This happened to me several years ago when I learned about wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi (wobby-sobby) expresses things I’ve long felt but had no words for.
Wabi-sabi (not to be confused with wasabi – the green condiment with the strong pungency eaten with sushi) is a concept deeply ingrained in Japanese society and notoriously hard to explain.
I read somewhere if a culture has no word for something then it’s not considered important or significant. It’s not surprising there’s no direct translation of wabi-sabi into English. That’s because a wabi-sabi way of seeing the world is quite different from the way we typically see things in the West, especially when it comes to expressions of beauty.
It’s easy to forget ideas of beauty aren’t universal. In the West we lean toward Greek ideas about beauty, which focus on perfection – symmetry and proportion, glossiness, newness and freshness. Wabi-sabi shifts the balance away from perfection in favour of authenticity.
Wabi-sabi is a mind set, a way of seeing things but it’s also expressed in certain physical characteristics. Things earthy, modest, organic, rustic, simple, and things that bear the mark of time because they have been so well cared for are all beautiful and all very wabi-sabi.
It helps to know wabi-sabi started out as separate terms.
In the 8th century sabi appeared in Japanese poetry and meant the beauty of things withered. Sabi celebrates the toll living takes on everything, and is expressed in the graceful aging of objects in nature as well as things made by hand from materials like wood, wool, clay and cotton. Autumn leaves, a fading flower, aged utensils and weathered wood are considered beautiful because they are authentic. At its core, sabi is about flux and the limited mortality of all things.
Wabi emerged in the 15th century as a reaction to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which was lavish, expensive and a means to show off wealth. The ceremonies mostly involved the ruling class and were extravagant affairs. Tea houses were gaudy and expensive imported goods were used. The wabi way of tea is the opposite; humble, quiet, and simple. Beauty exists in the modest and imperfect. Tea is served in locally fired bowls. Decor consists of bamboo and fresh flowers in weathered baskets. Hospitality, not pretension, is what counts.
Now wabi and sabi are combined, interchangeable and shorthand for finding beauty in the imperfections of life and peacefully accepting the natural cycle of growth and decay. Wabi-sabi is often summed up in three truths:
nothing is finished,
nothing is perfect.
Maybe you find wabi-sabi too gloomy and grim a concept to adopt. Or maybe you’re like me and find it unshakable.
I see value in viewing life through a wabi-sabi lens. It’s a way of engaging with life that, although bittersweet, puts me at ease. Accepting life as imperfect, unfinished and transient actually feels quite freeing.
Capturing the beauty of yellow roses as they fade helped me tap into peace and calm, which I really needed these past few weeks.
I was distressed about one of our cats; Archie wasn’t doing well and I feared the worst.
We adopted Archie from the Humane Society ten years ago. He’s such a lovely animal, terribly handsome with a most peaceful deposition. It’s an understatement to say we’re attached to him.
He’s our therapy cat. Anyone could benefit from being around him (except those allergic, perhaps). You look into his gorgeous green eyes, stroke his soft beautifully patterned fur, hear his roaring purr and you feel better.
Imagine our grief when we learned of a growing and painful bone tumour in one of his hind legs.
Amputation was recommended. It was expensive but it would put an end to Archie’s pain, which was growing increasingly hard to manage, even with heavy painkillers. It would definitely prolong his life. But a life with three legs? Was it the right thing to do?
It’s been almost three weeks since his surgery. His recovery is a wonderful thing to assist and witness. Being kind and tender has been the trend around here. I’m touched to see those qualities shine in my husband and kids.
He slept a great deal the first week but now he’s more alert. We can tell by his ears – super perky! He gets out of his heated bed to eat and use the litter. His stitches are out and he doesn’t have to wear the dreaded cone of shame anymore, thank goodness. He even manages going down the stairs on his own. And he grooms himself! It’s a good sign because it suggests he’s not depressed.
Further on in his recovery, when his wound has healed and his fur has grown back in, I’ll post a video or two.
Archie’s going to get along just fine with three legs instead of four and that makes us positively giddy with happiness.
With very little coaxing paperwhite bulbs will reward you with clusters of fragrant blooms in as little as four weeks. All you need is a container, a holding medium and water.
Soil is not necessary; paperwhites will happily grow anchored in either decorative stone, glass, pebbles or gravel.
I started my paperwhite bulbs in mid December, too late for Christmas blooms but perfect timing for flowers in mid to late January.
I chose white pots that belonged to my mother and small river stones for anchoring the bulbs. I decorated the top with moss.
The grande finale is obviously when delicate little white trumpets appear and release their characteristic heady scent. But I get great pleasure out of tracking the paperwhites’ growth until they flower. This poem sums it up perfectly.
Next year I’ll try something suggested by researchers at Cornell University: to keep paperwhites from growing too tall and spindly, and to prevent droop I’ll add a splash of gin (almost any hard liquor will do) to the water. It supposedly shortens the stems, lowers the center of gravity and prevents paperwhites from getting top heavy.
Here are guidelines on how to coax paperwhite bulbs. Best growing time is between October and January.
Place a layer of stones or glass to a depth of about 2 inches in a small vase or about 4 inches in a larger vase.
Place a layer of paperwhite bulbs close to each other, roots facing down.
Put a few stones or pebbles around and between the bulbs to anchor them. Leave the tops of the bulbs exposed.
Add water to just below the base of the bulbs. If the base sits in water, it will rot. If you are using a pottery vase, use your finger to measure the water level. Replenish when water level falls.
Put in a cool and dimly lit or dark place for one to two weeks or until roots have begun to take hold and green shoots emerge. Then move the pot to a bright spot.
Rotate the pot regularly to encourage even growth.
Four to six weeks later paperwhites should bloom, longer if in a room with less light.
After your paperwhites have finished blooming, gently pull the plants from the holding medium and toss them in the compost as they won’t flower again.
Wash and dry the stones and the container for future use.
I received much-needed emotional support this past week from photographing a bunch of grocery store carnations.
Displaying them about the house helped ensure my whole family reaped their mood-elevating benefits, too.
Handling each flower, cutting the stems and immersing them in water, and arranging them to be photographed draws my attention to colour, texture and pattern, to the softness of the petals and the particular green of the leaves and stems. It helps me recognize the beauty of flowers, which opens my heart to feelings of joy and love.
I bought three bunches of orange and pink carnations for $20.00. A bit of baby’s breath was mixed in each bunch.
I like to break up the flowers and arrange them in separate vessels of varying sizes.
Place your bouquets in rooms where you spend the most time, and in areas where everyone can see them and benefit from their beauty.
Seeing them first thing in the morning is important since they help set your mood.
The kitchen is an excellent spot since it’s where we tend to gather before we start our day. Plus it’s most convenient room to change the water!
I’m not so naive to think looking at photos of flowers can repair the blow to the spirit you might be experiencing today, as the results of the US election sink in. Still, I offer you these pink and orange carnations, styled specifically with you in my mind.
November arrived and I’m giving myself a pat on the back for getting the garden to bed before things freeze up.
Potted hostas are in the garage covered with a blanket. Pots of mint and catnip are safe in the ground until I retrieve them in the spring.
I hate to waste so I gathered the last of the chamomile, mint and sage, and I’m air drying them.
Air drying takes longer than using an oven or dehydrator, but it’s an easier method for preserving fresh herbs. Plus air drying means the oils in the leaves (wherein the flavour lies) aren’t depleted and you get more pungent herbs.
Any herbs still growing in your garden? Harvest them now and air dry them before it’s too late.
Here are some guidelines:
Remove only the healthiest blossoms and branches.
Lay chamomile flowers in a single layer on a flat surface and store in a container once thoroughly dry.
Cut mint and sage branches, give them a good shake and remove any discoloured or damaged leaves. Rinse in cool water and pat dry with a clean towel.
You can strip the leaves from the stalk and allow them to dry individually, laid flat on a clean towel.
Or, bundle four to six branches together, securely tie, and hang in an area free of dust, moisture and direct sunlight, with plenty of air circulation.
Hang undisturbed for 1 to 3 weeks. Bundles shrink as they dry so check every so often to ensure branches are secure and not slipping.
You can also place bundles inside brown paper bags and hang to dry if dust poses a problem. Make sure to punch a few holes in the bag for good air circulation.
When leaves crumble between your fingers your herbs are ready to be taken down and stripped from the branch.
If using the bag method vigorously shake the bag and a give it a few squeezes. The bag is great as it catches all the dried leaves.
A greenhouse, I recently experienced, is both a physical and psychological oasis in the dead of winter.
For starters, it provides you with a potent plant fix. Plants are proven mood enhancers and this heritage greenhouse houses more than 500 lush tropical varieties.
The building itself is a sight to behold. It’s a soaring web-like structure made almost entirely of glass and metal, a seemingly too thin separation from the realities of a harsh winter day. Yet inside you’re guaranteed the air is warm and humid. You can ditch your winter duds, close your eyes and be momentarily transported to somewhere tropical.
Here’s hoping there’s a greenhouse somewhere near you.
It’s October and, while most of the garden is shades of solid greens, the marigolds are multi-shades of vibrant yellows, reds and oranges in stunning single and bi-colour patterns. In this growing zone marigolds start blooming in late June or early July and by the fall are really (as Beyonce might say) feeling themselves.
Marigolds are the perfect fall flower for colour palette alone but also because they thrive in spite of chilly temperatures and shorter daylight hours.
Before the first hard frost hits I’m cutting marigolds for vases and bringing inside potted marigolds so I can enjoy them for longer.
My very first plantings of marigolds were store bought but now I only plant from harvested seeds.
It was never my intention to harvest marigold seeds. It’s the blooms, at the height of their beauty, I can’t resist and I collect them by the basket full. I discovered the more I pluck, the more and more marigold blossoms produced. Magic!
Inside the house I watch them dry and change colours – to mustard yellows, burnt oranges and burgundies. Then I discover seeds inside the pod, at the base of the blossom.
Now I always save the seeds. Saving seeds for planting draws my attention to how great nature is. It’s a comforting micro ritual – harvesting, sowing, planting, and enjoying marigold blooms.
It’s trial, error and learning as I go. I read you only get viable seeds if you let them ripen on the plant before you harvest. Ooops! I didn’t know and I was plucking blooms long before they died on the plant.
However, experience tells me you can harvest early as long as you allow the plucked flowers to dry and you leave the seeds undisturbed to ripen in the pod. I’ve had very good luck growing seeds harvested this way. Still, I always assume not every seed will grow and I plant them extra thick. Lord knows I have plenty!
Would you like some marigold seeds?
Type your name in the comment section and I will randomly draw five names and send you each a packet of seeds. Open to readers everywhere!
One final note: marigolds are not only the perfect fall flower but wonderful companion plants for your garden. They balance the garden’s ecosystem by repelling harmful insect pests like aphids and white flies. Even their roots are at work underground releasing into the soil thiopene, a chemical that repels harmful nematodes.