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Garden Newsletter: Wabi Sabi – Flawed Beauty

The First Garden Was (Just) Good

According to the Old Testament, when the Lord created the heavens and the earth which would include (we presume) the Garden of Eden, then the Lord looked upon it and “saw that it was good.”  Note, there’s nothing in there about being “perfect”. So, the very first garden created by the very first Gardener was just. . . good. There’s a term for this: it’s wabi sabi.

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The Japanese developed an entire philosophy about the “imperfect garden”. In this tradition, known as Wabi-sabi, we might see a perfectly manicured Zen gardener strew the “perfect” design with a randomly tossed handful of dead leaves. The Wabi-sabi “way” encompasses the notion that, in reality, “nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect.” That sure sounds spot on given our gardening and landscaping experience.

Wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all.
~Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author, The Wabi Sabi House

Every year, we strive for perfection and envision a garden utopia flourishing into a slice of paradise. The illustrations in seed catalogues tempt us into believing, it can be done. We plant our seeds with high expectations. And, we all know what eventually happens. There will be a few failures and disappointment.

Wabi-sabi is the way of imperfection which is the way of nature. The garden is beautiful in its imperfection, and it’s those imperfections that make improvements possible.
~Coleman Alderson,

Well, friends, one lesson this dirt jockey has learned is that no garden or gardener is perfect. Well, maybe Martha Stewart on a good day. But it’s likely she’s missed the perfection mark a time or two.  Philosophically, I’m with the Creator and will settle for “good”.  This doesn’t mean there’s no room for learning or improvement. In fact, it’s those imperfections that make improvements possible.

We grow, we fail, we learn, we try again and, hopefully, along the spiraling way, we improve.
~Coleman Alderson,

Eggplant still producing but full of holes.

Mistakes and Wabi Sabi – Far Better than Faking Perfection

So, far from candy coating or airbrushing our gardening this season, please, allow me to prove beyond a doubt that I am, indeed, an imperfect gardener, with an appreciation for the wabi sabi of it all. Perhaps, sharing these less than stellar moments will help our gardening friends avoid the same situation or, at least, nod in empathy having been there and done that.

Early into the season, we found damage on our kohlrabi and broccoli plants due to two types of cabbage worms. Dipel (bacillus thugiensis–BT) to the rescue! We dusted, and that seemed to halt the problem. But early this week, having forgotten to dust a section of our cabbage and kohlrabi, (growing under a shade cloth), we discovered mostly skeletonized leaves and LOTS of cabbage worms.

They’d wiped out about a dozen of our plants, and, in a small garden, that’s a big hit. The crop was way beyond saving, so we pulled every plant up, set them in a bin and dusted them with Dipel. Later, we planted tomatoes in the vacant straw bales. We always keep a few tomato transplants on standby, so at least the space will have been rotated into something productive.

Kohlrabi Leaves Devastated by Cabbage Worms

A mix of kohlrabi and cabbage leaves eaten by cabbage worms.
Kohlrabi Leaves Devastated by Cabbage Worms

Cross-Striped Cabbage Worm

Cross-Striped Cabbage Worm

Gardening Lessons Learned

The lesson? When treating an issue in your garden, make sure you’ve taken care of all your plants. Check out our Russian Kale-it’s been growing and producing for nearly two months. It had a bout with cabbage worms too, but the Dipel took care of them. The leaves are mostly hole-free and we’re still enjoying a bounty of kale about every week. We kept on top of the Dipel and slug treatments.

When we chose to practice organic home gardening, it’s a given that some of our produce would have blemishes, holes, and other irregularities. So right from the start, we’d joined the legion of Imperfect Gardeners. We stepped totally into the Wabi-sabi mode. Everything else is just a lesson to learn from and chalk up to experience.


Worm free kale
Russian Kale Dusted with Dipel

Battle of the Vine Borer Wages on

After all of our efforts to stave off the squash vine borers, we lost two of our vines. Both squash vines had multiple borers from the base on up the stem. Ripping out a plant started indoors from seed months ago is always a tough job. But, we’re not alone. We know some really experienced truck farmers who keep planting squash and pumpkins in cycles to stay ahead of the losses as the season progresses.

We’ve seen blight creeping up the lower leaves of our “perfect” tomato plants just as the tomatoes themselves take shape. The race is on to get ripe tomatoes before the entire plant is blighted. The tomatoes themselves may take on odd “cat-faced” shapes, especially the Cherokee Purple heirlooms, but often, even the imperfect ones that taste great.

So, we planted more squash “replacements”, even though it’s getting late to do so. Plus, we’ll be more proactive and vigilant in looking for signs of borer damage. An additional measure we’ve deployed is the use of squash vine borer traps. Commercial pumpkin growers use them, and we ordered a couple. Are they effective in luring the specific squash vine borer moth to its demise? Well, perhaps so. We’ve caught about a half dozen so far and got to see what they actually look like.

Squash Vine Borer Trap

Squash Vine Borers
Adult Squash Vine Borers in Trap. Image by©

By Failing – the Road to Better Is Laid

So, as a fully self-declared member of the ‘Wabi Sabi Imperfect Gardening Club’, I know I’m in the best of company. By, being imperfect, by making those mistakes, by failing, the road to better is laid.

Each failure can be a stepping stone that lays the path to better gardening.
~Coleman Alderson,

Looking upon this volunteer sunflower, it’s easy to see it’s missing a few petals. But it bloomed and if given voice, would care not a whit that it’s missing the perfect proportion of petals. It’s still a flower. It has seeds, and will carry on till the frost comes. The seeds will still feed the birds and, perhaps, some stray seed will become next year’s volunteer blooming with a complete set of petals. That possibility of improvement is what really matters. We gardeners tend to be eternal optimists. If not this year, then maybe next season, right?

Wabi Sabi Sunflower:
This imperfect flower… if given a voice, would care not a whit that it’s missing some petals. It’s still a flower, lovely in its imperfection.
~Coleman Alderson,

Wabi Sabi Sunflower: This imperfect flower... if given a voice, would care not a whit that it's missing some petals. It's still a flower, lovely in its imperfection. ~Coleman Alderson,

So we can look upon our garden and see that it is good. And we’re grateful for whatever bounty we receive. And we know that, just like our garden patch, we garden aficionados are good, and growing ever better!



We’re interested in your take on the wabi sabi imperfect garden concept.  You can post comments and/or photos up on our Facebook page, or send us an email.

May your gardens flourish and your harvests be bountiful, and when you look upon your little Eden, may you see that it is good.
~Coleman Alderson,

Tally hoe!

~ Coleman for

Keep on Growing!

Coleman Alderson

G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson

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