02 November 2009

From Imperfection, Beauty: Wabi-sabi in November

It's not a secret to anyone who knows me or who follows bloomingwriter that autumn is not my favourite season. The vanishing light does bad things to my moods although I do cheer myself with the thought that as soon as we make it past Solstice in December, the days will be lengthening again.

Usually autumn in Nova Scotia is a thing of wonder and glory, especially in September & October. This year, not so much, especially October. For many of us, what is usually a golden month felt uncomfortably like November, with a seemingly endless repetition of rain, cold, wind, dreariness, cloud, repeat as necessary. And now, abruptly, we're in November.And so many garden to-dos haven't yet been to-done.It could be cause for guilt, panic, frustration and I-give-up-itis. Could be, but isn't.

A couple of things happened that helped to adjust my attitude. A week or so back I was squishing my way around the yard, complaining about the mess and begrudging the disappearing of beauty & stressing over the to do list. Then I came indoors for coffee and took a few minutes to catch up on some blog reading. My friend Kylee at Our Little Acre had written a post about what the Japanese call wabi-sabi, and it pulled me up short. She was following an exercise challenge put out by fellow garden writer Debra Lee Baldwin at gardeninggonewild.com, also talking about this subject.

Wabi-sabi, Debra writes, is “the Japanese aesthetic that finds beauty in imperfection and transience. In seeking wabi-sabi, one cultivates an appreciation for the ordinary and becomes aware that age offers its own poignant beauty.”

Hmmmm. Beauty in imperfection and transience. That really resonated in my soul. We’re a culture that seems to seek perfection, though what defines perfection varies with each of us. I thought about this for a while, and went back outside to look at the garden again with more open and less critical eyes. There is a lot of beauty out there, when one takes time to look at things a little differently.
We can fixate on the fading roses (which indeed hold their own beauty) and while brooding about the dying blossoms fail to see the valiant late blooms still coming on.

Such blossoms are unexpected gifts that we sometimes forget to appreciate, just as we fail to appreciate friends, family, the daily blessings we have.

So you know what happened next, don't you? I turned off the critical gardener who sits on one shoulder, listing all the to-dos that need to get to-done. And went back out into the garden.

Turned off the eyes that are mourning the winding down of summer and opened the eyes that rejoice in late season flowers like widows tears.

Saw the dying foliage and denuded stems as just the prologue to a new chapter, not the end of the story.

Instead of being sad because the hummingbirds aren't here to enjoy their feeders, I was glad that the calibrachoa was still flowering its head off, seemingly unscathed by the frosts.

Seedheads of this exuberant clematis look like cheerleader pompoms or floral fireworks, celebrating the season's finale. The way they catch and reflect light when the sun deigns to find us makes me deliciously gleeful.

We’ve had some frost, but not enough to do in all the annuals, and some are still valiantly flowering, like the verbena and lobelia (yes, lobelia!) and alyssum and osteos. They may not be as profuse as they were in July, in most cases, but that means we can focus in more closely and celebrate one single flower or cluster as opposed to being overwhelmed by a wash of colour.

And suddenly, with a shift in my thinking about the garden, everything seems to be all right, even if the beds and borders aren’t perfectly tidied and weeded. They never are. But they’re beautiful anyway.

The bulbs that I don't get into the ground outdoors can do their bit to remind me that they are "another season's promise", in the words of the late great singer-songwriter Stan Rogers, by catching winter light and turning from promise to blossom.

I’m sure most of you are already quite able to celebrate the beauty in imperfection and transience, but if not, that’s my wish for you as we go forward into November. Regardless of the weather.


  1. Well said Jodi...There is beauty in the browning leaves and the last of the Susans or any flowers we have. One thing that I rediscover each fall and winter...the many shades of brown that adorn our gardens. They are spectacular. I love wabi-sabi. gail

  2. What a very lovely post, thank you. We have had a staggeringly lovely warm, sunny Autumn so far: although today is grey and dismal and damp.
    that Clematis seedhead looks a little like a slightly scary Halloween wig.

  3. Ohhhhh, that image of the clematis seed head....GORGEOUS! I'm such a lover of seed heads anyway, but that's exquisite.

    You really do have some wonderful things going on in your garden, jodi. I'm your kindred spirit though, having the same problems with the waning daylight hours as you do. Time to get out the light box. *sigh*

    In the meantime, there's good in everything and thanks for showing us the abundance of it on a hill in Nova Scotia.

  4. Jodi, it is great the way gardeners support each other - we so often have the same ups and downs. I enjoyed the idea that reading a blog helped you because your lovely pictures and words so often help me.

    Best wishes Sylvia (England)

  5. We've had a horrible cold, wet autumn here too, Jodi, a heartbreaker to an October-lover like me. (Ironically, our garden's really a spring garden, but it's autumn's colors that set my heart on fire.) But your garden's still offering a wealth of interest, and I'm SO jealous of that blue arbor! Drool. And yes, before we know it, the days will start to get longer again. I suspect that you, like me, are aware of every single second of additional light when it begins returning!

  6. Hi. I wandered into here from elsewhere and have had a lovely time reading all your posts and admiring the gorgeous photos .... I love that clematis seed heads one! I also love the sneaky peaks through the plants to that incredible view you've got - fantastic!
    We've had a glorious warm, dry Autumn with the most amazing colours, but the cold, wet and windy weather has set in with a vengeance now and blown away any remaining flowers that I had :(

    Thanks for a great blog!

  7. A reminder to see the perfection in imperfection and one that I needed. Thanks, Jodi. Embrace each season.

  8. Jodi Jodi Jodi what did I tell thee?
    "As remarkable in Death as in Life"
    Now your eyes see, now your heart sings, and plans plans plans for the forth coming, you have little time, little time....whilst they rest you have to work and plan!
    The Gardener x

  9. I'm so glad that Feng Shui has given way to Wabi Sabi, Jodi, I was about to go nuts trying to be perfect :-) NOT!

    Guess you missed my post two years ago on wabi-sabi. I sorta took up when my new kitchen copper sink arrived with a dent in it. Since it was hammered copper the dent was just one more.

    October was a bust here as well : The rainest since 1832 with 8 inches of rain in a usually sunny month. I had to scramble to plant my bulbs. I, too have stuff left to do but we are supposed to have some good weather this week end so I'll do my final clean up.

    Your garden looks lovely. Hope November will send you some good weather.

  10. The true beauty of our gardens is that they carry on.

    We may not be thrilled about the odd weather but rest assured - whether you get your chores done or not - next spring those patches of flowers will be lovely, happy, vibrant... behaving as if you never missed a beat.

  11. Hi Jodi, I love the idea of wabi-sabi and the description by Debra is beautiful. But seeing beauty and transience through your eyes, in your garden, has given me food for thought. How often we walk past a bloom just because it's aging and keep looking for perfection in another? I'll have this in mind as I water my plants or when I'm walking about with my camera. Loved your images...the clematis seed-heads are striking!

  12. What a nice post. Reminding us that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I needed that for today.

  13. What a beautiful post, Jodi! I missed Kylee's post somehow, but saw her title and wondered what wabi-sabi is; now I realize I've been practicing this for the past two years. It puts a whole new perspective on the garden, and at my age I do appreciate this idea of "aging well":)

    Enjoyed your Halloween post; at our house Sophie (the Golden Retriever) would be very jealous of Mungus' pizza bed:)

  14. Hi, Jodi -- I'm touched and pleased that my post on wabi-sabi in the garden inspired you to see your own garden in a fresh way...and that you shared your impressions so beautifully with your readers. Brava! Debra

  15. It's good that you were able to share with us how to reframe our thinking about autumn. I'm always grateful that it's cooler and less humid, mindful that Holidays are coming and blissful in the knowledge that Spring will come again.

  16. Thanks jodi ~ ready to let things go, my heart lies with yours. Your seedheads of exuberant clematis so indeed look like cheerleader pompoms or floral fireworks ... stunning photo and a great reminder of the final hurrah!

  17. The GGW post on wabi-sabi struck a note with me too. It's so easy to get depressed in autumn and anything positive to distract from the short days is welcome. And the words also remind me of wasabi which I like very much with a good California roll;)

    I hope that you can keep focusing on the brighter side of November!

  18. This is so beautifully written. The pictures brighten the heart of a dreary day, and lighten the day as here we had snow, and now the sun is coming out and the snow will melt - - life goes on, and we are given the blessings of another time to enjoy planting, digging and saving those cherished blooms.

    Blessings aplenty and more,


  19. Wonderful post..in word and image!I adore and appreciate beauty in all forms..and i am a fan of autumn for that very reason..I love the transitioning of things..the journey!if we are awake enough we will always see and come to know beauty in all things! Awesome post!You are a super fantastic and wonderful writer!I enjoy your posts!


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