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Add a Little Zen to Your Garden

by Kristin Marino, All About Lawns Columnist

A Zen garden to make the Dalai Lama jealous? Okay, maybe if you live next door to the Zen garden of the Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. If you love the idea of a soothing Zen oasis in your own backyard, incorporating aspects of Zen gardening into your garden design shouldn't intimidate you.

The purpose of a Zen garden is to reflect the beauty and grandeur of nature through the careful design of the garden. You don't need a huge area to incorporate a Zen garden design into your landscaping plans .The small size of landscaping and garden areas available to many residents of Japan, where Zen gardening originated, doesn't stop them from carving out a little island of serenity and peace into their own personalized Zen garden.

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Tips for Using Zen Gardening in Your Own Garden

  • Zen gardens are not showy, busy, or haphazard. The landscape is well-ordered and planned. Any item placed in the Zen garden is purposeful and symbolic in some way.
  • Water is a crucial element in a Zen garden; either real water in the form of a fountain or pond, or implied water in the form of a bed of raked sand or gravel. The mountains of stone and concentric circles of raked gravel represent, not only a body of water, but the larger universe as well.
  • The overall goal of a Zen garden is to create a sense of permanence in your landscape. Rocks represent mountains, and their placement is meaningful and symbolic.
  • Zen gardens are designed for year-round landscaping appeal. Evergreens and moss ground covers provide cyclic continuity. Your Zen garden is never "dormant," but always alive. Whether spring showers, winter snow, or summer heat descend upon a Zen garden, it is always alive and appealing to the senses.
  • A Zen garden isn't built in a day. Planning the landscaping for this project is a meditative process that should be as calming as your garden design itself. Don't just grab a bunch of rocks and stick them in your Zen garden. Choose your stones carefully based on how they make you feel, and what they conjure in your imagination.
  • There are evergreen selections widely available in the US, which work well in Zen garden landscaping. Some fitting evergreens for your Zen garden include traditional Japanese pines and hollies. Native species, such as mountain laurel, work well in a Zen garden as well.
  • Deciduous trees add a delicacy to a Zen garden, much like a gauzy lace curtain lends to a simple window. The slight and lovely Japanese maple adds fine, garnet foliage to the landscape. Depending on the size of your Zen garden, just one or two well-chosen trees are all you need. Remember, you are looking for tranquil and restful, not a forest primeval.
  • Tending a Zen garden is not, by its very nature, a chore or something to be rushed through. The meditative quality of a Zen garden lies not only in the viewing of the garden design, but in the pruning, nurturing, and especially the raking of the garden as well. Zen gardens are meant to be fussed over and puttered with.

If you love nothing more on a summer morning to crank up the riding lawnmower or leaf blower, then most likely a Zen garden is not for you. If you want a garden where you can meditate and perform garden chores in a mindful, careful way, carve out a little Zen niche in your landscape and try it on for size. I bet after a couple turns of your rake, you'll be in an enlightened frame of mind.


About the Author
Kristin Marino has been a homeowner for ten years and really does have the greenest lawn in her neighborhood. Kristin holds a bachelor degree in English from the University of Nevada.

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