but imagine a gentle path through either one and maybe a bench to sit on and take in the view. It’s just asking you to come in and relax.

My favorite bench is one I made from stone posts from Kansas. I laid one of these large limestone posts (about 12-16” square and five feet long) on top of two shorter pieces. Voila! Bench. When I sit on this bench, I think of my Kansas grandparents and the homesteads where they grew up. I touch the fossils in the stone and think of the seas that once covered that land.

We hauled these posts from Kansas to Montana, the farmer in Kansas we saw fixing fence was pulling them out (maybe close to one hundred years after they were placed there) and replacing them with steel and wood posts. He was happy to see them go, they are incredibly heavy and I can only imagine how much work it was to haul them out to the prairie, tied under a wagon I’m told, and dig the large holes to plant them. They have grooves and little holes where barb wire was attached.

I like things in my garden that have stories to tell. I have a few old iron wheels here and there, some from the homestead where I grew up. I never really knew what to do with them so they were just leaning on fences and buildings.

One year I brought home some pink petunias at the end of the greenhouse season and absentmindedly stuck them in a pot next to an iron wheel. The petunias wound their way up through the spokes and that unplanned little combo turned out to be one of my favorites. Serendipity speaks! Pink and rusty iron.

I’ve never been a petunia fan (or pink) but I’ve come to find them almost indispensable. They are natives of South America and members of the nightshade family along with tomatoes, peppers, tobacco, nicotiana, and deadly nightshade. Yes, they are poisonous plants. The native South Americans called them ‘petun’ meaning roughly ‘worthless tobacco plants’. The Maya and Inca believed they could chase away demons and spirits which makes me wonder if they came by that belief because the plants are poisonous and also maybe why they were ignored by Europeans in the three hundred years since the Spanish first noticed them in the 1500’s. At any rate, they have been in cultivation for around two hundred years, being ‘rediscovered’ in the 1800’s, and that’s another long old story, alive and well in my garden.

Petunia, petunia x hybrids