Planning Your Zen
Whatever your space, find inspiration with these Zen gardens.
Can you achieve a harmonious Zen state of calm and relaxation by carefully raking the gravel that surrounds islands of large rocks? It’s been working for Japanese priests and Zen garden enthusiasts for centuries. The very act of working in these mostly dry landscapes serves as an invitation to withdraw from the world and silently meditate.
But there is an art and a science to creating a garden that adheres to the traditional Zen garden. These gardens consist mainly of fine gravel or sand that is raked in various artistic patterns and rocks strategically placed throughout the gravel bed. Because their appeal should be seasonless, many include features like evergreens, mosses and black pine, as well as shrine lanterns, bridges and water features.
You can learn more about the specific features of a Japanese Zen garden at this Bowdoin College website devoted to them.
Here, some of the most spectacular examples of the Zen garden.
Perhaps the most renowned Zen garden, the moss and white gravel garden is located at a 10th-century temple just east of the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, Japan, and was once the residence of Japan’s famous author, Murasaki Shikibu.
This 500-year-old historical rock garden in Kyoto is in one of the sub-temples of Daitoku-ji, one of the 14 branches of the Rinzai school of Japanese Zen. All are world-famous meditation sites.
Shitenno-ji Honbo Garden
The oldest large-scale temple in Japan houses a multi-feature Zen garden built in 593. The garden, located just outside Osaka, is a beautiful example of a temple garden that not only includes the dry landscape, but also plants and a calming stream.
This unusual garden at Saiho-ji Temple features 120 varieties of moss, rather than the traditional gravel. The gardens are so delicate that tourists must attend an orientation to walk the grounds—making it one of the rarest Zen garden-travel experiences in the world.
Banryutei Rock Garden
Just south of Osaka on Mt. Koya, you’ll find the Kongubu-ji Temple, home to the largest rock garden in Japan. The huge Zen garden features 140 large granite stones set in fine gravel, strategically placed to symbolize dragons emerging from the clouds to protect the temple.
While your personal Zen garden may not rival these historic Japanese spaces, you can draw inspiration from these classic designs and adapt them to fit your space. Your garden—no matter its size—should be a peaceful escape.
See our gallery for more Zen garden examples.
Image © Jupiterimages/Thinkstock
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