In addition to being a tea maven, I’m a gardener and a garden lover—botanical and otherwise. Many tea lovers are also gardeners or, at the very least, lovers of flowers, and we often include flowers in our tea table settings. Recently I had the opportunity to visit a tea garden designed in the Japanese style complete with a tea house and learn a bit about Chabana—literally “tea flowers” in Japanese. There are always flowers in the traditional Japanese tea room and their arrangement is what Chabana is all about. The owner of this little patch of serenity is Bettina Mueller and it was her book, A Tea Garden in Tivoli, that intrigued me. Bettina is a veteran Zen and Tea student who, when she moved to the East coast, knew she wanted to continue the Japanese tradition of tea that she had learned on the West coast. Her beautiful book details the story of how she transformed the land around her Victorian-era house into a Chabana cutting garden and how she built her tea house; both fascinating stories.
I always have fresh flowers when I’m hosting tea, but they’ve usually store-bought bouquets. The idea of simplifying the flowers and making them more…spiritual… appeals to me. Chabana flowers should evoke a feeling of being in nature; they should be unassuming and simple like flowers that grow by the roadside. Colors tend to be soft, the blossoms soft and delicate, seasonal and not strongly scented; they should set the tone for the Japanese tea ceremony. So why couldn’t they also set the tone for a Western tea party? After all, isn’t the whole idea of tea to leave the cares of the day behind for a while and spend time with people you like? Japanese tea ceremony is, at its core, an informal and simple course of hospitality that includes confections, tea and perhaps a light meal. Sound familiar?
The next time you’re hosting tea, consider a more Zen approach to your flowers and revel in the simplicity of Chabana.