The simplicity of the Zen or Japanese style garden contains natural & organic sculptural shapes while adding a feeling of tranquilly and peace to your surroundings ideal for meditation or relaxation. They can define natural elements but not necessary in a realistic form and are usually more suited to smaller garden layouts, but can also look great in larger gardens too.
Large natural stones or boulders can be placed around the garden on sand or gravel and then raked in a circular motion to symbolize water or ripples.
This is meant to be seen from one view point and to assist in the concentration of mind. The sand or gravel can border a lawn or flower beds, pruned trees & shrubs, moss, pond or a water feature. The layout can be based on geometric or simplistic designs, like rectangles and squares or circles which could be the shape of the lawn, gravel area or wood decking and to create a balance between them.
A Zen style pond or water feature are usually long rectangular, square or circular with large pebbles or rocks surrounding them or shrubs and trees. A large Buddha statue or a statue representing peace, angels or animals can also add to the character & beauty to
the garden as well as a waterfall, water lilies, fish or even an oriental bridge.
Bamboo, palm trees or grasses can also look stunning as a back drop or for enclosing an area of space for shade or shelter. Cherry blossoms in spring are beautiful and are often depicted in Japanese and Chinese paintings, they not only add a splash of colour but also have a lovely aromatic and delicate sweet fragrance.
A wooden pergola can also look great in a Zen style garden with plants trailing over it which creates shade for simple furniture, such as a sofa, table and chairs or a stone seat, lanterns are also lovely in the evening to create a peaceful atmosphere. Brightly coloured Lights such as pink, blue or purple can also be added to the garden in the evening to show up the trees, water feature or pond.
Alternatively you can also arrange your garden layout to feature the benefits of Feng shui , by using the correct balance of the flow of qi (chi) energy to correspond with your surroundings & to encourage good health, well being, love and prosperity, this has been practised for 5,000 years in China.
Creating a fine gravel area in your garden with large stones spaced out upon it, swirls can then be raked over the gravel preferably around the stones to represent ripples in the water giving the impression of nature and peace to your surroundings. Succulent plants also grow well along side the gravel and can even be grown in a small pot in the office, home or balcony. Buddhist monks sit in a Zen garden to practice mindfulness & meditation and the fine gravel is raked everyday to calm & refresh the mind and to repeat the pattern.
Plants and trees for a Zen Style garden
In modern times Zen gardens or the oriental style gardens are becoming more popular and are depicted in various ways, such as simple stylised designs, peaceful retreats or artistic natural elements.
Although not many plants or trees are usually included in a Zen garden, you can experiment with various foliage to add colour, texture or plants that flower at certain times of the year. Anemone hupehensis (japanese anemone) have beautiful graceful flowers with five white or pink petals and yellow stamens in Summer to Autumn, it grows to about 3-4 ft , but can become unstable with drought or over watering.
There are about 300 species of Camellia ( low trees and shrubs) which are native to Asia, the lovely large flowers can contain up to nine petals in pinks, reds and yellows but require acid soil .
Camellia Sasangua has pale pink to bright pink flowers, the leaves are used in tea and the seeds are made into oil for cooking and seasoning.
Acer palmatum or Japanese maple tree/shrub has appealing brightly coloured leaves of greens, oranges, reds and deep purples which has a variety of leaf forms, it can look stunning as a back drop in a Zen style garden or as a bonsai.
The Eastern Asian tree can look spectacular in Spring with its fragrant clusters of pink cherry blossoms especially when it is presented for public exhibits and celebrations in China, Japan and Korea. It can be grown as an ornamental tree up to about 39 ft, although the fruit is small and bitter compared to the wild form.
Japanese water iris (iris ensata) has lovely flowers containing three large petals deep purple in the centre with stripes and a splash of yellow in Summer ideal for boggy areas or close to a pond. This plant can survive temperatures up to -20 and there are also various cultivars available in a number of colours.
Conifer tress also gives a sense of simplicity to your garden these include cedars,firs, junipers, larches, pines and yew which have interesting needle like foliage and and bamboo of various types which include small, medium to large and also a giant species which can be used to make tea, dumplings, fabric and other uses. Hakone grass ( hakonechloa) has long thin grass like leaves similar to bamboo and with a slight breeze it creates a rustling sound, some cultivars also have stripes on the leaves in white, yellow or green.