Watching Chelsea Flower Show and the gorgeous Togenkyo, A Paradise on Earth, garden reminds me of the similarities that living on an island, or archipelago, brings. There is a similarity between "the fable of Togenkyo, a place of beautiful scenery that can help people to forget their troubles and strife, but that once visited cannot be revisited" and many of the Celtic stories of people visiting the Summerlands and the otherworldly people who dwell there.
Which brings me to the English Garden and Gertrude Jekyll. I think she would have approved of the Zen philosophy of Wabi Sabi. I was at a garden plant swap / sale this weekend where the garden seemed to fulfil the Wabi Sabi principles.
Zen’s seven ruling principles
- Asymmetry (Fukinsei): Stiff, formal symmetry, suggesting frozen finality and artificial perfection, can be fatal to the imagination. Asymmetry lets us be loose and spontaneous—more human than godlike. It means we can get by with one—or three—candlesticks, and all the china doesn’t have to match.
- Simplicity (Kanos): Zen eschews gaudy, ornate, the over embellished in favour of sparse, fresh, and neat. It’s the triumph of craftsman style over the cluttered Victorian parlour.
- Austerity (Koko): Zen asks us to reduce everything to “the pith of essence.” Don’t love it? Can’t find a use for it? Let it go.
- Naturalness (Shizen): Zen is artless, without pretence or self-consciousness. It is bare wood, unpolished stone, and flowers from the backyard.
- Subtle Profundity (Yugen): Within Zen lies a deep reserve, a mysterious, shadowy darkness. The hint of soft moonlight through a skylight would be yugen.
- Freedom from Worldly Attachments (Datsuzoku): The Buddha taught us not to be bound to life, things, or rules. “It is not a strong bond, say the wise, that is made of iron, wood, or hemp,” he said. “Far greater an attachment than that is the longing for jewels and ornaments, children and wives.” It’s the simplicity movement, not keeping up with the Joneses.
- Silence (Sejaku): Inwardly oriented, Zen embraces the quiet calm of dawn, dusk, late autumn, and early spring.