Torn between surf and turf? Can’t decide if you’d rather have a garden or an aquarium? Evidently, Japanese aquascapers have struggled with the same problem. Their solution is to come up with an aquascaping style known as Wabi-Kusa.

Wabi-Kusa arrangements involve aquascaping, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are aquariums. It would be more accurate to call them ripariums, which are aquariums with overgrown plants that climb out of the water.

The aquascaping hobby really owes a lot to the Japanese. They’ve pioneered some of the most interesting and unique aesthetic styles. The Japanese word “Wabi” roughly translates into “something that is beautiful yet natural,” and “Kusa” means “grass” or “plant.” Together, the phrase approximately means “beautiful, imperfect grass.”

Wabi-Kusa straddles the fence between earth and water. Aquascapers create these aquatic gardens by taking balls of plant life and arranging them in bodies of water. The plants eventually grow upward to create island-like ecosystems.

Of course, the Wabi-Kusa is just one half of a two part equation. The surrounding body of water could be as simple or as ornate as you like. Some Wabi-Kusa enthusiasts simply prefer to place the plant balls in clear, unadorned bodies of water.

Other Wabi-Kusa arrangements, like the one shown below, make use of the aquatic space to create a lush carpet of verdant growth. Add a few fish in the water and you have a fully-fledged riparium.

What makes Wabi-Kusa so compelling is that it showcases two very different worlds all in one neatly-contained box. Above the waterline you have tall, leafy plants that reach for the sun. Below the waterline you have fish, shrimp, and humble carpet moss.

Either way, you may want to throw planning out of the window. Many aquariums require the aquascaper to carefully plan out the layout of the aquascape, down the placement of the tinniest rocks and plants. Wabi-Kusa, on the other hand, is a celebration of natural chaos, so much so that it’s nearly impossible to predict how the Wabi-Kusa balls will grow.

That’s part of the appeal. You can choose where you place the ball, and you can choose which half of the ball is submerged in water, but past that you have to leave everything up to nature. The plants will grow outward and upward as they please.

There’s something inherently captivating about Wabi-Kusa arrangements. In a hobby that’s dominated by meticulous planning and careful upkeep, Wabi-Kusa aquascapes are refreshingly wild and chaotic. The combination of terrestrial and aquatic features seems to scream, “I don’t fit into your neat definitions – I do as I please.”

Do you delight in the wild, untamed growth in the natural world? Do you want a hands-off aquascape that will grow into its own unique ecosystem? If so, the Wabi-Kusa is the perfect aquascape for you.