Zen gardens

Caitlin Hughes Caitlin Hughes
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A Zen garden, also known as 'Japanese garden' or 'dry landscape garden', typically encompasses carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand,  raked to mimic the ripple effect of water. The design centres around the elements, and around a harmonious balance in nature. Gardens of this kind tend to be small and enclosed, and they are also known for playing with perspective. One famous Zen garden in Kyoto, called 'Ryoanji',  has a particularly interesting design. The garden is made up of a raked area with 15 rocks—sounds simple enough, but at any given point in the garden, only 14 out of 15 rocks are visible. It's said that the 15th rock can only be seen when one has attained enlightenment.

With such an interesting history and cultural significance, it's not hard to see why some people want to create a Zen garden themselves. There are a number of benefits to having a Zen garden: not only is it the perfect place to relax and clear the mind, but it is also very low maintenance, and doesn't require a lot of space. Take a look at these examples and be inspired to design your very own Zen garden:

On the right path

Country Family Garden With Oriental Water Garden: asian Garden by Cherry Mills Garden Design
Cherry Mills Garden Design

Country Family Garden With Oriental Water Garden

Cherry Mills Garden Design

Stones are always incorporated into Zen gardens, and are often the focal feature. It has been suggested that Shinto priests were the first to place rocks in their gardens like this, literally laying the foundations for the Zen gardens of the future, and the tradition has continued for over a thousand years!

There are no set rules about which type or size of rocks you can use. In this instance, a combination of larger, slightly jagged rocks, have been combined with flat stepping stones on a bed of light coloured gravel. This particular garden was designed to provide 'a contemplative and relaxing area' for a client raised in the Far East. We think Cherry Mills Garden Design have achieved the look, and the feel, perfectly. 

An oasis of calm

Tetsu bachi granite bowl water feature:  Garden  by Lush Garden Design
Lush Garden Design

Tetsu bachi granite bowl water feature

Lush Garden Design

Water is another common feature in contemporary Zen gardens, as it has a soothing, calming effect, and is of course one of the 5 elements as defined in Japanese Buddhist philosophy. Often introduced in the form of a small pond with a symbolic bridge above, water can really transform the look and mood of your garden. Water features should be simple, and use natural materials such as wood and stone. This design, made from bamboo and granite, is a great example of how to get it right. 

Gateway to happiness

The moon gate with wooden art behind: asian Garden by Lush Garden Design
Lush Garden Design

The moon gate with wooden art behind

Lush Garden Design

Walls, fences and gates divide the garden, and symbolise the idea of the garden as a place of peace and meditation, separate from the chaos and disorder of the outside world. This 'Moon Gate' is actually inspired by a distinctly Chinese design, though the rest of the garden conforms to typical Japanese layout. The gate acts as an entrance way, and also frames the garden from the viewpoint of a decked area with curved granite bench.

Peace & Quiet

The garden should be a place for quiet reflection and relaxation. Once you have chosen the right stones and water features, you should be thinking about a place where you can sit and enjoy the space in peace. A simple seating area with a garden parasol is one option, though you could also choose a rustic wooden bench which blends in with the neutral shades of grey and brown elsewhere in the garden.

Rich & warm hues

A tranquil combination of traditional rock, slate and Acer : asian Garden by Lush Garden Design
Lush Garden Design

A tranquil combination of traditional rock, slate and Acer

Lush Garden Design

When designing your Zen garden, consider the colours you're introducing. Reds, browns and greens are typical shades in a Japanese garden, and bright, bold flowers tend to be avoided. Whereas Roses and Magnolias look great in a traditional English garden, in Zen gardens, plants tend to be simple and understated. This is because clean lines and an ordered look are fundamental in creating an authentic feel. Japanese Maples are the perfect way to introduce some warmth to the outdoor area, but if you're not completely ready to say goodbye to flowers in your garden, Camellias or Azaleas are a good compromise.

A moment of reflection

What could be more symbolic of peace, tranquillity, and enlightenment, than Buddha? This stone statue in front of a water blade is the focal feature of a minimalist, Japanese-inspired garden. Simple plants flank the edges, whilst granite paving and mood lighting give the garden a luxury feel. Again, clean lines and minimalist design reign supreme in this garden to stunning effect.

We hope you're feeling inspired to attempt to create your own Zen garden. If you want to take a look at more garden designs, check out the following ideabooks:

Cottage gardens

Garden design ideas

How would you design your perfect Zen garden? We look forward to receiving your comments!
Whitton Drive:  Terrace house by GK Architects Ltd

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