Trebor Mansion Inn
11A Golda Court ~ P. O. Box 722
Guilford, Maine 04443 USA

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The Grounds at Trebor Mansion, or:
Discovering the Joys of Red Neck Wabi Sabi

The next time you stand on a suburban lawn, recite the words of the poet:  

I will look at towers and turrets
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.
Edna St. Vincent Millay

dull%20garden.jpgNew Garden

Which picture fits our poem?

Doesn't really fit the suburbs, does it?  Our rule of thumb on landscaping is simple:  If you can say this poem with a straight face in whatever landscape you're standing on, you're all set. We took a boring, hilly 3 acre lawn and turned it into a magnificent butterfly garden. We wanted to take the path less taken here at Trebor Mansion, and boy, was that an eye opener!  We invite you to discover why.

Nearly all the arts in historical China and Japan derive their aesthetic principles from Taoism and Zen Buddhism. The two dominant principles of Chinese and Japanese art and culture are wabi and sabi. The hallmark of a Chinese or Japanese masterpiece free of modern influence continues to be the naturalness and uncontrived, even 'accidental' appearance of the work. The artist works with and harmonizes nature and its universal accidents. The guiding principles are wabi and sabi.

  Wabi refers to a philosophical construct, a sense of space, direction, or path, while sabi is an aesthetic construct rooted in a given object and its features, plus the occupation of time, chronology, and objectivity. Though the terms are and should be referred to distinctly, they are usually combined as wabi-sabi, as both a working description and as a single aesthetic principle.
The original connotation of wabi is based on the aloneness or separation from society experienced by the hermit, suggesting to the popular mind a misery and sad forlornness. Only by the fourteenth century in Japan were positive attributes ascribed to wabi and cultivated. The self-imposed isolation and voluntary poverty of the hermit and ascetic came to be considered opportunities for spiritual richness. 

To be alone>
It is a color that
Cannot be named:
This mountain where cedars rise.
Into the autumn dusk

Indeed, wabi is literally poverty, but it came to refer not to the absence of material possessions but to the non-dependence upon material possessions. Wabi is a divestment of the material that surpasses material wealth. Wabi is simplicity that has shaken off the material in order to relate directly with nature and reality. This absence of dependence also frees itself from indulgence, ornateness, and pomposity. Wabi is quiet contentment with simple things.

Sabi suggest natural processes resulting in objects that are irregular, unpretentious, and ambiguous. The objects reflect a universal flux of 'coming from' and 'returning to.' They reflect an impermanence that is nevertheless congenial and provocative, leading the viewer or listener to a reflectiveness and contemplation that returns to wabi and back again to sabi, an aesthetic experience intended to engender a holistic perspective that is peaceful and transcendent.
Simplicity conveys the spontaneity of natural materials that are not or cannot be embellished. Lack of adulteration and ostentation confirms the authenticity of the work and its conformity to the wabi-sabi spirit.
Darius.jpgWabi-sabi is tamed, subdued, and serene. There's a fine art to creating a garden that feels close to nature but also offers carefully thought-out spots for meditation and reflection, just the right combination of color and blooms throughout the season, and enough structure and muscle to provide interest even in December. A truly wabi-sabi garden is a creative endeavor of the highest sort.

I'm slowly working toward my wabi-sabi paradise by putting in plants that are native to my place: slightly weedy black-eyed Susans and columbine,wild blueberry bushes dug up from my neighbor's yard, heat-loving yarrow. I've welcomed intruders, if they have something to offer and don't get too pushy. The chokecherry that made its way down from the foothills near my house provides long, delicate white blossoms in springtime and brilliant red-orange leaves in the fall(great branches to bring inside). The tansy and mallow that plant themselves in our flower gardens are a beautiful invaders, but we welcome them.

These indigenous species can take care of themselves and manage to look good without a lot of care and attention. The creative part, for me, is mapping out where they'll thrive and how they'll interact with each other and with the humans who visit. And this is where the wabi-sabi spirit really comes in. The wabi-sabi garden embraces and enhances the delicate balance between nature and nurture. It's not formal and prissy like an English garden; but it's not overrun with cucumber grapevines and knotweed. Plants are chosen because they belong in that garden, in that climate. They're allowed to strut their stuff, but they're expected to be considerate of the plants around them, or be tamed. Brash, blousy blooms, which generally require a high degree of maintenance, are used sparingly, if at all.

Just as important as what plants are chosen and where they are placed are the garden's bones: the stones and pebbles used to create winding paths and delineations, the rusty iron gate beckoning entrance, the trellis teasing vines up its length. In this aspect, gardens offer all sorts of wabi-sabi opportunity. Place an old, broken-down stove in the flowerbeds; let the weather work its magic and the plants grow up around it until it seems rooted and organic to that place. Plant gourds in an old wheelbarrow and let them spill languidly over the sides. Build a stone wall; the very act of placing stone upon stone is a satisfying meditation. Create paths that encourage guests to meander, with stopping points where the vista is ideal.both%20sides.jpg

With the right structure in place, the wabi-sabi garden is as beautiful, if not more so, in December as it is in June. The sculptural bare branches, brittle seedpods, and somber palette of the winter garden areas wabi-sabi as it gets. Stark and naked, the plants stand as vivid symbols of nature's way: birth, death, rebirth. The blossoms of life are easy to admire; the quiet integrity of plants gathering energy for rebirth takes a deeper appreciation. A stroll through the garden in the dead of winter is a fine place to cultivate that depth.

Well, that's the theoretical construct, so lets get down to brass tacks and let you know how it all worked out.  Take the above, put some chain saws, rugged individualists and outdoorsmen and a purple Volkswagen bug into the mix and you've got our place.  We call it Red Neck Wabi Sabi, and it is breathtakingly beautiful, but it has been a hoot explaining it to the locals.

We knew this town would be a tough sell on anything new and unconventional, but nothing we have done here has been new or controversial in landscaping for a decade. Old habits just die hard here.  While it is no longer fashionable to pour used motor oil on ponds to kill mosquitoes, lots of other "colorful" habits of the days of yore live on here in the edgelands.  People actually log their front yards, cutting down century maples on residential streets for firewood.  Local gardening gurus tear out native flowering trees to plant expensive invasive species. Which promptly die. Folks mow steep hills fronting on the river at one inch with you can imagine what results. The first step in constructing the new playground was to rip out the shade trees - you couldn't possibly build around them, of course.  Just last week I surprised a town road crew burning leaves on the edge of our property with acetylene torches. Fascinating.  And when the Town Manager volunteered to spruce up the infield of the youth baseball field with spectracide, not only did no one object, no one even thought to object. 

There are a grand total of three homes in the village with actual flower gardens, and  people with quarter acre lawns own gigantic tractors they "mow" with in 20 minutes or less.  The town itself spends more than $20,000 a year terrorizing grass, but there's no money in the budget for trees. Whole streets that were once among the most beautiful in the state every autumn are now treeless.  In a village where tan and beige are considered racy color schemes, we have the first "Painted Lady" since the Victorian Era, and all that that implies. But people do come up to us, when no one else is around, and praise the bold color scheme on our mansion.  I think it will be a few more years until some of them come around on the meadow treatment we are pursuing on the lawn. Explaining to them what the word "Beauty" means won't help, but maybe it would help if they realized they could save $20,000 over the next decade while having a more attractive and interesting looking property.  Not to mention the oil we won't have to import or the pollution and erosion we can say goodbye to. But maybe it won't.

Drive up to the average B&B and you will see a sort of middle class vision of Versailles.  All the grass (and only grass) clipped to a perfect inch and a half and watered effusively, red chips around all the trees, some well contained flower gardens containing no native flowers, etc.  Its de rigueur and cloying and not very authentic, but its what people have come to expect: a sanitized version of reality suburban types can feel safe in.  I had one lady call an inquire as to whether there were any bees on the property!  These sorts would feel a lot safer under a dome, and maybe that's where they should be.

Drive up to our place and you'll see something a little more authentic and natural.  It is, after all, a haunted mansion. Sure, the entries and around the manse are mowed (by hand), and there are certainly flower gardens wherever possible, but the main grounds are a meadow with paths, trees, an orchard, woodpiles, a ball field and wildflowers and butterflies galore. 

If a walk through the ocean of most souls would scarcely get your feet wet, a stroll around their yards would do even less.  When you see a vast expanse of monoculture green being mowed within an inch of its life at right angles by a 300 lb creature perched on a tractor more suited for an Iowa cornfield in order to afford a better view of their garage!, you know some big forces are in play.  I don't doubt that we are required by imperial necessity to defend our sources of foreign oil in order to buttress the current world order and defend our civilization.  A lot of blood was spilled by the Medicis to pay Leonardo's salary. That's the way the world is.  But to sacrifice young patriots for the sake of degrading the environment and imposing ugliness on the contours of nature is dementia.  What causes this?

An obsession with imposing order on God's mistake, Nature, would explain it, and I'd like to blame Calvinism, but the tractor warriors probably don't balance their checkbooks (that's how a Calvinist deals with God's mistake, Economics.)  Plus I doubt if any religious impulse is coursing through the veins of our modern day yardwarriors.

Suspect #2 would be the suburban mindset of vacuous conformity, but in northern small town Maine?  I suppose they do watch a lot of television, and most of the elites around here do seem to get their aesthetic ideas from a Rentway commercial - you know the one where the people dance around in front of their suburban tract homes while guys in purple shirts unload consumer goods they can't afford to buy - but can RENT! The grass is always very green, very monoculture, and very short in these commercials, and it may be that this vision of "somewhere green" has infected the native populace. There is some other evidence that fits this scenario (the wealthier they are around here, the more suburban they try to look, even to the point of removing the grass clippings on each pass with a giant vacuum device, thus necessitating fertilizers and other expensive and damaging inputs). So maybe an outbreak of dementia suburbia would explain it, but I'm not so sure.

Oswald Spengler predicted a "wholly soulless Americanism" would permeate the entire planet in the twilight of our civilization. There is a leveling process at work in America that seeks equality under the guise of sameness.   It takes many forms, from credentialism to political correctness to the mindless materialism and vapid pop culture that poisons every neighborhood in America with "little pink houses for you and me", but I believe its most visible form is the drearyness of modern architecture and the suburban ethos of sterility and conformity. The Norwegian American author Ole Rolvaag tells us that "a people that has lost its traditions is doomed...If this process of leveling down, of making everybody allowed to continue, America is doomed to become the most impoverished land spiritually on the face of the earth; out of our highly praised melting pot will come a dull smug complacency, barren of all creative thought... Soon we will have reached the perfect democracy of barrenness..."

While that gloomy stuff certainly fits modern times, this is Maine - a place that modern times has done its level best to overlook. 

So I've settled on Freud as the real culprit.  After all, lawn care is almost completely a guy thing. Google 'Freudian Envy' if you want some insights that probably won't appear in any weed-n-feed ads, and focus on the 'size' part.  If you attended an American high school you know that everybody wants to be just like everybody else - AND unique. The only way you can get this effect with a lawn is size.  And you might give some thought as to why so many of those out thrusting little tractor housings have bright red carapaces.  Lawn care in America is a species of penis envy.


Rooms/Rates/Tariffs | Maps/Directions | HOME | Marvels of the Highland LakesRegion
Your Eccentric Hosts |The Mysteries of TreborMansion | Photo Album
Martha Stewart Doesn't Live Here | The Great Fire ofJanuary 24, 2004 | Social Events
Reservations/Contact | Massage | Red Neck Wabi Sabi| Grand Reopening| Trebor TV