Finding Beauty in Imperfection

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that reflects the very core of Zen philosophy. Age, imperfection and impermanence are the underlying qualities inherent in Wabi-Sabi. This cultivated and refined approach in all art forms suggests the sublime transient beauty in all living things.

It is a significant concept in Japanese culture, and one that can be appreciated in many art forms such as pottery, painting, as well as gardening.

In applying this concept to gardens, it is important to honor and respect what is inherent in the natural, unaltered landscape. Nature is abundant with random imperfections. An ancient tree, enduring years of turbulent weather appears sadly leaning while the roots remain surprisingly anchored to the earth. Random patterns of wild plants echo the innate flow and of nature; this is certainly apparent in the abundance of the often disdained “invasive plants.” Applying the simple principles of a Asian inspired garden provides a place for contemplation, calmness and simplicity.

What remains is the very essence of the pure, natural world—its imperfections and inherent flaws remain constant; it is the acceptance of such flaws that opens us up to the raw, unaltered beauty of nature.


“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 Finding Beauty in Imperfection


Our Constant Sentinels of the Garden

Multi-layered use of many varied evergreens — creates an intimate and private garden in an otherwise open suburban landscape

A tightly pruned yew hedge creates the walls in this autumn garden defining a nice sense of enclosure

Elegant Chamaecyparis trees delineate the property line and look their best in the Winter covered with snow and ice

Contrasting, colorful evergreens add year round interest, volume and depth to the home landscape

A massive Alaskan weeping cedar is well placed against the end of this house — it also provides nice screening from the other houses in the busy neighborhood

Replacement Cherry Laurels are fuller and taller which provides good screening and privacy for this home

Delineating a property line is important to both the homeowner as well as your neighbor; this hemlock hedge is a more appealing way of defining a border than a fence

A low growing hedge of Ilex crenata defines the driveway, but does not provide sufficient screening from a busy road

Abies pinsapo ‘Glauca’-a unique form of spruce that adds a lot of interest to an evergreen collection

Picea orientalis ‘Skylands’ — a slow growing golden colored spruce

Pinus flexilis ‘Extra Blue’ — -Vivid blue needled pine — beautiful contrast with golden evergreens

Magically dusted with frost — spiny bluish-green leaves — yellow flowers in early spring

Early spring growth depicts different varieties of boxwood that gives this garden an interesting tapestry look

A narrow passageway is enhanced with an upright thin boxwood that is anchored by a contrasting yellow-toned coralbells — making this entrance more interesting and appealing

A multicolored evergreen hedge delineates a property line creating a lovely backdrop for a grassy play area

Evergreens Will Add a New Order to Your Garden

We all know that evergreens provide year-round color and consistency in our gardens, but it is vital to remember they also provide a strong sense of order that lends permanence and stability to the overall landscape. In Winter, when the trees become barren and the perennial borders are totally devoid of color, it’s the broadleaf and needled evergreens that provide the visual interest that we all crave during the long months of Winter.

I like to think of evergreens as the real bones that form the overall character and backdrop of a beautiful home landscape. They are always formidable — remaining the constant sentinels of the garden. A well thought out landscape using evergreens can provide the initial structure for an inviting outdoor room that can be further embellished with flowering shrubs and perennials.

For this reason, evergreens as well as significant deciduous trees need to be the first considerations when planning a new landscape.

Not only do they add stability and balance, but their solidity unifies and provides an underlying structure that makes the garden come alive — holding the eye throughout the entire year.

A New Garden for the Summer Cottage

Madison drawing with walkway–the first step in creating a cohesive design and to make the overall design come alive and visually inspiring.

The beginning stages of a garden design–the first step is to define and layout the hardscape–we decided on a 4′ wide bluestone walkway that makes the house more inviting–the existing concrete front walk to be removed.

The old concrete walkway is removed and replaced with a 4′ wide bluestone walk that leads from the mailbox to the front steps as well as incorporating a new entrance on the left side from the driveway.

New bluestone walk to be installed –area regraded allowing generous space for planting beds –An update on a 1920s shoreline cottage.

Fresh top soil and compost is added to the new garden beds –plants are placed prior to final planting–a lovely combination of hydrangeas, shrubs rose, phlox, and lavender make up the core of the plantings-later bloomers such as crepe myrtle and caryopteris will carry the color into late September and October.

The planting scheme shares a nice affinity with the bluestone walkway–enhancing and defining the entrance to this shoreline house.

Creating a New Front Entrance

An outdated front entrance that needs some inspiration.

Creating a new front entrance with stone and new plantings.

New bluestone steps and generous bluestone walkway and nicely proportioned foundation plantings make this house very inviting .

The house in spring with an inviting spring bulb planting -a perfectly placed red Japanese maple frames the corners of the house.

Enhancing an Existing Border

Adding to an existing border to make it more interesting around a pool.

An existing border is enhanced with the removal of grass to allow for new long blooming perennials that will extend the overall interest in the garden around this swimming pool.

Metal edging creates a nice crisp line that defines the new perennial border–the existing soil has been enhanced with as additional layer of rich compost prior to any new plantings.

A differing array of shrubs and perennials are added to provide a long season of color that carries the border into Autumn –a Spring bulb design will be added in late Fall for wonderful color in early Spring .

A Formal Stone Entrance

A more formal stone entrance is enhanced by mature and majestic trees .

In contrast to formal stonework, large flat stepping stones create a lovely walkway that makes the garden entrance enchanting.

Stone work and gardens share a natural affinity–the stone being a permanent element while the garden is always evolving sharing a kinship with the changing seasons.

A Perfectly Defined Garden

A perfectly defined garden –waiting for an inspired planting design.

A natural rock ledge with a stone wall creates the framework for this seaside perennial garden –bulb planting in late Fall.

A layered Spring bulb planting enlivens the garden before the Summer shrubs and perennials make their annual entrance .

The garden in early Summer.

Walk This Way

When designing walkways for your home think of them as being generous in size, well-defined and most importantly very inviting — aim for them to be at least 4-6’ wide to give maximum appeal. Walkways that are lavish in size and possess a natural kinship to the site feel well organized and inviting to visitors. One of the best ways to preview the shape and flow of the walkway is to lay out a temporary path with draping a garden hose or use a brightly colored can of spray chalk. This makes the potential design more visual and fluid and it can be reshaped and altered several times before the actual construction of the walkway begins. It also always you to visualize the potential walkway from different vantage points both from the outside as well as from the interior of your home. Try framing your walkway from an upstairs bedroom as this will provide a whole different perspective.

Consider how the walkway curves and frames not only the planting bed but the architectural lines of the house and surrounding natural terrain. To define the transition from driveway to the actual walkway, allow for a larger entrance pad or generous flair that might be detailed in a different stone pattern from the main walk.

There are a number of different materials to choose from when selecting stone for your home walkway. Some popular options include cut bluestone, brick, or pavers—all should be laid in a well-prepared base that has been heavily compacted and extremely well leveled.

Selecting the right material for your project will lend a sense of safety, permanence and long-term durability. Avoid inexpensive alternatives such as crushed stone or randomly placed stone as they will be difficult to maintain and cause uncertainty when underfoot. These types of materials require a lot of weeding and ongoing upkeep and will not provide much stability and long-lasting endurance.

As you layout your walk, allow for a wide, gracious planting bed that will frame the enhance the front of your home as well as enhance the overall landscape. If space allows, create garden beds that are 7-10 feet wide to accommodate groupings of shrubs and perennials that are massed together and layered in graduated heights and differing textures. Mass planting a particular shrub has high impact in a foundation planting. Imagine the effect of large clusters of hydrangeas, shrub rose and lavender in full bloom as opposed to a single hydrangea in a narrow bed of low juniper.

Consider how the beds will look throughout the garden year, a balanced combination of dwarf evergreens and compact flowering shrubs underplanted with appropriate perennials and ground covers will anchor the walkway as well as lend a sense of permanence and elegance to your home. The addition of spring bulbs will infuse early color and fragrance after the doldrums of winter — long blooming shrubs and perennials will provide color and texture as the changing seasons unfold. Well-designed borders always have something in bloom and provide interesting texture and color throughout the yearl

Finally, the final configuration of the walkway and plantings should always be in unity and in accordance with the style of your home and its natural surroundings. Above all, it should invite family and friends to savor and linger along the walkway and provide a sense of welcome and harmony to your home.

A very narrow brick walk with tightly clustered boxwood hedges makes this entrance look claustrophobic and uninviting.

The walkway is widened with a mixture of bluestone and the brick is reused to edge and define the walkway–plantings are lower and work to enhance and make the walkway more inviting.

The new walkway flows seamlessly into a generous patio.