The Nature of Zen
If you love the idea of Zen, but can't fathom taking hours to create endless sand patterns, understanding a bit about the philosophy behind Zen will help you choose the right items for your Zen garden. What is Zen? Where did Zen come from? Why would you want Zen in your garden?
Quite literally, the word "Zen" means "meditation." Zen is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism that is centered upon achieving enlightenment through meditation. Therefore, all things that are considered "Zen" are meant to help a person gain inner insight and tranquility.
By creating a garden space that incorporates elements of Zen, you may just find that inner peace you have always been searching for. Or, in the very least, you may just discover another way to turn your garden into a harmonic haven.
Elements of Zen
When you think of calm, what do you think of? Japanese Zen gardens incorporate lots of rocks, stones, and sand, but not much else. For these Zen gardeners, minimalist landscapes are the epitome of Zen. You can incorporate some of these elements into your garden too, though it's also fun to add a modern twist.
Here are some of the things that you can do to add a touch of Zen to your garden:
- Rocks: cluster large rocks in groups of three around your garden. Place these clusters in open areas that are not covered with any other kind of decoration or vegetation. Look for leftover rocks at construction sites - these rocks are free!
- Bridge: if you have the space, adding a small or large bridge to your garden is quite traditional. Japanese Zen gardeners believe that a bridge connects one thought to another. Build your own garden bridge with these free downloadable plans!
- Pathways: straight paths that lead through and around your garden are great for strolling, thinking, and concentrating. Buddhists believe that a carefully placed pathway is the best way to reach Buddha. Cost-effective pathways can be made from rocks, stones, and even strategically placed twigs.
- Lanterns: lanterns made of natural materials (wood, paper, rattan, and stone) are often found in Zen gardens. Do not overcrowd your garden with lanterns, but allow candlelight to flow in and out of your garden naturally for an instant calming effect.
- Water: adding a small fountain, pond, or water hole to your yard is a great idea. Just make sure that the water component you choose is not too overbearing.
- Sand: you don't have to fill your entire yard with sand in order to incorporate this essential ingredient. Instead, create a small sand patch that is carefully tended to. Again, look for sand at construction sites!
Plants and Trees
Everything placed inside of an authentic Zen garden has meaning. For Buddhists, Zen gardens are more than places to relax and unwind. These gardens embody the true spirit of Buddha, which is sacred, quiet, and restful.
Even the trees and plants that are grown in a Zen garden are important. You won't find a lot of flowers inside of a Zen garden, but trees and shrubs are quite common. Here are a couple of ideas:
- Pine Tree: the bark of a pine tree often represents the scales of a dragon. Dragons are an important symbol in Buddhism, and they often symbolize nature.
- Shrubs: shrubs that are contained in pots can be added to a Zen garden. Place these throughout your garden in strategic spots.
When planting anything inside of your Zen garden, keep in mind that all elements of a Zen garden should be kept entirely natural. In short, skip the bright colored flowers, and stick to carefully pruned trees, shrubs, and plants.