Before we dive into the tips and tricks to creating a Zen garden, it is important to understand what it entails. Most people associate Zen with having peace of mind, a relaxing place to retreat to. However, it refers to a specific type of garden: a Japanese rock garden to be precise. The goal of this type of garden is to mimic a traditional landscape that consists of rocks, water, and plants. Of course, garden plants are now used to create this type of environment, accompanied by smaller rock types that mimic mountains.
Principles of creating a Zen garden
To start with, a Zen garden normally is walled. For some people this might come naturally: if you have a terraced house, your garden is typically walled already. However, for others, it requires to set-up a special wall that creates this atmosphere. If you want to do this properly, you should aim for setting it up according to the Japanese architectural standards.
Sand and gravel
Next to the addition of rocks and garden plants are sand and gravel. When looking at old examples of Zen gardens, they all come with gravel and sand as centerpieces. Within the sand and gravel, you can find beautiful rock formations that are accompanied by grass and moss. The addition of moss is relatively new, as it was not present in Zen gardens in the past. It became normal after gardens were left not tended for periods, and slowly became part of the Zen culture.
Origins can be found in Zen Buddhism
In the fourteenth century, Buddhism arrived in Japan through mainland China. This form of Buddhism did not only bring religion but also art and painting. More specifically, the Buddhists brought knowledge on the Chinese painting styles on paper scrolls. These landscape paintings soon transformed the gardens that were present in homes of the Japanese elite. They started to mimic these landscapes and leverage different materials, resulting in the Zen gardens we know today.
Creating the right balance
In essence, the goal of the garden is to create the right balance between the natural elements. Similar to nature, this balance should be reflected in the garden. Of course, you can also go deeper into the matter. For example, the original style of Zen Buddhism comes from Kyoto and these gardens have a particular style. You can also look into the history of these gardens and select a style that suits yours. Mimicking a particular type of Zen garden is often the best way to get started.
Maintenance and expectations
Do note that the expected maintenance is dependent on the type of Zen garden you select. For example, a garden with lots of garden plants requires more maintenance than one that includes primarily rocks, sand, and gravel. You can take your decision based on the expected maintenance to make sure you can keep it nice and tidy.