Each year with the arrival of spring, many of us are becoming more or less enthusiastic gardeners. All the hobby markets, as well as the publishers of many magazines and television channel magazines, that regularly and repeatedly advise us on “when, how and where to plant, how to water, maintain and organize our gardens, they benefit from that.
We love our gardens and we spend lots of our free time on them – except during the winter. But although each garden is a bit different, basic elements of our gardens seem somehow similar. Most often you’ll find a grassy area, utility area for growing fresh vegetables and fruits, ornamental part with flowers for a nice view, a place to sit, often a place for a barbecue, tools storage space, driveway. And all this in different proportions. It does often dependent on the age of the garden, maybe on latest trends, but mainly on the nature and tastes of the owners.
Garden inspired by the style of Japanese gardens
However, if you want a different garden than our “standard”, you might want to think about a garden inspired by the style of Japanese gardens.
It might seem like this is a new trend. Japanese gardens have been inspiring garden designs around the world for many decades. You could even say centuries.
Over the last decades, several Japanese-style gardens and parks with public access have been created all around us. Find some near you, visit it and let the spirit of this place work on you. It might convince you that you want to have a piece of such a world in your garden.
If you would like to create a truly authentic Japanese garden, it is going to take you years of studying before that or you can find a Japanese gardening expert who has already been through all those years of studying. Understanding all the aspects, the proper use of individual elements and the styles of Japanese gardens is not simple at all. Creation of Japanese gardens has been for centuries fundamentally influenced by religious philosophies, such as Shintoism, Buddhism, or Taoist philosophy. Japanese gardens have their rules, traditions, philosophies and specific elements. And to know all that really requires a lot of knowledge.
However, to create your own tranquil oasis of peace and harmony, you do not have to try for a completely authentic Japanese garden, strictly observing all the “rules” and aspects. You can only be inspired by some of these aspects, or allocate a quiet corner in your garden just like a Japanese garden, where the time seems flow slower (eg. a small private Zen garden).
The appearance of a typical Zen garden defies the classic definition of “garden” in almost every aspect. It is not a place with lanes of lush trees, where a bright flood of flowers of all possible colours shines next to a green lawn. It’s not a place you would have a garden picnic or party at with your family or friends.
Yet, Zen gardens are becoming increasingly popular in our world. They offer something else. Something we’re looking for in today’s rush. With their stone strenuousness, we are sure to forget about everyday stress and strengthen the ability to concentrate there. With their purity and minimalism, they do offer peace and comfort to ourselves.
Is Zen garden really Zen?
Right from the beginning, it should be stressed that the term “Zen Garden” is somewhat incorrect. It is only the “western” naming of this kind of gardens. Japanese for this type of gardens use the term “kare sansui”, which in literal translation means “dry mountains and waters” or “dry landscapes”.
The term “Zen Garden” first appeared in English in the book of the American writer Loraine E. Kuck “100 Kyoto Gardens” in 1935. The Japanese term for “Zen Garden”- zen-teki teien, was first published in Japanese literature in the year 1958.
Yet, eighty years of use, right or wrong, gave to the term “Zen garden” a patina of authenticity. And we will stay at the concept of the “Zen garden” here as well.
What is a Zen garden?
This type of garden is the classic type of a meditation garden. In Japan, they have been popular since the 14th century, mainly thanks to the Zen Buddhist monk, teacher and builder of gardens – Soseki Musó. Dry stone gardens were then used by Buddhists only as a tool for meditation. For this reason, most authentic Japanese rock gardens – kare sansui – for us Zen gardens – are located in the area of Buddhist monasteries. Their beauty in a simplicity has survived and it is coming back to life again and again after more than seven centuries.
Plant life is minimal in a typical dry/zen garden, often to zero. Sand, gravel, and stone can even be the only elements to represent the whole landscape, ocean (sand or gravel), islands, rocks and mountains (stones of different sizes).
Zen gardens are intended as a personal project that reflects the own inner self. White sand or gravel is raked in an original pattern by the owner of the garden. Copying the pattern of another Zen Garden is against the spirit of such a garden; although this does not mean that you cannot inspire yourself.
Do you like the idea of a small sanctuary of peace and tranquillity – a small zen space a few steps from your door, right in your garden? Although the art of Japanese gardening is many centuries old, in just one weekend you can create a reasonable replica of the classic temple garden in a corner of your garden. It requires a minimal amount of materials and money, and especially very little maintenance.
What do you need?
The basic ingredients you will need are a small, even a miniature land, some amount of sand (the whiter it is, the better) or tiny gravel to cover the ground (we recommend to lay a garden textile foil under it), some stones of different shapes and sizes. Do not worry too much about the right choice of stones at the beginning. Since they are not fixed, you can later simply replace, move and add some, and gradually tune them to your imagination.
The finishing touch is to place your favourite garden chair so close that whenever you need to rest, you can sit down and watch the result of your own work.
Let time pass
An ideal Zen garden evolves and improves with the passage of time. Like the branches of a tiny, slow-growing coniferous tree that slowly developed into the pattern of balance and harmony of an experienced Bonsai master. Your garden will grow whenever you decide to adjust the position of that or other stone. Maybe you can add some such dry plant or shrub or stone lamp or a small Buddha statue (or another typical element of Japanese gardens). It’s a gradual process, limited only by how much time you want to put it in. And unlike a flower or vegetable garden, your Zen Garden does not need water … just the illusion of water will suffice. And this is a big plus in today’s climate change – a frequent drought period.
Slow down, relax, meditate
Zen gardens are intended as a personal project that reflects the own inner self. White sand or gravel is raked in the original pattern by the owner of the garden. Copying the pattern of another Zen garden is against the spirit of such a garden. However, it does not mean that you cannot be inspired by them. With their minimalism and purity, these gardens soothe us and invite us to a meditation and contemplation. And that’s why, in today’s fast and “over-informed” world, we all need a little zen corner like that.
I am one of those people who love warmth. Which is not always the case in the local climate. I live in a part of the world where, despite global warming, we still have four very different seasons in nature – budding spring, hot summer, misty autumn and cold winter. Even though their transition is sometimes very fast, sometimes we feel as if one reflected in the other.
I’m amazed by the spring nature every year again and again. I love long summer evenings in the garden. I admire the incredible colourful beauty of autumn. But since the beginning of winter, I count how many months and weeks remain until my springtime amazement.
It does not help that, unlike most of the Czech nation, I do not really enjoy winter sports either. Besides winter walks. And it is just helping me to see the winter months a little more positive. In a warm coat and wool cap, I admire the beautiful pictures of snowy or just frozen landscapes, the “artistic” creations as if sleeping nature, and the abstract paintings in the ice.
At home, when I look (in warmth next to the fireplace, and best with a cup of hot chocolate or mulled wine in my hand) what the lens of my camera or just my mobile has captured, I’m surprised to see how many colourful beauties you can find outside in this seemingly monochromatic season of the year. Special beauty with a great deal of melancholy. Nevertheless, especially the ice abstract creations of nature are at least comparable with many works by famous artists, are they not?
The beauty of our gardens is based on a flood of plants, trees and flowers. In Japanese gardens, this is not the case. For most types of Japanese gardens, plants are also very important, but not their most important element.
Japanese gardens are characterized, among other things, by harmony, space, specific lines, a sense of Wabi and Sabi, enclosed privacy. To achieve this, elements and accessories are used. They are mixed with each other in such way they together achieve the balance, the line and the meditation feeling in the garden space. Each element has different meanings and can symbolize many things. It can be said that in a Japanese garden, nothing is accidental.
Water is one of the fundamental elements of all styles of Japanese gardens excluding the so-called dry Zen gardens. Water levels in Zen gardens are shown by other elements: sand, gravel, stone. Both large and small lakes represent an ocean or a sea.
Streams and waterfalls
Streams and waterfalls bring movement and sound to space. Sound can be an integral part of Japanese gardens as well as visual elements.
The islands are another traditional element of Japanese gardens. They may be indicated only with a big stone or so large that a pavilion can be built on them. Some can be created to resemble a turtle or a crane, symbols of longevity and health, or the sacred mystical mountain Horai.
A bridge in the Japanese garden often symbolizes the path to paradise and immortality. However it also often connects the mainland with an island and allows you to view the beauty of the garden. Bridges can be stone, wooden, arched, flat, depending on garden style. Some wooden bridges are painted red, but it is more linked to the Chinese tradition.
Bamboo fountains sōzu
Bamboo fountains, known as sōzu bring to the garden, among other things, the element of sound (just like waterfalls).
Fish, koi carp
Japanese koi carp and other fish bring into the water space wonderful colours and life.
Stone is another essential element of Japanese gardens. Mostly in gardens in the style karesansui – dry gardens, commonly known under name Zen gardens. Sand, gravel, and stone can even be the only elements that represent the image of the whole landscape, ocean (sand or gravel), islands, rocks and mountains (stones of different sizes).
Routes and paths in the grass, through the sand or gravel “ocean”, but also through a real water space. Stepping stones – ie. flat stones – are another element that can be found in every Japanese garden. Unsymmetrical fitting will allow you to experience a feeling of much greater distances.
Although the stone lanterns didn’t use to be an essential element of Japanese gardens, in the western world they have become the symbol of them. And really there are not many Japanese-style gardens, where would not be at least one of the many variations of stone lanterns. They are also often used to create a Wabi feeling.
In Japanese gardens, there is the omnipresent idea of Buddhism. It is no wonder, therefore, that you can also find a Buddha statue there. Mostly inconspicuously placed and often covered with moss, which again brings to the garden the wabi-sabi feeling. In addition to the classic Buddha, there could also be found a statue of one of the most popular figures of Japanese Buddhism – Jizō Bosatsu (Bodhisattva). He is especially known as the protector of deceased children.
Fences and gates
Having a garden open to the rest of the world is very rare in Japanese gardens. The Japanese garden is often surrounded by walls or bamboo fences that prevent a carefully designed balance from the outside world. And the fence includes a gate, which is as a symbolic as an actual interface of the inner and outer world.
Teahouses and pavilions
In the past, many types of gardens have been designed to be seen from within a building such as a palace or a temple. Nowadays small buildings such as pavilions and teahouses are one of the elements of the garden.
Trees and plants
Trees and plants are not the most important element in Japanese gardens. Still, with most styles, the selection and composition of individual trees, shrubs, plants and mosses are very important. But that’s already a topic for another separate article.
Japanese gardens have been inspiring more and more garden architects as well as gardeners themselves in the last century all over the world. Purity, simplicity, symbolism, harmony. All of us can evoke a pleasant feeling of peace. And above all, tranquillity and a slowdown in the flow of time is what in today’s increasingly hectic times we all, at least sometimes, want, look for, need.
In Japanese culture, the creation of gardens is considered a high and prestigious art that has evolved over centuries. It was influenced by philosophies, such as Shintoism, Buddhism and Taoism. And, of course, the art of the tea ceremony. Japanese gardens have their laws, traditions, philosophies, specific elements. Understanding all the aspects and the symbolism of Japanese gardens requires a lot of knowledge.
Under the term of Japanese Garden, many people still imagine a garden full of bonsais and a very high demand for maintenance.
The styles of Japanese gardens are, however, quite diverse. Nevertheless, we can say that they are all made up to a certain conception of representing an ideal landscape. And that is through a certain symbolism and poetic narration. Even a way of looking at the expression of this ideal landscape divides traditional Japanese gardens into different styles. These styles are often combined and intertwined.
The most famous types of traditional Japanese gardens include:
Karesansui, or a dry / rock garden, better known as Zen Garden – a classic type of meditation garden with minimal plant life.
Tsukiyama (Garden of ponds and hills) – features a miniature of natural sceneries that include ponds and streams with fish, hills and stones, bridges and paths, trees and mosses, flowers and small plants.
Roji, Chaniwa (Tea Garden) – Garden with quite a complicated structure and strict rules. It is designed to tune in its visititors to a tea ceremony in a tearoom built next to or inside the garden.
Paradise garden – representing paradise or “pure land” – Jōdo. Originally designed for Buddhist monks to meditate and reflect in the beauty of the garden.
Japanese gardens, regardless of the particular style, certainly have aspects, common features that characterize them. These include:
Balance and harmony – everything fits together, everything is balanced, but not necessarily even.
Space in the Japanese garden is used differently than in our gardens. Space is a component that helps define the elements that surround it. This again relates to the idea of balance. Space defines the elements inside and is defined by the things inside it. Here you can definitely say that less is more. With fewer components, each component has more meaning and has a greater weight and greater impact on overall appearance.
The line of the garden – the lines and angles are rather rounded and organic to act as natural as possible – as in a real and natural landscape.
To achieve harmony, linearity, a sense of Wabi and Sabi and the meditative feeling in the garden space, a combination of elements and accessories typical of Japanese gardens are also used. Such elements include water (lakes, streams, waterfalls), stones, gravel, sand, islands and bridges, brick or bamboo fences and gates, teahouses and pavilions. With Japanese garden are connected also stepping stones, stone lanterns and statues, bamboo fountains and other (see more elements) are connected with the Japanese garden. Each element has different meanings and can symbolize many things.
In the Japanese garden, there is nothing accidental, everything has its substantiation.
How many times in your life have you smashed one of your favourite mugs, plates or bowls? Sometimes it just slips out of your hands, other times time works its magic and one day a crack appears, the ear remains in your hand …If it is a very precious or favourite piece of yours and it has not cracked to too many shards, you might want to try to fix it so that it would not be visible repair. Then you can use such a mug, for example, for pencils, plate or bowl under the flower. But only if you can get it together in such way that it is not at first sight recognizable. Otherwise, you just throw it away.
But it can be done differently. You can on the contrary repair such a piece so its repair stands out, it is shining in the distance and making so a new original piece in its way.
In Japanese culture, you can find Kintsugi art (translated to“golden joinery”) or Kintsukuroi (“golden repair”) – which can be briefly described as an art of repairing broken ceramics with a lacquer dusted or mixed with gold, silver or even platinum powder. It is believed that sometimes the repair of broken things can make them even better and more beautiful than if they were new.
This way of repair celebrates the unique history of each artefact by emphasizing its breakages, cracks or even missing parts instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, reviving it with a new life.
The art of Kintsugi dates back to the end of the 15th century. According to one legend, this art came into being when Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a cracked Chinese chawan (a tea bowl) back to China for a repair. After its return, Yoshimasa was disappointed to find that this was corrected by unsightly metal staples. This motivated his craftsmen to find an alternative, aesthetically pleasing method of repair. And so Kintsugi was born.
Collectors were so enchanted by this new art that some were accused of deliberately breaking valuable pottery to repair it with the golden Kintsugi seams. Kintsugi became closely associated with the ceramic vessels used for the Japanese tea ceremony – the chanoyu. However, over time, this technique has also been applied to ceramic pieces of non-Japanese origin, including China, Vietnam and Korea.
Since its inception, Kintsugi technique has been connected and influenced by various philosophical thoughts. Specifically, with Japanese philosophy wabi-sabi, which calls for beauty to be seen in flawed or imperfections. This way of repair is also associated with the Japanese feeling of mottainai, which expresses regret when something is useless or thrown away, as well as mushin – an acceptance of change.
There are three predominant Kintsugi styles: crack repair, piece recovery method, and joint-call method. While, in any case, gold-dusted compound/epoxide is used to repair the broken ceramics, the remedies themselves differ a little from each other.
Crack repair method – use of gold dust and resin or lacquer to fix broken pieces with minimal overlapping or filling of missing pieces
The piece recovery method – if a ceramic fragment is not available, it is produced and supplemented exclusively by epoxy resin – golden mixtures
Joint call method – the missing piece of ceramics is replaced by a similarly shaped but inconsistent fragment of aesthetically different ceramics. It combines two visually different works into one unique piece. It is a method reminiscent of the well-known patchwork.
Kintsugi inspires many artists and craftsmen all over the world even today. And it does keep this ancient tradition alive. Works inspired by this technique can be found in many world museums and galleries.
But it can also inspire us. The next time we will not want to throw away a crackled saucer from a grandmother’s set, a broken cup we liked, or just an old flower pot … We can also take the breaks and subsequent repair as part of the history of the object, rather than something that should be disguised.
Among the artists and designers that present and apply the spirit of wabi-sabi in their work undoubtedly belongs Axel Vervoordt – a world-renowned interior designer of a very specific style, but also an antique collector, gallery owner and an author of several books. He was born in Antwerp, Belgium in 1947.
As a designer, he is celebrated for his captivatingly minimalistic interiors infused with a serene sense of history and timelessness.
“I believe in the historical, not the merely decorative. I like depth, not superficiality – everything needs a deep human reason, and for me, it is important to create something interesting, not just decorative.”
He gained the love for all the old and authentic and a certain fascination by the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the Baroque, in his youth, when he helped his mother with the reconstructions of old houses in the Vlaeykensgang – the historic district of Antwerp, which was then rented to local artists. To this he later, thanks to business travels throughout Thailand, Cambodia and Japan, added an admiration for Eastern philosophies and art.
“I really don’t mind if things are ugly. They have their own beauty if only one looks hard enough.”
He already combined unusual rustic furnishings with baroque ones or ancient sculptures with modern paintings. Today, in his work, he also promotes the zen idea of wabi-sabi – that true beauty is imperfect, incomplete and unstable – in other words, as transient as life. This view is reflected in his love for modest, sometimes at first look almost “ugly” subjects, such as a shepherd’s rough table or a raku tea bowl. “For 30 years I have been interested in developing an art of living which can transform the ordinary object into an objet d’art and the everyday gesture into perfection – the fullness of emptiness.”
For some, his combination of materials and styles may seem contradictory, but Vervoordt believes that truth may be contained in a paradox and in ambiguity.
“I love the tension between different objects and different cultures and I always let the space I am restoring inspire me.”
Axel Vervoordt creates environments, that do not look like they were just made but found. His specific style is highly sought after and often imitated. Among his former clients belong members of royal families, successful tycoons from financial and IT world, rock and film stars and other artists. The most famous of them are Bill Gates, Ellen DeGeneres, Kanye West, Sting, Calvin Klein, Robert De Niro (see his New York wabi-sabi Penthouse), and many others.
“Etre heureux en rendant heureux”
– which could be roughly translated as “finding happiness through creating happiness” -a quote which Axel Vervoordt states on his website as his favourite.
The home should always be a place where you can forget about the difficulties of the surrounding world. A home based on wabi-sabi should be a place where you feel absolutely free and unrestrained, to relax, to meditate, but also to create and develop your creativity.
Purity and simplicity, space and light. It can be said that for the wabi-sabi home, this is the most desired decoration.
For an at least partial transformation of our home into the wabi-sabi style we do not need great finance or even a designer work. A few little steps might just be enough.
However, before proceeding to the first basic step, i.e. opening space as much as possible, cleaning up, rearranging rooms, or then decorating them yourselves, take a zero step:
Magazines inundate us with images of perfect flawless interiors according to recent trends, describing how correctly and contemporarily everything should look. So often we can get to succumb to the feeling, that at home we can see things that are not exactly the way we think it would be right according to some kind of rigid perceptions of the current habitation.
Is our kitchen or bathroom too small, old, dark? Do planks on the floor have a slightly larger joint in one place? Is the plaster on the wall after the work of the electrician and even still bulging after repairs? Does the third stair after stepping on squeak a little bit? Is there a small, unclean stain on the couch that is not visible, but you know about it?
No house or apartment where someone really lives is not without any flaws.
So, step zero:
Look at your home with a slightly more tolerant attitude towards its mistakes and imperfections.
Do not give up on your home, but also do not look at your dwelling as a list of imperfections. Let’s simply just love our home. Even with its minor faults, behind which there’s often a story.
As already mentioned – space, light, purity and simplicity – these are the fundamental principles of wabi-sabi interior. You probably won’t enlarge your room by any magic wand, but sometimes it’s enough to just move a piece of furniture into the corner or to think about the necessity of having some of our stuff. Cleanliness (purity) is practised not only figuratively, but literally. With the cleanliness of our home, we express our respect for our visitors, but above all that we respect ourselves. By keeping surfaces free of dust and dirt we deliver to our space the desired feeling of peace and order.
So, therefore, the first and indispensable step in creating a wabi-sabi style space is cleaning or getting rid of the disorder and things that have gradually accumulated. It sounds simple, but maybe you also have a problem with throwing out all those small or big gifts from your loved ones, a collection of travel souvenirs, a family heirloom. Maybe you would even like to throw some of them away, but for another member of your family, they are valuables, that he/she would not want to lose. And even though you have restrictions, what to do when you want to relieve your home?
Try the old Japanese method of ROTATING PRECIOUS ITEMS. Japanese hid their valuables and were displayed just a few of them in a specially designated area or in a special niche – tokonoma. After a certain time, they realigned them. Assuming we have storage space, we just hide these little things and our valuable belongings and display only a few of them at a time. After some time, we replace them with another from our “warehouse”. This method is far less painful than just getting rid of our “valuables.” Moreover, after some time when we do not have them all the time in our eyes, they will seemingly come off as even rarer or on the contrary, suitable for throwing out or handing over.
Wabi-sabi home does not have to look like a monastic dwelling without any ornaments or few fancy items. But also it should not be overcrowded with external details.
But we’re already at the next step:
Step Two: Interior Equipment
The wabi-sabi style is not suitable for supporters of consumerism. On the contrary, it is inclining towards a sustainable environmental approach. Things and equipment made of quality natural materials and in good quality design are not hurt by time or a gentle usage. Getting a patina of time often rather benefits them. And we do not change such things so often.
As mentioned in the Wabi-Sabi Interior post, with the wabi-sabi interior, they are related:
colours – rather subtle and matte;
materials – as natural as possible, coarse and patina;
shapes – round, rounded edges, non-rectangular;
furniture less so it would not occupy the whole space and at least some piece of “attic”, ie., such as one that has already implied a certain age
art and decoration – abstract paintings and photographs, sketches expressing incompleteness – perhaps from our children, accessories of interesting shapes, colours and structures.
To make our home really a place where we feel absolutely free, freely, fetterless, we should listen to our feelings and take heed of our intuitions when arranging it. In that way, we use colours, materials, and objects that we love and that are pleasing to us.
A look at a wabi-sabi interior can remind us of the austerity of the industrial style, perhaps a little bit in celebration of the old times in a Provençal or a rural rustic style. But just like the philosophy itself, the interior according to wabi-sabi is characterized by simplicity, purity, naturality, asymmetry, and the appreciation of the flowing of time.
Unlike other interior design concepts, the wabi-sabi interior is not about an equipment with a specific style or a carefully set colour palette. It’s the art of appreciating space and what’s possibly already there from the past. It’s about the art of matching what we really need to buy with what we already have. It is certainly true that LESS IS MORE.
The wabi-sabi style is not suitable for supporters of consumerism. On the contrary, it is inclining towards a sustainable environmental approach. Things and equipment made of quality natural materials and in good quality design are not hurt by time or a gentle usage. Getting a patina of time often rather benefits them. And we do not change such things so often.
The interior in the spirit of wabi-sabi is not a place that you want to show off or impress other people with. Much more important than the appearance itself, is how you are feeling in it.
The home is conceived as a shrine of peace and tranquillity. A place where you can forget about the difficulties of the surrounding world, to relax, to meditate, but also to create and develop your creativity. A home based on wabi-sabi should be a place where you feel absolutely free and unrestrained.
If you’ve recently found demonstrations of interiors in the style of wabi-sabi in magazines, they were often very expensive residences. And often they are also homes of more or less well-known people (see the Robert Niro residence in New York). Recently, however, it is possible to see at least small signs of wabi-sabi inspiration even with Czech interior designers in arranging “normal” houses and flats. Whether for renovations of old apartment flats or family houses or also for new buildings.
But for an at least partial transformation of our home into the wabi-sabi style we do not need great finance or even a designer work. More on Wabi-Sabi Home.
It is said that the garden reflects the nature of its owner and their view (and possible changes to their view) of the world. I agree with that completely. When you‘re out on a walk, look into other peoples‘ gardens, you‘ll see gardens growing wild and untrimmed, gardens that look like they were designed and kept up by a professional gardener, yet still feel somewhat bland and uninteresting. Perhaps that‘s the owner‘s fault or even the fault of the current garden trends. Nevertheless, sometimes you will see gardens that don‘t have a particularly perfect structure but you often see the owner in them, relaxing, trimming, making adjustments. Gardens in which there is life.
Our family definitely belongs to the last group. Our garden is a place where we spend a lot of our time „at home“, our family dinners, weekend meals, birthday parties, coffee drinking or an evening glass of wine rarely take place inside the house between April and September.
Our garden definitely shows the changes in our family life. When the children were younger, it was a place of fun, games and constant exploration. It was a place that had to be safe for them, but at the same time diverse enough to still be interesting.
I always liked a certain wildness in my garden. I never minded the flowers that the wind blew in, especially if they blossomed in a nice way, overgrown oregano plants that attract a huge amount of butterflies as well as big, spread out lavender plants that are surrounded by bumblebees during their blossom, during which they release a strong scent that covers the whole garden in a wonderful aroma. I don‘t mind the flowers that were planted accidentally by birds during their flight over our land. Actually, I think that in a part of our garden the birds were the best gardeners, as years ago they planted three trees with an almost perfect spacing – a cherry tree, a walnut tree and a Salix lucida willow, all of which currently have over three meters in height and are towering over the northern border of our land above flowers that grow underneath them. However, it remains true that the wildness was also part of the reason why we couldn‘t spend more time on perfecting the garden.
Nowadays, when our children are almost grown up and are exploring the world in different places and without our assistance, the garden continues to change. It‘s ceasing to be a place for games and beginning to be more of a place for relaxing, an island of tranquillity to return to after a day in the noisy and hectic city of Prague. That‘s when I like to take a moment to sit down in the garden to listen and watch the slow and quiet workings of the nature around me. It enables me to find a feeling of calmness and happiness within me without an obvious reason, to forget the everyday errands, that often catch us into the chronical feeling that we “do not have time”.
Partly consciously, partly unconsciously, our garden is beginning to approach my idea of a wabi-sabi garden. Slightly tamed, slightly subdued but nevertheless gracefully calm. A garden that still looks barely touched by humanity in some parts, even though we spend a lot of time enthusiastically working on it. The daybeds in a covered part of the garden with an excellent view of the grown trees and constantly growing flowers are my favourite spot, and not just for a summer laziness. The old hammock located under a full-grown walnut tree is a great spot for some quality time spent reading a book. A previously not-so-used corner of our garden has become, after the construction of a pond with fish, a sought out a place for contemplation, and not just by myself.
Hopefully, one day all of the individual parts of our garden come together to form a path, after which if any of us go through, will remain connected with nature through sounds, smells, sight, touch and taste. Though short, a journey through a variety of sensorial experiences.
And yes, I do believe a garden reflects the nature of its owner and their view of the world.
Almost twenty years ago, I and my husband moved, in anticipation of our eldest son, to the countryside not far from Prague, to a more than a hundred-year-old house. A lot of friends and relatives didn‘t understand why so far away (the boom of building and moving beyond the boundaries of Prague at that time hadn‘t started yet). But mainly, why such an old and thus imperfect, and even a little rusty house when “… After all, it would be better and easier to build a new house…”
I don’t know why, but somehow I always liked old houses more. Despite their imperfections. Houses that already have a certain patina of history that they‘ve “experienced“. Houses that have a particular spirit, atmosphere, something that isn‘t expressible in words.
We were founding a family and wanted a home. And in our cottage house, we just felt good right away. Even with all those irregular angles between the walls, exposed wooden beams with engraved markings from the carpenters in the attic and despite a few minor cracks in the walls, collapsing plaster and a lot of work that was obviously waiting for us…
Well, maybe it wasn’t as challenging as it was for Tom Hanks and Shelley Long in the movie The Money Pit from the year 1986. However, for a comfortable living, we had to gradually and sometimes with some difficulties take care of it both physically and financially.
Everyone knows old houses have their flies, so you can imagine the hundred-year-old one. But in some of those “errors of the beauty”, a certain poetry could be seen in those.
It is true that as probably every owner of such old real estate, even I had my weak moments. When you constantly keep changing and modifying your list of priorities for the reconstruction because of your spare time and finances, and then you visit friends in their perfectly finished new house. It does make you feel a bit of self-awareness. At least in the sense that your house will probably never be as perfectly and beautifully finished and never ever be looking so flawlessly. But then you realize neither their bright new house won‘t stay flawless forever. Over time even there is going to be “something” that is not as it should be, “something” that doesn’t work properly. It will take a while for their house to be properly tested over time.
I once accidentally stumbled into this text on the internet while researching something:
I have to say that, even though I had previously stayed in China for several months, I was never too deeply interested in Eastern philosophy. I had never heard of wabi-sabi before, but when I did, it sounded kind of nice. I had the feeling that the ideas are somehow kind of characterizing my view of the world around (for somebody maybe not contemporary).
Maybe initially I’ve associated it with the inner beauty of our imperfect building, which could be seen sometimes only by us – who are living here. Why should we forever worry about any imperfections, tiny cracks and all those other signs that time, weather, and loving use of the house by our predecessors left behind?
But the more I learn about the concept of wabi-sabi philosophy, the more I have this very inner feeling of happiness and peace, that everything is as it should be. It inspires me to more intensely perceive the beauty of everyday things.
I have printed, framed and mounted this picture on the wall. After some time a tiny, tiny crack appeared on the wall.
That was the beginning of my interest in the philosophy of wabi-sabi.