If you are tired with the old and usual setup for gardens that you have been trying out in the past then you are ready for a Zen garden. This kind of garden is a serious departure from the usual sort of gardens that you have been used to. First of all their main characteristic is the lack of plants or anything that is alive within its elements. Traditional Zen Gardens are normally made up of a swath of ground filled with sand or fine pebbles. On the center can be a huge rock or boulder. In more modern variations some simple plants might be incorporated into the elements. In those cases they are placed on the rock centrepiece but they are never meant to catch the attention. Simple and bare are the main characteristics of this sort of garden.
Understanding a Zen Garden– In order to understand why a Zen Garden is configured that way you have to find out first the reason why gardens like that were created in the first place. As the name suggests, this kind of landscape arrangement is associated with Zen Buddhism which is a form of Buddhism practiced in Japan. This form of landscape arrangement originated in the monasteries there as developed by Buddhist monks. The term Zen Garden is actually an appellation made by Westerners who identified it with the religious practice. Actually it was known as Rock Garden in Japan.
The monks in the monasteries used the garden for their meditation and in their contemplation. The sand or pebbles are used as representation of the sea and the rocks at the center are representations of mountains. The monks would normally walk around the garden using it to contemplate the teachings and writings that they are studying. They normally use a Zen garden rake with large teeth in it to mark the sand. The impression that the rake leaves is likened to the waves of the sea and the water.
This type of garden originated and became popular in Buddhist monasteries in Japan and not in other countries for several reasons. First of all, land in Japan has always been scarce and monasteries which are dependent on donations do not have a lot of land to spare for meditative gardens. This is in contrast with monasteries in China which owns vast lands and have a lot of space where monks can meditate. Japanese monks therefore used their imagination in order to recreate scenery from nature that might help in calming their mind. This is the reason this type of garden and arrangement is ideal for places with limited spaces. It is a miniaturized version of a natural landscape after all.
Building a Zen Garden- Does a Zen Garden appeal to you? Building one is relatively easy and it does not cost as much as other types of gardens, although it is not for everyone. You have to remember that traditional way of making this sort of garden does not require any plants at all. So if you are the kind of person who is into gardening because of the plants then this might not be for you.
Traditional or Modern- One of the things that you have to decide on is whether you are going to follow the traditional way of making a rock garden or are you going to try a modern take on it. This should be your personal choice and it might depend on what is your original intention for the garden when you decide to build one. By going modern you can introduce some elements that are used on a garden that can not be found on traditional ones, but doing so might defeat the original purpose of the garden which is to create a tranquil setting for medication and contemplation.
The Garden Size and Location– Once your mind is set on having a Rock garden you have to decide on the size of the yard area that you can allot for it. There are no set sizes for it, but it is a good suggestion to decide on a size that is enough for you to walk around and contemplate. Stay away from your house, the garage and other existing structures. The idea of a Zen Garden after all is for a place where you can walk around in deep contemplation. You can’t do that while people inside your house are looking at you or you can see them doing their domestic chores.
The Form– The form is what you use in order to help the sand or the pebbles stay in place. The best materials to use for this are old rail road ties. They look old and worn yet they have regular cut shapes that are ideal for your needs. You just have to attach them together using some nails. In a Zen Garden it is okay to have regular shapes which can make it easier for you to create the forms and to make them sturdy and durable enough.
Sand, Pebbles and Rocks– These are the main components of your rock garden. If you have a large garden, one that occupies a greater part of your lot then you need something larger. The best ones to use as centrepieces are those that have sharp jutting edges. You can place them in an upright position and they can represent mountains. Normally fine white beach sand is used for the garden but there are those who prefer fine pebbles instead since they stay in place and are less prone to wind and rain erosion.
Garden Accessories- There are things that you can get for your garden but these are merely accessories. There is the garden rake which you can use just as the monks do to create marks on the sand in imitation of the waves and ripples on the seas. You can also get some miniature paths that can be placed on the sand. Some gardeners also use moss to mark the centrepiece rock, but as mentioned the traditional way of doing things does not use any living thing at all. Lights can also be placed on strategic locations around the garden so that it can still be used at night time as well as enhance shapes and shadows.
Cost- From the materials that we have described here you might have the idea that recreating this kind of garden in your yard is not as costly as others. Perhaps the most expensive component that you have to buy for the garden is the sand and having the large rock moved into place.
You can get the old railroad ties or lumber at a scrap yard. For the centrepiece of large rocks you can ask some farmers in your area if they have dug up some. You can also hire some landscapers to haul your rock from the field and place it in your garden in the way that you desire. On the average they charge about $100 to $150 each hour that they do service for you, but it shouldn’t take longer than a few hours.
Normal sand can be bought in bags containing 50 pounds for about $5 to $9. It becomes more expensive if you choose to use white sand which can be as expensive as a dollar per pound. If you can find the time to haul over some of the materials yourself and you are not going to opt for the more expensive options , then your Zen Garden can actually cost about $100 at its cheapest doing it yourself.