A garden doesn’t need a lot of flowers. Or a lot of vegetables. One kind of garden doesn’t require a lot of anything. In fact, the less, the better. We’re talking about a Zen garden.
If you’ve contemplated creating one, put your mind at ease. Chill. That’s the whole idea — don’t stress.
Zen has its roots in Zen Buddhism and the Japanese gardening style that grew from it. But has become popular as a way to achieve a state of calmness through meditation. What better place to meditate than a serene garden? One study showed that Zen gardens “had a soothing effect on the mood of the viewers and, after a delay, lowered their pulse rate.”
The first step in creating a Zen garden is finding the space for it. It doesn’t have to be large, maybe just a corner or nook in the yard. Grab a yard chair and plop yourself down where you think you will sit when the garden is complete. Visualize what you want it to be. Remember, you’re designing a space for all five senses.
There are no hard and fast rules for the garden, but here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind as you meditate and plan your space:
Get rid of everything that doesn’t have to be there
A Zen garden should be simple and uncluttered. Move the barbeque grill and swing set somewhere else. Keep away from overpowering trees. Leave them on the periphery.
Close it off
A Zen garden should be separate from the rest of the world. You can achieve this through fencing, hedges, or shrubs.
Keep it tidy and trimmed
A sense of neatness and symmetry is vital. If you use hedges or bushes, keep them trimmed and pruned. Nothing should appear shaggy or overgrown.
Use some essential components
Zen gardens typically contain natural elements. We’re talking about grass, sand, rocks, and shrubs — all things readily available at garden centers.
The garden should have areas that are grassy along with patches of sand or ground cover. Some Zen gardens are primarily sand, rocks, and gravel. Keep the sand raked in symmetrical patterns. Choose a variety of rocks: some vertical, some flat, some round. Thoughtfully grouped, they can become sculpted “islands” in your garden.
You don’t have to spend a fortune or fly to Japan to get the plants you need. You can find exotic Japanese plants, but native plants will work, too. Native plants also have a better chance of surviving in your climate.
Japanese holly is a great evergreen shrub to give your garden an Asian feel, and it lends itself to creative pruning. For a touch of color, consider azaleas. Wisteria and irises fit right in as well as lavender and other florals and herbs. Monkey grass works well as a border and moss helps blend elements together. Nothing says Asian better than bamboo. It can act as an accent or a screen in a garden. Most bamboo grows best in warm climes, but some varieties can thrive as far north as New England!
Paths of gravel, stone or pavers add a nice touch, even if they don’t meander off too far.
Water features such as a small pond blend in well and can be enhanced by lotus and water lilies and topped with a quaint wooden bridge. If water is not an option, raked sand or gravel can simulate a pond, stream or even a waterfall when arranged among rocks.
Statues of Buddhas, pagodas and other Asian elements will give your garden authenticity. Consider Japanese lanterns for your evening meditations. Bamboo or wooden benches work fine if you’re not into sitting cross-legged on the ground.
Looking to enjoy your zen garden in the evening? Consider adding a few solar lights to brighten the area just enough so that you can see. Don’t make the area too bright, and make sure the lights are hidden as best as possible as to not ruin the zen of your garden during the daylight.
Above all, resist the urge to do too much. A Zen garden doesn’t need a lot of stuff to be a good one. Browse garden photos in magazines or online to find the kind that will work best for your yard space — and your head space!
Katie Marie is a writer, avid yogi, and outdoor explorer. She spends most of her time practicing meditation and wellness using organic elements within nature.