A Japanese Zen garden can be identified as a miniaturised landscape created from an arrangement of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes. They also make use of sand and gravel to represent water ripples.
Zen gardens tend to be on the smaller size, surrounded by walls. They are meant to be viewed from a single viewpoint from outside of the garden.
Zen gardens originate from the temples of Kyoto, Japan by Zen Buddhists. Their purpose was to imitate the pure essence of nature and to aid in meditation about the meaning of life.
Features Of A Zen Garden
Typical Zen gardens consist of an enclosed and shallow sandbox, featuring mostly sand or gravel, combined with an assortment of rocks. They are formed this way to resemble islands in the sea, creating a tranquil setting.
To create an island in the sea-setting requires the ocean. This is where the use of sand and gravel comes in as a replacement for water. The sand is carefully raked to create the impression of waves and ripples on the water’s surface. The rocks themselves then represent the islands.
The goal of a Zen garden is to create a small-scale recreation of an aerial or cliff-top view of an intricate coastal scene.
One of the main differences between a Zen garden and most other gardens is that they lack living elements. Although it may be a Japanese themed garden, it will lack Japanese plants. The only ‘plant’ that features in a Zen garden is grass. However, no other plant or flower species will be found in a classic Zen garden.
This can be both unusual and exotically appealing to people with no past experience with the history and meaning of a Zen garden.
So with this in mind, here are a few tips on how to create your own Zen garden.
Layout Of A Zen Garden
Zen gardens should be designed to be seen in their entirety from a single viewpoint. This requires a strong structure to divide the space into different areas.
Zen gardens were created as places for contemplation and meditation, and so are best appreciated from a bench or decking, so the raked gravel remains undisturbed. The only features that should break the flat surface are rocks and plants.
Raking A Zen Garden
The surfaces should not be raked flat. In a traditional Japanese Zen garden, elaborate and exotic patterns are formed that represent ripples in the water.
To do this, use a wooden rake with triangular-shaped teeth. You’ll be able to find this from a store or online from Japanese garden suppliers. Rake around objects, like rocks, with a circular pattern. To finish, use straight lines.
The more you practice, the better you’ll get the hang of it. From here, you can begin to experiment with different patterns.
Rocks In A Zen Garden
The rocks are used to represent islands in these miniature stylised landscapes. Most Zen gardens use either one of two options.
The first is to place a single, carefully positioned boulder as the centerpiece. The second is to use a series of different sized pieces arranged in a group.
These could be set directly into the gravel or sand surface or be arranged on an ‘island’ – in Japan, these are often carpeted with moss, but closely mown grass would suffice in the UK.
These are the basics of how to layout a Zen garden.
Here are a few examples to give you a bit of inspiration: