In case you’re not familiar with the concept of a Zen garden, let’s just say “it’s not your grandmother’s garden,” and probably not your mom’s either. As nontraditional as Zen gardening may be to the Western eye, it has an effect on people that borders on transformational. One visitor who sat in the Zen rock garden at London’s Three Wheels Temple said this: “It is very hard to explain… suddenly you feel a great peace and you feel just completely happy sitting there. All your mind wants to do is be there, taking in the tiny details like the shapes of the rocks and little patches of purple in the dark green of the moss.”
A history of Japanese rock gardening
While everyone has a unique response to a Zen rock garden, one thing is clear; it is different than the feeling you get from sitting in a traditional flower garden. Also known as Japanese Dry Landscape Gardens, Zen rock gardens are a physical expression of Zen ideas, particularly about emptying the mind through stillness and meditation. In ancient Buddhist temples, early Zen gardens were designed not so much to be “moved through,” but rather to be contemplated like art. Many of these early gardens were inspired by Chinese poetry or Sumi ink paintings with their characteristic themes of desolation and melancholy.
One of the earliest rock gardens recorded was made by a Zen monk from the 14th century, which has been recreated at Ryoan-ji in Kyoto Japan. Its timeless appeal and enigmatic theme still attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Artistic interpretation of Zen gardens
Designing an artistic Zen rock garden is about more than bringing the elements together properly. Since there are no plants or flowers, placement of the rocks can be an art form all its own. Even the beds of white gravel that frame out the garden can be raked into straight or wavy lines. Upon initial inspection many Westerners wonder about the intrinsic meaning behind the placement of rocks, sand or gravel; but there is no hidden meaning. The purpose of these dry landscapes can be described as “capturing the essence of an authentic landscape, only in miniature.” Ideally, a Zen rock garden is both a “picture and a poem.” Not only does it give the impression of beauty; it creates a mood in the viewer’s soul.
How to get started on your Zen garden
One thing that’s nice about creating a Zen garden is how it doesn’t require a “green thumb.” Many devotees of Zen rock gardening say they turned to dry landscapes because they “couldn’t make flowers work.” This is a common sentiment, but another reason people love the Zen garden is that it can “grow” in any weather. No need to worry about fertilizer or protecting it from the first frost. Zen gardens are very low maintenance and they make a beautiful space for meditative contemplation.
If you’ve decided to move forward with a different kind of garden this year, it will help to learn from someone with experience. “Zen in Your Garden – Creating Sacred Spaces” offers readers a practical and comprehensive guide to creating the ideal sacred space. This landmark book teaches you the basics about how a garden can stimulate the senses in many different ways. Readers discover the type of garden they need and learn how to convert an existing outdoor space into one that is governed by Zen principles.
In addition to full color images of finished gardens, “Zen in Your Garden” includes features and detailed drawings that show you how to incorporate specific design elements, such as gravel and rocks. The book includes stunning photographs from Zen gardens around the world, including examples of every style. These include water gardens, shade, moss, woodland, rock and gravel, courtyards and fountains.
Design tips cover the many aspects of creating a garden from a Zen perspective; one in which balance is emphasized and the goal is one of simplicity and stillness. Planting is explored in detail so that you may choose a landscape that has something for all seasons and creates a pleasing form and balance. This book beautifully illustrates and clearly details the many elements of gardening from a Zen perspective and offers you both the creative inspiration and the practical guidance to develop your own.