Zen Garden Basics: Learn, Grow, Build Your Own

zen garden

A Simple Zen Garden

During the 14th century, Zen garden or Japanese rock garden made their first appearance. Also known as ‘kare sansui’, these gardens are formed by combining a few natural and simple elements in order to make a symbolic and tranquil garden. These gardens can be seen outside numerous Zen temples and Buddhist Monasteries in Japan and recently in other parts of the world as well. There is no use of water or any kind of vegetation in these gardens and they are made entirely of stones and sand.


Zen Garden Basics

Significance: As compared to other types of traditional and lush Japanese and Western Gardens, a Zen garden is significant due to its minimalism. The viewer is compelled to ponder over their metaphorical value and symbolism because of their lack of water.

Types: There are varied types of Zen gardens. Some of them may have no vegetation at all while some might have little vegetation such as small plants, moss etc.

Purpose: By creating a Zen garden, not only visitors but also the gardeners are offered an opportunity to contemplate nature. It was a strategy of Buddhist monks to focus their energies on important and delicate tasks by indulging in the construction of miniature landscapes by using rocks, sand and plants. By working in the garden, the gardener could concentrate on the current task and keep the mind clear by forcing out external thoughts.

Designing a Zen Garden

A Zen garden is in a constant state of growth as it comprises of living elements like moss and trees. Although the purpose and elements of design of Zen gardens may be similar, each garden is unique in its own right. This is because due to the living elements, everything keeps on changing and maintaining the garden and making it beautiful is a never ending task.

Architecture: The surrounding architecture is one of the most important elements of all Zen gardens. Initially, Zen gardens were built in palaces, courtyards, public places or landscape surrounding monasteries. The garden is designed in a manner that people can view these buildings from within it and the garden can be seen from the buildings. In order to achieve this, the placement of the trees and the design of the pathways are made accordingly. To define the border of the garden or to create natural entry and exit entrances in the surrounding place can be done by using transparent sliding doors, gates or walls made from stone or wood.

japanese zen garden

A Zen Garden Outside a Japanese Temple

Water Elements: Although some Zen gardens are often referred to as dry gardens, some may make use of water extensively. The notion of constant change is emphasized by streams and waterfalls and they also offer visual diversity to the landscape of the garden. The Buddhist ideal of permanent impermanence; the constant belief that nothing can remain constant is represented by the flowing of the water but the never changing look of the stream.

Island and bridges with waterways on which boats can be used for travelling are often incorporated in the features of Zen gardens. To connect to the outcropping of the islands, stone or wood bridges may also be constructed.

path in a zen garden

Path in a Zen Garden

Pathways: In order to guide visitors through the different elements, the design of the pathways is carefully designed. People can have a view of the surrounding landscapes and architecture and other elements. The pathways are lined with sculptures and salvaged pieces of architecture for the interest of the visitors. To keep the visitors walking at a relaxed pace and to enable them to enjoy the various elements, the pathways are of a meandering and curved design.

Trees and Plants: Amongst the most prominent and visible element of a Zen garden are plants and trees. With large trees, the garden can be seen from a longer distance but it also requires the gardener to work diligently to deal with the constant growth. Some plants may be selected on the basis of their aesthetic beauty presenting a multitude of textures, aromas and colors which keep changing throughout the season. While some trees have a symbolic significance which may be showcased, such as pine which stress on physical strength and deep roots.

Stones and sand: The dry garden is also one of the most identifiable elements of Zen gardens. In order to evoke wispy clouds or flowing water, sand is swept into multiple patterns. The garden is set apart and its purity is displayed with the use of the white sand. Large stones also hold equal importance in the garden as they are linked to the Japanese concept of stone worship. Stones can be selected on the basis of colors, textures, size and their specific spiritual connotations. A balanced composition can be created and ancient beliefs can also be portrayed.

All these elements are part of Zen gardens. They impart a sense of contemplation and enlightenment on the viewers and create a peaceful and tranquil environment.

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